Shape of Water

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Video-cover by dtab428Get an inside look at Guillermo del Toro’s trademark artistic style in his latest film, The Shape of Water. Experience the creative journey from design to production of its charming and unconventional amphibian love interest. Hear from del Toro himself, actor Doug Jones, and the design team on the labor of love that brought “The Asset” to life.
The Making Of

Author: MisfitsTamara Artist: nipuni

Stories of unconventional love have existed for millennia and have gained new momentum thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.

The film, which explores the bond between Amphibian Man and Elisa Esposito, shows that love can bloom no matter how unlikely the pair or the obstacles that may stand in their way. The secret to understanding how Amphibian Man captured Elisa’s heart, and by extension ours, is taking a look behind-the-scenes into his creation.

From the very beginning, this film was born from long-standing fascinations and affections. It all started as an idea by writer Daniel Kraus (Guillermo del Toro’s writing partner for the children’s book series Trollhunters) who’d come up with a story in high school about a cleaning woman at a government facility befriending a creature and deciding to set it free. It immediately captured del Toro’s attention thanks primarily to his childhood (turned lifelong) fondness for the Creature from the Black Lagoon and desire to tell a version of the Beauty and The Beast tale without the Beast transforming into a human. This was in 2011 and film development began shortly after. Working on the book and script simultaneously while filming Pacific Rim, in 2014 del Toro hired a crew of artists to begin designing what would become Amphibian Man and the lab (a central location of the film). In early 2015, del Toro and Fox Searchlight hired Vanessa Taylor as a co-writer to perfect the script.

Take a look behind the scenes at how Guillermo Del Toro brought a story of unconventional love to life in The Shape of Water.
(Content Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Non-verbal communication and connection is an extremely important aspect of the story as a woman who speaks primarily using American Sign Language (ASL) falls in love with a creature who’s never had to speak. That meant Amphibian Man must be expressive, realistic, and, well, beautiful. Del Toro was so committed to the process, he paid the creative team using his own money and used his Bleak House workshop as homebase. “I knew it was going to take a long time, so I didn’t even put it in the film’s budget,” del Toro said. “This is truly the hardest creature design I’ve ever done.”

To effectively create something that looked like it plausibly emerged from the depths of the Amazon, studying nature was extremely important to the process. Del Toro and sculptor extraordinaire Mike Hill (whose credits include The Wolfman, Apocalypto, and Men In Black 3) worked very closely together and looked at hundreds of fish for inspirations. For example, the way Amphibian Man eats is based on tropical lionfish and they were inspired by several species to add bioluminescence to his coloring. “People with aquariums are often attracted to glowing, see-through fish so we wanted to echo that idea,” Hill explained. “Later, Legacy [Effects] came up with a way to recreate that idea in an opaque suit that looks fantastic.”

The harder part was creating the alluring “man” half of the fish-man. “[Del Toro] said he wanted me to give the creature a soul,” Hill revealed. “He wanted it to be something a woman could fall head over heels for in every way.“[Del Toro] said he wanted me
to give the creature a soul...”
So I started sketching a handsome looking version of a fish-man, giving him kissable lips, a square jaw and doe eyes, and I went from there.” So they worked and worked, modeling clay day and night, until they got it right. Del Toro even took the designs home to get the opinions of the female members of his family, from shoulder width to hindquarters. Their dedication and passion finally paid off when they completed their striking first design stage.

With the maquettes and clay designs finished, the next challenge was to turn it into functional suits that someone could wear and effectively move in. This is where Legacy Effects’ expertise comes in. They converted the maquettes into digital images that were further developed and detailed while building Amphibian Man’s facial elements, as being expressive was just as important as having abs. Shane Mahan (Legacy’s award-winning Creature Designer and Visual Effects Supervisor with credits that include Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Pacific Rim) said, “One of the early conversations was that Guillermo wanted the eyes to be changeable on set in order to change the mood or look of the creature. Since you can’t take Doug [Jones]’ makeup off to change them, we ended up coming up with a magnetic system to interlock the eyes. It was the only solution. Once we were shooting, we would change the eyes four or five times a night.”

“He has a love for our craft that is infectious,” said Mahan. “He would meet with us anytime, late on a Friday night or on a Sunday, and he was involved at every turn.”

Every detail was important, considered, and rigorously tested, down to his gills which added another way for Amphibian Man to express himself. And del Toro was there every step of the way. “He has a love for our craft that is infectious,” said Mahan. “He would meet with us anytime, late on a Friday night or on a Sunday, and he was involved at every turn. It’s very rare that you find that kind of interest in being so super refined and, for us, that kind of obsession is inspiring. You end up wanting to invest more and more into making it as great as it can possibly be.”

The Shape of Water: Behind the Scenes (Content Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

With four beautiful, fully functioning latex/silicone suits perfected and ready to shoot, there was never a doubt in del Toro’s mind who would play the creature and truly bring him to life. Doug Jones has been in many of his films, playing what he calls “some of the most crucial roles” in them - a collaboration that has stretched back twenty years. Indeed, many people have depended on Jones’ uncanny abilities with roles that include Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus, one of the Gentlemen on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cochise on Falling Skies, and Saru on Star Trek: Discovery.

“If you don’t have an actor inside the creature’s suit, you don’t have a movie – and Doug is not a performer, he’s an actor,” del Toro said. “I think of such moments as when he enters the movie theater and you realize the creature has never seen a movie before. Those are actor moments. I also remember before Richard Jenkins [who plays Elisa’s artistic friend, Giles] did the bathroom scene where he is getting to know the creature, Richard was worried he would be acting with a monster suit. Afterwards, Richard came to me and said, ‘The moment you said action, I was in front of an ancient water god.’ He felt all the pain and the confusion of the creature in Doug.”

The suits were constructed beautifully but they did present many challenges, like occasionally not being able to see beyond the prosthetic eyes in a scene and needing four people to get Jones into the suit. As tight as they were, they were constructed with corsets to ensure they were skin-tight but had segments in the abdomen that still allowed fluid movement. Because it was designed to reshape no matter what movement or action Jones performed, he described acting in it as “an intense workout. Every movement is like doing a pushup or a pull-up.”

“I feel the creature is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen...”But the years of design work and two to four hours in the makeup chair everyday absolutely paid off.  “I feel the creature is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” said Sally Hawkins who plays Elisa. “I had to be reacting to someone who feels alluring to Elisa and, because of their work, that came naturally. I didn’t see Doug at all; I saw this incredible, mysterious specimen. Others might see a monster but Elisa sees something else entirely and that comes across.”

“It was so beautiful and touching, I didn’t realize I would have the type of response I did,” Spencer said. “I just started sobbing watching it.”

Everyone who worked on the film seemed to fall under his spell, even Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer who plays Zelda, fellow cleaning woman and friend of Elisa. Purposefully avoiding looking at and designs or photos prior to her character’s first interaction with him, it had a profound affect the first time she saw footage of him interacting with Elisa. “It was so beautiful and touching, I didn’t realize I would have the type of response I did,” Spencer said. “I just started sobbing watching it.”

The marriage of an intense, involved design process and actors flawlessly performing and connecting with each other created a magical atmosphere that you can feel in every frame. “I would get so lost in watching Sally that I’d forget what I was doing,” Jones admitted. “There’s something so real, so raw about Sally, I just fell for her, much as the creature does.”

“Water takes the shape of whatever is holding it at the time and although water can be so gentle, it's also the most powerful and malleable force in the universe,” said del Toro. “That's also love, isn't it? It doesn’t matter what shape we put love into, it becomes that, whether it’s man, woman or creature.”

Watch Shape of Water

On 4k Ultra HD, Blu-Ray and Digital Today

Answer in the comments below.

  • How would you design the Amphibian Man?
  • What kind of creature would you design if you were creating your own unconventional love story?
  • Tell us your Unconventional Love Story.

© 2018 - 2021 GO
anonymous's avatar
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MagicalFlowerBomb's avatar
Very emotional but too boring to my taste.. too dramatic.. 
Gemscale's avatar
I saw this movie,it was really beautiful.
mai-sakurachan's avatar
I love this movie, It's great from the story to the characters, to the music, to the color palate.
1. Amphibian lover is always the theme of my art because i like the Unconventional love between human and inhuman, especially Dragon. I think this might be counted in Amphibian, too. 

2. Dragon is always my favorite, and I love making story happening between human and Dragon. It's not only about romance.

3. Once upon a time, when Dragons and human are still two sides on a battle field, there is a country whose guardian is a Dragon. The enemies are feared of one giant white dragon, so no one dare to invade the country. He is a sky dragon who can easily fly onto high sky with one jump. Unlike other dragons, all the dragon wants is his own peace, and he does not like bloodshed battle. He spend his time surrounding the mountain next to the castle where a princess lives. The princess is the one being attracted in the first time. She loves his beautiful
 snake-like body that has shining white scales, his huge white wings. She walked into the mountain by her own to be friend with him, and certainly he strangely doesn't be bothered by that. The more they connect, the more they get attracted to each other. She love his calm personalities despite of his fearful appearance. He love her surrounding with her out-going personalities, and he always looks forward to her visit. They want to be together, and that love is uncommon to human world. "The princess is the sacrifice to the dragon" said people. There is even a group disagree connecting to Dragon race.  the more love grows between the two, the more fear to the country. Every Dragon has a huge jewelry-like heart inside body, the heart contain magic of life. A daughter is born from a piece of the Sky Dragon heart, and blood of the human princess. The half Dragon half human daughter will carry her mother will that is unite the two races, Dragon and human.
Wow, once it's about stories, I talked a lot.
Dragon Bullet - Blue Dragon Bullet - White Dragon Bullet - Blue Dragon Bullet - White Dragon Bullet - Blue Dragon Bullet - White Dragon Bullet - Blue Dragon Bullet - White Dragon Bullet - Blue  
Extrawolfe's avatar
Yup going to see this 
SudrianRailwayStudio's avatar
undertaleskeletonofn's avatar
Belicure's avatar
Remember when he was gonna do Silent Hills? 

4 years later and I'm still butthurt
smartassconnie's avatar
1. I would keep the design, but I would have added more fluorescence on the body only because I LOVE glow in the dark things.

2. I it sounds cliche but for a few years I've imagining a half baked idea of the history of angels and demons and the "real" (my own Imagination) reason why they hate one another.

3. In the story it depicts before ( first name:Satan Last name:Lucifer) was banished from heaven. He was the commander of the angel warriors and he was in relationship with the head leader of record keeping (goes down to earth, observes humans and records what they do.) I don't have a name for her yet so I just call her "S". Then one of Satan's subordinate (Michael) start to undermined Satan's philosophy saying that humans are just lower life forms and that they should be treated as such and starts to gather others who think the same way as him and grows an army. Soon all out war breaks out among the angels and Satan lose the war is banished from heaven. Michael rips off Satan's wings, burns the "Fallen" mark on him, chains him up and throws him and his allies out of heaven into a volcano. Like the old saying goes " The winners write the history" Michael made it look like Satan was the bad guy and was dealt with. Being in a relationship with Satan, "S" was no longer welcomed or trusted with the other angels, Michael made sure of that, and was forced to resign her job. Before she resigned, she went to earth to look for Satan to help him and was able to find him, and in secret takes holy food and medicine to Satan and his allies. Then Michael caches her in the act of trying to retrieve Satan's wings back and does a public punishment in-front of the angles and god. Michael rips off her left wing, burns the "Fallen" mark on her and forces her to live with the humans for eternity. But at the end of it all "S" and Satan was able to be together again, even though they were branded as traitors and have been recalled as Demons.

I know it sounds 
cliche, but I think it's cool putting my own spin on the angles and demons thing.
joygirl17's avatar
At first I was resistance against your story idea because it included demons, but your idea actually makes sense and sounds really cool because as the story goes, Satan and other demons were previously angels that were cast out of heaven. It would be interesting to see a movie that tackles the "real" story between demons and angels. that's an idea that no one has really touched on before and it might make you question what is truly good or bad. 

Nice idea, I don't think it sounds cliche at all.
smartassconnie's avatar
Thank you for the nice reply! I was really nervous about posting my idea.☺ I'm writing another story on wattpad,but by the number of the views it's not good.😥 when I have extra time I always try to improve on it. Again thank you so much with the reply.
joygirl17's avatar
No problem. I'll definitely check out your story on wattpad. 
Art76Studio's avatar
Very good! Thank you GO!
EmeraldKeefe's avatar
This was a cool Feature. Not usually my Interest though, but I hope others will find this nice. Take care of yourselves!
Smallandsilent's avatar
to answer three questions. 

1. designing an amphibian man I would love to take a komodo dragon for example and toy with other sea creatures along the lines as well as a more human anthro like body style. Like in the movie a little bit. If it doesn't have to be an amphibian man I'd look for what inspires me at the moment. Like right now wolves and cats are my first option. I'd mix them together into one figure and turn it into a sly character or something like that. 

2. The type of character? I'm working on something now between angels and demons. My creatures pretty much excists out of a demon that is a bag of fluid walking around being rather dangerous and a seraphim type warrior angel holding a few soul weapons against the demons. 

3. The love story Always starts with a problem like the angel demon one is a bit like Romeo and Julliette. Tragic that two so different beings fall for eachother while both worlds try to destroy the other. I make a few twists in it. There'll be some story before the story and story behind the story stuff. Kinda like a series. What happened before how came my char to life? And how will it go on after the ending? I won't say too much otherwise I'd spoil it. 

I really love the shape of water cause it attracts me. The guy falling for me has to be a monster considering I would rather have a funny intelligent person rather than an idiot that only thinks as far as his nose reaches which happens to be a majority these days. ;-;
My bf isn't really a monster or anything. He's just a chubby friendly bear like guy that wants to protect the world. He's smart, funny and knows what he does (most of the time) and when he makes a mistake he's man enough to admit it. Couldn't love anyone more in the world. 
PresidentOso's avatar
Every shot of Shape Of Water is a beautiful piece of art!  I love this special feature:)
fempharaoh3000's avatar
...I actually have my own Unconventional Love Story, but it might be easier to write a novel about it rather than explain it to someone or even here in the comments. What I do know is that he is my Twin Flame, and we've been promised an eternity in Heaven together... I'm not sure what to name the story, but I might work on a manuscript soon. #TheShapeOfWater #MyShapeOfWater #GuillermoSempaiPleaseNoticeMe
Shio-bookmark's avatar
1. Maybe with more fins and flowing movement, like those tropical fish have. But it would look absurd out of water with it flopping into his eyes all the time and I can't imagine it would make sense for an amphibian. Give him a tail like a mermaid. Or a shedding skin like a selkie.

2. Probably something with feathers or furs. Think Howl's monster form from the Howl's Moving Castle movie. Horns that are curly and mismatched and can be decorated with metal or jewellery. Big teeth. I'd think about the environment he belongs in.

3. A lady knight and a dragon. The lady is the King Under the Mountain and will have to sleep again and again for centuries in between the times she is needed. But she meets a dragon in our time who agrees to sleep beside her so she won't wake up alone. Dragons sleep for thousands of years just for an afternoon nap, so it's no trouble. The dragon is female and can't shift into a human. Always sort of disappointed when that happens.
Morphicelus's avatar
Man I cried so hard. It was beautiful.

1.) I think they set a perfect balance. I'm just one person, and they had a team, so I doubt I could do any better.
2.) I'm not really that in to writing romance. I'd probably have to think long and hard on that one. But I think I wrote some vampire romance when I was a teenager (like, 15 years ago)
3.) Well I married my high school sweetheart so I don't have one of those, and as I said I don't write romance. But I do enjoy this kind!
Angelotti37's avatar
  • How would you design the Amphibian Man?
I wouldn't change anything, to be honest. The design was perfect.
  • What kind of creature would you design if you were creating your own unconventional love story?
A mythological creature, like a centaur.
  • Tell us your Unconventional Love Story
A young, lonely woman forms unlikely yet strong bond with an upiór she saved before.
zakuro5's avatar
the cgi and the creature's design are awesome and indredibly impressive but like. he doesn't have any personality?? it was so unbelievable to me that anyone would fall for the fishman because i really didn't see Anything to like in him on a personal level
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