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Making an Emotionally Appealing Fish-Man for The Shape of Water

Charmaine Blake

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The sinewy fish-man at the center of The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s new film, stands stoic and brave as the rain beats down. But when the director yells “cut,” the man inside the fish suit begins to shiver; the set may look like a Baltimore port, but this is Toronto. Two crewmembers rush over, enveloping the 6’ 3”, 140-pound Doug Jones in coats and their own body heat. Throughout the movie’s grueling 45-day shoot, those two men—Legacy Effects co-founder Shane Mahan and monster sculptor Mike Hill, both of whom helped create Jones’ costume—felt they had two separate jobs: tend to the suit and tend to the man inside it.

“When wearing any kind of a costume and makeup that’s this extensive, you become a bit of a nursing home patient,” Jones says, wincing as he remembers his time in Toronto. “I can’t see as well, I can’t hear much, I can’t feel much, and I got these webbed fingers on—I can’t do anything for myself.”

 

Eliza (Sally Hawkins) falls for the fish-man known as the Asset in The Shape of Water.

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Including, it seems, stay warm. So Hill and Mahan, worried the actor’s shakes would be visible during the film’s crescendo, had to cuddle him between takes. It’s a rare concern in the age of city-crumbling CGI, but in The Shape of Water the monster is also the main character, the emotional center of the movie, and del Toro insisted he have a soul beneath his scales. That’s why Legacy Effects spent three years turning a sketch from one of the director’s notebooks into a foam-latex masterpiece that Jones could wear while performing. It is the monster-maven’s most ambitious creature yet. “I wanted,” del Toro says, “to make the Michelangelo’s David of amphibian men.”

Like George Clooney, But Fishier

The Shape of Water is no Pacific Rim. It’s a $20-million Cold War-era fairytale about a mute cleaning lady, Eliza (Sally Hawkins), who stumbles upon a top-secret tank where a team led by the brutal Col. Strickland (Michael Shannon) experiment upon a mysterious Amazonian fish-man. As Eliza falls for the fish-man, aka the Asset, del Toro delivers his twist on Beauty and the Beast, one where the beast need not be a prince to be loved.

It is not hyperbole to say that del Toro is obsessed with monsters. After directing three films in Mexico, he made his American directorial debut with the 1997 sci-fi/horror film Mimic and followed that up with a run of fantasy/horror movies populated with inventive creatures. But none demonstrated del Toro’s creature-building chops like Pan’s Labyrinth, his Spanish Civil War fable overflowing with deceitful fauns, helpful fairies, and the memorably terrifying Pale Man, a creature with eyeballs in the palms of his hands (and also played by Jones). The beasts del Toro dreams up are legendary, so when he reached out to creature-creators Dave Grasso and David Meng and said he wanted them to build one that would double as a romantic lead in his next feature, they couldn’t say no.

In 2014, they went to Bleak House, del Toro’s second home/personal monster museum, and got to work. The director showed them his sketch of the fish-man, which at the time looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Grasso and Meng each began building 24-inch-tall preliminary sculptures known as maquettes. Del Toro pushed the pair to make their fish-men as handsome as possible; if his movie was going to work, the audience would have to believe that Eliza could fall in love with the Asset. “The very first thing I sculpted was a little head-and-shoulders bust of a fish-man,” Meng says. “He liked it, but he thought it was too monstrous. He said, ‘Make it like a George Clooney of fish-men!’”

 
 

Designers meticulously crafted the fish-man’s physique to make him handsome and a bit grotesque.

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After the month was up, the two sculptors finished their maquettes—Meng’s skinnier and scalier and Grasso’s broader and more smooth—and passed them along to Legacy Effects, the VFX studio charged with building the suit.

Building a Better Butt

Next, Legacy had to turn the little maquettes into a human-sized suit. Sculptor Glen Hanz 3D scanned the figures and combined the best elements of both Meng and Grasso’s designs. Once he had a digital amalgamation, he needed a sculpture he could use as a mannequin for the fish-man suits. He took a fiberglass Doug Jones cast Legacy already had in its studio (“It might have been from Neighborhood Watch, or maybe even from Doom,” Hanz says. “He has definitely remained just as skinny.”), wrapped it in plastic wrap, covered it in wax, and along with Hill and colleague Mario Torres Jr. crafted a life-size fish-man out of oil clay.

The clay sculpture was then turned into an epoxy mold, which the team used to form a foam latex suit. The suit was painted, outfitted with plastic fins, and given animatronic gills and a water-resistant radio hub that allowed Mahan to control them as Jones performed.

 
 

While Hanz was prepping the cast, Hill spent three days, from dawn until midnight, working with del Toro at his home sketching and sculpting a face handsome enough for Eliza to love. The goal, Hill says, was to make a fish face look like a leading man’s, without winding up in an uncanny valley or making him look unrelatable. “We share the desire to see what’s going on behind the monster’s eyes,” Hill says. No detail was too small—eyes were widened, the mouth tweaked, gills were placed just right so that they looked like ears. And they tried every iteration of nose until they found the perfect look: not too puggish, not too Roman.

With the face design set, Hill moved back to Legacy Effects to work with Hanz and Torres on the life-sized sculpture. They set up shop in a space the company had rented for Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume II and over the course of four months, slowly began sculpting the Asset. Torres modeled the hands after what he’d seen in anatomy books, and the feet after his own. Hanz built the abdominal codpiece and worked on the scale design. Hill perfected the Asset’s face—creating different options for each mood.

Del Toro came and gave edits throughout, always preoccupied with making the fish-man more handsome. “Guillermo was very keen on making the creature have a nice butt,” Hill says, adding that del Toro carried a picture of of the creature’s rump around for weeks to get input from friends and family.

 

Doug Jones’s costume had a radio hub that allowed Shane Mahan to control the costume’s animatronic gills.

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Such a focus on the Asset’s sculpted derrière might seem over-the-top, but for the director, there was a reason. The Shape of Water is far from puritanical, but del Toro stresses that he didn’t want it to be “a bestiality, kinky, perverse thing” either. For him, the key was to give the fish-man a look that was at once handsome and detestable, depending on the angle (think: Tom Cruise in Top Gun). He had to be repugnant to Shannon’s Col. Strickland, and inspiring to others. But making the Amazonian fish-man appealing, and even desirable, was the trickiest task of all.

The obsessive attention to detail worked. On set, Jones’s statuesque form was a hit, especially with one of his co-stars: Octavia Spencer, who plays Eliza’s friend at the lab. “Every time I walked away from Octavia, I would hear, ‘Mmmmm,’” Jones says. “And I might turn around and say, ‘Octavia, are you looking at my ass again?’ And she’d say, ‘Oh yes I am! Keep walking.’”

The Fish-Man’s Internal Monster

In person, Jones is strikingly thin. The actor—who has played everything from a zombie ex-boyfriend in Hocus Pocus to del Toro’s faun in Pan’s Labyrinth—is something like the creature-sculpting community’s Tom Hanks. He jokes that it’s just because his lanky form is the ideal cast to build upon, or perhaps that his Midwestern easygoingness is rare in the makeup chair.

 
 
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And he needed that demeanor for The Shape of Water, which required a pre-dawn call time for three hours of makeup and long days in a cold, wet suit. He grins recalling his experience now, but occasionally grimaces when talking about the grind on set. The actor—56 at the time of filming—struggled through the 45 days.

Usually a gripping side character, this time around Jones had to be in nearly every scene and served as one of the emotional anchors of the film. Having a creature as a movie’s romantic lead is difficult in terms of audience buy-in, but also taxing for the actor stuck inside the suit. His performance would make or break del Toro’s movie, so he had to learn to quiet the feelings of cold, exhaustion, and hunger and embody the story of a hated and feared outsider who finds love and takes action.

It worked. Since it started making the rounds at film festivals this year, del Toro’s movie has gotten widespread critical acclaim. Much of that praise has been focused on Shape’s ability to show the grotesqueness of discrimination while celebrating the beauty of “otherness.” That was del Toro’s goal, and it was manifest through Jones’ ability to display emotion through layers of latex—a role that he was perhaps unknowingly preparing for for years.

“I lived as an awkward teenager until I was about 50. It took me a long time to get over that stigma of, ‘I look odd and I just don’t fit in!’” Jones tells me. “I have an internal monster that’s been plaguing me all my life.”

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/shape-of-water-fish-man-design/

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‘Fortnite’ composer Pinar Toprak will score ‘Captain Marvel’

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Image: Brian To/FilmMagic

“Turkish-American composer Pinar Toprak has been hired to compose the score for Captain Marvel, which will premiere in March of next year.

Even if you’re not a film score buff, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with Toprak’s work. In addition to writing additional music for Justice League in 2017, she is responsible for some of the incredibly catchy music from Fortnite. Yes, the stuff that is stuck in your head all the time…….”

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‘Incredibles 2’ breaks box office records with a whopping $180 million

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Image: disney pixar

“For every unmitigated disaster like Solo, there are multiple other box office hits for Disney. Incredibles 2 is the latest.

The 14-years-later sequel is on a pace to finish off its opening weekend with a $180 million box office haul in the United States. That’s the highest opening to date for any animated release, and for any PG-rated release as well. It’s also the eighth-largest domestic opening weekend ever, overall.

Incredibles 2 soars past another Pixar sequel, Finding Dory, the previous top animated opener. The Finding Nemo sequel launched in 2016 on the same June weekend as Incredibles 2, but it only (only!) managed to pull in $135.1 million in its first three days.

The new $180 million bar will be a tough one for future competitors to beat, though even that record is bound to eventually fall. Inflation and rising ticket prices all but ensure it.

Disney currently has three recent releases in the weekend box office top 10. Solo: A Star Wars Story comes in at #4 on this weekend’s chart, with an estimated $9.1 million. That brings its domestic total up to $192.8 million.

Solo will probably cross $200 million domestic in the next week or two, but it’s currently the lowest-earning live action Star Wars movie to date. There’s even some question at this point as to whether or not it will manage to beat The Empire Strikes Back. Not accounting for inflation, that second-ever Star Wars movie ended its box office run in 1980 with $209.4 million.

Disney’s lowest entrant on this weekend’s box office top 10 is Avengers: Infinity War, at #8. The April 2018 release is still kicking in its eight week after hitting theaters. It picked up an estimated $5.3 million this weekend…..”

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/06/17/incredibles-2-opening-weekend-box-office-records/

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Apple and Oprah sign a multi-year partnership on original content

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Apple announced today a multi-year content partnership with Oprah Winfrey to produce programs for the tech company’s upcoming video-streaming service. Apple didn’t provide any specific details as to what sort of projects Winfrey would be involved in, but there will be more than one it seems.

Apple shared the news of its deal with Winfrey in a brief statement on its website, which read:

Apple today announced a unique, multi-year content partnership with Oprah Winfrey, the esteemed producer, actress, talk show host, philanthropist and CEO of OWN.

Together, Winfrey and Apple will create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.

Winfrey’s projects will be released as part of a lineup of original content from Apple.

The deal is a significant high-profile win for Apple, which has been busy filing out its lineup with an array of talent in recent months.

The streaming service also will include a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Storiesa Reese Witherspoon- and Jennifer Aniston-starring series set in the world of morning TVan adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, a thriller starring Octavia Spencer, a Kristen Wiig-led comedy, a Kevin Durant-inspired scripted basketball show, a series from “La La Land’s” director and several other shows.

Winfrey, however, is not just another showrunner or producer. She’s a media giant who has worked across film, network and cable TV, print and more as an actress, talk show host, creator and producer.

She’s also a notable philanthropist, having contributed more than $100 million to provide education to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is continually discussed as a potential presidential candidate, though she said that’s not for her.

On television, Winfrey’s Harpo Productions developed daytime TV shows like “Dr. Phil,” “The Dr. Oz Show” and “Rachael Ray.” Harpo Films produced several Academy Award-winning movies, including “Selma,” which featured Winfrey in a starring role. She’s also acted in a variety of productions over the years, like “The Color Purple,” which scored her an Oscar nom, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Winfrey also founded the cable network OWN in 2011 in partnership with Discovery Communications, and has exec produced series including “Queen Sugar,” “Oprah’s Master Class” and the Emmy-winning “Super Soul Sunday.”

The latter has a connection with Apple as it debuted as a podcast called “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations” and became a No. 1 program on Apple Podcasts.

Winfrey recently extended her contract with OWN through 2025, so it’s unclear how much time she’ll devote specifically toward her Apple projects.

Apple also didn’t say if Winfrey will star or guest in any of the programs themselves, but that’s always an option on the table with a deal like this. CNN, however, is reporting that Winfrey “is expected to have an on-screen role as a host and interviewer.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/15/apple-and-oprah-sign-a-multi-year-partnership-on-original-content/

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