Guillermo Del Toro

There was a good reason to be in theater 10 of the Hollywood Arclight Cinema on January 12th at 7 PM, and I’m not talking about the popcorn. Sure, getting free popcorn for going to an event is great, but an even better reward is to see Guillermo Del Toro live. The award-winning director of PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY, PACIFIC RIM, and so many more amazing films gave a talk on his newest movie, THE SHAPE OF WATER.

Coupled with the experience of seeing THE SHAPE OF WATER — a fantastic film and one that all but begs for insight from the minds behind it — Guillermo Del Toro’s talk opened up a whole new world for the movie. Now, I’m going to share what I learned.


In order to fully appreciate the information I received in the event, you need to know what the movie is about, of course. Don’t worry, spoiler warnings will be included where necessary.

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THE SHAPE OF WATER is a strange and magical tale of love and power. A girl, Eliza (Sally Hawkins), incapable of speech, works in a custodial position at the Department of Defense aerospace division laboratories. There she witnesses the odd goings-on as a creature, called “the asset,” is brought to the lab. She befriends and eventually develops romantic feelings for this creature. Chaos and danger ensue as her life becomes tangled with the creature and with the head of security regarding the asset. It’s a tale of life, love, death, and danger.

It may seem unusual to watch Eliza fall in love with what Guillermo Del Toro calls “the finman.” But on the contrary, the film proves itself enthralling and captivating, rather than alienating or even fetishizing despite its odd subject matter.

A Glance at Del Toro

While the talk was primarily about THE SHAPE OF WATER, Guillermo Del  Toro shared a bit about himself, as well. He shared information about his childhood, his career, and his inspirations. All of this gave an interesting insight into the film and how it intersects with Del Toro’s life.

Guillermo Del Toro
Photo Courtesy of Guillermo Del Toro

Del Toro first fell in love with monster movies as a young child. He made a remark about how much these movies and monsters scared him. He then said that he fell in love with monster movies despite and even because of his fear of them. One of the movies that affected him deeply was CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Del Toro also described his relationship with movies by stating how many times movies saved his life, “and not the great movies,” as he stated. Del Toro describes his career in screenwriting and directing best in the following quote:

“We embellish lies to the point of making them truthful.”

Del Toro also stated that people in the film industry get so caught up in the business that they forget it is a “sacred duty.” Del Toro said that film is still a storytelling medium, only it uses audio and visual elements. He also commented that the reason people create, particularly movies, is because “we need to understand the universe.”

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Guillermo Del Toro Describing the Film

Beware! Spoilers ahead!

Del Toro shared some of his thoughts on what went into the movie as well as ideas that didn’t quite make the cut. For example, for the scene in the beginning of the movie with Eliza floating in her water dream, he had intended it to be the first of three scenes where she appears underwater. The movie wound up having two of these scenes, so Del Toro described the scene that failed to make it into the film.

Guillermo Del Toro
Photo Courtesy of Guillermo Del Toro

The third, cutscene depicted Eliza at the bus stop, floating in the water dream, as did everything around her. I feel this would have brought us closer to understanding the connection with the creature sooner. Since we don’t understand quite why she loves the creature so much until the middle and later parts of the film, this could have changed things. I believe it would have shown a subconscious connection to water in a deeper manner.

Had this been done, our deeper understanding of the connection would have the audience believing something along the lines of “it was meant to be.”  This would have appealed even more to the romantics in the crowd than the romance included in the movie. Unfortunately, due to the low budget of the movie, this proved itself unreasonable and impossible.

Developing Problems Within THE SHAPE OF WATER

Del Toro faced problems within the film that he shared with the audience. One of the problems was dealing with topical issues without creating a topical film. He wanted to create a monster movie and show the elements of voicelessness faced by many people — literal and metaphorical.

To resolve this issue, he made the topical issues a part of the characters rather than a part of the plot alone. He noted that the characters would have aspects to them that would touch on topical issues, but he did not make the entire movie about these issues. Instead, he made it about the romance and drama surrounding the creature.

Another problem presented itself when the creature had to escape the apartment. Del Toro needed a way to stop the creature from disappearing entirely. Since old films not only inspired but became a large part of the movie, this showed a great opportunity. So, Del Toro presented the creature with the cinema to stop it in its tracks.

The creature escapes after eating the cat of Eliza’s friend, and he sees the cinema. He goes inside as a means of protecting himself from the outside world. There Eliza finds the finman, practically frozen in place, because the film had so enraptured him. The creature doesn’t even notice when Eliza arrives until she is right in front of him.

Finman or Amazonian God?

A third problem Del Toro discussed was in presenting the creature as a god. He wanted the audience to know and have a reminder of the fact that the creature “is a god.” Del Toro did this by creating a mysteriously powerful creature, that could even self-heal and make a bald man have hair again. Del Toro made the creature righteous as well. The creature took Eliza into the water with him when she had died, to make it seem that the creature was honoring his love and those who had helped him.

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Creating the Creature

Del Toro studied movie monster creation under Dick Smith, alongside JJ Abrams, but this education did not mean that designing the creature would be easy. Del Toro discussed many elements of monster creation and many elements of how the finman was created specifically. This excellently showed the difficulty of monster design.

Del Toro said that he and the sculptor had quite the time figuring out the lines of sculpting for the creature. Every line created a different image for the creature, thus making a different impression. At first, the creature seemed too harsh and scary. It seemed very unlikely that Eliza would fall in love with it. So, they had to soften certain features and rework others. As Del Toro said, “The eyes were a whole conversation.”

The next step also presented a problem: the color palette for the creature. An important aspect of the creature’s palette showed itself as making sure the colors differed from similar creatures. The palette for the Gilman, green. The palette for Abe Sapien, blue. So, the creature got a black color palette. In fact, while recognizing that people thought the creature similar to Abe Sapien from HELLBOY, he denied this to be true. He pointed out differences in color, shape, and style. Ultimately, the creation of the creature, sculpting, and color palette included, was a rather difficult task.

Guillermo Del Toro
Images courtesy of Guillermo Del Toro

Visual Elements to Stun the Audience

Amazing visuals can be found throughout THE SHAPE OF WATER, as part of no accident in the slightest. These visuals have many metaphorical meanings, as well, that Del Toro revealed to his audience. From color-coding to structural shapes, everything relevant to the film had been thought through extensively.

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The color-coding in the movie is present in everything. Whether it be the gelatin advertisement or the walls of the apartments, color plays an important role in the visual aspects of THE SHAPE OF WATER. Del Toro said, “Red is for love, life, and movies. Green is the future, the lab, the car, the gelatin.”

This proves itself most interesting, because the character which concerns himself the most with the future, the head of the asset’s security, recognizes that the car’s color shows as “teal” not green. At first, he had called the car green, but, when pressed into purchasing it by thoughts of a successful and glamorous future, he calls the car teal.

Evoking Emotion and Thought

There are not a myriad of colors leaping out at you. Instead, there are specific colors present at specific times. This color coding provides a visually stimulating viewing experience. While the viewer may not be consciously aware of this color coding, these colors evoke specific emotions. The red of the walls in the apartment bring feelings of warmth and love. The blue of the water made me feel both curious and uneasy. It was as if something was left to be said by the color, but I didn’t know what.

The shapes included in the film are quite interesting as well. Most interesting to me are the religious references that surround the creature, reminding the viewer that it is a god. For example, the pool that the creature finds itself trapped in provokes images of a ziggurat or a South American temple for worship of gods. Behind this same pool are pipelines that fan out in a very sun-like fashion, again referencing the ancient worship of gods.

Talking the Talk

Guillermo Del Toro spoke wonderfully for over two hours, taking questions and leaving behind beautiful words. He spoke of the work that went into creating the monster. Del Toro described the thought behind the visuals, plot, and his own life and career. I am truly glad to have gotten to witness such a great figure in the film industry speak. I think the most beautiful thing Del Toro said that evening would stick with me for a while:

“We’re made of water… We’re made of love.”

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