It's a big month for Guillermo del Toro. Tomorrow sees the release of the Pacific Rim Blu-ray. And on Oct. 29, he's releasing his sketchbook collection Cabinet of Curiosities. We talked to del Toro about monsters and art — plus we're featuring an exclusive Pacific Rim deleted scene and some horrifying pages from his sketchbook.
Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities is just what it sounds like, a glimpse inside the creative process of this master of horror and weirdness. Including sketches from his sketchbooks, plus production photos, storyboards and tons of del Toro's weird little scribbles. Plus interviews and random insights into del Toro's thought process.
See for yourself, with our samples from the book below.
And here's an exclusive deleted scene from Pacific Rim, where we see more of what Raleigh Beckett was up to during that long period when he was a retired Jaeger pilot:
In our exclusive phone interview, del Toro told us he's excited for people to see the special features on the Pacific Rim DVD and Blu-ray. He's excited for you to watch some featurettes about the creation of these massive Jaegers and Kaiju: "In a movie about scale," he says, "it was very important for me that people understood the incredible level of detail that goes into creating that reality."
"I believe strongly that 50 percent of the storytelling in the film is submerged in audio-visual information," adds del Toro. "And with the experience at home, you're going to have a more intimate view of the movie, and you're going to get a much closer look at all the details."
Breaking the Face
When you look though the Cabinet of Curiosities, one thing that you realize is that del Toro has tried to push the human face to its furthest extremes, breaking up its normal composition — whether with the eyeball palms in Pan's Labyrinth, or the split-open mouth in Blade II. We asked del Toro if there's a limit to how much you can break open a face and still have it look like a face. He responds:
That is easy and difficult at the same time. You can boil down the basic expression to almost like a pictogram, you know? You can do a small thing, like the famous smiley-face, which is a circle, two points and a little smiley curve. Because the human mind — in our mammalian instinct — [creates] patterns where there are none. And one of those things teaches us to see figures, or faces, in everything we do.
So if you acknowledge that, you can boil down the design to a few gestures, and make a face heroic, or brave, or bold, or crazy. And we do that with the robots [in Pacific Rim.] We boil down the minimal expression, the angle of the visor on Gipsy Danger... [these things] tell you a lot about the character.
As for eyeball-palm guy, and split-face vampire, del Toro says those are "what mask-creation is all about, and therefore monster creation." In the case of the eyeball-palm creature, "the two nostrils already act like eyes," and the angle of the face supports that, "and then when the hands come in and complete the picture, it makes it much more creepy," he says with obvious delight.
"But this is arguably a process that is at the same time instinctive and therefore simple, and at the same time hard, because you have to distill many, many years of design work," says del Toro, "both as a creator and as a spectator, reader or audience member."
Are these disrupted human faces part of an attempt on del Toro's part to get at what it means to be human, by breaking the human face into different configurations? Del Toro says absolutely yes:
That is basically what all the movies I make are about. Whether you've seen Hellboy or Devil's Backbone or Pan's Labirynth, I really want... I am attracted to humanistic horror, and the best way to define what makes us human is to explore what makes things inhuman.
"I communicate through words and doodles"
Del Toro says he never had formal training as an artist, and he's never done life drawing from a subject. Everything he learned about art is "self-taught." He actually drew comics, early in his career. "I published a series of comic books in Mexico with friends," back in the 1980s. He also worked as a VFX designer and storyboard artist for other directors, before he became a director himself.
"I communicate through words and doodles," del Toro says. "Everybody who has ever had a working session with me, knows that I need to have a paper and pen next to me, to communicate the idea. It's just absolutely impossible for me to communicate" with creative people, without having words and images to draw on.
Sometimes, the art of sketching will change a character — even if del Toro is working from a rich visual source, like the Hellboy comics. For example, Hellboy features an "iconic character" named Kroenen. In the comics, the personality of Kroenen is "almost that of a meek bureaucrat," says del Toro. "I started doodling Kroenen, and a very different character came out of that, and it was truly a scary, very powerful villain."
Adds del Toro, "what you do is you reinterpret the character in the screenplay, but you also reinterpret in the sketching and drawing." Whereas if you're working from scratch, "you have only the point of inspiration from yourself to go by."
At the Mountains of Madness could still happen
There's only one image from his H.P. Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness in the book, a doodle that del Toro made in 1990. "We couldn't put any of the art [in the book] because we still hope it gets made," says del Toro. "The real art for the movie, which is stored carefully, is amazing and mindblowing, but we can't expose it because we still have a hope of making the film."
We ask if del Toro thinks Mountains might get made in five or 10 years, and he responds, "hopefully before that. I was just talking to [Producer] Don Murphy yesterday... and they are absolutely working for the movie to happen, and they will never give up. And I'll never give up. But it has to happen with the right budget, and the right team."
Part of the problem, says del Toro, is that studios want horror films to be low budget, "so the profit is huge. And there are great low-budget horror movies. I have produced and directed a few. But the Lovecraft universe has such a scale in Mountains of Madness, that it's impossible to do that."
But couldn't del Toro pitch it as an adventure story? We ask. It's definitely a genre mix, del Toro says: "It's basically like a Shackleton exploration movie, combined with an anthropological adventure and geological exploration, and finally horror surfaces out of all that."
Adds del Toro:
There are only three types of horror: The one where you get invaded, the one where your home gets invaded, or the one where you enter a place you shouldn't go into. That's it. Any movie in the genre goes into those three categories. And the most expensive one is where you go to a place you shouldn't be, because you have to create a world for the characters to fall into.
Why keep making horror movies?
We interviewed Insidious director James Wan recently, and he talked about retiring from horror movies, after having just made a handful of films in the genre. Why does del Toro want to keep making horror films, after the career he's had?
You know, in fact, I don't know. I am a huge horror fan... at this point, I make movies that are in a very strange genre where I make stuff into what I like. Even the big movies like Pacific Rim, [it is] definitely not just a summer movie looking like a regular summer movie, with the regular summer movie moments.
There are not many summer movies where an unborn giant monster baby goes out of the mother and strangles itself with the umbilical cord. [Laughs] Or where a little Japanese girl wanders around with a red shoe in her hand.
I don't think I've ever been confined by where what I do falls into, as a genre. So, you know, I just keep coming back to the things that get me excited. And I guess what gets me excited is a degree of horror.
Check out more images from del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities below.