Wonders of the Troll Market and Beyond – Part 1
Although the first Hellboy film was rich in creature effects — both practical and digital — its sequel increased the workload with an ambitious roster of monstrous characters. To design the creatures and bring them to the screen, work was split between Spectral Motion, Solution Studios, Creature FX and DDT Efectos Speciales. Creature designs started from sketches by director Guillermo del Toro or Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, and then passed over at the companies for further refinement and selection of effects methods that could portray them effectively. Certain creatures were entirely practical or digital, whereas others employed both effects systems. Certain expedients used in Pan’s Labyrinth — such as the use of green screen creature suit portions that would be erased in post-production — were also recycled for the project.
One of the film’s first scenes is set in the BPRD headquarters, where a number of computer-generated background creatures is seen. The first to appear is the Berserker, a brutish creature based on a rejected design for Sammael in the first film, penned by Mike Mignola. Starting from the concept art, the design was refined and given life-like anatomy and texture, as well as additional elements. Once finalized, the Berserker design was translated at Spectral Motion into a 24-inch maquette, which was then passed over at Double Negative to be used as reference for the CG character. Double Negative animation supervisor Eamonn Butler elaborated: “he’s like a big gorilla, with short legs and long, slightly gelatinous arms that look as if they are filled with water bags. He’s covered in leathery, bumpy skin, and has tentacles and a carapace shell that peels back to reveal his face.”
On set, Brian Steele was filmed wearing a green screen suit — simulating a struggle with BPRD agents — and then replaced with the Berserker. “That was one of the most challenging shots from an integration standpoint,” Butler said. “The performer in the green suit was much smaller than the Berserker would be, and so the agents’ arms and hands interfered with the space where the CG character would be struggling. To place their hands back on top of the Berserker, we had to replace the BPRD agents’ arms with digital arms, which we tracked to their actual bodies.”
As the camera proceeds down the corridor — with Abe Sapien and Tom Manning talking — other BPRD agents are seen trying to hold down a tentacled monster, aptly-dubbed the ‘Lovecraftian Entity’. As the name suggests, this creature was conceived as a homage to the Lovecraftian elements rooted within the Hellboy comics and films, and was inspired by the descriptions of the Elder Things in H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. As such, it sported a radially symmetrical body, with multiple limbs and tentacles, as well as an inverted squid head. Based on a Spectral Motion design maquette, Double Negative crafted the complex digital model. In integrating the creature within the film footage, the DN crew met similar issues to those they had with the Berserker. “We had massive integration issues,” said Butler, “because we had people holding down a guy in a green suit, and the guy didn’t look anything like the character. So we ended up replacing a lot of the limbs on the agents in that shot, too.” Other members of the species are seen walking around the Troll Market — one even snatches up a flying fairy with an extensible tongue.
A small troll baby is seen being held by a BPRD agent. This character was a scaled-down and deformed version of another creature — the Cronie — seen later in the film during the Troll Market sequence. “We modeled a full-grown troll first,” Butler explained, “and then scaled down the body and found a ratio for the head and body that made it look like he was young.”
The action shifts to the auction house, where the BPRD agents investigate the ravaged rooms. There, they find a slimy substance, which is then revealed to be the remains of the auction participants — devoured, digested and defecated by swarms of tooth fairies. “They’ve eaten everyone,” Butler commented. “We don’t show that, but Hellboy and the other BPRD agents put two and two together when the cute fairy turns and attacks them. All the tooth fairies hiding in the walls bust out and attack. They go for the teeth first, but they eat everything in front of them. And, there are thousands, landing on the agents, crawling into their mouths, biting, pulling their hair. Guillermo described them as vicious little Chihuahuas.”
These small, ravenous creatures were designed by Francisco Ruiz-Velasco, based on Mignola drawings. The overall appearance of the characters was nailed down relatively quickly, and then refined by Velasco and Barlowe. The tooth fairies were nine-inch-tall exoskeletal creatures with semi-translucent wings and a small mouth that could open wide to reveal rows of sharp teeth.
The design was translated by Colin Shulver at Solution Studios into three oversized maquettes, which were used as reference by the DN team to build the digital model. From there, the animators developed a library of keyframed crawling, walking and flying motion cycles. Those could be plugged into animation scenes. Double Negative also wrote Swarm — a particle-based procedural animation system in Maya — for shots of the swarming fairies. Butler explained: “with Swarm we can draw motion curves or paths and the particles will fly along those curves — and they’re smart enough to know when they’ve hit another character or a surface to land on. Depending on what they intercept, they switch modes, going from a flying cycle to a crawling or biting cycle.”
In another interview, Butler elaborated further: “The animators would keyframe a number of guide creatures for the technical directors to follow. The TDs would then implement Double Negative’s proprietary swarm tool to create a particle simulation. This sim would form the basis of the speed and direction of the creatures. Animation cycles and behaviors were sampled and combined to create the creature’s actual motion. Many iterations were needed at the start of production to find the behaviors that worked best.” Another tool, Director, allowed swarms of creatures to be created without overloading the computers: fairies could be laid into the scenes in foreground, midground and background layers.
The Chamberlain that stops Prince Nuada from entering the royal chamber was another Spectral Motion creation, designed by Chet Zar and played by Doug Jones. The artist was given absolute freedom in designing the character, with the only guideline that it would have to be a ‘hybrid make-up’ — an expedient Del Toro had used on Pan’s Labyrinth — where the top of the head was an animatronic element, but the mouth would be the performer’s, covered in make-up blending with the rest of the head.
Zar envisioned a “pope-like” being that would be as bizarre as possible within the given parameters. He related: “as far as the design of the actual character itself, I was just playing with how weird I could make it look within the parameters that he gave me, so I was going for a tall, angular guy with long skinny fingers and a long, narrow flat head; it looks a lot like one of the characters from my paintings and everyone who has seen it said it looked like it was from one of my paintings, so it was kind of cool to be able to do that. It’s probably the first time ever really, that a director has let me go for it like that.”
The appearance of the character was completed by long and spindly animatronic arms and hands, puppeteered by the performer — whose own arms were laid back. “The arms are really long and skinny, and I wanted them to be too thin to be real so you couldn’t say it was a guy wearing gloves,” Zar said, “because they were too skinny and spindly and creepy.”
As with the entirety of the characters played by Jones in the film, the make-up design and application was helmed by Thom Floutz. “Doug had on some very tall boots to increase his height and a long robe, and he was also puppeteering his arms,” the artist said. “He used his arms to puppeteer some thin, really expressive hands with long thin wrists, so the robe helped conceal his elbows and his real arms while he did that.” Setrakian added: “he basically held the base of these arms kind of like a bun-raku puppeteer would and he can wave the hands around, he knows where they are and I was puppeteering the movement of the fingers and it wound up being this really expressive and cool character.”
The weight of the head was counterbalanced by a bungee cord that was linked to a hump-like understructure — covered by the Chamberlain’s robe — which housed the servomotors and other mechanical elements. Floutz commented on Jones’ performance: “the eyes were really expressive on this thing, and surprisingly even when the eyes weren’t moving and the mechanics were turned off, Doug still got a lot of life out of the thing just with his own mouth and his arm and hand movements and the work he could do to bring a character to life.”
King Balor is guarded by several warriors, dubbed the ‘Butcher Guards’ due to their weapons of choice — large swords. These characters were created by Creature Effects. “We also did these things called the Butcher Guards,” said Cliff Wallace, co-founder of the effects company, “which we had to do a dozen of and they’re basically leather and wood costumes really. We also did the weapons for them. They originally started out with a very small part, but Guillermo liked them so much that they ended up having several big fights, so we had to make stunt versions of everything. What started as a fairly simple job ended up being one of the biggest jobs that we had to do.”
To locate the Troll Market, the BPRD agents interrogate a bizarre-looking troll, the Fragglewump. This monster was envisioned by Constantine Sekeris as a bloated and deformed humanoid combining mammalian and insectoid traits — with thin, spindly arms and long, grasshopper-like legs. From there, design and construction of the creature was headed by David Grasso. Despite the Fragglewump’s anatomy and proportions, it was realized as a large creature suit donned by Brian Steele — and featuring another example of the ‘hybrid make-up’ approach, with the top of the head down to the nose being animatronic, and the character’s mouth being Steele’s, covered in make-up.
The suit was largely faithful to Sekeris’ design, with the exception of the eyes — whose size was increased to make the character more comical. Grasso related: “Constantine’s original design had smaller eyes and in many ways was sort of creepier-looking, so we started doing that and then we got feedback from Guillermo that he wanted the eyes to be really huge. At first, we weren’t really crazy about that idea, but we said, ‘well, Guillermo knows what he’s doing,’ so we did them bigger and he didn’t like it and we had to make them really huge, but when I saw footage of it put together, he was right, it made it funnier, which is what it’s supposed to be.” Other subtle details included the troll’s shark-like teeth, worn as prosthetic dentures by the performer.
The Fragglewump’s small arms were puppeteered from inside the suit, whereas the leg configuration was resolved by having the legs partially attached to Steele’s. Elizalde explained: “the legs were attached mechanically to Brian’s hips. From [there], they jutted out at an angle, came down, and attached to Brian’s feet. Whenever he moved his feet, the legs would mimic whatever his feet and legs were doing — so he could actually walk as the character.” Uncovered portions of Steele’s legs wore cloth — black cloth for dark environments or greenscreen cloth that would be erased in post-production. Different attachment points would be used depending on the shot. “The result,” Elizalde continues, “was a character that deviated far from the anthropomorphic, but clearly was not CG. It was very convincing — and one of the weirdest things I have ever seen.”
Special thanks to Joe Nazzaro, who contributed previously unused interview material; absolutely invaluable!
Posted on 25/06/2018, in Movie Monsters and tagged Brian Steele, Chamberlain, Creature FX Inc., Doug Jones, Fragglewump, Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy, Hellboy II, Solution Studios, Spectral Motion. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.