Mister Wink — Prince Nuada’s musclebound henchman troll — was born as a drawing in one of director Guillermo Del Toro’s notebooks: an ape-like humanoid with a large prosthetic mechanical hand that could be deployed from the arm through a chain and then retracted. As defined by concept artist Wayne Barlowe, “his huge artificial arm and hand seem like a direct counterpoint to Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doom.” The mechanical arm and hand also served the purpose of making Mr. Wink visually belong to Hellboy’s world.
The preliminary drawing and idea for the character may have been influenced by Unmensch and Brutus, two characters from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics; Wink inherited the ape-like qualities and mechanical forearms from Brutus, and the launching chain-fist from Unmensch. Wink’s name, on the other hand, was based on that of a one-eyed dog owned by Selma Blair at the time of production.
From Del Toro’s initial concept pitch, several other artists further elaborated the design — starting from Mike Mignola. He endowed the character with two tusks protruding from his lower jaw — a trait he had originally proposed for Sammael in the first film. Conceptual iterations were explored at Spectral Motion, where Mario Torres art-directed the character’s design and construction.
Artists like Wayne Barlowe and Francisco Ruiz-Velasco Francisco devised further iterations of the character, defining Wink’s anatomy with other mammal-based traits and a tough, elephant-like or rhinoceros-like hide — with wrinkled and dry skin — all under Del Toro’s specific direction. Torres described the process: “I basically got a couple of designs and did some little maquettes off those designs. Mike Mignola had some input, because he did a rough doodle, but I basically took their sketches and did a couple of bust maquettes and they chose one and then I took that little maquette and did a full-sized maquette, which was going to be used for scanning at one point, but it ended up being a design maquette for us for the costuming and overall size of the character when we were sculpting it on Brian Steele’s body. I basically tied all the drawings together and made it look like what it was.”
Selected traits chosen by the director all converged into the final Wink design. The colour scheme, from the original blue, became more muted. “With Wink, the original drawings were really blue and we ended up going a little more on the brownish-gray side,” said Linda Benavente-Notaro, head of foam fabrication on the character.
Once a design was selected, it was built by Spectral Motion as a series of full-size creature suits, which began as a sculpture around a cast of performer Brian Steele. Due to the size of the troll, particular attention was given towards engineering a lightweight suit that could hinder the actor’s performance as minimally as possible. “We constructed the foam inside the body in a honeycomb-type of configuration to lighten it but yet fill it in so it didn’t wrinkle or have any cave-ins or anything,” said Notaro. “It was filled in, but it still had little hollow areas inside the foam that really helped with the movement and keeping it cooler for [Steele], not that it’s ever cool with a foam latex outside skin, but as comfortable for him as possible.”
Despite the efforts, the suits still ended up weighing around a hundred pounds — but they were engineered to be flexible and easy to put on the performer. The suit structure was broken down into several parts that could be fit over the actor separately within a short time frame. Torres explained: “the legs were a separate piece and they were put on like pants. Then he had the hooves, the shoes themselves, the actual foot — and then there was something like a shin guard that covers the connecting seam between the foot and the leg itself; then the upper torso and his left ‘normal’ hand, the mechanical hand, and the head. He had this little wrist guard to hide the seam of the regular hand and the skin, so I would say there was a total of ten pieces that brought him together. You literally slipped the pants on, put the shoes on — once he’s in that, you’d slip on the upper torso, put the arms on and the last thing that goes on is the head.”
The suit’s size also allowed certain advantages: “because the character was so enormous,” Torres said, “it gave us a lot of freedom to put in the servos and movement that we wanted so it didn’t necessarily have to be done in CG. It could be a practical effect, so Wink could be there interacting with other actors and most of all, Guillermo could actually see it in front of him and see exactly what he wanted it to do and what he visualized, such as when Wink gets into a fight with Hellboy, for example.”
Construction of the suit’s mechanical elements, which included a cable-controlled hand, a fully animatronic hand and an animatronic head, was headed by Spectral Motion mechanical department chief Mark Setrakian. The head devised proved to be a particular challenge due to its anatomy; three fully-mechanized hero versions — with remote-controlled features — were devised, as well as a stunt version. Spectral Motion head Mike Elizalde commented: “Wink’s head was another daunting requirement that we had to build, because he had so much interaction with the prince and really had to display emotion verging on intelligence.” Setrakian explained further: “Wink’s head was maybe comparable to the heads that I did on Mighty Joe Young, which were among the most complicated ones that I’ve done. So with Wink, I put a lot of work into the head, as [did] Bud McGrew — who was also working on the head, and he came up with a really interesting jaw-hinging mechanism which allowed the jaw to swing from side to side, which is something that you’ll see in other shots where he’s in a fight.”
“The real challenge with the head is — it’s a very unusual shape. It’s got a very long upper lip and it has tusks that are very close to the corners of his mouth and [with] a creature like that, you want it to be able to open its mouth into a big roar so you need some skin to be able to stretch, to open up into that big expression. Having those tusks so close to the corner of his mouth made it really challenging to come up with something that would open to a big expressive shape but not tear the foam in that area. This is one of those things that we’re always fighting: how do you get a big expression out of a creature that’s made out of a material that just doesn’t stretch that well whether you’re using silicone or foam; it’s always an issue.”
Setrakian’s choice for the animatronic head’s skin fell on foam latex, the same material used for the rest of Wink’s skin. “The way I do facial animation on mechanical heads,” he said, “I like to use a lot of compression of the material, so I prefer to use foam. There are lots of people that get fantastic results with silicone, but I’m a little bit old school, and I still actually prefer using foam latex, because in my opinion the compression is very important to get certain expressions, so I tried to capitalize on that with Wink in getting a nice tight expression in the mouth by compressing the lips a little bit and it gives some leeway so when I open the mouth, I can let that tension out and open it up a nice big roaring snarl.”
Setrakian also commented on a peculiar part of Wink’s mechanical arm — what he called the ‘chain nozzle’: “when Wink closes the hand into a fist, he can deploy it as a weapon and launch it and there is this spinning gear/chain winding thing that extends and retracts the chain, which is something that was on our build list; but I recognized that we needed to make something like that, so I designed this thing and produced it and a lot of people were impressed by that and actually wondered if it was some industrial thing but it’s just so evil-looking that I think it’s very much in keeping with Wink’s design. Also, Guillermo loves anything with gears and he also loves anything with resembles an orifice, so this was the perfect combination of those two things.” Setrakian designed and build a servo-driven hand apparatus that could be deployed on a chain and retracted through an opening in the wrist. The device was self-contained and remote-controlled.
Parts of Wink, or the entire character, were sometimes handled by Double Negative as digital effects. Double Negative’s work on Wink was headed by animation supervisor Eamonn Butler. The troll’s mechanical hand was often digitally replaced, such as in the auction hall scene where it is seen crawling on the floor. “The animatronic hand on the Wink suit couldn’t be used as a practical weapon,” commented Wassel. “So, in fight scenes, the suit was fitted with a non-articulated stunt hand. If the shot called for the hand to perform a specific gesture or action, we would take over from the practical mace with a CG replacement.”
A completely digital Wink was provided for shots in the Troll market where the actor couldn’t safely perform the stunt or action required. Digital effects supervisor Justin Martin added: “it’s predominantly practical, but there are a lot of digital additions — from something as simple as adding digital eye-blinks, to replacing part of a main character (like the mouth and jaw, or a mechanical fist) to putting full digital characters.” Mike Wassel, part of the digital crew, also said: “in one particular close-up, we replaced the muzzle, leaving the eyes and the rest of the head intact. We animated the tongue and gave the mouth additional articulation.” Wassel also commented: “one particular shot called for Wink to rise up behind Hellboy. It sounds so simple — but it would have been physically impossible for Brian to perform that action in the suit.” The digital Wink also featured early on in the film, conversing with Nuada. Originally a practical shot, it was replaced with a CG version to delay a full reveal of the character. The scene of the character’s demise also employed the digital Wink.
Wink was very popular among the film crew, to the point where some crewmembers proposed to keep the character alive — as opposed to having him die. However, Wink’s death was structurally required to set up a rivalry between Hellboy and Prince Nuada. Del Toro thus had no choice. “I remember being on set,” said Torres, “and one of the Hungarian crew guys… it was getting closer to when Wink had to die and he put this little sign around his neck that said ‘Save Wink!’ At one point, Guillermo was thinking about keeping him alive and somehow rewriting it, but as we all know, he had to go — but a lot of people said, ‘we don’t want him to go; he’s so cool! So that was nice to hear.”
Special thanks to Joe Nazzaro, who contributed previously unused interview material; absolutely invaluable!
For more pictures of Mr. Wink, visit the Monster Gallery.