The Last Elemental
It is an elemental. A giver of life and a destroyer. A forest god.
Mister Wink’s demise enrages Prince Nuada — who unleashes a Forest Elemental to kill Hellboy. The creature first appears in a small, bean-like shape; upon contact with water, it grows into an immense, 100-foot tall tentacular plant-like monster.
“He’s the last of the race,” director Guillermo Del Toro said. As a child, watching Godzilla films, Del Toro had always wondered why the humans were so intent in killing the beast. He continues: “I always said, ‘he’s just destroying a few buildings, why do you kill him? He’s extraordinary.’ I didn’t see it in its human tragedy proportion. And I thought the Elemental had that possibility, the Elemental had the possibility of, at some point you’re going to kill it, people are not anymore in danger, are you going to kill him because he’s destroying a city block? The Hellboy movies, not unlike Pan’s Labyrinth, are about choice.”
The Elemental was first conceived by Del Toro in one of his notebooks. The first drawing established the main traits of the design, which remained consistent throughout the creation process — such as a crown of mask-like petals wrapping around a central ‘energy ganglion’ defining the creature’s head and suggesting facial features. Del Toro’s sketch was passed on to Francisco Ruiz-Velasco, who defined the anatomy of the creature further. Once the design was finalized, it was translated into three dimensions by Colin Shulver, who sculpted a series of small-scale maquettes of the Elemental.
The maquettes served as the base for Double Negative’s computer-generated Elemental, an immensely detailed digital model. The Elemental’s scale, in fact, dictated — according to Del Toro — a CG-only effects approach. Double Negative CG lead Christophe Ahmand and animation lead Colin McAvoy built the Elemental in two layers — the main body and the covering of moss-like vegetation on the torso. The so-called ‘pimp coat’ was added by the digital effects team to enhance the sense of mass the character would necessarily have to convey.
Among the digital monsters brought to life for Hellboy 2, the Elemental proved to be the most challenging — its size meant that it would not be seen fully in most shots. “The process of animating the Elemental was centered around the primary animation principles of line of action, silhouette and negative space,” said Butler. “As the size of the creature meant its entire form was not in the frame for most of the sequence, we tried to build appeal in the animation of the creature by focusing on the abstract shapes created in the composition by the flailing tentacles. Once we had established the basic poses, we would build on them by animating passes to create weight and dynamism.”
“It was mostly tentacles with no jointed limbs,” commented McAvoy. “It took a lot of work to animate appealing shapes and motion with its many tentacles because of the complexity of the animation controls. It was also extremely large, but needed to move dynamically.” Animation of the main body would drive the procedural animation of the secondary vines and leaves. Butler explained: “Every time the Elemental drops a foot, there’s a shudder of leaves that travels through his body. Colin was very conscientous about making sure the creature didn’t move too fluidly, because that wouldn’t drive the leaves at all. So when he put a foot down, there was a big thump, and you would see his tentacles actually take a hit. The shoulders adjusted very sharply, and that movement was augmented by the leaves and vines and so forth.”
Other additional effects — including steam and dripping water — increased the detail and realism of the character. A growth simulation program was used for the sequence where roots and vegetation form and grow into the building when the Elemental is shot by Hellboy. The creature’s dripping wounds were achieved with fluid simulation technology to create flowing ichor, which causes moss and other vegetation to grow from any surface that comes into contact with it.
As the Elemental dies, its head splits open into a gigantic orchid-like flower, which releases clouds of pollen into the air. Photoshop concepts were produced by Deak Ferrand at Hatch FX, and the final effect of a small forest was realized both digitally and as a practical set. Visual effects supervisor Mike Wassel said: “the ground level as built as a practical set that the actors could walk on and interact with. We transition into CG as the creature’s body extends up along the destroyed building; and then the aftermath scene was photographed practically, with little or no CG enhancement.”
For more pictures of the Elemental, visit the Monster Gallery.