How Creating Monsters Is Like Jazz

Monster creation is not a mechanical or algebraic process. “What is important is that you riff, you riff by instinct, and you riff with the best you can.”
  • Transcript


Question: How do you create new monsters?

Guillermo del Toro: You know, monster creation is truly a beautiful... it’s like jazz—it’s not like algebra.  You don’t take a bunch of ciphers and try to add them or subtract them or multiply them or factor them.  You... you’re dealing with almost a musical process and, and like Jazz, what is important is that you riff, you riff by instinct and you riff with the best you can.  You try to have Thelonious Monk and you try to have, you know, Charlie Parker and you try to... and so you jam with great people.  I jam with Wayne Barlow on “Spectral Motion,” Mike Mignola and you’re doing music together.  

I come up the first few notes and then they answer with rhythm, and then, and it’s a truly organic process.  To give you an example, the Paleman in “Pan’s Labyrinth” I originally said to DDT, make it a fat guy that lost a little weight so that he’s skinny but he has a lot of sagging skin on his bones.  And they sculpted this realistic face and then I was having dinner with my wife and I said, I’m not comfortable with the character, I think that it should be an incomplete character.  So I was thinking maybe he would have wooden hands and a platter in front of him and he would put those hands in his amputated stumps.  Or he could have no eyes and have a flat face like a manta ray and just have a little tiny mouth—because she always jokes with me that I’m fat, she says, “How did you get that fat with that tiny little mouth with little teeth?”  And I felt the voracity of this character was better enhanced with a little mouth with tiny baby teeth than making it a big mouth.  

And then riffing on that, I said to my wife, “What do you like the best?”  And she says, “I think the eyes.”  And then I then told DDT to take the sculpture and erase... and they were outraged and shocked and they got angry at me for a long, long, long—I think they were angry with me all the way to the Oscars, or past that.  But that’s how we started riffing.  And I said, let’s make a hole here, a stigmata because the guy was kind of the church in the movie.  And then I said, let’s...  And then I thought of a... it’s an organic process.  As you can see by my bulk, I am an instinctive man that tries to organize his thinking, but impulse is 90% of it.

Recorded on September 22, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller