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Spectral Motion creates creatures for 'Hellboy II'

By Rob M. Worley     July 11, 2008

When Comics2Film first met Mike Elizalde, his newly-established creature shop Spectral Motion had just begun work on its first major movie. Having previously worked as an F/X supervisor with Guillermo del Toro on 'Blade II', Elizalde's company quickly found a home on the director's adaptation of Mike Mignola's 'Hellboy'. Now, some five years later, Elizalde and Spectral Motion have come home once more, reuniting with del Toro for 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army.'

"It’s like a homecoming! Guillermo is my favorite person to work and collaborate with. Every time I am fortunate enough to share with him in the creative process of developing film characters the results are tremendous," Elizalde said. "It feels great to return to this property which is very special to all of us. It’s even more gratifying because I was asked by Guillermo and Ron [Perlman] to apply the Hellboy makeup this time around. I’m walking on sunshine."

Of course, a lot has changed for Spectral Motion since the first film. The company staff has tripled in size and they've become the go-to shop for comic franchises like 'Blade', 'X-Men' and 'Fantastic Four'.

Elizalde credits the first 'Hellboy' with opening those doors and notes that each film brings a unique set of challenges. Each film pushes available technology to new limits in the quest to realize the monstrous. It reaches a new level of difficulty when trying to bring fifteen of the misshapen creatures of del Toro's imagination to life.

"Difficult isn’t the first thing which comes into your mind when Guillermo is describing what he wants to see on film. Impossible is more like it," Elizalde joked. "Actually, when I’m listening to Guillermo’s ideas for a character I see the end. The ideas come crawling out of the darkness and into the light. I love the challenges he brings to us because I know that with the help of my incredibly talented crew and Guillermo’s guidance, we will always end up with something memorable and amazing to put in his movies."

One such featured creature is the Angel of Death:

"With the Angel of Death, GdT wanted us to build a practical set of wings which could unfurl on camera. Each wing had six large raptor-like eyes. The eyes on the wings could look around and blink either in unison or sequentially."

Elizalde was reluctant to reveal the techniques used for the creature. "I can say that I am SO GLAD [emphasis his] that Guillermo wanted us to do those practically as opposed to CG. I love having the opportunity for my team to realize these effects as real world, in your face effects because there really is no substitute for tactile reality."

Even so, Elizalde agrees that both practical and computer generated effects have their place. "I have always felt that combining the two yields the greatest results," he said, adding he's happy with the choices that where made to utilize both. ""I am thrilled with the amount of practical effects we did in this movie and I think that the CG effects are used very effectively."

One massive, practical effect came in the form of Wink, a hulking creature Hellboy does battle with.

"Wink was the largest creature suit worn by one person I have ever seen. Brian Steele was in there somewhere but it is still confounding that something as massive as that creature was able to move so nimbly and generate such personality and screen presence," Elizalde told us. "That was no easy task. The creature was nearly eight feet tall and about four feet wide. The Wink suit weighed over 150 pounds all together before Brian started sweating in it!!"

By way of comparison (although there is no comparison at all), the Thing suit Spectral Motion created for Michael Chiklis in the first 'Fantastic Four' weighed a mere 50 pounds, and was trimmed to 35 pounds for the sequel.

Puppeteers controlled Wink's facial expressions while Steele was responsible for the body movements.

"Brian Steele is simply a remarkable suit performer and a dyed in the wool professional. He trained for several weeks prior to shooting with a body harness to which he strapped on weights along with very heavy ankle weights," Elizalde explained. "He took this job very seriously and he prepared for the rigors of what he knew was ahead for him.

"The shooting schedule was never interrupted because Brian had to stop and I believe that one day he was in the suit for over ten hours before he had a break.

"To alleviate some of the discomfort we took his animatronic head off whenever we could so he could cool off and grab a snack. During shots, he used a rubber tube to drink electrolytes so he could stay hydrated and we also had the usual battery powered blowers on hand to cool him off between takes."

In spite of the impressive technological feats that Angel of Death and Wink represent, Elizalde reveals that it's another creature that he favors.

"I really love the Bag Lady Troll! I mean, Wink and AOD were definitely way up there but the Bag Lady Troll had a very unique quality about her. You couldn’t stand next to that creature and not be mesmerized by its appearance and movement."

Elizalde describes his relationship with del Toro as brotherly and familial. The two have developed a rapport that allows great synergy in their filmmaking. "There's no bullshit. He is very comfortable coming to my shop and talking directly with all of the artists and technicians and even performing some of the work himself.

"It's not uncommon to see him pick up a sculpting tool and make adjustments to a sculpture in order to unmistakably get his ideas across."

Elizalde said he had daily interactions with del Toro on the set of the movie. He also had more interactions with Mike Mignola this time around. "He came to the shop With Guillermo several times during preproduction, as he had done on the first film. I was glad to spend time with him during filming and getting to know him better."

With their work on 'Hellboy II' wrapped, Spectral Motion has moved on to the Saturday Morning revival, 'Land of the Lost'. Still Elizalde told us he looks forward to doing more comic-based movies.

"There really is no limit beyond imagination to what you can create. The universe in which comic book characters live is boundless," Elizalde said.

As for future projects:

"Although it's not a comic book property per say, I'm still holding my breath for John Carter of Mars. There are endless possibilities for some spectacular creature designs in that series of books."

And what of future collaborations with Guillermo del Toro?

"I am not at liberty to discuss any properties in development but I am fairly certain that we will be working with Guillermo again very soon…"

Fans know well that dozens of potential projects are on del Toro's plate, but the one that's created a stir recently is 'The Hobbit'. So perhaps we'll be seeing Elizalde and Spectral Motion's craftsmanship applied to Smaug or something else from the Tolkien bestiary.

'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' opens in theaters July 11th.

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