Note: This story contains spoilers from “What We Do in the Shadows” Season 5, Episode 7.
There’s an unofficial rule on the set of “What We Do in the Shadows:” no fully CGI characters. So when Paul Jones, the series’ longtime prosthetics and animatronics designer, heard that there would be an episode filled with hybrid Guillermo creatures, he knew he was in for a challenge.
“Paul [Simms] knew right away that this was a lot of work for anybody, and he was able to schedule that toward the end of filming. I actually had probably about eight weeks lead up to it,” Jones told TheWrap.
That eight-week runway allowed for a lot of testing on one of the wildest episodes of the FX comedy series. All season long, Laszlo (Matt Berry) has been experimenting on Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), trying to determine what it means that his housemate is both a vampire and a vampire hunter descended from Abraham Van Helsing. In Season 5’s “Hybrid Creatures,” the result of that extensive testing is revealed in the form of dog, rat, frog, sheep and fish creatures that are all half-Guillermo monstrosities.
“It’s the little show that could. Compared to like ‘The Mandalorian’ or all these other shows, we have a fraction of the budget. But what we produce with costumes, with sets, just with the overall scope of the world has been pretty amazing.”
Because the original movie of the same name relied completely on practical effects, incorporating them into the series was important to series EPs Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Jones estimated that his company has been involved in every episode of the series save for its pilot and “a little break in the middle of Season 4.”
“Every season has brought its new challenges. I don’t think there’s been an episode of ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ that I wasn’t involved in in some way, whether it’s a complete creature or just a pair of fangs. That’s the beauty of the show,” Jones said.
In creating these Guillermo experiments, Jones followed the same directive he’s used in creating all of “Shadows” creatures. The advice was first given to him by executive producer Paul Simms: “You always have to find the funny.”
“We don’t want to make them look ridiculous. That’s already ruining the joke. It’s like giving away the punchline,” Jones explained. “If you’re doing a zombie, we want it to look like a rotting corpse. If we’re doing a werewolf, it’s going to look like an animal, but then it does ridiculous things like jump off a roof after running after a dog toy.”
Prosthetics make up about “75 to 80%” of the effect. Afterwards, the team then relies on the special effects department, led by Stephen W. Pugh, to bring these creations home. That involves such work as using CGI to make the Nadja doll speak — the first major collaboration between the two departments.
As for the episode’s specific creatures, “The Island of Dr. Moreau” served as a reference. But out of all the hybrids, the Guillermo rat and Binky, the fish creature, proved to be particularly challenging.
Because the rat puppet was relatively small, it was hard to maneuver. The puppet required two puppeteers to move it, and most of its movements were “rod puppeted.” A servo motor allowed for jaw movements, and the VFX team stepped in to make his lips move and add in blinking.
“It’s so utterly gross, but also at the same time everybody wanted to pet it,” Jones said.
In fact, when he was working on the episodes, Jones recalled series star Kayvan Novak running up to him, asking where the “animals” were. “I went, ‘I think they’re in the –‘ ‘OK, thanks, bye.’ And he just takes off running down the corridor.”
The challenge around the aquatic Binky also had to do with its movements. Though Jones had created a swimming creature before, for this one he had to “completely rethink the technique.” He settled on puppeteering Binky himself in a green suit.
“I’m using the water itself to actually undulate the puppet. So the way it’s puppeteered, it only works in water,” Jones said. “When it comes out of the water. It was a hand puppet, a totally different effect.”
Overall, Jones praised his time working on “What We Do in the Shadows” as “one of the best team experiences I’ve ever had on a show.”
“Sometimes you just get told what to do on shows. Sometimes you get told nothing, and you have to make it all up. It’s very collaborative, what we’re doing on ‘Shadows,’ ” Jones said “Now it’s almost like a shorthand. When they create a character, they’re going to go, ‘OK, so prosthetics is going to do this much. And then hair and makeup will do this much. And then VFX will do this much.’ It’s almost like everybody knows their strengths and their weaknesses, but combined, we’re able to create a whole thing.”
New episodes of “What We Do in the Shadows” premiere on FX Thursdays at 10 p.m. New episodes are available to stream on Hulu the next day.
The post ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Prosthetics Boss Breaks Down Those Freaky Guillermo Hybrids appeared first on TheWrap.