SPOILER ALERT: This contains spoilers from FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” Season 5, Episode 7 now streaming on Hulu.
The human-animal hybrid has been done countless times before, so when “What We Do in the Shadows” prosthetics designer Paul Jones was tasked with bringing some hybrid creatures to the FX comedy, his approach was “to ground the designs in something that was realistic, and not funny.”
The latest episode, aptly titled “Hybrid Creatures,” sees Laszlo’s (Matt Berry) experiments yield some new results.
Over the course of the season, the Staten Island vampire has been curious as to why Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) — after taking things into his own hands finally to become a vampire — has had trouble transforming. It’s taking far too long, weeks in fact, and Guillermo can still go out in broad daylight.
Laszlo secures Guillermo’s DNA, and starts injecting frogs — and then stray animals, including a swine, dog and a lamb — to find out why there’s a delay.
To pull it off, showrunner Paul Simms told Jones to “think Guillermo meets ‘Island of Dr. Moreau,’” as a creative brief.
With that, he went off and started creating his concepts. While the frog hybrid was scripted, the other animals weren’t. “I started to spitball ideas. What if we had a pig, maybe a dog and a rat?” says Jones of his brainstorm.
He fleshed his ideas out in Adobe Photoshop, Jones was mindful of the show’s handheld documentary-style aesthetic, and what might look good on the show before whittling his choices down.
Famed special make-up effects creator Stan Winston had done human-animal hybrids in 1996’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “Batman Returns,” but what Jones noted was that the combination had not really been done for comedy. “Everyone loves dogs and lambs,” Jones says of where he landed. “A pig is hilarious, because pigs are pets now. So it made sense that Laszlo could come across these animals, and have them in his lap.”
Jones next had to determine which animals would be actors in prosthetics versus animatronic puppets. The dog, pig and lamb would be three actors in makeup.
“We knew doing a rat as makeup would be tricky, so we sculpted that entirely as an animatronic rod puppet,” Jones says. “We had guys in green-screen mode doing the body movements, with the animatronics in the head.” For the blinking and snarl, that was turned to the VFX team to finish. Similarly, the frog was also constructed as an animatronic puppet. In all, Jones had four puppeteers working on the two animals.
With prosthetics, Jones didn’t want to do full animal makeup. He wanted the hybrids to be “recognizably human.” He explains, “That’s why we kept half the bodies more human-shaped, and we kept certain features — so what we had was an animalized human, rather than doing a full animal.”
And why do they have so much hair? Jones explains that it’s because Laszlo was using the dark-and-curly-headed Guillermo’s DNA, and so the hybrids would inherit it. Jones tried to sculpt a little bit of Guillermo into each of his designs, but finding that balance was tricky. Says Jones, “That is a real juxtaposition between one aesthetic, Guillermo, and another, the animal.” He continues, “The lamb and the dog were particularly hard, because we had to get that transition between the fur of an animal and Harvey’s quaffed hairdo right.”
The easiest? Jones who spent a full eight weeks on his designs before having to apply the prosthetics answers, “The pig, because they have less fur.”
- How the ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Prosthetics Designer Created Lazlo’s Hybrid Creatures
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