DelToro Con

So this blog post today is about someone who has inspired me, who I've fangirled over more times than I'd like to admit, and who now has an online convention DEDICATED to him.  I think that's pretty rad. Being what it is, I knew I had to participate. 

When I was in school, I remember seeing a movie coming out called Hellboy. I found out it was a comic, loved the comics, and then anticipated the movie. I'd never heard of the director before, and I didn't know what to expect.  I ended up falling in love with the movie, and the director's style, only to find that he was one of the most inspiring and interesting artists I've come across in my career, and one who has personally inspired me to do the art that I do. 

After digging up everything I could on the director, I discovered the notebooks of Guillermo Del Toro. I would read every article I could find and I would try to get a glimpse into his creative process, the way he designed his monsters. Because it's his monsters that capture me, because I love monsters. He worked as a special effects artist for years and he sees the magic of real creatures in movies, and that's only one thing that sets him apart along with his unique vision and creativity. Especially the sets and creatures that bring a movie to life. 

Another movie that inspire me was Pan's Labyrinth. It takes the viewers between worlds and into a realm with creatures and fairies that are scary and beautiful. Every movie he makes takes you on a journey into a world with rich lore that you can see in every scene, and that's why it was such an honor for us to get to work with him on the Pacific Rim youtube video last year and getting to research and become a small part of that lore. 

I'd spoken to him two times before that, and being the total fangirl and creep and I am, I remember them all. 

The first time was when I was doing film festival appearances for Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope. I flew with Thomas Tull to Austin Texas in his own jet (and changed into my Commander Shepard costume in the bathroom). While on the way back to California, I told him I was a huge fan of Guillermo. He then tells me he's going to call him. 

Call him? He has a phone number like everyone else? He doesn't just have some kind of possessed lovecraftian book that he talks to people through in the language of the old gods? 

Anyway, he called him, and put me on the phone with him. I say who knows what because I was so nervous I was shaking. He says good bye and Thomas Tull takes the phone, exchanges pleasantries, and hangs up. I then get on his plan and change back to my normal clothes in the bathroom, probably one of the most awesome and strange experiences of my life. 

I met him again at Comic Con. I was hosting Just Cos on the Nerdist Channel in my Doctor Strange costume, and our producer insisted we had to get to the Legendary booth as fast as possible. We did, and we made it just in time to interview Guillermo Del Toro. Of course, I was going to do the interview, and of course I was so nervous I don't remember what I said or asked him. Thankfully it's all on camera here

I do remember him telling me his family was there in costume, and that made him even cooler. 

After that, I continued to love his work and was completely thrilled for Pacific Rim. Kaiju and robots fighting, weird kaiju parts sellers, cults (all of these things are in the movie, just in the background!) I was crazy ready for it. We found out one afternoon that Maker Studios was doing a Pacific Rim video to promote the movie with some of our friends, and they needed a Kaiju suit. Me being a huge fan, and my best friend and business partner in crime Jessica also being a huge fan, we said yes to the gig immediately. 

In the first meeting it was very intimidating. There were probably ten important folks there with Guillermo, like guards of some kind of ancient knowledge, but all wearing business-casual. I was clutching my kaiju sketches like a lifeline. I was hoping he didn't look at them, how could he possibly think they were even worth looking at? They talked a bit about the script, etc, and finally Guillermo asks about the kaiju (excitedly I might add) and everyone looks at me. It was that moment I realized that I was in a meeting, at Warner Brothers, with one of my heroes, and who knows how many people in the room. At that point someone may have said to themselves "I've made it" but instead I only assumed they'd let me in on accident and I was really supposed to be in the car park getting everyone Subway sandwiches for their crafty break.

I talk a bit about the creature and then Guillermo wanted to see the drawings. I walked like a robot to the front of the room and opened my sketches. He told me something I never expected to hear, "They're beautiful." 

He talked to me, simple artist me, for about ten minutes about making the teeth on the kaiju a bright blue. Using foam latex on creature suits for texture, the swirls I did on the body. It was one special effects artist to another. We just talking shop. 

That moment was so special to me. He treated me like an equal, an artist, an explorer, an appreciator of monsters and things not everyone might appreciate. There was no Hollywood barrier, no weirdness, just special effects shop folk swapping ideas like I used to with my friends at the haunted house I volunteered at. 

When we shot with him for the actual skit he was just as wonderful. He wanted to wear the kaiju head almost immediately, and with some quick interaction with someone in spanish, he quickly got what he wanted. He was super excited to wear it, and afterwards Jessica and I presented him with a copy of the Kaiju head I sculpted and Jessica painted. He said he loved it, and it was going in "Bleak House", his museum of monsters and curiosities that is also his workshop here in Southern California. We took this picture right after, I was so excited and freaked out that I was touching my hair and grinning like a moron. 

From left to right Guillermo Del Toro, Ben Schwenk, Jessica Merizan, Holly Conrad, Lee Shamel

From left to right Guillermo Del Toro, Ben Schwenk, Jessica Merizan, Holly Conrad, Lee Shamel

We loved every minute of the Kaiju project, and it made it even better to work with our friends Ben and Lee, and actually get to work with Warner Brother and Guillermo. Below are a few process pictures of the Kaiju, you can see the video here and a making of here

So thank you, Guillermo, for keeping other worlds alive, being humble, and talking shop with another artist. When things in my career get hard, I think of that brief meeting and it keeps me inspired, and I still dream of one day working with him again.