If you’ve seen The Shape of Water, you’re aware of how immaculately crafted filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale is. It’s a gorgeous and meticulously realized effort that ranks among the best films del Toro has ever made, and the director had been mulling the idea over in his head for years before it finally came to fruition. As with all del Toro projects, the filmmaker spent a lot of time designing and crafting the world, characters, and creature before a frame of film was shot, but even then the world del Toro created had to be just right.
So it’s with great delight that Insight Editions’ latest book, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times, offers a comprehensive, in-depth, and wildly insightful look behind the scenes at how The Shape of Water was created, made, and released into the world. As with all Insight Editions books this thing is gorgeous from its front cover to back, but inside it’s filled with handwritten notes of del Toro’s, photography chronicling the designing process, the building of sets, the makeup process, and the shooting of the movie, and interviews with key creatives involved in bringing this passion project to vivid life. Long story short, if you love The Shape of Water, you will adore this book.
Written by Gina McIntyre, the book begins with a foreword by del Toro himself, who explains that the origins of this film date back to his six-year-old self watching Creature from the Black Lagoon on TV. He runs through how he wanted to created a beautiful Beauty and the Beast story where the “Beauty” is not your traditional princess, and where the period setting—1962 to be exact—is a reflection of how much and how little our world has changed for the maligned, the ignored, and the outsiders in America.
Recreations of del Toro’s personal notebook reveal his early sketches and handwritten notes about the film (and if you look closely you may even spot some notes for del Toro’s Pacific Rim), and McIntyre’s deep-dive interviews with cast members, producers, and craftspeople thread a narrative that tracks the making of The Shape of Water from inception to filming the finale.
Indeed, the chronicle here is so detailed, so intricate, that I’d venture to say this is one of my favorite “making of” books I’ve ever read. It goes deep on key scenes from the film, including that musical sequence and the finale, threading in del Toro’s sketches from his development process as well as behind-the-scenes photography, concept art, and pre-visualization from the VFX department when applicable. Of course this is all supplemented with the interviews McIntyre conducted, and here you really get a full picture and front-row seat to how this movie was made. I previously reviewed Insight Editions’ Crimson Peak book and that one was also gorgeous and insightful, but this one for The Shape of Water goes above and beyond.
The book also dives deep into the characters. If you’re familiar with del Toro’s process you may know that he writes incredibly detailed biographies for all of his characters that he gives to the actors, but he asks them not to share them with each other. This book includes the full bios for Zelda (Octavia Spencer), Giles (Richard Jenkins), and Dimitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), and they’re so intricate and real that I was nearly moved to tears just reading about Zelda’s life before we meet her in the film. None of these facts are explicitly alluded to in the movie, but you get the feeling that they’re incredibly helpful for the actors to craft a fully realized, layered performance. And although I understand why del Toro may have wanted to keep the bios for Elisa and Strickland private, seeing what he put together for this aforementioned trio makes me incredibly curious to see what he wrote for those two characters.
If it’s the Fish Man you’re curious about, this book contains a wealth of information about how del Toro came up with the design, how the makeup and costume were applied, Doug Jones’ performance, VFX work, and so much more. Seriously, there are a lot of pages devoted to the Fish Man creature alone, and it’s a delight to thumb through and see how this character came together.
Honestly, if you’re a fan of del Toro’s work already, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times is worth the blind buy. If you love this movie, all the better. There’s so much insight into del Toro’s process and how he crafts his films that cinephiles will find a lot to love here, and then the book itself is also just a gorgeous addition to your coffee table collection. This isn’t simply a series of behind-the-scenes photos with paragraphs recounting the plot. The entire book flows as if you’re watching The Shape of Water’s conception and birth in real time, taking delightful detours to see how this specific set was created or how del Toro created the logo for Dixie Doug Pies.