August 8, 2013

Kaiju Karloff

We’re always on the lookout for a good Karloff/Frankenstein reference — quite common, by the way — in pop culture, but few are ever as unlikely and fun as this one, from the year’s big summer movie, Pacific Rim.

The film’s robot-fighting, skyscraper-size Godzillian monsters bristle with spikes and crustaceous armor, serrated slice and dice appendages, extra arms and whipping tails. Heads are fitted with too many eyes, and spring-loaded, double-jointed jaws. Their mouths glow as if lit from inside. Called Kaiju — the Japanese name for giant monsters — the one pictured here, drawn by creature designer Guy Davis, is nicknamed “Karloff”!

I asked Davis how the name came about. “The Karloff resemblance was really unintentional,” he said. “I was inspired by a huge boulder I saw jutting out of a mountain during a drive through California. It made me think of a creature whose giant head was a big piece of rock. When I started sketching out the face design, parts of it started to remind me of a Karloff Frankenstein caricature with the sunken cheeks and giant forehead.” Next step was submitting the design to director Guillermo del Toro. “When I showed Guillermo the original head sketch, I joked it kinda looked like Boris Karloff. The name stuck. “All the Kaiju's we worked on had fun names at the start that we'd use to remember them, like "Meathead" or "Bat-Ears Brady". But Karloff’s stuck through the end.

Davis’ art concept was refined and eventually passed on to Simon Lee who sculpted a final version used as a guide for CGI animators. In the film, the Karloff monster puts in a very brief appearance, attacking Vancouver in the film’s prologue.

Kaiju Karloff gets more exposure in a comic book “prequel”, Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero, by screenwriter Travis Beacham and a team of artists. 

Here, the monster’s Karloff/Frankenstein resemblance is most evident, with gaunt face, high forehead and pronounced brow.

Artist Davis would get in one more reference. “Bride of Frankenstein is still my favorite horror movie of all,” he said. “I did sort of homage the original Karloff Frankenstein for one of the Kaiju Karloff keyframes. The shot of Kaiju Karloff through the trees with the soldiers in the foreground was a nod to one of my favorite parts from Bride of Frankenstein as he was pursued by the villagers through the forest.

The art, by Davis and digital painter Doug Williams is, indeed, a beautiful tribute to the iconic Frankenstein Monster and it’s originator, Boris Karloff.

Guy Davis has created some of the most compelling comics published over the last two decades. As the original artist on Vertigo’s Sandman Mystery Theatre in the Nineties, Davis, with writers Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle, created a stunning noir universe featuring eerie villains and horrific violence expertly balanced with a surprisingly touching love story between its Nick and Nora Charles-like protagonists. Davis was later picked by Mike Mignola to illustrate the Hellboy spinoff title B.P.R.D. for Dark Horse Comics. The stories, written by Mignola and John Arcudi, with art by Davis, were, in this writer’s opinion, some of the best horror comics ever published. All are available in graphic novel collections and are well worth seeking out. For B.P.R.D. and Davis’ own creation, the Inquisitor character The Marquis, Davis created extremely original and genuinely disturbing monsters, drawing the attention of director Guillermo del Toro who has used Davis’ unique talents on the Hellboy films, Pacific Rim, and a projected movie adaptation of H.P.Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

Guy Davisweb site.
Davis is one of many artists whose designs are on display in the lavish “art of the film” book, Pacific Rim: Man, Machines and Monsters.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

I really enjoyed "Pacific Rim", but my animation student daughter is positively obsessed with the movie. It was a thrill for us both when she discovered Kaiju Karloff.