Home / Arts & Life / The Hand-Drawn Journey of the ‘Shape of Water’ Poster

The Hand-Drawn Journey of the ‘Shape of Water’ Poster

Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, “The Shape of Water,” is not easy to classify. It genre-hops through fantasy, science fiction, thriller and romance to tell the tale of a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) at a laboratory who falls for an amphibious, scaled creature (Doug Jones). Imagery expresses the story better. And one image in particular, that of a woman and a merman floating in an underwater embrace, distills the movie to its soulful essence. That concept, which comes to life in the film (out Dec. 1), is the focus of the movie’s intricately hand-drawn teaser poster. Here is how the poster evolved, as explained by Mr. del Toro and its designer, James Jean.


James Jean

Starting With a Drawing

Five or six years ago, when Mr. del Toro was deep into other projects, he imagined this embrace and worked with the storyboard artist Guy Davis to get it down on paper. Fast-forward to preproduction on “The Shape of Water,” when the Los Angeles illustrator Natalie Hall was asked to make another sketch based on Mr. del Toro’s conception. That’s what appears in the movie (and the trailer): the woman’s face partly obscured by the creature’s, the two melding in a kind of yin and yang.

Next, Mr. del Toro brought in Mr. Jean to create an illustration for the teaser poster. The director was a fan of the covers Mr. Jean had designed for the DC Comics series “Fables.” As Mr. del Toro explained in a phone interview, “His drawings have a delicate nature to them and beautiful line work that is at the same time realistic and sort of elevated into a style of his own.”

Using charcoal on paper, Mr. Jean got to work on the poster, pictured above in progress. He used screen grabs and photos of the creature costume from various angles as reference points to create an accurate duplication of the merman’s look. And he was inspired by Gustav Klimt’s painting “The Kiss” when thinking about how to intertwine the characters.


James Jean

Creating the Poster

Mr. Jean’s process involved first making a pencil sketch of the image, then enlarging that image and transferring it onto printmaking paper. He put down a coating of charcoal to create the hazy background, “sort of like a gray mist,” he said in a phone interview. The woman’s face is clear in the drawing, but not the creature’s. “It just seemed natural for me to hide the face because the form and silhouette of his body are so striking to begin with,” he said. “I wanted the creature to stay more mysterious and have the viewer project their own idea of what he would look like.” The final teaser is bathed in aqua with glimmering sparkles. The blue was applied digitally, but Mr. Jean painted white textures and added the pinpoints of light for “a more magical effect.”

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