Exclusive Interview with Guy Davis, Pacific Rim Concept Artist
“Guy Davis, to me, is one of the best monster designers alive right now” Guillermo del Toro has stated. Guy is a concept artist, illustrator and comic book artist with multiple Eisner Awards under his belt. He has worked with Guillermo del Toro on several projects and was brought onto Pacific Rim as a concept artist to create various kaiju and other designs for the film. We recently caught up with him to discuss his role in Pacific Rim, his favorite monster movies, and what it’s like working with Guillermo del Toro. Jump to the bottom to see his responses to fan questions from Twitter!
Note: All concept art images in this article are featured in Pacific Rim: Man, Machines, and Monsters, the art and making-of book for the film.
Early Kaiju concept by Guy Davis
LEGENDARY: What was it like working with Guillermo del Toro?
GUY DAVIS: It’s always an amazing time getting to work with Guillermo, he’s very encouraging and open to new ideas but also knows exactly what he’s looking for and being an artist himself is able to work with the concept visually to get the finished design in the direction he wants. I first got to work with him as part of the core concept on Mountains of Madness and have been lucky to work with him since Pacific Rim on his InSANE video game project, Pinocchio and The Strain tv pilot and each time it’s been a wonderful experience.
Guillermo del Toro on set
LEGENDARY: How did you collaborate with the other concept artists on the project?
GUY DAVIS: For the kaiju designs it usually started with us doing a series of idea sketches to run by Guillermo to see if he liked any of them, nothing fancy just quick shapes and rough characters. If he liked the direction of any of them, we’d work them up to a more detailed drawing. Sometimes a design would be passed to another artist to interpret or add details to, or it would be worked up with the details added to the final maquette sculpt.
For example, on Otachi I started with a series of quick sketches for different possible kaiju, the design Guillermo picked I worked up more with his input. Working up how she’d look with her wings out, head details and what not. Once we got that design down, Francisco Ruiz Velasco did a full concept painting fleshing out some other details like adding Meathead’s tail and from there David Meng sculpted the maquette to bring it to the final form.
Other times I would work on small details for another artist’s creature, on Wayne Barlowe’s Bladehead I did a couple passes and worked out a scissor tail for him but the overall design is still all Waynes. For the Precurssor “bishop”, I did an early form sketch that Keith Thompson fleshed out with his own details working up the design to the final concept. So it varied on how the work was passed around from Guillermo, but it all moved really smoothly and the whole team worked together great!
Early sketch of Otachi by Guy Davis
Final Otachi head concepts by Guy Davis
LEGENDARY: Can you tell us about the ‘pet names’ for the kaiju as they were being developed?
GUY DAVIS: When I arrived early on the production, Wayne Barlowe’s Knifehead was locked in and I started working on different ideas for other kaiju. Without knowing what they would be called in the script or the scenes they would be used in, I just started giving the ones I designed fun names to remember them by. Just a way of giving the kaiju a quick identity if we needed to reference it or find the design.
It started with “Karloff” (and that name actually stuck), but that was just because his head sketch reminded me of Boris Karloff. “Bat-Ears Brady” was the original flying one before Otachi, and that name came from an old time sci-fi radio show. On Bat-Ears Brady’s design, he had horns that from the front reminded me of bat wings. Guillerno named another one “Meathead”, because of the creatures drippy jowly head/neck. Meathead was actually a design that I worked on with sculptor Simon Lee and that kaiju almost made it into the film~ but instead we ended up putting his monsterous attacking tail on Otachi.
Keyframe of the Kaiju dubbed “Karloff” by Guy Davis and Doug Williams
Early sketch of a Kaiju called “Bat Ears Brady” by Guy Davis
LEGENDARY: What was it like seeing a fully finished kaiju on screen that you worked on for the first time?
GUY DAVIS: Incredibly awesome and a bit surreal, but I’ll admit I was totally geeked out seeing the amazing talent behind ILM bring Otachi and Slattern to life~ still a huge thrill seeing Otachi spread her wings and Slattern rise up from the breach!
Concept of Slattern swimming by Guy Davis
LEGENDARY: Did you have a favorite monster/kaiju movie growing up?
GUY DAVIS: My favorite moster movie was and still is “The Bride of Frankenstein”, but for a kaiju movie I’d pick “Destroy All Monsters”! Growing up I was a huge fan of original Ultraman series from the 60’s (still am)~ they ran those every afternoon along with Johnny Sokko and it was a mad dash home from school to catch them on tv!
Fan Questions from Twitter
GUY DAVIS: No direct inspiration that I can think of, Slattern started out like the other designs in just a series of rough sketches for a form I liked. I knew he’d be underwater for the fight so I was thinking he’d be long and swift looking like a moray eel. In the very first design sketch I did, I gave him a more slender shape with a cluster of arms in his chest. I was thinking at the time that he’d be huge, smart and agile and not a brute. The original idea I had was making him to be almost like a gremlin, using his various arms to pick apart the jaegers during battle.
GUY DAVIS: The only thing I really hinted at with the original design was with her forearms that could become wings, we knew she would be a flyer and I gave her the posture of a crawling bat. But originally as I remember, a different kaiju was going to be the mom before Otachi ended up in the Hong Kong scene.
GUY DAVIS: That’s a tough one, the whole concept team did an amazing and varied bunch of designs. But keeping it non bias, David Meng’s Leatherback was a great design and character and Wayne Barlowe’s Bladehead (who came crashing through the Sydney wall), was another really unique and interesting design. I love the forehead mouth they gave him! Wish I had thought of that!
GUY DAVIS: I think it’s just having both an interesting shape to the form and character in how it acts. You want to have a creature that an audience wants to see more of and isn’t disappointed when they do.
GUY DAVIS: That would be a hard choice, I like a lot of them just as they are~ Hedorah lends himself to more interpretation, but I think for fun I would love to try my hand at Ghidorah.
GUY DAVIS: Would have to pick the classic Godzilla, but with the “Frankenstein Conquers the World” Baragon and Ultraman’s Baltan as close seconds.