Opinion: Conversations with the elder gods

A Precursor to Doom…

Take that Milwaukee!  My hour layover in Wisconsin’s airport was almost over and I’d soon be basking it up in the fair weather of Southern California.  Or so I thought.

Little did I know that the “chances of rain” reports that I’d been mildly warned about earlier in the week were to be coupled with unwelcome (and approaching freezing) temperatures for the duration of my visit.  Sunny California my @$$.

It wasn’t all bad though.  I managed to secure two great bookend meetings with some very talented parties.  Here are the highlights from my latest visit to the west side.

Simon Lee

Fans of our site will remember garage kit maker extraordinaire, Simon Lee from episode 56 of our podcast.  Top-right corner to subscribe if you haven’t already.  One of my main goals this visit was to finally meet Simon in person.  As in most cases, I usually find my interview subjects via the internet and rarely get to see them in person. As such, I’d only known Simon through our online communications.  On this particular trip, Simon has been crazy busy, but was able to fit me in for a few mins of geekiness at his studio in South LA.  Busy seemed to be the trend running through all my meets that week.

For those who don’t follow his many sculptural escapades…Simon decided less than a month ago that he needed to flesh out his portfolio with all new work.  Thus began his challenge to himself to create a whole new sculpt each day for 20 days straight. My visit with him occurred at the tail end of his project so, I was able to see almost his entire collection of new sculpts.  Even in their unfinished states, they exhibit an insane amount of detail.  They’re also surprisingly large.  Slightly larger than your average Bowen sculpt.  Just my kind of scale.

The eventual goal is still under wraps, but if implemented to good enough effect — it should open up his work to a much wider audience.  As a fan, I’m very excited to see his talent shared with as many people as possible.

Check out some of the impromptu shots I took during my visit.

Breakfast with Champions

Arguably the biggest meet I had planned was on my final day in Los Angeles.  I’d been trying to schedule this meeting for weeks and the dates had moved constantly, like some insane game of  Whac-A-Mole.  Suffice to say it very nearly didn’t happen at all.

Luckily, the stars aligned and I along with a handful of lucky friends drove to our secret pre-agreed upon locale — a quaint, homely breakfast spot — and we waited for our special guest.  You see this last meeting had been kept secret from half of the attendees.  A present to them, of sorts.  They had no idea where we were headed or who we were planning to meet up with and  I’d gone to great lengths to keep it from them, as well.

“But who the hell were you meeting?!” you demand.  Oh, right.  Well, it was none other than friend to geeks, Guillermo Del Toro.  After much negotiating I’d managed to get him away from his 24×7 work week to grab a bite of food and catch up.  We spent the next 2 to 3 hours with him eating, talking, and later touring Guillermo’s home away from home and base of his rather substantial amassment of collectibles.   On the latter front, I was asked not to post any photos from the tour, but I’ll do my best to give you an idea of the experience of it. More on that later though;  For now,  I think of equal interest to many of you is some of what I had the chance to talk to him about.  I’ll try to highlight below the more interesting of the topics covered.

GDT on The Champions — Some may remember this Sci-Fi series from the 1960s that centered around a team of “super-powered” men and women (woman), fighting against the current enemies of the era.  Well, a few years ago Del Toro had tried to reimagine the series in movie form and a screenplay had been written by The Usual Suspects writer, Chris McQuarrie.  Del Toro described their take as about superheroes who don’t know they’re supers.  Their abilities have been artificially repressed.  I didn’t press him for more, but you could see his excitement about this original story and although he believes his version is dead, I see him being game to resurrect it should the opportunity present itself.

GDT on ATMOM (no Perlman) — According to Del Toro, he’d be missing the Oscars this year because he would be in a helicopter flying over glacial mountains and 40 below temperatures.  He was scheduled to be looking over a location where he plans to be shooting his next film.  The current plan is to shoot only about a week on location and then the rest of the film on giant indoor sets.  The reason is a technical one.  Digital video cameras don’t do too well with white balance.  Shooting in the white on white conditions that Mountains of Madness requires has proved to be unmanageable.  Especially when mother nature has its own ideas of how to light the scene from day to day. You need complete control of the light in order to get the results he’s looking for, otherwise there’s no good separation of elements in the final picture between scene to scene. Shooting indoors gives you the ability to have exact light day after day.

Frequent collaborator (actor) Ron Perlman will probably not be in ATMOM because he recently renewed his contract for the excellent Sons of Anarchy and is unlikely to be available.  Del Toro was quite sad as he acknowledged this and described the character that Perlman would have played.  He was going to have the “best lines” and he was going to be the audience favourite — for sure.  Maybe things will change!? I hope it’s not too late for that.

GDT on Tom Cruise — I took the opportunity to get Del Toro’s take on the Tom Cruise casting.  Apparently Cruise was his choice all along. He believes Cruise is best when he plays the down to earth, every man.  He cites early parts of Jerry Maguire and parts of Magnolia, and Last Samurai.  He’s had the opportunity to get to know Cruise as a friend for a few years now and he went on for a few minutes about how not only brilliant Cruise is, but just how genuine of a guy he is. He described Cruise as a guy that just knows the craft like few others. He compared him to Cameron and Spielberg at one point.  He can watch a random piece of film and tell you what lens you used and the fact that you used a dolly here or a crane there.  He’s also a person that when you give him a script or a book to read, he does it overnight and has detailed questions for you the next day.  Guillermo says he sometimes can’t get his best of friends to read some of his stuff, at all.

GDT on Dreamworks — He mentioned Dreamworks in passing and I asked for more detail about his involvement at the company.  He couldn’t stop gushing about the place.  He seems to be having a blast working there.  Don’t think he’s just a minor player there though, apparently he touches everything they produce.  The level of involvement varies, but he does everything from editing actual sequences of films, to consulting on design direction.  He says people should look out for some yet to be announced projects from Dreamworks that really push the boundaries of what’s expected and what’s been done before.  He also says not to discount the upcoming Puss’n’Boots solo feature.  It’s apparently a very strong offering.  Kung Fu Panda 2 outdoes the original too, apparently.

GDT on inSANE (video game) — He wouldn’t give much out about this topic.  I have a very lengthy interview planned with him on the game, but who knows when I’ll be able to share that with you.  He says that it’ll probably be next E3 before we see anything more substantial than we already have.  I was able to get a few new bits out of him though.  For instance, the game would be mostly playable in first person, but at key moments would switch to third person.

He also talked briefly about some of the ideas in terms of storytelling that they’re planning.  The goal is to make the game feel as open as possible, and for the audience to feel like they are free to do whatever they’d like.  The game will still be linear, but they will try to write for as many eventualities as possible.  The hypothetical example was that you might have a window that you want your character to open for a key plot related reveal.  The character may not want to open it though.  No matter what you throw at them, they may still decide not to open that window. You want to make sure that you write more than one way to that reveal.  I’m heavily paraphrasing, but you get the idea.  He ends his hypothetical with an if all else fails, “F— it.  You kill them”.

An interesting and very welcome to hear tidbit was the fact that comicbook artist Guy Davis is a key designer on the project and has worked on the creature designs for the game.  Those familiar with his work can just imagine how crazy cool that is.  Look for episode 49 of our podcast for an interview with Guy and an idea of what he’s capable of.

Last and probably biggest revelation about the Insane game series (a trilogy is planned) is that you won’t play the same character from game to game.  In fact, as opposed to telling one continuing storyline, the games will tell different narratives. As you’d expect there will be connecting tissue between the games, with the example given of some characters appearing in multiple games, but with the added twist of said characters returning as villains in one game whereas in previous games they might have been good characters, etc.  This project gets more interesting by the minute.

GDT on Mirada — Guillermo’s newest creation was discussed briefly and actually his co-founding partner Matthew Cullen was introduced to us later on and a slick promo video was shown off during our tour of Bleak House later that morning.  I asked how Mirada was actually going to change things for him.  What did it really do for him that he couldn’t already get out of his current industry offerings.  In simple terms, it brings all the nitty gritty under one roof.  All the expertise you need to get a project organized, planned, and finally executed.  It all gets done under one roof.  The WETA model of doing things, but closer to home.  That’s essentially where they’re headed.  The bottom line is that they can get projects conceived and done in much shorter order than ever before because the inefficiencies of spreading management and other duties among many different companies is unnecessarily time consuming.  The Mirada (after WETA) model is goaled to fix that.  Then he mentioned the secret project.

GDT on Secret Project (ILM level CG and FX) — The recent New Yorker expose was brought up as we talked to Del Toro and he mentioned that there were two disappointments from that article.  One is he thought the article would have addressed the misconception that he has millions of projects all going at the same time and “how can he possibly do that efficiently” vibe that the media and general public have probably been basting him with.  The second thing is that during the week or so that the New Yorker’s writer followed Del Toro around, he got to see one project in particular that surprisingly was not mentioned – and noone else in the media has exposed.  Not that he’s complaining of course, he wouldn’t tell us what the project was, but he did describe it as a short film for Mirada that would eventually sell a feature length version of the same idea.  I got the distinct impression that the short (which he describes as having ILM level effects) is meant to be a primary calling card for Mirada and their way of doing things.  He plans to shoot the short film before he moves on to his next project which hopefully will be At The Mountains of Madness.  The short has nothing to do with ATMOM though.

GDT on how he splits up his work schedule — So the first item under the New Yorker disappointments was the work schedule.  He describes his way of working as follows:  He has broken up his days and hours such that on any given day of the week he’s working on very specific things.  During those day / time slots, he only works on a single project.  He even has a time window slotted away for family time to spend with the wife and kids.  He describes his method of working as a sort of F’ed up A.D.D.  He would still be that way even if he didn’t have as much work to do.

He does admit that at this particular point in time he IS extremely busy and he finds himself working himself quite ragged, but the circumstances were not solely of his own making.  In much of the case, it was a result of multiple things simply coming to fruition at this particular moment or as in the case of say, The Hobbit…things got so delayed that other things had to be put on hold for so long that they started to bump up against future plans and obligations.

As such, he plans to be busier than he’ll hopefully ever be again, and for the next year and a half solid.

Whew, so now that we’ve got that out of the way.  Didn’t realize we actually discussed so much; and all during breakfast.  The wonderful meet was not over yet though.  After breakfast was the tailgate ride to his house of wonders.


“So, let’s hear a bit about Bleak House you tease!”; I hear you say.  Yeah, so it sucks that I’ve got no photos to show you.  Recent events have made Del Toro a little cautious about showing off his place.  The above image is all you’ll see — lest I lose my treasured life.  Guillermo took us on a quick tour of this house which from the outside is really indistinguishable from a regular residence.  He uses it as not only a housing for his life long memorabilia collection, but also as his Production office.  On the day we toured he actually had several artists and colleagues from Mirada and elsewhere holed up doing last minute concept art work for various projects.  Among the artists onsite were Wayne Barlowe (ep06) and Francisco Ruiz Velasco.  Both mainstays of his movie productions.

Every member of Fanboy Confidential is an avid collector; of art, figures, and other such geek fare.  We tend to live up to our labels as geeks.  Del Toro is one of the biggest geeks you’ll ever have the chance to meet.  His collection is impressive not only due to its size, but also because of the sheer variety represented.

Everything from the obvious like an original life size sculpt of the Golden Army soldier, to an original bust of the Frankenstein monster as drawn by artist Bernie Wrightson, to actual original art pages from Wrightson himself, to an original paint brush owned and used by James Whales (director of the B&W Frankenstein movie).  He also happens to own original manuscripts, 1st editions of famous books, and oh throw in a handful of taxidermy animals to boot.

His collection literally covers ceiling and floor, and wall to wall.  Every bit of available space is taken up by something expensive and/or cool.  A meticulous replica commission of the captain’s bedroom scene from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride sits on the coffee table.  The original prop of baby DREN (from the movie Splice) is curled up at the foot of the fireplace, a rather large and intimidating Fiji mermaid beckons you from the kitchen table, and room after room entices you with book after book of imaginative stories and breathtaking art.  The collection is surpassed only by the stories Del Toro tells as he strolls (and we follow) through his modestly built, but not so modestly furnished treasure trove.

Our trip ends with a group picture and the alleged arrival of JJ Abrams come for his own chance at a tour of the famed Bleak House.  Actually, Abrams didn’t show; instead he sent a few friends in his stead and I grin knowingly as we head out back to the real world, with an open invitation from GDT to return and promises of grander things to see once he’s finished work on ATMOM.  A prop of a crashed plane will go in the backyard, he teases.

UPDATE/NOTE: This visit occurred only days before the final decision was made by Universal to kill production of At The Mountains of Madness.  Stay tuned for more on this news in an upcoming podcast.


Original surviving founder of Fanboy Confidential, the podcast, and this supporting website. This is the fruit of his labor, created while on his off days from saving orphaned children from forest fires.

Only some of this is true.

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