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'Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities' VFX supervisors talk tentacles, rats, & all things gooey

VFX supervisors Dennis Berardi and Mark Hammond go behind the scenes of the spooky Netflix production. 

By Vanessa Armstrong
Guillermo del Toro and the Cabinet of Curiosities

All eight episodes of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities are now streaming on Netflix, and if you’ve seen more than one of them, you know that they each have their own distinct look but also that some of them have similar… classic horror accouterments, let’s say. 

The main VFX supervisors from Herne Hill Media — Dennis Berardi and Mark Hammond —  spoke with SYFY WIRE and told us what it was like working on some of those accouterments for the anthology series, which Berardi described as “making eight movies” rather than creating eight episodes of television. 

Read on for that discussion though be warned:

There are mild spoilers for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities below!

Kevin Keppy as Blobman in episode “The Viewing” of Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities.

More than one episode in del Toro’s series contains tentacles and/or rats and/or a gooey body of some sort. The high-level design for these horrific additions came from del Toro, though the directors had the autonomy to do what they wanted. 

“We took a lot of care to make sure no two of the designs matched,” Hammond told SYFY WIRE, “so you have the tentacles from ‘The Viewing,’ which are a lot more grotesque in the way they reveal themselves … and we made sure that they look entirely different from the way they are in ‘Lot 36’ and the way they reveal on that, which is more of a ripping and tearing, and very violent.”

If you’ve seen “The Viewing,” which is directed by Panos Cosmatos, you’ll remember the gooey creature emerging from the oddly shaped obelisk who had a horrifically unique set of tentacles. The look of those tentacles was something that del Toro was especially pleased about. 

“Guillermo was like, 'they got to come out and they got to look very grotesque, and it's got to be oozing and all this,' and [creature supervisor Atilla Ceylan] went for it,” said Hammond. “He went so far in one direction, and Guillermo saw it and loved it. He was like, ‘This is ridiculous, you guys. I would have never thought that this is where you were going to go with this, but it’s great.'”

DJ Qualls as Jenkins Brown in episode “Dreams in the Witch House” of Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities.

As for the rats, the episode “Graveyard Rats” had more than its fair share of rodents, but it was the talking “rat,” Mr. Jenkins, in “Dreams in the Witch House” that was especially fun to bring to life for the VFX team. 

"Mr. Jenkins had all these mannerisms that we acted out in front of our own cameras that we loved to pitch back [to Guillermo and episode director Catherine Hardwicke],” said Berardi. “He has these busy little hand gestures.”

Mr. Jenkins, who is a rat with a human face, loves to rub his hands together in classic villain fashion. Mimicking those looks was something that Hammond said resulted in some “really good Teams calls” where the VFX crew did their best impression of a tiny rat-man who has no problem disemboweling Ron Weasley (aka actor Rupert Grint) from the inside out. 

Pickman's Model Cabinet of Curiosities NETFLIX PRESS

The creatures in Cabinet of Curiosities were a blend of VFX and practical, with the company Spectral Motion taking things on from the puppet side.  

“If you know Guillermo’s work, he starts from a design perspective. And then he doesn't care who does work ​​ he just wants the best best of both of all worlds,” explained Berardi. “Every episode was all about design first, and then what can we do practically and what can we do digitally.”

Take the Queen Rat from “Graveyard Rat,” for example. Spectral created a six-foot animatronic puppet of her, and the team at Herne Hill would augment her as needed. 

The creatures scuttling over the witch’s dinner feast in “Pickman’s Model” were also an instance where practical and VFX worked especially well together. “The reason why our critters work and look so good in ‘Pickman’s Model’ is there's so much detail on that table to make them scurry and hide underneath, that it just leans to make the visual effects better,” said Hammond. “Another one was The Ghoul, which was ‘Pickman’s’ as well. That was a practical puppet that we scanned and made a full 3-D version of them. And we used [the VFX version] where we had to, but we left it where we could, because that's just the Guillermo aesthetic — you got to make people guess whether it’s a puppet or is it visual.”

You can try to tell yourself what’s practical and what’s not by checking out all eight episodes of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix. 

Looking for more scares? Check out the numerous horror movies over on Peacock.