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The Shape of Water: How Guillermo Del Toro created the illusion of Elisa's underwater apartment

Contributed by
Feb 27, 2018

The Shape of Water may take place during a time of political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, but there's no denying it's a fairy tale. That's Guillermo del Toro's specialty, melding the factual with the fantastical. To put us in such a mindset, he begins the Cold War fable in an underwater apartment owned by Elisa Esposito, the main protagonist played by Sally Hawkins.

As the camera pans through her abode, flickering greenish-blue light coming from above, Richard Jenkins' soft narration on the soundtrack, we know we're in for something special. It's as if we've scuba-dived into the ocean and discovered the sunken wreckage of early 1960s suburbia. No doubloons, just Pyrex casserole dishes and O'Keefe & Merritt ovens. 

In a featurette that will be available on the film's home video release, del Toro reveals how they pulled the illusion off, and it didn't involve shooting underwater at all. A smoke machine and video projections of light through water were practically achieved, while little bubbles and particles were added digitally in post-production. They also shot the whole sequence at 36 frames per second.

As for how they made it look like Elisa and her possessions were floating, del Toro reveals a simple trick:

"Sally is on wires on a fiberglass mold that is holding her in place," he says in the video posted by The Hollywood Reporter. "Everything is on wires. Everything is suspended and moving. We have like eight puppeteers puppeteering every object. I think it's a good way to get you in the fairy tale tone."

You can net your own copy of The Shape of Water on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on March 13.

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