Guillermo del Toro: Man of Movies

By Phill Powell

Few filmmakers are more respected than Guillermo del Toro. He does it all – writing, directing and producing. His films have helped re-define genres (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) and fans love him because of his obsessive artistic vision.

On the set of his latest film, Crimson Peak, del Toro focuses on getting the mood just right. Meanwhile, he’s also working on a sequel to Pacific Rim. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

Guillermo del Toro’s films are entertaining spectacles that take you into fantasy worlds and comic-book realities (Hellboy, Blade II). But even the vast world of film isn’t big enough to contain his ambitions and artistry.

The Entertainer

An in-demand Hollywood hot-hand, del Toro’s movies have grossed billions of dollars. His schedule is so busy he turned down Peter Jackson’s request that del Toro direct The Hobbit movies. Currently he’s working on a sequel to the highly successful Pacific Rim, and an animated TV show based on the franchise, as well. “I’m just a big kid having fun,” he said.

Guillermo del Toro directs actor Wesley Snipes on the set of Blade II.

The Filmmaking Genius

The movies that really established del Toro as a serious artist of cinema were tales of dark fantasy and horror: 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

Both films involve the Spanish Civil War, and both mix horror with political themes – a bold artistic move. The Devil’s Backbone was a critical hit that still holds a 92 percent Freshness rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

Pan’s Labyrinth is the biggest proof yet of del Toro’s genius. A major masterpiece and del Toro’s international breakthrough, it rivals The Wizard of Oz in the power of its fairy tale story, which is combined with a gripping war story.

Critic Roger Ebert named Pan’s Labyrinth the best film of 2006. It captured three Oscars (art direction, cinematography and makeup), and received a 22-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. The film helped place del Toro in the elite ranks of the world’s best directors.

Del Toro mined his powerful imagination to come up with the horrible Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. (Image: Warner Bros.)

Anyone still foolish enough to doubt del Toro’s comprehensive grasp of cinema has not seen the del Toro best Criterion films list, which is topped by several films by Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, as well as Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock, of whom del Toro said: “Hitchcock did one movie, all his life.” Del Toro is a student of the art form – and one who has obviously done his homework.

The Producer & Writer

When not directing his own films, del Toro functions as a one-man production studio, providing the financial backing and production grounding for such hits as 2010’s Julia’s Eyes, 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2 and 2011’s Puss in Boots.

Never content to limit himself to only one medium of expression, del Toro reached out to the horror novel in 2009 with his first book, The Strain, which is only the first installment in a three-part series of apocalyptic vampire stories. The Strain has also been turned into a popular series on FX.

For every film he makes, del Toro maintains a notebook where he logs his thoughts and ideas. This one, from Hellboy 2, illustrates how del Toro works out elements of the film before shooting. (Image: Guillermo del Toro)

The Gamer

You might not at first believe a guy with film tastes as sophisticated as del Toro would also be a gamer, but that’s just one more surprise about him. He loves video games. He wants and plans to make video games, and is working on several projects in various stages of development.

Although his own game, Insane, stalled out in 2012 with production problems (as did his 2014’s PlayStation game, Silent Hills), there’s still a chance that del Toro will infuse these projects with new life. He wants to make “the Citizen Kane of video games.” Fun fact: He considers Ico and Shadow of the Colossus the only genuine masterpieces among games.

The Visual Artist

Many great filmmakers apprenticed in a different production role than director. While still learning the craft of filmmaking, del Toro spent more than 10 years as a movie makeup artist.

Del Toro, the collector: He’s a fan and student of all things horror (particularly the golden age of Hollywood horror) and maintains a second home in Los Angeles just to store his vast collection of horror and fantasy memorabilia.

His talents extend to graphic arts. Pan’s Labyrinth started in del Toro’s many sketchbooks (which he always carries), where he draws characters, screen action and anything else that interests him.

And like director Ridley Scott, del Toro is a student of the art of storyboarding he also storyboards his own projects, creating miniature works of art in the process.

He Started Somewhere. So Can You.
Guillermo del Toro has a brilliant artistic vision, no matter what form it chooses to take. Follow del Toro’s example and consider spending a week at a Digital Media Academy film camp – and develop your own artistic vision.