Shooting Red: Cinematographer talks "Hellboy II"

Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro is no stranger to filming incredible creatures and fantasy worlds on the big screen. A frequent collaborator of directors Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo del Toro, Navarro's resume includes "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "Desperado" with Rodriguez, and with del TORO, "Cronos," "The Devil's Backbone" and most notably "Pan's Labyrinth," for which he received an Academy Award.

Navarro's also no stranger to making comic book movies, having worked on both "Spawn" and "Hellboy." His latest collaboration with del Toro is a return to the Hellboy universe with, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army."

When a truce is broken between humanity and the realm of the fantasy world, Earth is threatened and only Big Red and his team (B.P.R.D) can save the day. Opening in the U.S. this Friday, July 11, "Hellboy II" promises all the fun and familiar characters from the first film while mixing some of the fantasy and amazing creatures inspired by "Pan's Labyrinth."

CBR News had the opportunity to speak to Navarro about the new film, collaborating with del Toro, and the possibility of reuniting with the director on the upcoming "The Hobbit" films.

CBR: How did shooting on "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" go? Were there any major differences between shooting this one and the first one?

Guillermo Navarro: The difference, basically, was that this was a better script. Also, we had an upgrade in many other departments and the movie is a much more mature movie in that sense. It's a movie that wraps around very well. It has very strong, intimate moments and tremendous action scenes in contrast. I think it curves very well around the characters and since now the characters are very well established; the story flows really very well.

Were there any technical surprises between shooting the first film and this one?

It was more challenging to do this one. It was much more ambitious and the scope of the movie is a lot bigger. So it was certainly a bigger enterprise for me.

What do you think fans of the first film can look forward to in the second?

Scenes from "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"

They can expect a movie that is just going to take them very, very far. It's a movie that really hits you and once that you've already had these characters in you mind, they really develop to incredible levels. The movie has so many layers that it's very satisfactory for an audience that's already engaged in the comic narrative and in particular the Hellboy esthetic.

How was it working with the actors again? Were they excited to get back into their roles?

Yes, because the characters are fantastic. Once everybody's back, when they have their make-up and all the prosthetics are in place, it really goes back to a familiar arena. Everybody knows very well their position in the movie. They are fantastic characters, the actors really play them from the heart and they're very, very good at it. It's great, shooting this movie was really a great experience.

There are a few comic book film sequels that are considered as good or better than their predecessors. "Spider-Man 2," "X2: X-Men United" and if the reviews are true, "The Dark Knight." Do you think "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" lives up to that challenge?

Well, in a way, yes. I think in this case the sequel has the opportunity to really evolve and grow. So, I think it is the case in this movie, yes.

How would you describe the look that you created for "Hellboy II?"

The look of the film, from the first film, was very attached to the esthetics of the comic book and all the art the Mignola world has within. Then we transformed it into a motion picture that added true spaces and a color palette that we brought to the table, and made the movie what it is now. In the case of "Hellboy II," the scope of the movie is mush bigger and it was tremendously challenging. So the scale is tremendous, it is a movie that is very big and very ambitious. The language of the movie, the storytelling of the movie completely goes hand and hand with the aesthetics and the look [of the film.] It is like having a reality and a parallel reality combined constantly. All the fantasy world and existence of the characters that are dealing with magical creatures but in the middle of New York have a duel reality that no other scenario will provide you with. That's what makes it for me, a tremendous opportunity to be inventing and creating parallel realities that I can design from scratch.

It's something that we have done many times together, Guillermo [del Toro] and I. So we didn't really encounter a new way to address things. We are very familiar with that kind of narrative and that kind of scenery, so it's an esthetic that we handle very comfortably. Intergrading the special effects into our photography and making it pretty seamless when you see the movie. That's one of the big points that play out very well in the movie, the creatures and the visual effects work.

What's it like working with del Toro?

Working with him is an extraordinary adventure. It's a strong privilege to do movies with him. He's a visionary and he's a genius. So he has this world of his own that he shares and we together expand on it. So it grows like a big multiplication. It adds and adds. In that sense the collaboration is very generous.

You've also worked with Robert Rodriguez several times and have worked with Quentin Tarantino and Jon Favreau as well. What were those experiences like compared to working with del Toro?

There are very, very strong differences. Each director, each collaboration in particular, even with the same director on different movies, is very different. The comparison is not to determine who is better or what experience was worst or best, it's just a different situation. It's a different theme and it's a completely different maneuver that you are addressing, so there is no recipe to build. Each movie has it's own profits, finds it's own language and it's own look. So each time you make a movie it's a very unique experience.

I think that the comic book film has evolved tremendously. Ten years make a very big difference in what has been the expression and experience of comic books becoming major movies. Also, the technology has advanced tremendously. You can do things that ten years ago were unthinkable. So it is a very unfair comparison because it was like a completely different set of tools that I had on that one.

You won an Oscar for your work on "Pan's Labyrinth." what was that experience like?

When we were making the film we never thought it was going to have that kind of scope and be received worldwide the way it was. We were doing a small movie in the vein of "The Devil's Backbone", and that kind of movie we do in Spanish is a completely different formula and a different budget. So they were movies that were much more contained. We were doing the best work we could and we knew that we were making a very profound and interesting movie. But we never thought that a movie in Spanish was going to have the kind of recognition that it ended up having. So in that sense the movie broke a lot of situations that were never there, as far as movies in a different language having that kind of recognition.

It was a tremendous surprise and joy that the movie had that impact on people. It was a movie that when people saw it, it really affected them and opened their eyes to things that they were not in touch with. On the other hand it's a very profound movie, it puts you really in touch with very essential things of the human condition. It's a very strong eye opener, no? I think in film statistics, a Spanish film has never had six nominations for the Academy Awards, for instance. We won three out of the six. So it was very exciting that the movie had that kind of impact and recognition.

You're going to work on the "The Hobbit" films with del Toro next, how do you prepare for a project of that scope?

We really haven't started preparing for the movie. I know that it's a very strong project and we're weeks away from really preparing for it. I think I'm months away from that. For the moment we have finished "Hellboy II" and we are in the process of showing it and releasing it to the public. It's going to open in many cities, then all over the world. So we are first going to take that in and then there is a whole preparation process that is a little bit far away for me. If the movie happens and once everything takes its place, once things settle it's going to be a tremendous opportunity to do an incredible movie. I think it has tremendous visual opportunities and it's a great story to tell.

As a cinematographer, how important is pre-production and prepping before you film a movie?

It is to ground the concept of what the language of movie the means. I mean cinematography is the language of the movie. So there is a whole conceptual preparation that has to be clear. The director and I have to, in a way, see the same movie together in order to really do it. So there is a whole process of conversation, understanding and comprehension of the story that has to take place before (you start filming.) Then there is a very practical prep, where you decide how, where and when you are going to apply you resources and do a very detailed planning of how you are going to approach every sequence of the movie. So you are prepared every day to perform and create the conditions for the actors to play their roles and bring that to the movie.

Finally, if "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is successful, would you want to return for a third film?

Absolutely, I think it would be great to complete the trilogy.

Did del Toro have a trilogy in mind when he was shooting the first Hellboy film?

I don't think so. Again, when you do a movie, you do that movie. I think that you'd have to be pretty pretentious to think that you have three movies ahead of you. That being said, I know that there are enough stories to make a third script, undoubtedly. So I think it would be a very important opportunity to have a third Hellboy [film] and close the story like that.

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