Director JD Dillard walks through his process for creating the monster in his feature SWEETHEART. He shares how to go from concept to building the suit, strategizing how to light and shoot the creature, working with creature actors, and maximizing the scares.
The website, www.artstation.com is a tool to find reference points to creatures that can help you communicate your ideas to your designer.
When designing a creature, create a concept board featuring colors, textures, body parts, etc. that you like from existing creatures; you can then provide this to a creature team to create through practical or visual effects.
There is a big jump from design to a practical suit. Visual effects can be more flexible than a practical suit, but are more expensive. Know your budget so you can create a suit or tailor a practical-visual effects hybrid that fits your needs. As an example, the Sweetheart creature had to be completely practical because of budget constraints.
Casting the actor to play the creature and learning their movement vocabulary is essential. Know how you envision the creature moving, and then work with your actor to execute within the constraints of the suit.
Maintaining the creature’s suit is a critical part of production and will require a “pit crew” to support the actor and the suit.
Crafting your horror aesthetic and how you shoot and light the creature will evolve through trial and error.
The “scares” of the creature come from how you present it to the audience. There is a balance between showing too much, too often & holding back the creature and the power of silence.