Canada's Condominium Magazine
Production designer Paul Austerberry of Toronto transformed various locations in Toronto and Hamilton in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. The movie has received 13 Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best director. Austerberry and two other Canadian set decorators were nominated for an Oscar due to the stellar transformations.
“The fact that we did a movie that’s being recognized all over the world, and it’s just homegrown talent – that’s quite wonderful,” said Austerberry.
Part-time Toronto resident Del Toro has filmed a number of movies in the Greater Toronto Area. Amongst these are Pacific Rim, Mama, and Crimson Peak. During the Toronto Film Festival 2017, Del Toro described his Toronto crews as “top-notch technically and artistically,” praising their ability to “deliver any movie you need, of any scale you need in the world.” He also described a sense of gratitude and loyalty that emanated from the group, which he described as feeling like family. “That’s why I want to keep coming back.”
Austerberry stated that a production designer’s job is to help craft a visual tale. “I have to set the tone for the story to develop in,” he said. “So, basically, you read the script, you break down what you think might be a set versus a location, and then we craft it.”
His task for The Shape of Water was to transform some of Toronto’s most well-known landmarks into a stylized version of 1960s Baltimore in such a way that the viewer would be completely unaware that the scene was shot in Toronto. Some of these locations included Massey Hall, The Lakeview Restaurant, and Andrews Building at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
Massey Hall was primarily chosen due to the fire escapes which cascade down the front of the build, which was very appealing to Del Toro. The designers’ task was to transform the building without attaching anything to the outside due to the building’s historical significance. The transformation process included building a marquee and ticket booth, propping them up on four legs “like a table,” and later digitally removing the legs.
“We pre-built it, pre-aged it, pre-wired it with all the lights,” said Austerberry. “We brought it in with a day and a half, shot all night long, and then we had a half a day to get rid of it. It was a real tight schedule.”
The Lakeview Restaurant is a Toronto staple, and it has been featured in a number of films including Hairspray, Cocktail, and Take This Waltz. “That diner has been in a lot of movies; but it’s a lovely space, and we changed it quite heavily for our purposes,” said Austerberry. Visual effects studio Mr. X Inc. worked alongside del Toro’s crew to paint a 1960s street scene outside the restaurant, as well as add a sign that displays the name Dixie Doug’s.
The concrete exterior of the Andrews building at the University of Toronto Scarborough, which was originally named Scarborough College, was transformed into the entrance of the underworld lab, the government facility where Eliza works as a janitor. “The brutalist architecture there was chosen because it was oppressive,” said Austerberry, describing the building’s harsh lines and concrete material space. “The scenic artists had to match that concrete look for our studio sets.”