This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Based on a single chilling chapter from Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula, THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER tells the terrifying story of the merchant ship Demeter, which was chartered to carry private cargo—fifty unmarked wooden crates—from Carpathia to London.
Strange events befall the doomed crew as they attempt to survive the ocean voyage, stalked each night by a merciless presence onboard the ship. When the Demeter finally arrives off the shores of England, it is a charred, derelict wreck. There is no trace of the crew.
Leading up to the release of THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with Creature FX Designer & Sculptor Göran Lundström. During their chat, they discussed everything from helping to design the creature, how the lack of a pre-production period created a challenge in designing and creating the Dracula we see and working with Javier Botet to bring Dracula to life.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Göran. Your work in THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER is unbelievable and I was curious as to how involved director André Øvredal was in giving feedback on the look of the creature.
Göran Lundström: André was definitely involved. There wasn’t really a clear idea from the beginning… the only clear idea was that it was supposed to be a Monster Dracula, so it wasn’t supposed to be a human Dracula. Production kept referring to him as Nosferatu in the beginning because it separated itself from the traditional Dracula look, the Bela Lugosi look.
THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER has been around for a while, and André had a picture of a maquette that they had started on of a design that he liked. I looked at it and I was like, I can see certain things and I really like it but it’s really hard to turn this into a full-size thing because it was quite rough. I spoke to the sculptor as well who designed that one and he said the same thing, that you can’t really use it to design from but I took some elements from it.
Together with Brad Fischer, the producer, who I worked very tightly with as well cause it’s his baby, we started looking at finding a look. Then at one point, we had four stages of the Nosferatu in the film. There’s one that’s emaciated and starving, one where we started calling it Nosferatu, and then there’s the werewolf. I don’t know what happened there [with the werewolf], but I think that scene was difficult to understand so it’s not in the film anymore.
The fourth stage was a bat creature and, originally, they didn’t think of doing them as separate looks. Basically, it was just one look. We started looking at going more animalistic or animal-like with the bat creature and staying more human-like with Nosferatu. So, it has a lot of Nosferatu in a way but also wrinkly skin and stuff that came from the maquette idea that André liked. So, I tried to get some elements in there but it evolved gradually. I spoke to Brad about it and then every time we got somewhere, we got André involved to discuss the progress so he would have the final say of it.
How was it collaborating with the other departments to make sure that the design was seamlessly integrated into THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER?
Göran Lundström: A lot of time when it comes to something like this you lean on the director a lot, what he wants. I don’t really need to know what the sets are going to look like in the end, but I had an idea of what they were going to look like. As long as I’m doing something that’s in [André’s] taste, he’s the one who may have to make sure that it actually gels with everything else.
We didn’t really work that much with other people because it’s a separate character that’s supposed to look completely different from everyone else in the film. So as long as he looks the way the director, André, wanted it, it’s fine. He will fit in there and he will give the film a flavor as well. So if [Dracula] had looked differently, the film would have a different flavor. So [the design of the creature] does affect a lot, but it doesn’t really have to gel with the surroundings that much.
I’m a massive fan of actor Javier Botet and I’m always amazed by his performances, especially in the horror movies. How was it working with him?
Göran Lundström: All the four stages we did on him were on him. We stuck him in a suit and glued these prosthetics on his face every day we shot him. When I looked at the film, cause I was there spending months on the film with Javier and the makeup, and then you look at the film and you’re like, was that it? There was nothing more? [Laughs]. It’s supposed to only be glimpses. You’re not supposed to see the creature the whole time. That would be kind of dumb.
But for me working on it, I was like, oh, okay, that was it. We spent that much time on this little scene where you can barely see him, but that’s kind of what it is with horror movies. You’re not supposed to show more because the magic disappears. Getting Javier ready was quite a big job because even though the makeup doesn’t have to be moving that well, we don’t know in the end what the director really wants to get out of it. So we try to do it to make sure we can get the most out of it.
I think it began with the suit because you zip him up in the suit and then you have to cover the zip as well, and the makeup goes onto the suit and you have to cover that and paint everything so I think we ended up with a four-hour makeup. The face takes about three hours most of the time, but then with the suit and everything it’s a four-hour makeup [job]. Javier is so professional so he’ll just sit there and do this.
What were some of the challenges you faced creating the creature and how were you about to overcome those?
Göran Lundström: I think the challenge was more that there wasn’t a pre-production period, which you normally might have. You have a time when you actually design something first and then you start building. We had to design it while we were building it, which I thought was difficult cause we didn’t have enough calendar time. I had like almost 25 people working for me in the end. You still have to get the design from somewhere so we started like we normally do by having several concept designers helping you out with giving ideas and then you show that to the production, and then you kind of start getting somewhere with the ideas and then you have to start building something and turning it into something that it’s gonna be.
But it felt a little bit of that took away part of our building time. That was a big challenge. You also don’t know how much you’re gonna see of the subtly of these two Nosferatu designs in there that look very similar but one is supposed to be a starved version and one is less. Javier is quite slim and skinny as he is so the difference when you just see him from afar, you wouldn’t notice, but we wouldn’t know how close they were going to show anything. I myself can’t really tell the difference so as little as you see him, you can’t tell. They used him in the way it was most efficient to tell the story.
What advice would you give to those that want to break into this industry and create these monstrous creatures?
Göran Lundström: There’s a lot of different ways to go about it. I tend to do realistic makeup a lot. I’ve done creatures a long time ago, but I’m not known for it. In our industry, there’s a bunch of people who mainly want to do creatures. That’s a completely different thing. I think it’s more about learning how to become a really good sculptor. There’s a difference between being a designer and a sculptor. I think most people want to be both, and it’s really hard to learn to become a good sculptor while you’re learning how to become a good designer. Some people just have it. They just learn as they go. I think my advice would be to learn how to sculpt first and then design. I tried both and it was so difficult. So that’s one thing.
Also, it’s a lot of work in this industry. You’re not going to get a great title or great responsibility at the beginning of your career but that shouldn’t be the reason you do this. I wanted to do this because I wanted to be in the industry. I wanted to work in the industry and work amongst these things, and then gradually work my way up.
You need to love breathing in this environment and just being in this environment, whatever you do. If you love that, you can go as far as you want to. Trying to get somewhere too quickly and being eager to get some attention which seems to be a big deal today and might make it difficult. In the beginning, you probably don’t have much to show that people would be that impressed by anyways. So just enjoy the ride of learning.
THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER is now out in theaters. To learn more, check out our review here.
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