Universal’s The Last Voyage of the Demeter centers around a single chapter in Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror classic, Dracula. The Captains Log talks of a more feral and monstrous creature, something we haven’t really seen too much in Dracula movies before. Typically, we are used to a seeing eccentric, humanoid versions of the “prince of darkness” such as Christopher Lee’s, Gary Oldman’s, Nicolas Cage’s, and of course Bela Lugosi’s portrayals of the infamous vampire. So, with The Last Voyage of the Demeter focusing more on the monstrous side, and appearance of Count Dracula, we needed a truly terrifying monster design that will really haunt our nightmares.
Thankfully, veteran creature and make-up designer Göran Lundström took up the challenge along with a equally skilled team to create this version of Dracula.
Göran Lundström is perhaps most well-known for is exceptional work on The Batman, along with his Oscar-nominated work for the great film Border and for House of Gucci on Jared Leto’s character. Recently, MovieWeb sat down with Lundström to discuss his latest work on The Last Voyage of the Demeter designing the haunting look of Count Dracula.
Why The Last Voyage of the Demeter?
“Well, I was asked. That was the first thing,” answered Lundström on what it was that drew him to this vampire project. “When you’re being asked to do something that cool, it’s really hard to turn it down. And especially if it’s a Dracula movie for Universal, you know, even though it’s Amblin who asked me. But it’s really hard as a makeup effects person not to want to do this. This is like, one of those dream jobs.”
Working on any movie presents its own challenges, and one challenge that Lundström seems to always face, like.many of us, is time — namely, not having enough of it. “Well, yeah, the challenge I always seem to have is, I never get enough time to do anything,” Lundström said, before going into greater detail on why time is always his greatest challenge. “They always contact me late. So that was like the big thing on this part, we have very little time for as much work as they want to do.”
“You want to have a period where you basically think about the design […] You want to have the initial talks, you want to read the script, and then talk about the design and start throwing ideas around. We didn’t have that, we went straight into having a crew, and basically building it and designing at the same time. So that’s kind of unusual. That was the only way to get this done in the time we had.”
A Collaborative Process
Collaborating with a team is an incredibly important process when trying to find that perfect vision and design, particularly on a project that has such a small timeframe to come up with ideas. “It’s kind of nice to get an idea of what you’re about to do on your own,” Lundström stated on whether he prefers a more collaborative or individualistic approach when coming up with designs. “But especially on something like this, you kind of need to throw a bunch of ideas around with other people, you can’t do it on your own.” Lundström elaborated:
I think when it’s character makeup, it’s kind of personal […] With this, you have to kind of cater to the film. It’s kind of a big part of the emotional journey in the film, what the creature looks like.
Lundström continued on how important Dracula’s design is in the movie, and is perhaps one of his more important and influential designs on a film to date. “The whole flavor of the film kind of hinges on the creature to some extent. This is a time period piece,” said Lundström, “the only thing that’s not time period is the creature. So if we put a giga alien in there, the film would feel different immediately; it would be wrong, but it will also feel different.”
“So I think the creature, in this sense, is what people will identify the film with afterward, and when I’m thinking about Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the film, I immediately think about the creature design. So, it’s a really important part, but also, it’s difficult to do a bunch of creatures and do them on your own. It doesn’t really work that way. You have to kind of throw ideas around, and collaborate with people, and then with the director and the producer, and there’s a lot of people that mold it.”
Dracula’s design in The Last Voyage of the Demeter is very different from anything we have seen before. He is more feral, more animalistic, and way more primal than any of his prior iterations. So when asked what Lundström’s inspirations to design a more monstrous look for Dracula, the expert admitted that director André Øvredal had already acquired different design ideas before Lundström signed on. They were kind of all over the place and needed some direction.
What we kept was basically the eyes without eyelids which we have throughout, which almost makes the eyeball be revealed completely. And then the crinkliness of [the creature], and so I decided in the end to stick a texture on that almost looks like wet paper, just to make the skin look really weird.
He went on to discuss the development of the original designs to Lundström’s vision. “The rest of the design kind of evolved, because we had so little time that I just started sculpting something, and then we had daily meetings where I kept sculpting and changing, and it kind of evolved. At one point it kind of split into two, one going more animal-like with the bat creature design, and then one we called Man Nosferatu […] It became the Bat Nosferatu and the Man Nosferatu.”
So in the beginning of the film, you mainly see him in like a light gray silhouette. And like a bald, wrinkly thing, and I kind of looked at the Max Schreck [Nosferatu] design a little bit.
Max Shreck’s Nosferatu is perhaps the most haunting design of Dracula to date. At least until Lundström dropped a definite contender with The Last Voyage of the Demeter. The designs offer some similarities, but both still feel vastly different. “I didn’t really look at pictures, you know,” explained Lundström. “You have a visual in your head. I tried to just take what I remembered and put that somewhere in there. So it’s not really a Nosferatu design, but it has some of that in there. And then he also has a skeletal form of some sort. A lot of wrinkling. They wanted all of them aged because he’s supposed to really old.”
I’ve never done aged creatures before, which is also kind of strange to me. But I said, ‘Let’s try it. See what happens.’ I don’t know if you can tell his age, but there’s some aging in all of the stages, actually.
Past Dracula Looks
Throughout his way over a century in the cinema, Dracula has seen a plethora of looks which represent an interesting evolution of inspirations and technology. So when asked if he drew any inspiration from Dracula’s previous designs, Lundström said, “What you try to do, or at least what I try to do, is avoid anything.” He continued:
“Because the inspiration for, let’s say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the bat in that one, the Gary Oldman one, is obviously a bat on a human being. So when you merge the two, you get something new. But when you do the same thing on another person, you get something that resembles the Gary Oldman one, and then you have to figure out, ‘How do we avoid making them look too similar?’ Because their concept is the same. So we’re basically trying to avoid other inspirations as much as we can.”
The natural world, however, provides a ton of inspiration. “With the bat creature, it was more looking at bats. And then actually looking at the Gary Oldman one to see that we didn’t copy too much. I made sure the ears did not look like his ears. The nose did not look like his nose,” said Lundström.
Göran Lundström’s Creative Process
Typically, artists and designers will draw rough sketches or design concepts, however, Lundström seems to tackle a different approach. “Well, the way I tend to work, I tend to not do concept designs per se,” said Lundström. “So I try to start somewhere. And then I kind of evolve that design into something. So I throw one out, and then we discuss it, and then we can change it. It’s like makeup tests, when you know what you’re doing.”
It’s a better process for everyone, because we’re all involved in having opinions and making it grow into something. I mean, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to do it the other way, it just doesn’t work for me.
A collaborative evolution, you can see the ultimate manifestation of Dracula in Universal Pictures’ The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is now in theaters.