Designing Hellboy II: The Golden Army

This series of missions leads the B.P.R.D. team into secret new worlds that have been speculated upon for years but never before verified. Each of these lands was imagined in precise detail by del Toro and sketched in his ever-present notebook long before production began. Production designer Stephen Scott was tasked to bring these drawings to life.

Del Toro envisioned this chapter of Hellboy’s adventures taking place not only in multiple locations, but also in new realms. He offers, “In the first film, we were always in the sewers and subways, never out in the open, among high society or humans. This takes us a bit more there and into the magical world.” To do this, he would need to head to Hungary as well as to Ireland.
Undoubtedly, the most extravagant of these environments is del Toro’s aptly named Troll Market. Located underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and reached via the back of a butcher shop, it’s one of the few places where freaks don’t feel like outcasts. Hellboy, Liz, Abe and Johann find the Troll Market by following a tip wrung from the lips of a reanimated tooth fairy, a wretched little beast with an insatiable appetite for calcium.

Magical beings are the only ones who can access the market, a haven crowded with potion vendors and artifact mongers that’s been hidden from human eyes for millennia. “The Troll Market is like a souk you’d find in Morocco, except there are no humans,” explains Ron Perlman. “It’s Guillermo del Toro visiting the most extreme depths of his imagination.”
Entered via a 12’-high circular doorway comprised of rotating gears—an intricate locking structure that few can interpret—the Troll Market is packed to the rafters with everything an underworlder might need: discarded items from the city above, off-market novelties such as human skin, a barber shop, an opium den, a giant meat grinder and a community message board. It’s also, naturally, packed with trolls. More than 200 extras were recruited to inhabit the nooks and crannies of this hazy netherworld. Fortunately for Hellboy, Johann, in gaseous form, can unlock the door.

The writer/director wanted to create a place upon which audiences felt they had just stumbled—a universe with little explanation as to why there was any particular character; rather, the creatures just lived and worked there. Explains concept artist FRANCISCO RUIZ VELASCO, “Every artist working on the production was throwing crazy and exotic ideas around to come up with the different creatures that were to populate the Troll Market, ‘where you can find anything in the world, even those things that are not for sale.’” They did just that to flesh out del Toro and Mignola’s imaginings.

To interpret this world for film, production designer Scott had three months to transform a 4,000-square-meter cave, most recently used for growing mushrooms, into del Toro’s vision of the teeming marketplace. The cave also had to accommodate lights, acting, stunts and effects—such as dripping water and billowing steam—along with hundreds of cast, crew, goblins and trolls. The underground location, a former limestone quarry, was found 25 miles southwest of Budapest in the village of Tarnok, Hungary.

In addition to slick new B.P.R.D. uniforms, costume designer Sammy Sheldon was tasked to make sure no one could ever confuse trolls with humans in the enormous space. “We gave them strange humps on the front, humps on the back, big bellies, big bottoms, gloves with three fingers, tall shoes…anything we could think of to try and change the shape of a human being,” she says. “Every single character in the Troll Market has his face covered.”

Both the Troll Market and the eerily imposing Golden Army Chamber were designed in sharp contrast with the aboveground world of humans. “The human world is linear, with straight lines and sharp edges,” says Scott, “while the shapes of the belowground worlds are curved and fluid, with a mixture of Indian, Moroccan and other North African influences.”

The Golden Army Chamber houses a weapon of mass destruction that was commissioned by Elvish King Balor many centuries ago. According to del Toro: “The king said, ‘I want an army that doesn’t need to eat, sleep, drink or pause.’ So, the goblins created a massive army composed of 16’ tall mechanical soldiers that are killing machines. But they don’t know the difference between a man, woman or child—an innocent victim or a soldier.” Once the ruler realizes the horror of his manifested request, he understands that strength is restraint, not brutality, and locks the Golden Army away for eternity, hopefully to never to harm again. Until his son releases its nihilistic power once again.

The robotic holding pen was built in Budapest in a cavernous (and only partially completed) college sports arena, nicknamed Spikey Stadium by the crew due to the Sputnik-like protrusions on its roof. Because the space had sat unused for so long, it had a hollow, lifeless quality that was creepily appropriate for this massive set. In addition, its towering height offered practical advantages for construction and filming pivotal sequences of the army’s reactivation.

While Navarro’s cameras rolled at these and other locations in greater Budapest, the production’s construction crew worked nonstop at Korda Studios’ back lot, building the New York street to the production designer’s specifications. When principal photography began on June 9, 2007, Manhattan was nothing but a stark metal scaffold, which dozens of men scaled daily to build. As the months passed, it grew to encompass three blocks of shabby shops, a meat packing plant, loading docks, an auto shop, a bank, billboards, an SRO hotel and a trendy meat packing district café.

The New York street hosted several pivotal scenes, including the confrontation between Hellboy and the Elemental, a powerful “Jack and the Beanstalk”-type of vine creature with enough life force to rip through pavement. To fight the latest trick from Nuada’s playbook, Hellboy must scramble up a wobbly neon hotel sign to escape its grasping tentacles and bone-crushing moves. Hungarian speed-climbing champion CSABA KOMONDI was brought in for the job, doubling as Hellboy for the stunt. Donning boots, leather pants, heavy coat, oversized shotgun, animatronic tail, harness, pads and the right hand of doom—not to mention the infant he was rescuing—the 160-pound man weighed 240 pounds as he scaled the five letters of the sign…in one continuous take.

The nighttime sequence was filmed in November as snow flurries and high winds swept through the set. Although cast and crew shivered in the cold, everyone was confident that the hotel would withstand the conditions. “We used metal tube work behind the façade to prevent it from blowing away,” explains Scott.

The B.P.R.D. team also visits Giant’s Causeway, an ancient place of myth and legend, touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Although aerial photography was taken at the actual site on the Northern Irish coast, the actors performed their Causeway scenes in a hilly field near the town of Soskut in the Hungarian countryside. If they could offer just the right token to the Bethmoora Goblin who keeps watch, Hellboy, Liz and Abe would be admitted passage to the Angel of Death…a complicated proposition.

The freaks live where they work, at B.P.R.D. headquarters. The B.P.R.D. sets for Hellboy II: The Golden Army were also built in and around Budapest. The Bureau’s well-stocked “freak corridor,” medical bay and meeting rooms were constructed on soundstages at Korda Studios, as was Hellboy’s personal lair—complete with dozens of television sets and equally as many cats.
Professor Broom’s sumptuous library, the site of a pivotal confrontation between Hellboy and Nuada, occupied another stage at the brand-new Korda facility. Also, the small hut at the military base where Professor Broom raised young Hellboy was built at the studio. Here, as a child, Hellboy first heard tell of the Golden Army’s bloody history between mankind and the outlanders.

Finally, Bethmoora, the pivotal setting where Prince Nuada confronts his father about his shortcomings as a ruthless leader, was imagined. The city where King Balor reigns over a peaceful kingdom with favored child, Princess Nuala, was built inside an enormous cavern, and the buildings are carved into the stone walls. The ruinous space has been in shambles for several millennia, and ashes blanket the region.

Inside the Angel’s lair is a carving on the floor that depicts a diagram of the universe. The watchful filmgoer will catch Mike Mignola’s many icons and zodiac symbols (carved after many detailed sketches were considered by del Toro). Most important is a glyph that depicts Hellboy at the end of the days, alternately the savior of or harbinger to mankind’s destruction…depending upon how you read the runes.

The filmmakers took pride in honoring the designs of the many artists who contributed to the production. “It was inspiring to see the intricate sketches come to life over the shoot,” commends producer Levin. “These fantasy worlds and creatures had been so carefully imagined by Guillermo and the many artists who worked on Hellboy II. To find the detailed sketches built into intricate sets was especially exciting.”

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