The Last Voyage of the Demeter, directed by André Øvredal, marks the latest big-screen appearance of Dracula in a feature-length adaptation of a brief, epistolary chapter from Bram Stoker's iconic novel.
The film charts the fateful journey of the Demeter, a merchant ship whose crew is tasked with delivering the worst possible cargo that you could imagine: Dracula. As the crew becomes a glorified all-you-can-eat buffet for the creature, they lose themselves in a flurry of accusations and madness, all compounded by knowing they'll never reach their destination. As Dracula works his way through the crew, the audience is treated to familiar but exciting character variations.
Creature FX designer and sculptor Göran Lundström brings his own particular talents to the proceedings, offering a multivalent look at a figure whose visage has been seared into eyeballs since the early days of cinema. If there's one reason to check out The Last Voyage of the Demeter, Lundström's superlative effects work brings something new and interesting to a character that has left his (bite) mark on popular culture.
Lundström took some time to speak with CBR about his process of developing the creature's various stages, sculpting to the performance and history of the character.
CBR: How did you come across this project? How did it get on your radar?
Göran Lundström: It didn't get on my radar; they contacted me. So I got an email from Amblin about doing this. It was toward the end of the pandemic. A lot of the projects that had been postponed were all coming back. So there was this backlog of projects. Everyone was busy; we had real difficulties finding a crew. I turned it down when they asked me at first because I couldn't find enough people. In the end, the producer Bradley Fischer helped me find a crew in L.A.
Have you worked with any of them before?
No, I hadn't worked with them. I knew some of them, you know, of each other, at least. No, we hadn't worked together. But I mean, in the end, we're like, 20, I think we'd like 22 people here. And I had like four or five from LA. So great.
This film is based on a very brief chapter. The descriptions of Dracula are pretty vague in it, mysterious. He's more of an apparition. And later, he's described as a dog-like creature. How do you envision this? When when you're conceiving of the look of this? How do you decide what you want Dracula to look like?
It's a collaboration. The filmmakers have their idea already, at least a vague idea of what they want. André, the director, had already worked on this for a while before I came in. So we had some design ideas. He had a particular one that he liked. There was a little sculpture, lit a certain way and looked cool, but it wasn't enough. It wasn't in a finished state, so you couldn't really take that, and just turn it into a full-size thing. But it gave me an idea of what kind of creature he was after. Instead of doing a lot of concept design -- we did some of that too -- some concept designs. But I think for André, there was something in that photograph he liked, which you can't really capture in concept designs because there was an atmosphere he liked in that photo. I had to figure out what and why he liked it. Then I sculpted. I started sculpting a full-size head so that we could look at something. Then we kept working on changing it, like every day for like a week, kept. It kept evolving as a sculpture. It also gave me a feeling of what I was doing. So I was also learning to figure out what André and Brad liked and what I liked. At a certain point, you know what the director likes, you keep that, and then you know, in this case, what the producer likes. Then it's a matter of what I like as well. I also have to get that in there because it might not be things they think about.
We got to a point where the bat creature started evolving out of this sculpture. It started to split into two designs. One became the bat Nosferatu; one became the man Nosferatu. I kept saying, 'If this one is evolving into bat, shouldn't we have a man as well? Should we have someone more human?' He goes through stages. In the book, he's even a werewolf. So I decided I'll do one that's more Nosferatu-like, even though it's more like a skeletal, zombie-like figure with no eyelids, so his eyeballs are basically visible. I put a little bit of Nosferatu nose in there and the teeth, originally, so it wasn't that much Nosferatu. The silhouette resembles it a bit. Then we have the bat creature, and just trying to avoid the Gary Oldman one, even though it's amazing, but I don't want it to look the same.
This one has more of an almost amphibious look to it. There's something strange and lizard-like, but also bat-like.
That came from the whole original design when the two designs split up. We already had that skeletal look, and the smile. I don't remember the title now, but that was something I heard, that the bat creature has a smile. The producer kept telling me that Steven Spielberg wanted a smile. It was from some 60s TV show -- I have the name written down somewhere -- that I've never seen, where this guy has a fixed smile on his face as a prosthetic. We put that smile in there because it was asked.
We had the eyes, we had to smile, and then you'd have to get enough bat in there. Then you have Javier Botet underneath, his proportions, so you have to work with those as well, and balance those out. You add material to give you a nice balance as a sculpture. There are a lot of aspects. The actor does affect the makeup unless you do a whole mask, a whole head. A lot of things went into it. That's when anything becomes unique when you don't decide beforehand what it will look like, but you build it on an actor.
It feels very grounded in performance. There's a real presence, like in some scenes when he's silhouetted; there's a feeling that something's there. Then there are death-defying stunts, flying in, swooping in, and killing the crew. Are there any stylistic influences on this that you looked to? There's a bit of Count Orlok, the classic Nosferatu, in there. There's a bit of the Gary Oldman version -- the outfit, but the face is very different.
In the canteen at the end, the pub? That was deliberate. It's set in that time as well. The Count Orlok thing is obvious. Even though I didn't look at it, you still have it in your mind. When I was sculpting, I was trying to give it a flavor of something. You have an actor underneath, and then you want to try to put a more interesting face on top of it that stands out. I figured it was a good thing to try to get in there. Then I wasn't sure we were going to go for it. You try something, go, 'Oh, that looks cool. Let's go with it.' There are so many parts in this design that have to come together. We had four different designs in the beginning. We had a werewolf, but that scene didn't make it. We had two stages of the man, one more emaciated. Then we have the bat creature.
They all have to have similarities; the eyes, for one thing, went through all of them. There are no eyelids, and really no pupils. On set, I actually painted a pupil on them because I felt something was missing. Because you couldn't feel if he was looking in any direction. I took a Sharpie and put some pupils there because we were going to replace the eyes anyway, digitally. A bunch of things go into design, and hopefully, you'll get something different in the end.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is now playing in theaters everywhere.