The Suicide Squad presented a particularly special challenge even for the guy who brought a talking raccoon and a sentient tree to life — and made us fall in love with them — in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Two of the characters that writer/director James Gunn wanted to feature in his soft reboot of the DC Extended Universe franchise — a follow-up to the Squad’s 2016 big screen introduction — were King Shark a.k.a. Nanaue (played on set by Steve Agee and voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and Starro the Conqueror (voiced by Taika Waititi).
The former is a man-eating hybrid of great white shark and human being, while the latter is a giant, intelligent alien life form in the shape of a starfish that has traveled through interstellar space to Earth and can control the minds of other beings through spores it wraps around its victims’ faces. King Shark was created through a combination of performance capture and digital effects, while Starro, not surprisingly, was all digital.
“They were both really tough,” says James Gunn during a roundtable discussion with Den of Geek and other outlets to promote the movie. “But I will say that King Shark was the toughest character I’ve ever had to design for numerous reasons.”
Gunn goes on to list said reasons: “Number one, shark skin is much harder to get right than raccoon fur or wood. And the other thing is, Rocket [Raccoon], for instance, is still a mammal. So transforming him a little bit into a more human character isn’t that completely unnatural. But transforming a shark who’s made to swim flat into something that walks around and has a head bent forward, took a lot of design work. In fact, we kept designing for a long time… We finally caught the dad bod that I wanted.”
Dad bod? “I didn’t think he would have a six-pack because he’s not a mammal,” says Gunn, laughing. “So he doesn’t have the same muscular structure as we do.”
The director also admits it took a long time to get King Shark just right: “His belly was a little too white. His pecs were a little too pec-like, and it looked strange on his body. So I said to [VFX company] Framestore, I’m sorry, but we have to go redesign. And we did — in the middle of post-production.”
Even as Gunn and his VFX team sank their teeth (sorry) into the problem of King Shark, bringing the titanic alien Starro to life was a whole different, uh, kettle of fish (sorry again).
“With Starro, it was hard because I really liked the movie The Host,” explains Gunn. “I like how the sea monster flops around like a giant puppy, even though he’s kind of scary…I wanted the same sort of unwieldy feeling of a walking starfish who isn’t made to walk, who floats around in space. So getting him to walk in a way that would at least somewhat put people in peril, but was also the goofy way a starfish would walk, was difficult.”
The final touch for the oversized echinoderm was its coloring, which Gunn wanted to contrast significantly with the setting around it. “I love the pink and cerulean, totally bright colors that look completely different from the sort of really gritty, grimy streets of Colon, Panama that he’s walking around in,” enthuses the director. “I liked that contrast a lot, although I knew it was risky to do something that pink. But we swung for the fences.”
Swinging for the fences in a movie already stuffed with some of the most over-the-top, bizarre and outrageous characters ever seen in a comics-based film — and that’s just the humans — is something we’d expect from James Gunn.
Now if he could only put King Shark, fellow The Suicide Squad cast member Weasel (Sean Gunn), Rocket Raccoon and Groot all together onscreen, that would be something…
The Suicide Squad is out now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.