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The Shape of Water filmed scenes ‘dry for wet’

The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy romance movie The Shape of Water filmed key underwater scenes as ‘dry for wet’, creating the water in post-production.

The film tells the story of Sally Hawkins’ mute janitor who develops an unconventional relationship with Doug Jones’ mysterious aquatic being at a government research facility in a 1960s US city.

Production was based at Cinespace Film Studios in Toronto where del Toro has worked before, with locations around the city manipulated with visual effects to stand in for the story’s US setting.

Filming for underwater scenes was divided between real water tank work and more controllable ‘dry for wet’ visual effects techniques, which are challenging in different ways.

“We did a lot of research on how to do dry for wet well – from how many frames per second to use, to how you can create floating particles,” says del Toro. “We knew the key was to create a video projection of caustic light on the characters that is very operatic.”  

The team ended up using a combination of smoke, projection and wind machines to create the appearance of water, while enabling Jones and Hawkins to perform without closing their eyes.

“When we did the dry for wet scenes, Sally and I were working in fog with lights zigzagging around like waves,” says Jones. “It was quite unusual, but when I saw the video playback, I was like, ‘Dang – that looks real.’”

Producers increasingly prefer to film dry for wet for underwater scenes in order to avoid set degradation and to enable actors to have their eyes open for prolonged periods during water-based scenes.

See KFTV's production guide for more on filming in Ontario.

Image: Kerry Hayes/20th Century Fox