One of the things that has helped James Gunn’s comic-book adaptations connect with mainstream audiences is the care and craft that he puts into creating VFX-driven characters. There are just as many fans of Rocket and Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise as there are for, say, Black Widow or Ant-Man, and that’s because Gunn pushes for a magical realism that brings those digital characters to life. They give an actual performance in his movies, sometimes holding together the most emotional sequences in Gunn’s films.
The director continues this streak with his transition to DC Comics, The Suicide Squad, by creating three distinct VFX villains fans will be talking about for weeks after seeing the movie. One is a giant weasel. One is a tiny rat. And the other is the adorable (but deadly) King Shark, who we have seen in the trailers. CinemaBlend recently screened The Suicide Squad and spoke with Gunn afterwards, and when we brought up the creation of King Shark and the process of the visual effects, Gunn told us:
We started developing him very early on, and he was a much, much harder character to develop than Groot or Rocket. Because a shark is, innately, not a character that walks around. He's not a mammal, so he probably doesn't have a six pack. (Laughs) And so developing him from the very beginning as this sort of lovable, but incredibly dangerous, galoot was very, very difficult.
How difficult? So difficult that Gunn said he took a very long time to get to the point where King Shark came across, to him, as a credible character. Even as preliminary VFX shots were coming in from Framestore, the VFX company that completed a lot of King Shark’s composition, Gunn had to apologize and tell the artists that they had to go back to the drawing board, because the concept wasn’t quite working.
As James Gunn elaborated:
I really wanted him to be able to walk and move in a way that was as believable as a King Shark could be. There's a thing about this movie where I wanted it to be sort of a magical realist film. Where, you know, in this world of the DCEU, it's weird to see a walking shark, but not as weird as it is in our world. Because they've seen a man fly around in the sky. So they've seen those types of things. … And so, to keep that sort of magic about the characters and the movie, while also keeping it gritty and grounded, was important to me. But it was a really big process.
The other key element that stymied James Gunn as he worked to perfect King Shark for The Suicide Squad was the villain’s voice. King Shark talks, though mostly in one or two-word bursts of emotion. But Gunn says he couldn’t find the right voice during the production phase. He wrote the part with Sylvester Stallone in mind (the two collaborated on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). And yet, he worried about asking Stallone, just in case it didn’t work. As Gunn explains it:
I actually had hired three different actors. I wrote the role for Sylvester Stallone. I was afraid… Sly’s my friend. … What if it didn't work? He's Sly! I would've just had to have a voice that didn't work. So we had a huge audition process with tons of voice actors. We had one voice actor come in and do the whole movie. It didn't work. We had another voice actor come in and do the whole movie. He didn't come to life. We had an actor -- a really, really famous actor who was also a friend of mine -- come in and do the voice. And that didn't work! And then I was like, ‘Guys, I don't know what to do. I think I have to go to Sly.’ And I called up Sly. He said he would love to do it. He came in and right away, that character just sort of came to life.
But what about the character’s outfit? Did he always have golf shorts? According to Gunn, that’s all that would have worked, as he tells CinemaBlend:
I said, ‘What would a guy find that’s made for an incredibly large waist size?’ And so I'm like, ‘What about a pair of golf shorts?’ I don't think that's really something that we would expect to see King Shark in. We drove him with swim trunks. We drew him with sort of Maui swim trunks and the other older kind of 70s gym shorts and stuff like that. But it really, I think it was the golf shorts I kind of had in my mind from the beginning. So that's what they ended up doing.
When the trailers for The Suicide Squad proclaim “from the horribly beautiful mind of James Gunn,” they are not exaggerating in the least bit. This movie is unfiltered Gunn insanity… including a talking shark in golf shorts. Get ready for this wild DC adaptation, which reaches theaters as well as HBO Max beginning on August 6.