Set narrative and design in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan Labyrinth


Set narrative and design in Guillermo del Toro’s films are as fundamental for the production as the story itself. In this instance I wanted to focus on two wonderful movies by director extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro. I personally consider Mr. del Toro as one of the brightest and most profound directors of the last two decades.
I had the pleasure of re-watching one of his most famous films, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), for some narrative analysis centered in the collective memory and its use throughout the film.
The first time I saw Pan’s Labyrinth I was struck by its beauty and depth, yet its narrative not only encompassed its wonderful script and story (also the reasons behind the time and location chosen to tell this story) but its amazing cast and effective use of its art direction. Its set narrative and design in Guillermo del Toro elevates the content further than other films in the genre. Perhaps today we can affirm that some of its 3D elements are somewhat dated – yes, the world of Global illumination and photo-realistic rendering accelerates very fast – but please keep in mind that this movie was released 10 years ago.
Mr. del Toro is a big fan of constructing  sets and producing effects in front of the camera instead of behind it while at post-production (this is according to his own remarks on Pan’s Labyrinth behind the scene commentary) yet there are some graphical motives and ideas that re-appear in scenes of his filmography. As an example, both Pan’s Labyrinth and Cronos (1993) have an obsession with time and the characters holding it. Another example, and a more graphical one, relates to both sets from Pan’s Labyrinth and Hell Boy. On both occasion the story takes us to a ritualistic, forgotten and obscure reality. Both are placed in the narrative for very different circumstances. We can affirm that a cameo of a great idea from one movie should absolutely work well in another. Having their origins equal, thanks to the symbolic power of its reading, they both should produce a similar or equal response on the audience. Take a look at both images below:
Hellboy – Ritual scene

Set narrative and design in Guillermo del Toro - Hell Boy Ritual

Pan’s Laberynth – Sacred

Set narrative and design in Guillermo del Toro - Pan Laberynth - Sacred

Different sets yet similar graphical ideas. Yes, the color scheme is absolutely different in one and the other (Pan’s is evokes Faun’s earth and nature whereas Hellboy utilizes the blue and the cold from death and resurrection)
As I mentioned earlier, both scenes speak about the ritual, the myth, the holy the path to eternal existence but in very different ways.