In February 2009, the Special Topics in Design: Styles class at Hendrix College, consisting of Junior Brett Carr, Seniors Lizzie Dunnet and Sarah Johnson, Sophomore Ben West, and Professor Danny Grace, set out to examine style through a particular special project. After consideration, the class settled on a character study of the Creature from Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein. The class’s focus was to examine the presentation of the Creature as represented in media, and then to assemble a Creature of our own. The main source of information came from the original novel, as well as examining the visual representation of the character, played by Boris Karloff in the classic 1931 film, Frankenstein, The Man Who Made a Monster! By examining and critiquing these works, the class sought to create the Creature following the original Shelley character. The purpose of this project was to create the character of the Creature based on early 19th century technology that was geared towards a modern audience. Here within are the results of this character study.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Victor Frankenstein sets out to create a living creature from non-living material. “A new race of being…which would owe their existence to [him].” This in mind, the misguided scientist gathers parts of ideal quality from a myriad of sources, disregarding age, gender and even species when necessary. The parts are assembled with meticulous attention to the details of perfect and beautiful symmetry at which point he sets to work in giving his creation life. But his dream is not to be; the moment his long hours of labor over his finished work yielded fruit, he becomes filled with horror. As the processes and pulsations of life begin and the great thing on the floor of his laboratory opens its eyes and takes its first shuddering rasp of a breath, Frankenstein beholds his image of perfection transformed into an apparition of terror. The creature does not die on its own, however. Surviving and quickly learning to use its limbs and to take care of its simple needs, the creature begins to develop physically and evolve his reasoning. Via discarded books and his observances of a small family, the creature becomes both intelligent and compassionate. His advances are met with the same terror, however, owing to his appearance. At length he comes to hate the creator who gave him his hellish existence, vowing revenge. By the time he tracks down his maker, the processes of life have made him strong and agile, enabling him to destroy the life of Victor Frankenstein.
In researching Frankenstein’s Creature, we decided to look at the original Karloff character. In many ways, this is the archetype Creature for all subsequent representations of the Creature, though in this movie credited as the Monster, as seen in various media. Indeed, much of what we think when we say Frankenstein is A) the Creature, not the doctor whose last name bears the title, and B) the stumbling green creature Karloff played. While the movie was in black and white, the poster for the movie represents the monster in green. Upon first review, the class rejected this original representation of the Creature as not congruent with the original novel. The character lacks several of what we considered crucial elements as told by Shelley, though it will be noted that some of these qualities do appear in the sequels to the classic film. The Creature lacked vocal patterns, an intellectual development, agility, and overall depth, which Shelley was quite romantic in portraying. However, the Creature did represent a viable vision. Visual elements are limited to the head/neck and forearm/hand of the Creature because the rest was clothed. It is stereotypical now to consider the bolt on the neck, which despite in this version the Creature’s electric bolt to life, was really a way of connecting the head to the rest of the body. There is a long scar on the forearm, signifying the putting together of body parts. The head also has a raised forehead, perhaps a representation of adding the creatures brain, hollowed eyes, which Shelley repeatedly references, black lips, a few scars, a prominent brow, and hollowed cheeks. All are good representations of the Creature’s assembled past. The story differs greatly from Shelley’s original novel. The mains points having already been addressed, there is one scene in particular that must be pointed out. Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant steals a brain from the medical school, only steals the wrong brain, that of a criminal. This, we feel, is a direct contradiction of both Shelley’s original premise and our concept for the Creature. While we do not wish to make a social commentary on the battle between nature versus nurture, Shelley’s character clearly develops because of nurturing. It is not a feeble brain that causes the creature’s actions, but rather his rejection from civilized society that causes him to act out in a vengeful manner. We do not wish to combat this film’s lasting quality nor demote its affect on horror films, but merely must use this as a stepping-stone into our own vision of the Creature. Also looked at were the presentations of the Creature in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein in which the archetypal character from the 1931 film can clearly be seen. In addition, and noted as a particularly splendid adaptation was the twelve minute long, silent Thomas Edison Production of Frankenstein done in 1910, and also Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein starring Robert DeNiro as the Creature in 1994. This last version follows the novel very closely, however, we find the Creature does not contribute to the monster we set out to create.
Photo Date: 1931, Boris Karloff, FRANKENSTEIN
Copyright Universal Pictures - All Rights Reserved
Our concept centers on a development of Shelley’s ideas as portrayed by the novel, and to pushing the Creature towards a 21st century audience. We find in Shelley’s novel, four distinct stages of the physical embodiment of the Creature: pre-life, at birth, healing, and healed.
In the initial stage, before life, the creature is assembled to conform to the ideal human form. What Frankenstein sets out to make is the perfect human, and in many respects, at least according to the accounts in the novel, he does, before the Creature came to life. In thinking of the perfect being, we focused on Michelangelo’s David because it is a three-dimensional representation of the perfect being. This is the body sewn together by the doctor. Parts are carefully selected, prepared and attached with precision. We imagined that in creating the perfect being, Frankenstein would conceal the stitches by hiding them with the contour of the body, i.e. the inside of the arm would be used more than the outside. Here also, we were presented with a choice on how minute the detail would be. The novel specifically tells us the Creature stood eight feet tall, so the doctor could work on the parts. We must, in the interest of workability, conclude that while bones, large muscles, tendons, ligaments, and arteries or large veins would be connected by the doctor, it is unrealistic to think the doctor would have the technology and the ability to work past this level in the 1810s. Therefore, while larger muscles might have been replaced for the perfect being, we decided on the body parts approach instead of a system approach for the assembly of the Creature. A different approach not based in the 19th century might have other conclusions. When suitable human organs or tissues are unavailable, animals are found dead or killed to provide the necessary parts. In pre-life, the Creature is beautiful and serene, even though it is put together. Frankenstein labors intently and intensely for many months to complete this masterwork of sculpture in flesh. As he works to pump life into the figure on his floor, Frankenstein is still enraptured by his accomplishment of such a perfection of a body.
Stage 1: Frankenstein's Monster Pre-Life
Sketch by: Lizzie Dunnet
Upon receiving life, the body undergoes the primary changes of life to death in reverse. Here, Frankenstein has just brought the Creature to life. Fluid returns to activity, pumping and pulsing through the newly living being. What we tried to imagine was slightly translucent skin in which all the veins suddenly start pumping with blood, where the cold serene body suddenly has life. It is full of blood oozing from sewn body parts. The sutures and stitches no doubt strain and in some cases burst upon the arrival of life in the creature’s body as he plumps up with vitality. We have to remember the intense pain that the Creature is most likely feeling. The creature’s memories of his first moments are of confusion, terror and agony. This gives us some idea of how difficult it must have been to utilize the manmade body and how the sparking of life wrought unseen consequences upon the unwitting experiment. It would be a gory scene. Here also, we can start to see some of the features Shelley outlines such as the hollowed eyes, which remain dull mill-white watery globes while the lips as black at the hair atop the head. Karloff’s stumbling character would fit here, as per Shelley’s description, because the Creature lacks balance, concept of movement, control of his body, etc.
Stage 2: Frankenstein's Monster At Birth
Sketch by: Lizzie Dunnet
As he lives in the forest and becomes the intellectual mastermind who would do so much damage, the creature begins to heal. While the Creature is healing, it would go through several transformations. Bruising and swelling of body parts are distinct possibilities and would be seen in early scenes of the Creature. Eventually, the Creature would heal. These wounds would be replaced with developing scar tissue. The openings would become scabbed, some keeping their stitches, others not. The Creature’s skin would react to the sun and turn from translucent to fair by re-pigmenting itself. Scabs would reveal themselves. Scars would develop. It is not hard to imagine this process of healing for anyone who has ever been hurt. Also with this, the Creature would gain control of his body, as he does in the novel. He develops speech. He reacts to his environment. All accounts in the novel are that the Creature is incredibly intelligent, and he would develop these characteristics. His body would become faster, stronger, and more agile. With the addition of nourishment to his existence, the creature’s health begins to improve.
Stage 3: Frankenstein's Monster Healing
Sketch by: Sarah Johnson
This is the final version of the Creature. His scars are set. His body has finished healing. He has gained his supreme intellect, superior strength, and agile features. He, in many ways, looks much like the perfect being before life, the David Frankenstein envisioned. Upon his reappearance into the life of Frankenstein, the creature has become what his maker had intended, a marvel of creation. Healed completely and full of strength and agility beyond that of man, the creature sets to wreaking his revenge upon the lives of those his creator loves. The last time the monster is seen, he is terrible to behold but the terror carries the kind of connotation reserved for a god. This final stage must surely have been a wonder to behold for the captain of the exploratory vessel in the Arctic Ocean before the modern Prometheus slips away to end the tale of cruelty and misery.
Stage 4: Frankenstein's Monster Healed
Sketch by: Sarah Johnson
The stages leave something to be desired, and here we step away from Shelley’s words in one sense, and towards her concept in another. While throughout the novel, the Creature is labeled as demonic, hideous, and a monster, we have our creature healing and becoming more human, more beautiful. This is where we play more towards the 21st century audience. We cannot just create an ugly creature and expect this to capture the audience. Plus, in Shelley’s novel, the Creature goes beyond this. He is jaded by the world’s perception of him. While the body becomes less ugly, we must counter it with his personality becoming worse. The idea behind this theory is that the hideousness of the Creature must not fluctuate, this hideousness being defined by the average hideousness between the Creature’s physical appearance, and his characteristics. So while one goes up, the other must go down. Here is a graph illustrating this concept more clearly.
Sketches which lead to our final images:
Above sketches by: Ben West
Above sketches by: Lizzie Dunnet
Above sketch by: Sarah Johnson