The Wendigo or Windigo has already appeared in popular culture, but Cooper wanted to get it right. He turned to Chris Eyre, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and director of the 1998 “Smoke Signals” with whom Cooper had consulted with (among others) for his 2017 “Hostiles.” Despite mixed reviews, “Hostiles” was applauded by the National Congress of American Indians for its accurate portrayal of Native peoples and their languages.
As mentioned above, Dillon, a professor in Indigenous Nations Studies Program at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, was also consulted about the Wendigo. Cooper noted that to some, “It’s not folklore for them; they truly truly believe in it” and this informed how the creature was designed.
Del Toro said (24:33), there were “presets” such as “the antlers are a must,” but “we have to remember we’re not creating a monster; we’re creating a god.” So there must be some “surreal aspects” and it must look “ancient, powerful and one with nature.” Working with Guy Davis, a creature designer, concept artist and illustrator and Legacy Effects, Cooper and del Toro came up with the creature after some refinements. Cooper said it was a learning experience because “Guillermo thought at a much different level” than himself. This is a creature that comes from the center of the earth. Fans of del Toro will be familiar with Davis’ work, if not his name. He previously worked with del Toro on “The Strain,” the 2013 “Pacific Rim,” the 2015 “Crimson Peak” and the 2017 “The Shape of Water.” The creature the audience will see is a detailed puppet enhance digitally under the supervision of Shane Mahan at Legacy Effects who uses “costume animatronic hybrid techniques.”
While he might have had help with the creation of the creature, when Cooper wrote the screenplay with Nick Antosca (based on Antosca’s short story, The Quiet Boy) and C. Henry Chaisson, Cooper already had specific people in mind: Keri Russell for the mother, Julia Meadows, Jesse Plemons, and for her brother, Paul Meadows. Plemons had worked with Cooper on “Hostiles” and “Black Mass.” For Cooper, Russell “is such a relatable actor” and in many ways already has a social contract with the audience after her TV series. Rory Cochrane, who Cooper had worked with on “Hostiles,” also appears.