‘The Art of The Strain’: The Gorgeous Craftsmanship Behind the Gruesome Series

     September 4, 2016

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The amount of work that goes into any single TV series is staggering, but when you’re talking about a high-concept horror series with a home on one of TV’s most creatively supportive network, the craftsmanship can be truly next level. Such is the subject at the heart of Insight Edition’s The Art of The Strain, a new compendium book offering a detailed look at the tremendous creative work on FX’s The Strain. In an age where high production value has become the TV norm – an age where horror has firmly staked its claim as a leading genre on television – The Strain stands tall as one of the most impressively crafted series on-air thanks to the grizzly creature creations and centuries-spanning settings. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering it all springs from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, the master of macabre behind Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak.

In The Art of The Strain, author Robert Abele (who previously chronicled the Twilight films in The Twilight Saga: The Complete Film Archive) details how the seeds of The Strain sprouted from a TV pitch into a series of novels, a comic book, and ultimately the hit FX series. From the inception of the idea, rooted in del Toro’s mythical and biological fascination with vampires, through the creation of the TV show, which just kicked off its third season, Abele tracks the creation and evolution of The Strain with the help of behind-the-scenes images, quotes from cast and crew members, and a bevy of gorgeous notes and concept art.

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After an introduction from del Toro himself, who provides a first-hand account of The Strain‘s history in brief, The Art of the Strain dives into the details of how del Toro’s initial concept transformed from TV pitch to the series of novels he co-penned with Chuck Hogan, and transformed once again when it landed on FX and in the hands of showrunner Carlton Cuse. Born out of del Toro’s anatomical fascination with vampire physiology and a socially-minded slant on the vampire apocalypse, The Strain sets the downfall of human society against the backdrop of a vampire scourge, known as the Strigoi, cast in the light of a fascist regime led by The Master. Through narrative tie-ins and thematic parallels to the Holocaust, the series explores not only the innate horrors of a monstrous invasion, but the greed, ambition and selfishness of humanity that allows such horrors to unfold largely unchecked. I say largely, because The Strain is also an examination of human strength, embodied in the flawed, but good-natured heroes who risk it all in their stand against The Master’s grand plan.


Those heroes take center stage in the next segment of The Art of The Strain, titled “The Hunters”, which focuses on the team of good guys, chronicling how the characters evolved in the transition from book to screen – most notably David Bradley‘s Abraham Setrakian, who became a gruffer, more formidable foe to The Master. Quotes from the actors behind the characters and the writers who created them offer a deeper glimpse into how the gang’s inter-dynamics formed, including why Ruta Gedmintas‘ Dutch Velders was created as a new character for the series.  We also get a look at some costume design and the detailed sets the character’s call home – including an in-depth look at Setrakian’s pawn shop, which served as the home base for much of the first season — and the “Tunnel of Blood”, a set on the Toronto states that has been repurposed again and again throughout the series.

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Image via Insight Editions

Next up, The Art of The Strain delves into the villains in delightful detail, and this is where the book really shines. The Master, of course, is paid special attention. Spread out across numerous pages, we get a detailed look at the tremendous effort that was put into imagining the look of the centuries-old immortal and the extent of the creative work it took to bring his monstrous visage to life on-screen. From artist Keith Thompson‘s concept designs, to the extensive makeup and prosthetic work (not to mention animatronics) required to bring his monstrous visage to life, including a segment dedicated specifically to the design and articulation of his elaborate coffin. Special attention is also paid to Richard Sammel‘s Eichhorst, the Master’s second-in-command and series standout, and the rockstar-turned-key-player Bolivar (Jack Kesey), with a focus on the self-indulgent, goth-rock aesthetic behind his character.

From here, The Art of The Strain delves into the gruesome making of “The Infected,” including a brief on the vampire biology, demonstrated through a series of makeup tests and concept designs, and a description of the “Vamp Camp” in which the actors learn to embody the practical movements of that biology. We also get some details on those nasty blood worms, the Strigoi’s projectile stingers, and full-body corpse revealed in Eph and Nora’s Season 1 autopsy. Each is rendered in truly gruesome detail, from sketch work to prosthetics to CGI, revealing how the various creative departments collaborate on a single effect. There’s also a section on beheading, because this is The Strain, after all.


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Image via Insight Editions

The Art of the Strain closes out with a look toward the future, including a number of key elements introduced in the Season 2 that will have a major role to play in the series moving forward. The art in these chapters displays The Ancients and their prodigious waddles, the creepy-crawly vampire children known as “The Feelers”, the ornate text of the Occido Lumen, and the latest hero in the gang, Joaquin Cosio’s former Mexican wrestler Angel (including a few images of del Toro himself gleefully directing the short black and white Luchador film that featured in Season 2).

Whether you count yourself a fan of Guillermo del Toro, The Strain or the all-too-often unsung below-the-line artistry on TV, The Art of the Strain is a fascinating insight into what it takes to build a fantastical world on screen.

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Image via Insight Editions


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Image via Insight Editions

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