This post contains spoilers for True Detective season 2.
The first seven episodes of True Detective season two hid the identity of a killer behind a mask, a trope made classic by heist, crime, and horror stories since time imemorial. Creator Nic Pizzollato's HBO series is a bit of each, but with his signature blend of bleak nihilism, desperation, and pessimistic mysticism. As production designer Alex DiGerlando decribed in an interview last month, "This is True Detective, and this creepy occult stuff always lingers in the background." Naturally it wouldn't be any mere balaclava or clown mask that would cloak their dastardly, morally ambiguous villain.
That's why Pizzolatto and DiGerlando enlisted monster-maker Paul Rice, who has worked with artists as diverse as Julie Taymor, Darren Aronofsky, and Kanye West, to create the face of thier enigmatic killer. So enigmatic that Pizzolatto wouldn't provide even the most basic information about him. "They were so secretive about the script that all I got was a small sentence about the character. I've done that before with Julie Taymor, where she bursts in with a dream and wants me to interpret it," Rice explains to The Creators Project.
Left to his own devices, the designer had to come up with his own story, so he based it on one of Pizzollatto's stated influences for the character, a raven-masked man from the 1962 film Judex.
"I really liked the idea of this character who can't fit into reality, like Judex. But there's a sense that he's comfortable in these tense situations," says Rice. "Watching the film, that's how I thought Nic [Pizzolatto] wanted it to feel. It's this anonymous person, but he's doing something very familiar."
That's how he created the visual identity of the anonymous masked figure who dropped Caspere's body off in episode one, led Velcoro and Bezzerides on a wild raven chase, then filled our mustachioed protagonist with riot shells in the climax of the third episode. With the mask cast aside in last night's season finale, we learn that the photographer who briefly appears in the third episode is actually Leonard,a victim of the foster care system, and murderer—not too far a cry from the antisocial protagonist of Judex, who seeks justice against a manipulative banker. But you know, with Pizzolatto's signature dark twist.
When Rice created the visage that veils this character, he needed references other than the clunky 60s era design that inspired the True Detective creator. He drew on his experience with bird motifs from Kanye West's 12-foot "Power" wings, and the bird section of Darren Aronofsky's ark in Noah. He skillfully embedded 15-20 feathers in each square inch of the mask. The whole thing is designed so the raven is what catches the eye, rather than holes where a human's eyes should be, or any other anthropomorphic elements.
"I wanted it to look like something you'd see at the Museum of Natural History," he says. "You should think, 'Oh, that's a taxidermied raven." With rare access to a material called silastic, which lets an artist combine the sculpting and molding processes into one step, he was able to capture the exact shape and texture he sees in a raven's skin. "Oddly enough outside my window in California, there are tons of ravens, they're one of my favorite birds. When they asked me to do this I immediately said, 'Awesome.'" Rice turned out to be the exact designer needed for the job. Now there's a twist even Nic Pizzolatto couldn't have written.
Check out Rice's concpet art and process pics below:
Check out more of Rice's work on his website. Watch True Detective season two on HBO or HBO Go.