Behind the scenes: the art of ‘A Monster Calls’ with Miki Montlló

Recently I was fortunate enough to sit down with Spanish illustrator Miki Montlló. Originally hailing from Terrassa, a small town outside of Barcelona, Miki was a guest judge and speaker at the RAW art wrestling illustration finals in Prague last weekend, talking about his successful comic book series Warship Jolly Roger, his work with big shot animation studios like Cartoon Saloon and Laika, as well as his concept art for the new J.A. Bayona film, A Monster Calls, now showing in Czech cinemas.

Miki and myself at RAW Credit: Ondrej Vyska

Mr Miki Montlló, thank you for joining us. Tell me, what kind of movies did you enjoy watching growing up?

Well, I was born in 1984 so The Goonies.. Actually, I remember watching Blade Runner when I was a kid and being completely shocked. It transmitted some really weird feelings. I’ve always been in love with science fiction.

And are you looking forward to Blade Runner 2049?

I’m scared (laughs). Let’s see. I really like Johan Johansson’s music, so in terms of that I think it’ll be good. I just hope that they don’t reveal too much information about the first movie. We keep talking about Blade Runner because there were so many mysteries involved, and that made it more interesting.

Let’s talk a little bit about your movie history. You’ve gone from the cult Spanish animation film Nocturna to A Monster Calls. That’s an epic journey. Any big ‘wow’ moments so far?

Probably one of the most important moments in my career as an artist was when I got hired for Nocturna, because I literally came out of the blue. I barely knew how to use Photoshop so to be hired there was everything I’d dreamed of. I was also really nervous about being fired. I think every artist has this feeling at first. ‘Am I an intruder here? Am I good enough?’ You learn to live with it.

A background for Nocturna

Now this is the second time you’ve worked with Spanish director J.A. Bayona with A Monster Calls, you also worked on The Impossible. How was it different this time? They’re incredibly different films.

On The Impossible it was a bit tricky because I wasn’t used to working on movies. I had a meeting with Bayona and was a bit unsure of what I was doing because he wanted some concepts, but also wanted something very very realistic. I did a few pictures of the hotel and the tsunami going over it but I had to go through a lot of footage of the real wave, and some images were quite terrifying.

The Impossible is a really intense and well done film.

It is, and on A Monster Calls, it was the guys from Headless that got me involved. They also made and directed Nocturna – these guys were my idols back then. They’re incredibly talented and work harder than anyone, and they’re also very close friends with Bayona. So they gave me a call and told me about the film and I said ‘absolutely’! Their approach to the monster was very dynamic and I really loved that. So from there I started to do some sketches and mixed different elements that I had in my mind.

And have you seen the movie already?

I watched it recently and I really liked it! I saw some very original ideas going on and visually, it was just stunning. I’m really happy to see that they used some of my ideas for the movie.

What work of yours can we see in the monster?

I did a series of concepts. I thought about the first meeting scene and imagined how it would look in my mind. I had elements of ‘Swamp Thing’, ‘The Iron Giant’ – lots of things that I’ve always liked and I wanted to combine them and make a GIF showing the sequence of him walking down the hill and leaning into the window.


It’s a really powerful scene in the film…

It was and I think Bayona really liked that idea. They also told me that the eyes were essential to the monster – he had to look alive. He was completely made of wood, but the eyes had to be organic, so I spent a lot of time on that. Eyes show if you’re telling the truth, if you’re feeling embarrassed.. they’re the window to the soul, as they say.


Great, now you’ve also worked with some big animation studios including the Oscar nominated Laika (Kubo and the Two Strings). What an honour! Tell us about that.

With Laika I had to do a few weeks of concept art on a project that I can’t really talk about actually… other than that it’s based around music, and it was really a dream come true working for them. The people there are extremely talented. I really hope to work with them in the future too, especially after seeing Kubo.

And tell us about your experience working on upcoming animated film The Breadwinner with Cartoon Saloon (Song of the Sea). It sounds like a great project. What can we expect from that?

It’s a film that’s not only visually stunning but just so powerful. It was an unexpected surprise because I was not expecting to work on it. I’m so amazed about it. People will talk about it a lot. I’ve seen the whole animatic a couple of times, and every time I have to hold back my tears.

And what about your passion project ‘Warship Jolly Roger’. These comics are packed with stunning illustrations and look so animated. Can we expect a film or animated series adaptation in the near future?

I would love that. It’s complicated because it requires a lot of money and time. I think it would be possible to talk to some people and do some crowd-funding. These are the things I need to work out when I finally have some time off. I’m on a train that’s just going and going right now (laughs).

A Monster Calls is now screening in Czech cinemas. For more of Miki Montlló’s work, check him out on Facebook and Behance.

Photos: Miki Montlló

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