Ricou Browning, a professional diver and swimmer, was required to hold his breath for up to 4 minutes at a time for his underwater role as the "Gill Man." The director's logic was that the air would have to travel through the monster's gills and thus not reveal air bubbles from his mouth or nose. Thus, the costume was designed without an air tank. In the subsequent films, this detail was ignored and air can be seen emanating from the top of the creature's head.
Forrest J. Ackerman, a horror and science fiction writer for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, bought the mask and claws of the Creature's costume from a young man who had once used them as a Halloween costume. The costume pieces were discarded by Universal after production had finished on the three films (Creature from the Black Lagoon and its two sequels) and were later recovered from the studio's dumpster by a janitor, who thought the ensemble would make a good Halloween costume for his son. Other costume pieces were recently sold at auction by Bud Westmore, who was an assistant to Milicent Patrick, the original designer of the costume.
The Creature's appearance was based on old seventeenth-century woodcuts of two bizarre creatures called the Sea Monk and the Sea Bishop. The Creature's final head was based on that of the Sea Monk, but the original discarded head was based on that of the Sea Bishop.
In this film, the eyes of the Creature were a fixed part of the rubber construction of the suit. The actors who played the part of the "Gill Man" could barely see, if at all. In the second film, the eyes have been, somewhat ludicrously, replaced with large, bulbous fish-eyes to assist in the actor's vision.
Two different stuntmen were used to portray the creature and therefore two different suits were used in the movie. Ricou Browning played the creature when it was in the water and wore a lighter suit. Ben Chapman played the creature when it was out of the water with a darker suit.
When William Alland was a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, he heard famed Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa tell of a legend about a humanoid creature that supposedly lived in South America. That legend became the origin of this film.
Jenny Clack (University of Cambridge) discovered a fossil amphibian, found in the remnants of what was once a fetid swamp and named it Eucritta melanolimnetes - literally "the creature from the black lagoon".
In one sequence Julie Adams' character is captured by the creature and carried into a cave. During the filming the stuntman misjudged where the side of the entrance was and accidentally struck Ms. Adams' head against the wall, knocking her unconscious.
Julie Adams noted that making the film was an extremely pleasant process and that the cast and crew got along quite well. She also explained that she felt sympathetic toward the monster. Adams said, "there always is that feeling of compassion for the monster. I think maybe it touches something in ourselves, maybe the darker parts of ourselves, that long to be loved and think they really can't ever be loved. It strikes a chord within us."
When the Creature attacks Zee, the script called for him to pick him up and throw him into the camera for the 3-D effect. Unfortunately, the wires used to lift Zee up to make it appear as though he was actually being picked up by the Creature kept breaking. After two tries, Jack Arnold decided to just have Zee get strangled to death.
Director Jack Arnold claimed that his main goal in the making of this film was to create a sense of dread. Arnold said, "it plays upon a basic fear that people have about what might be lurking below the surface of any body of water. You know the feeling when you are swimming and something brushes your legs down there - it scares the hell out of you if you don't know what it is. It's the fear of the unknown. I decided to exploit this fear as much as possible."
Ricou Browning, the stuntman who provided the underwater shots of the creature, once had to make an emergency bathroom visit while he was filming a scene. Browning had been underwater for several minutes and breached the water, in full costume, next to an unsuspecting mother and her young daughter on the nearby shore. Browning said that they fled in terror once they saw him. He recalled, "they took off, and that's the last I saw of 'em!"
When comparing the creature costume to later monster costumes and horror film makeup, stuntman Ricou Browning likened the design to the Model T. He claimed that there was very little he could do in order to make the creature appear menacing or lifelike. The costume had a squeeze bulb built into the arm that allowed for a slight movement of the gills and if Browning moved his chin up, he could partially open the creature's mouth. He noted, however, that there was no way to move the creature's eyes at all.
In an interview, Julie Adams recalled that swimming for long periods in frigid water was one of the most challenging parts of making the film. For most of production, the water tank used for most of Adams' swimming scenes was heated; however, the crew forgot to heat the tank prior to filming on a particularly chilly day.
Julie Adams has stated that she was not knocked out when she was being carried into the cave by the creature. Rather, Adams claims that she scraped her head against the plaster wall of the cave while the stuntman was carrying her. Neither Adams nor the stuntman had very good visibility while filming the scene. The scene called for Adams to pretend to be unconscious in the creature's arms, which meant that her eyes were closed, and the stuntman could barely see out of the creature's mask.
A severe accident was narrowly avoided while filming the fight scene between the creature and Zee. Ben Chapman, the stuntman who acted as the creature on land, and Bernie Gozier, who played Zee, rehearsed the fight scene for several days. There was a particular need for the extended rehearsal since the creature costume allowed for very little mobility or visibility. The scene called for Zee to swing at the creature with a machete and for the creature to grab his hand before he could complete the motion. When the scene was filmed with the actors in costume, Chapman missed Gozier's hand when he swung the machete at him. The blade connected squarely with the creature's head. Luckily, the machete was not extraordinarily sharp and the thick rubber foam the formed the creature's head prevented Chapman from receiving any serious injury.
The first design for the creature costume was modeled after the Oscar statuette given by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The design was quickly scrapped, however, and the final foam rubber and latex creature costume bears little resemblance to the award.
In France the film was broadcast in Anaglyphe 3D on national TV (the 3rd channel) the 19th of October 1982 in a show called "The Last Showtime". The blue and red 3D glasses were sold with a famous TV program magazine so that viewers can see the film in 3D. Many said that 3D with Anaglyphe process had not given very good results and that an urban legend, this was not good for the view.
In an interview, Ricou Browning stated that he came up with the idea of Julie Adams throwing her cigarette in the water and the camera showing the Gill-man underneath, looking up at the cigarette. He also mentioned that Julie Adams didn't smoke at the time, but was willing to for the scene.
There is a rumor that Ricou Browning's Gill-man suit was painted yellow. So that the camera can see the suit better in the murky water. Browning denied the rumor, saying that his suit was also painted green and was made to look identical to Ben Chapman's suit.