There have been consistent rumors that the Shrek character was inspired by Russian-born French American professional wrestler Maurice Tillet’s look. Even though Dreamworks has never officially admitted this fact, it does seem credible. Let’s have a closer look.
The future Shrek model was quite a remarkable person. As a child, he had a completely normal appearance and Tillet was nicknamed "The Angel" due to his perfect angelic face. He was also reported to speak as many as 14 languages.
Maurice Tillet was born in the Ural Mountains in Russia to French parents. In 1917, Tillet and his mother left Russia due to the Revolution and moved to France. When Tillet was in his late teens, he noticed swelling in his feet, hands, and head, and after visiting a doctor was diagnosed with acromegaly - a condition usually caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, resulting in bone overgrowth and thickening. Soon his whole body was disfigured as a result.
A few years later, he fled France to become a professional wrestler in the United States. Tillet was dubbed the "freak ogre of the ring." Tillet was a leading box office draw in the early 1940s and was twice recognized world heavyweight champion by the American Wrestling Association run by Paul Bowser in Boston.
There are many blogs and reblogs claiming that the animators of Shrek were first inspired when they saw the Death Mask of, Maurice Tillet, "The Angel" at York Barbell Museum. At that time, the only publicly viewable Maurice Tillet death mask / life cast, was at York Barbell, as the other two known death masks were in private hands and were not donated until 2006 to museums.
One anonymous blogger reported “I was working in the PDI/Dreamworks art deptartment while Shrek was being developed. On my wall, I had photos of wrestling oddballs, 'The Swedish Angel','Irish Angel' and the 'French Angel'. They may well have inspired the modelers who sculpted Shrek”.
The question remains, who sculpted the original Shrek Maquette, and from who's original drawings? Only by talking to the original artists can we ever know for certain. But they may not be at liberty to disclose this information.
But can all the similarities coincidental? Watch Shrek roaring at Donkey, and Donkey just standing there smiling. When Maurice entered the ring he roared at the crowd, and the crowd ate it up. In real life, Maurice was known to be sensitive, kind, gentle, proud, and noble! Sound like anyone else we know?
A detailed account of French Angel’s life and times can be found here