Saturday, April 30, 2011

Part 16 - A Front Row Seat to the Make Up Effects Boom

My brother flew back to New Orleans and almost immediately re-enrolled in college at the University of New Orleans.  Seems like the thought of me graduating before him, really got under his skin and so he was determined to finish before me. 

Meanwhile, I was adjusting to just about everything: living in California, going to an Avant-garde college (whatever that meant), meeting new people, adjusting to a new roommate, etc...  And I'm sure that Steve Burg had just as much to adjust to, but I think we did it in different ways.  It would be safe to say that I was "Goofus" and he was "Gallant" as far as time management was concerned.  I spent a lot of time doing my work study, and writing Tracy (she'll debate this, but I started out REALLY good...I was writing her almost daily).  At the same time I would run to the mailboxes daily to see if I had received anything from her.  She, on the other hand, wrote nearly every day.  And Steve....Steve began painting.  He was an art machine cranking out one fantastic oil painting after another (like, one a day...seriously).

My side of our dorm room.  Steve's side was neater...but not by much...
It is impossible to understand, and having a daughter in college, currently, it is ridiculous how much things have changed -

In 1980 - We had a phone in the dorm room.  Pacific Bell was the carrier and it was roughly $1.40 a minute to call.  That meant that a 5 minute call would cost about $7 and if I called Tracy, we'd stay on the phone for 30 minutes or more and it would cost me over $50!

In 2011 - My daughter not only has a cell phone, she is linked to our cell phones so it costs her NOTHING to talk to us.  If she calls someone else, it reflects on our phone bill.

In 1980 - We corresponded by letters and cards and it took time.  The mail from Los Angeles to New Orleans and back was inconsistent.

In 2011 - My daughter not only corresponds with us via e-mail, facebook, and sometimes video-chatting.  We are an active part in her life.

In 1980, it was like being on the opposite side of the planet, or even the moon.  We were basically cut-off.  We had to figure things out for ourselves and rely on each other, rather than having the luxury of leaning on our parents emotionally.

So that's how it was for Steve, me, and our CalArts friends - we tried to share, meals, transportation, whatever we could.  We'd celebrate birthdays in the dorms with ice-cream cakes from Baskin-Robbins.
We'd also go to movies when we had the time and the money.

The only movie theater in the Valencia area in 1980 was a single-screen theater next to the bowling alley in Newhall, a neighboring town.  That meant we would have to drive to Los Angeles to see films and our favorite destination in the Fall/Winter of 1980 was WESTWOOD!

Now, for those of you outside of California, Westwood is just North of Santa Monica on the West side of Los Angeles and is the home of UCLA.  "Mr. Broken-Record" here is going to start repeating himself, but Westwood has undergone MAJOR changes in the last 30+ years.

When we would go to the movies in Westwood, the streets were like a weird, safe, bizarro, version of Mardi Gras.  People were walking around on the street, going to eat, going to the movies, going to bars (I guess...we never did) and although there were instances of college hijinks, nothing ever got out of hand.  We never felt like we were in any danger.  It was clean.  It was nice.  It was also like a 45 minute drive from Valencia.

We'd pile into my GTO (Steve and I - sometimes we'd have a guest like Matt O'Callaghan, or Jim Belohovek) and we'd drive to Westwood to go to the movies.  I recall that for some reason we had decided to see a double feature: THE EXTERMINATOR (with Robert Ginty) and HALLOWEEN (which I had never seen).  Although the second feature was much better and effective, the first film featured something that none of us was expecting - an on-screen decapitation -

The eyes and mouth opened as his head was cut off with a machete! EEK!
It really took us off guard.  Later, I discovered that it was the work of Stan Winston.  Now, I had heard of Stan, I'd seen and read articles about him.  Until that moment, however, I saw him primarily as a make up artist who executed fine character work like W.C. FIELDS AND ME or THE WIZ.  But this was different.  This was full-on animatronics.  Later, either Starlog Magazine, or maybe Fangoria ran an article about Stan that showed the intricate puppet he and his crew produced and I was incredibly impressed.  That....was just the beginning.

Meanwhile, in school, Steve and I went through our classes.  Every morning Jules Engel would host a survey-class of  "experimental animation" that would run from 9:00 until noon.  You haven't lived until you have experienced 3 hours a week of floating colored squares and squiggly lines accompanied by a bass violin, for what seemed like an eternity.  Jules knew I HATED it.

There were other classes that were more pragmatic.  Introduction to cameras and equipment with the Film School vice-chair, Myron Emery, was at least a hand-on class where we learned about the loading and care of 16 mm cameras (Bolexes and Arriflexes).  He also took us through the use of the editorial equipment and lighting equipment.

We met other students that weren't on our dorm floors, and weren't in our section. I recall so many of them, but am driven to mention a few.  The first one was an ex-lumberjack from Boston, Massachusetts named Mark McInerny and he looked like you would imagine.  He was tall, paunchy, curly black hair accented with streaks of silver, and a beard and mustache that framed his broad smile.  All I can say, was thank god for Mark McInerny because it was he, that got Steve and I through our critical studies class: Twentieth Century Form In Conflict.  Yes, it was a boring as it sounds.

Every Wednesday morning, before we went to that class, we would meet in the Film Graphics room.  In it was a magazine rack full of old issues of National Lampoon.  Mark would pick one and we'd go to the large auditorium and sit in the very back row.  Properly separated from the rest of the class, Mark would read cartoons and stories from National Lampoon in his thick Bostonian accent.  It was all Steve and I could do to not lose it and disrupt the class.  Mark loved Frank Zappa and he made a really far out film to Frank's song "Uncle Meat."

The other student, who was much more in step with what I would classify as a typical CalArts student from 1980.  He was very thin and looking back, kind of resembled Crispen Glover.  He had shaggy hair and would wear a long black duster, a pink feather-boa, and one long opera glove.  His name was Mark Brooks and...he was nuts....or stoned....or both.  I remember being in class with Mark Brooks watching him stare off into space twisting his hair on the end of one of his fingers.  Then, when say, Myron Emery, was ready to move on to another topic, Mark Brooks would ask a question about something Myron had mentioned 20 to 30 minutes prior.  It was maddening.

Lastly, I recall walking through a hallway in the main building, and hearing synthesizer music, I stopped.  I was under the impression that someone was watching HALLOWEEN, and I opened the door and peeked in.  Sitting in front of a bank of synthesizers was a skinny guy with shoulder-length hair who looked around and introduced himself as Drew Neumann.  He was working and composing on synthesizers that he was building.  We became friends and still talk (via Facebook) today.
As for making creatures, I had decided to at least make a go of making good on my Beowulf project and started by sculpting and casting a 1/2 mask.

I signed this photo for Jim Belohovek, the "whipee" still applies.
Jim Belohovek helped me a lot during this time because he was familiar with the procedures it took to produce masks, etc.  He actually taught me a lot about two piece molds and literally made a clay wall along my hands and arms to produce two piece plaster molds that I ran latex into to create fake arms.  He also cast my face, in stone, and since he didn't have any petroleum jelly to prevent the stone from sticking to my eyebrows and eyelashes, Jim used Vicks Vapo Rub telling me that it was essentially the same thing.

When Jim pulled the plaster off of my face, my lids were swollen closed and I feared that I was blinded!

Jim Belohovek, and his roommate James Biehold told Steve and I of a former student, who was in the Disney Animation Program and had not only been interested in monsters, but had left the school to pursue his career.  His name was James Cummins (what's with all of these guys named JAMES?!) and we would hear that name again very soon.

Meanwhile, the first important boom in Make Up Effects happened.  Steve and I witnessed it in Westwood at the Wilshire Theater (now the Saban Theater).  The movie was called ALTERED STATES and it was a cornucopia of prosthetics, puppets, and full suits.  Ken Russel's film about a scientist using drugs and a sensory deprivation tank to physically alter his body to reflect his hallucinations went beyond anything we had experienced.

What a TRIP!
When the film concluded and Steve and I exited the theater, he stopped me and told me that he had to sit on a bench and regroup after the intense experience.  Me? I was electrified!  I couldn't wait to get back to school and start making stuff.

I had sculpted a dinosaur hand puppet and I wanted to get some latex into the mold.  At the school,  in the wood shop was a 55 gallon drum of latex that you could purchase for $9 a gallon.  I went in to buy a couple of gallons and I was told the drum was empty.  Empty?  I just bought latex a few weeks ago?!  It turned out that the entire drum was purchased by an alumnus, James Cummins.

1 comment:

  1. Everything was just as you say!

    I have vivid memories of Mark McInerny's colorful recitations from "National Lampoon" - whereas my memory of the actual content of the class is a blank...

    I guess that was the start of my indifference to "modern" or "post modern" art - which has more or less continued to the present day!