Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Part 22: Magical Mystery Tours

Molds began stacking up in the garage as I sculpted, molded, cast, and finished one creature after another.  Sure, they were rough, the designs were goofy, but I was practicing daily, often working late into the night. Every now and then, I could count on James Cummins to come by and make suggestions.  He did tell me that I was wasting time molding and casting them. He suggested that I should just paint the clay sculpts and photograph them, but I was enthralled with the latex casting procedure and because I was a stubborn kid, I just kept making latex masks.

Sometime soon, James suggested that I call Tom Burman and arrange a tour of his studio.  I was thunderstruck.  Tom's studio had incredible success with their effects for the remake of THE CAT PEOPLE.  I called and spoke with Tom's wife, Sandy who arranged a time for me to stop by their studio in Van Nuys.

Actress, Natassja Kinsky in mid-transformation in CAT PEOPLE.
 I was petrified at the thought of meeting him.  I really didn't have a portfolio, but I had a bunch of drawings and photos of my masks, so I put them in a manilla envelope and brought it with me.

When I arrived that the studio, I wasn't prepared for what I experienced.  First of all, Sandy Burman who greeted me at the door, was so incredibly nice and personable, you would have thought she had known me for years.  She led me in the back and introduced me to her son, Rob, and Dale Brady (who was painting a California Condor on a ceramic tile - I'll never forget that for some reason?).  Then I was introduced to the man himself, the one and only Tom Burman.

My impression was that he was huge, not fat-huge, just a big guy, but in retrospect, I think it might have just been his personality, which was considerable.  He was such a sweet, sweet man.  Jovial, funny, full of great stories.  He looked through my photos and drawings, took his time, and made positive and constructive comments about them.  And then, he took me on a tour through the shop.

The Burman Studio, at the time, had completed their work on CAT PEOPLE (obviously) and THE BEAST WITHIN, and were currently working on the effects for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH.  He demonstrated a decapitation effect of a character in the film that turned out to be a robot and  then let me study the details of the faux robotics that they had fabricated.  I saw another Smooth-On Elastomer head for another scene where a vagrant had his head ripped off.  It was very realistically painted and even had beard stubble punched into it.  I had never seen anything like that in person.

Some of the Burman Studios work.  Photo courtesy Kidtrauma.com
I had the pleasure of watching Tom at work, when an actor arrived to have Tom mix a custom-color foundation base for him.  He took a glass palette and a palette knife and started mixing colors until he had matched the actor's skin color expertly and then scraped it into a little plastic container.  Tom then introduced me to the actor as a  brand new talent in the Make Up Effects community.  I was over-the-moon elated.  What a nice thing to do.  He didn't have to do that, but he did.  That was Tom Burman.

Finally, it was time to go and Rob and Dale invited me to a beach party, but I declined, mainly because I was too nervous to show up without knowing anybody. I drove back to my garage recharged with new inspiration.

As I've said, I worked in the Life Support Office at CalArts but technically I was in the "athletic" office (which was a closet full of sporting goods - okay, not full, but we had some fencing foils, a frisbee, some softball equipment, etc).  One afternoon, I was forwarded a call from someone representing the Pasadena Art Center Student Life Committee (or some such nonsense) challenging CalArts to a basketball game.  Since there was no one around to take care of it, the responsibility became mine.

I'm not even sure how I pulled it all together, but by the time the game was to happen, I had found enough interested students to participate, arranged for a space to play, publicized it enough around the campus to attract a small crowd, etc.  The Art Center team arrived wearing cool, professional looking uniforms and had a group of cheerleaders, equally wardrobed for the event. The CalArts team, bless 'em, looked like they had just come from a local schoolyard, but when the chips were down, they delivered and CalArts beat Art Center that night.

Since I was the student representative, it fell to me to give them a tour of the school, which I was happy to do.  When we arrived in the Film Graphics room, we passed by my table of monsters and one of the cheerleaders, Shan Ogdemli, spoke up and said that I should speak to her boyfriend, because he does this kind of work.  His name was Mark Shostrom and he lived and worked in Pasadena.

As they got into their bus and left, I looked at Mark's phone number that Shan had given me.  I decided I would call him the next day.

Mark answered the phone and immediately I was impressed by how effectively he communicated on the phone. Seriously, his voice had an FM disc jockey sound to it and before long, he had invited me to come down and see his studio.

Pasadena was quite the haul from Newhall and it took me nearly 45 minutes to reach Mark's apartment/studio.  Again, I wasn't prepared.  Mark was an affable guy with long blonde hair and wire rim glasses.  He invited me in and I was thunderstruck.  It looked like a real studio!, I was used to working out of a garage, with limited resources, but this was completely different.  There were racks and racks of small prosthetic molds that looked like they had come directly from Dick Smith's basement.  There were Roma clay sculptures and full, clean, stone life casts on shelves. There were even a couple of full body maquettes (small sculpture studies).

Mark shared his portfolio with me which was a collection of very meticulous character make ups, bladder make up tests (inspired by ALTERED STATES), and some pretty gruesome gore effects.  However, the quality was so much better than what I was used to seeing from someone in their own home studio.

Okay, so this isn't from our first meeting, but it should give you some idea of the level of Mark's talent and commitment.
 He was very patient as I looked around and asked questions.  He took a look at my photos and generously spoke about my work and ambitions. He told me that he and a friend had just finished working at Rick Baker's on VIDEODROME and he was currently producing a series of sculptures depicting characters from Stephen King's hit post-apocalyptic book, THE STAND.

It would be fine, just saying that Mark was a nice guy, which he was.  Or, it would not be inaccurate to say that he was extremely talented, because he was that too.   But, what I discovered about Mark Shostrom, was that he had a very wicked, and creative sense of humor.

No matter how I will try to describe this, there is no way I would ever do it justice.  Mark had what was called "A Comedy Board."  This free-standing bulletin board had a unique collage of absurd newspaper articles, magazine articles, headlines and photos that had been "matched up" by Mark to induce laughter and that it did.  For example, Mark had found an article about Australian adventurer, Dick Smith, and his hot air balloon trip to New Zealand. Mark had removed the Australian man's photo and seamlessly replaced it with a photo of legendary Make Up Artist Dick Smith.  Okay, I guess you had to be there. The weird thing is that they looked like they could have been brothers...Dick Smith and Dick Smith. Okay, I get it.  You had to be there.

By the time I left to return to the House of Fujii, I had a new friend.  A new friend whose talent was matched by his generosity and willingness to share his knowledge of Make Up Effects with a novice like me.

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