Thursday, August 4, 2011

Part 37: On Becoming a Make Up Effects Nomad

At the root of the word "freelance" is the word "free."  By definition to be free is to have liberty, be disentangled, have no controlling boundaries, however, for a make up effects artist in the 1980's, to be free meant that the concept of job security was nearly non-existent.  Working in a shop for longer than 4 to 6 weeks was a luxury.  Now that INVADERS FROM MARS wrapped, that group of people in that photo a few blogs ago (with the exception of Alec Gillis and the addition of Greg Nicotero) were now unemployed and had to find work.

Although the nomadic nature of Make Up Effects artists is still very much the norm today,  back then most artists traveled with some essentials: Sculpting Tools, Air Brush (some carried their own compressors), a few hand tools, and a walkman or similar personal stereo device.  If you were a mechanic, then you usually appeared with at least one, if not two big red rolling tool boxes, a Makita (later Dewalt) cordless drill, and a battery charger.

In all honesty, roughly a week or two before shooting on INVADERS concluded, Everett Burrell was already out of the door telling us he had secured employment with Rick Baker on a new Bigfoot movie entitled HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS.  In fact, it was common knowledge that Rick was beginning to crew up for the movie but being on a movie set, with no cell phones, made it difficult to call and make an appointment until the show completely wrapped.

I called Rick Baker's shop the very first free day and set up an appointment to see him that Friday at his shop in North Hollywood.  This was it. Time to put my portfolio in front of one of the artists who had been a major influence on my career choice.

For some reason, I knew going into his reception area that things weren't going to go well.  Seeing all of the masks lined on the walls were instantly inspiring and intimidating.  I don't recall with whom I spoke to when I stepped in, but Rick soon appeared from a door that led to the shop area, shook my hand and motioned for me to sit on a small sofa while he looked at my portfolio.

In contrast to Stan, Rick took his time looking at all of the photos and reading the descriptions I had put under each picture.  "Wow!" he said, "This is one of the most honest portfolios I've ever seen."  He went on to explain that too many people had come to him with portfolios with finished creatures in them, only to discover that their contribution had been running foam or tying lace eyebrows.  I had not only furnished him with my contribution on each photo, but also the names of the other major players on each piece.

Nice guys finish last, so they say.  Even with that "honesty" I didn't get hired.  It stung doubly because I knew that Howard Berger, Everett Burrell, Matt Rose, and Steve Wang had all made it and were already working in the back.  In my mind, I saw it as a confirmation of the quality of my work.

At the suggestion of another friend, I went to see Greg Cannom. Greg, a very talented make up artist that had worked for Rick, as well as, Rob Bottin. He had begun to work for himself out of his house in North Hollywood and took great delight in telling me that it had been Rick Baker's house.  Greg even indicated marks on the ceiling that were made from Rob Bottin jumping up and purposely smashing his head on it.  Kevin Yagher and Earl Elllis were working for Greg at the time, but he didn't have a significantly budgeted show, so after he looked through my portfolio, I was back on the street.

Eventually, I received a call from Mark Shostrom who was more than half-way finished with his responsibilities on a new Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon adaptation of another H.P. Lovecraft story, FROM BEYOND.  Yuzna and Gordon had enjoyed a great deal of success with their previous effort RE-ANIMATOR and were hoping to push their success with this effort.  In order to fulfill the effects requirements, production had hired at least three separate shops to manufacture all of the effects.

Mark had already hired his crew which was made up of Bob Kurtzman (the eventual K of KNB EFX and current owner of PRECINCT 13 and CREATURE CORE), Dave Kindlon, a mechanic who had come from New York after a stint for the Muppets, John Blake, and up and coming make up artist (who is now one of the top in the field), a new comer from Texas Gregor Punchatz, (who is now a CGI artist in Dallas, TX) and Aaron Sims (one of the most influential contemporary creature designers).  Together they had designed, and sculpted at least two incarnations of Dr. Pretorious' manifestations. 

In the film, perverted  Dr. Pretorius, played by Ted Sorel, succumbs to a machine built by Dr. Tillinghast (played by Jeffery Combs) called a "resonator." The resonator stimulates the human pineal gland, enabling the viewing of creatures from alternate dimensions.  However, prolonged exposure to the resonator mutates the pineal gland and causes physical restructuring of the body.

Mark's giant Pretorius Creature sporting one of the Radio Controlled heads.
 When I think back to that time in Make Up Effects history, either we were all very ambitious or dumb.  There was nothing we wouldn't attempt.  Mark Shostrom, who up to that time had done some impressive prosthetic and effects work, was now moving full speed into full-scale animatronics out of his new studio in South Pasadena.  I was flabbergasted by the size of the work that had been accomplished when I began working.  Bob had sculpted the iconic Dr. Pretorius fleshy-tumor make up and it had already been molded and was awaiting casting.  Mark led the sculptors on the Pretorius-Creature, which was a big bipedal mutation with a long neck that terminated in a twisted visage.  Mark's ingenious plan was to use Radio Controlled faces for wide shots and when the camera cut in closer, it would be Ted Sorel in an appliance make up that fused his face onto the front of the creature.  With some judicious framing by Director of Photography, Mac Alberg, it would appear that Dr. Pretorius' head was attached to the creature.  To get a good look at Mark's work, on FROM BEYOND (and other movies, including EVIL DEAD II, which I'll get to soon on this blog) check out Mark's web page at:

Ted Sorel's head "grafted" onto the body with prosthetics and camera framing.
At the time I joined the crew, the lion's share of the work had been completed.  Mold maker, Steve Patino, had made a big fiberglass mold and core of the Pretorious Creature body however, it was clear that Mark didn't have the facility to run and bake out a huge foam latex skin.  Mark knew I had worked at Stan's and we had cast fairly big urethane skins for the Drones and wanted to know if I could rely on my experience to run skins for the Pretorius creature.

One side of the fiberglass mold, made by Steve Patino of the Pretorius creature.
 We built another Octo-Injector, however, it was decided that inexpensive garden hose would be substituted for the more expensive clear Tygon tubing.  After all, the theory would still work.  When describing the operations of the Stan Winston Octo-Injector, I had told them about the reverse pressure explosion that occurred and as fate would have it, we experienced one for ourselves.

Flesh-tinted SC-89 was sprayed into a mold released with Carnuba Wax and Fiber Resin's FR-1000 release
The Octo-Injector is put into position.  The hole at the top is a vent hole. The tubes run to fittings around the base.
OOPS!  This is what happens when the pressure backs up...
...What a MESS!!!
Eventually, we got a good skin.  Bob and Dave open the mold.
 I was just sitting here, thinking about the large Dr. Pretorius prosthetic that Ted Sorel wore and remembered that it was by and large a huge latex and soft foam casting with smaller over-lapping foam-latex prosthetics that blended the piece onto Mr. Sorel's skin.

I can still see the castings of the webby, foam latex prosthetics all run, bagged, and ready for location.
It was understood that I was only working on the show for a few weeks before the crew took off for Italy, where the film was being shot.  As the finishing work began, I was called onto another show, so I packed up my tools and started at Doug Beswick's shop the following Monday on another exciting project.

No, Dave REALLY didn't slit his wrists!  Just hot and frustrated working in the alley outside of the studio.
 EPILOGUE:  I did get to see the Pretorious creature "finished" a week or so later.  Mark called me and I drove by the studio one evening to visit.  Since the creature had to be "assembled" on set, I didn't see the entire thing glued together, but the pieces were finished enough for Mark to give me a really good impression of what it was going to look like.  And speaking of impressions, he also ran a videotape for me of the Radio Controlled Pretorius head "lip syncing" an Andrew Dice Clay comedy routine!  If I had been drinking milk when I watched it, I would have shot it out of my nostrils, I was laughing so hard!

My opinion is that FROM BEYOND was a turning point for Mark.  It showed that his modest studio could handle more than just quality prosthetics, masks, and make ups; he could now do larger scale monsters.  This would serve him in the coming years as the shows got BIGGER!!

One final thought: This happened around Halloween and I sculpted, molded, and ran my own foam mask that year.  It was a large-mouthed demon with plenty of teeth.  Little did I know that Halloween Make Up would figure into my life again some months later...

Over-sized mouth full of rows and rows of teeth....Gotta remember this; it'll come in handy some day...

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