Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Part 44: "We're the MONSTER SQUAD"

When we completed shooting on "Miss Stardust" we returned to the shop excited to begin preparations for MONSTER SQUAD.  In anticipation of creating so many creatures and make-ups, Stan rented a third unit in the industrial complex.  While we began putting together tables and moving equipment and clutter out of the main building, Stan, himself, began designing the monsters.

Yes, I saved my screening invitation!
 It was clear from the beginning that this was not going to be a Universal picture, and, unfortunately, Universal held the rights to "certain features" on their classic monsters such as Frankenstein's flat head and neck bolts, as well as Dracula's widow's peak, etc., so Stan was instructed by production to re-design the monsters so that they would be instantly recognizable without infringing on copyrighted material.

Stan began doing pencil sketches on tracing paper (his favorite technique) and soon had approved designs for all of the monsters: Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and the Gillman.  Dracula would only require dentures and lenses from us, while his make up would be designed and handled by make up artist, and frequent collaborator, Hungarian-born, Zoltan Elek.

While Stan was drawing, we began working on anything that we could that needed to be made but didn't necessarily need a finished design.  A couple of zombie/corpse puppets were sculpted; one, of which, Dave Kindlon mechanized with refined radio-controlled Muppet techniques.  Three actresses were cast as Dracula's brides and teeth and chest casts were made for fangs and "stake plates" for when Rudy dispatches them with a crossbow.

Stan's lifers divided up the supervisory duties per creature: Tom Woodruff, Jr. would sculpt the prosthetics required for the Frankenstein's monster, Shane Mahan took on the Mummy responsibilities while John Rosengrant supervised the Wolfman and Alec Gillis would design and oversee the various "bat-guises" for Dracula.  The Gillman (that's the Creature from the Black Lagoon to most of you folks) would be handled by Matt Rose and his friend who had joined him from San Jose, California, Steve Wang.  Richard Landon would supervise the mechanical shop, assisted by Dave Nelson, Steve James and Dave Kindlon.

There was no mistaking that most of the lifers were HUGE Universal Studios Monster Fans.  During the prep, John Rosengrant, an avid plastic model builder, brought in some of his classic Aurora Monster models for inspiration.  I had grown up watching the Universal monsters and reading Famous Monsters of Filmland, but I had a penchant for BIG monsters.  King Kong, Godzilla and pals, Reptilicus, Ray Harryhausen's creations - those were the monsters that beguiled me.  Not that I wasn't happy to be working, because, trust me, I couldn't have been happier, but after seeing those photos of the Queen Alien from ALIENS, I really wanted to work on a big monster.

John Rosengrant's finished Aurora Frankenstein kit.  Expertly done!
Rosengrant's finished Aurora Dracula kit!
Rosengrant's Mummy
Rosengrant's Wolfman.  I had never seen these kits done better so I photographed them all.  Wish he brought the rest in.
 Crews were organized by the lifers utilizing the remaining employees.  Lindsay McGowan went to help Alec sculpt bats, Emilio Gonzales (an East Coast transplant) and I went with John to work on the Wolfman and his transformations.  Lenny McDonald, a very talented artist that would go on to work for Steve Johnson for many of his films, floated in the shop doing everything from making the Gillman's eyes, to painting the undersuit for the wolfman, to sculpting the subliminal skull mask used in but a few frames of the film (the lightning strike visage - you remember!).  Eric Fiedler helped out in the mold department (a serious misuse of his talents) and a young man, Grant Arndt, from the midwest, became our runner.  However, as his talents would be recognized, he would move into the shop to work and would be replaced by Brian Simpson (Drone-performer, Doug Simpsons' younger brother).

Foam latex was run by a recent Rob Bottin studios transplant, Jackie Tichenor and David Leroy Anderson (Lance Anderson's son) joined the crew impressing everyone by making swift silicone/matrix molds on life casts in a DAY (which was no easy task)!  Dave Matherly and Anton Rupprecht helped round out the lab department.  Last, but anything but least, was Michiko Tagawa, a skilled puppet builder from Japan who had helped Stan construct the dog-creature puppet for THE THING.

So much work was done to create the monsters for MONSTER SQUAD, that all I can do is try to supply you with some highlights based on the creatures themselves...

FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER, as most of you know was played by actor, Tom Noonan.  Noonan came into the studio for a life cast, which was supervised by Tom Woodruff, Jr. They cast his entire head and hands.  Dave Anderson turned a based life-cast mold around in a day and Tom started sculpting the make up design that he would break down into prosthetic pieces.  I believe he also sculpted the back of the hand appliances.  Since Universal Studios-style neck bolts were out of the question, Stan put bolts on the monster's temples; I can still see Tom bending the small brass clamps that were used to give the illusion that they were securing the monster's skin at the forehead.  After the pieces were molded, foam rubber appliances were manufactured.  I'm not sure how many sets were needed, but I bet Tom Woodruff, Jr. could tell you because he painted all of them.

(L to R) A painted study of the Frankenstein Monster makeup, The Frankie Halloween mask sculpted by Steve Wang, a skull and the Subliminal Dracula Skull Mask sculpted by Lenny MacDonald.
 THE MUMMY was played by a diminutive performer named Michael MacKay.  To say Mike was skinny would be like saying that jalapeno peppers are a bit spicy.  Mike was emaciated which was the perfect base for Shane Mahan to build his Mummy.  The idea would be that MacKay would be in a suit, wearing a latex mask and for inserts, Dave Kindlon (and Steve James, I think?) built a mechanical puppet to really show the skeletal appearance of this mummy.  I'm hoping that one of the other crew will contribute to this in the comment section, but I recall that Michiko built the mummy's bandage suits.

Shane Mahan's Mummy Puppet.
THE GILLMAN would be Tom Woodruff, Jr.'s creature suit debut.  A long time fan of classic creature-suit performer Janos Prohaska, Tom convinced Stan that he would be an asset in a suit, not just because he was thin and over 6 feet tall, but also he felt that because he knew what went into making a creature suit, he would have a better idea of how to make it move well.  He wasn't wrong.  Tom was a fantastic Gillman and it was the start of a career performing in suits that continues to this day!  The suit itself would be constructed almost exclusively by Matt and Steve.  Steve, a relative newcomer to the shop, impressed Stan with his portfolio and was hired on the spot.  After casting Tom's head, hands, feet and body, Steve and Matt insisted on shaving Tom's body cast down 1/4 of an inch all over it, to insure that the suit would be tight and form-fitting.  Matt began sculpting the nail finger extensions on stone copies of Tom's hands, while Steve began sculpting the feet.  The hands and feet were completed, molded and cast so that they could be put onto Tom's body cast so Steve could sculpt the scales to match exactly as they transitioned from the suit to the gloves and boots.  A cast of Tom's head was made to be removed from the body form so that Matt could rough it out in water-based, WED clay and then pop it off of the body to be able to continue sculpting using a stand. This enabled Steve to work on the body without having to worry about Matt being in the way.

When Steve had the shoulder area of the body finished, a quick mold was taken and a stone plug was fashioned so that Matt could use it as blending reference for the head sculpture.  The body was molded in fiberglass by Steve Patino while the head was silicone with a stone matrix.  The entire body and head were cast in foam latex.

Matt Rose's and Steve Wang's Gillman Suit.
 THE WOLFMAN actually required quite a bit of work since actor John Gries would portray the man cursed with lycanthropy and Carl Thibault would play the final creature.  Gries had a slighter build and was of average height, where Carl was taller and beefier.  Unlike Lon Chaney, Jr. who portrayed both Lawrence Talbot and the Wolfman, Stan's theory was that the illusion would be better sold if the Wolfman was physically larger after his transformation.  Stan was insistent that there was a philosophical difference between a "Werewolf" which was something more like Rick Baker built in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON or Rob Bottin had constructed for THE HOWLING and what we were attempting.

It was the mid-1980's and makeup effects was enjoying its Renaissance so producing foam-latex appliances wouldn't be adequate for our Wolfman.  Stan designed a face that was an obvious departure from human facial anatomy, spreading the eyes apart and significantly lowering the forehead.  His goal was that when the audience saw this Wolfman, they would know that it was not just an actor wearing prosthetics.  Our Wolfman was to feature state-of-the-art animatronics.

On the set of MISS STARDUST, Stan discussed how our Wolfman transformation would feature something that hadn't been seen before.  Doing air-bladders beneath appliances had been done to death by this time, as well as long, drawn out transformations between puppet heads.  In the script, the only time the full transformation from man to wolf...uh, wolfMAN was featured would be in a phone booth (remember those?).  Stan came up with the idea of putting down a circular dolly track around the phone booth and using the corners of the booth as optical wipes between makeup stages.  That way, our tortured lycanthrope would transform rapidly as the camera moved.

So, it all had to begin with life casting.  John Gries came in and we cast his head in two expressions, neutral and wincing in pain, then we cast his arm in a dynamic position as well as his back.  We also cast Carl Thibault from head to foot and began making sculpting forms and clay presses to begin work.

John Gries' transformation arm cast.
 John Rosengrant was nothing if not pragmatic.  He knew that there was a strategy needed to complete the Wolfman suit and began sculpting the head and the body simultaneously to insure proper proportions.  He asked me to sculpt the hands and feet, but honestly, unlike what Matt and Steve had done with the Gillman, there was no way to pop the arms on and off of the main body to match proportion so I attempted to do it by eye.

My original Wolfman hand sculpts.
Sculpting Wolfman feet.
 When the body was finished, a quick fiberglass mold was made and a spandex, soft polyfoam suit was run, put onto a form and then handed over to fabricators who then made a Lycra covering.  Lenny McDonald painted the suit, enhancing the sculpted muscle forms and freckling skin tones over it.  The suit was then turned over to a crew to tie hair into it.

(L to R) The blown apart Wolfman puppet, the transformation head puppet, and the final suit with RC Head.
 While the long process of suit tying began, John finished off the Wolfman head sculpture and I finished the arms and feet.  Or so I thought.  It turned out that in my "enthusiasm" (which is a kind way to say that I didn't know what I was doing), I sculpted the arms too thick.  Whenever you sculpt something with the intention of punching hair into it, the sculpture should be thin because the hair will add bulk.  You've seen it before - a big, fluffy cat gets wet and looks like a skeleton.  So, with the clock ticking I banged through a thinner, less anatomical pair of gloves.  It was very disappointing.

The Wolfman hands that I had to sculpt in a day.
Compared to what I did originally, these are disappointing but became the gloves. Ouch.
 Speaking of disappointing, now would be a good time to tell you about the transformation.  Again, John would handle the head puppet; Stan insisted that  ONE puppet head be able to do just about everything.  I was given an arm to do.  The idea was that the arm would be sculpted mid-transformation so the exterior of the arm looked human while a wolf-like pad would be developing in the palm.  Like the head, Stan wanted one arm to carry the transformation illusion, so I worked closely with Eric Fiedler and Richard Landon.

The palm of my transformation arm sculpture.
I really tried to work some fleshy transformation elements.
And a LOT of detail!
The idea was that the arm would be shot in reverse.  We'd start on the underside of the arm, see the coarse fur, the wolf-pad on the palm, and long nails.  On action, we'd pull the nails in, the camera would move around to the back side of the arm and we'd pull the fur in through the skin.  The result on screen would be that the arm would sprout hair, the camera would move, we'd see the wolf pad on the palm as the sharp fingernails grew.  How much more simple could it be?

The arm was made of foam latex over a fiberglass core that was peppered with small holes.  Richard built the mechanism that would give the hand some movement at the wrist and enable the nails to grow.  Eric punched all of the hair and then tied clumps of the punched hair together with cords.  On action, we would pull the cords and the hair would just zip through the skin.  Simple!

To say the arm was a cluster-f*ck on set would be an understatement.  It was a HUGE failure.  There were too many variables, too many people involved; all I will say is this: it was the first BIG on-set failure I had ever experienced.  And, because it was so labor intensive, we only had ONE SHOT at it.

At some point we had heard from production that John's performance in the telephone booth was VERY animated and he was punching the glass as he screamed in pain.  Cutting to a static arm with a purposeful camera move wouldn't cut into the scene, so we had to be prepared to slam the hand into the wall prior to executing the effect.  That meant that the rig the arm was on would have to be rebuilt at the last minute to accommodate this change.  Also, fearing too much drag on the foam latex, Eric lubed the hair so it would pull in more smoothly (which wasn't a bad idea, but the variables of the shot had changed).

On action, we slammed the arm into the wall of the phone booth, pulled the nails in and pulled the hair. There was a millisecond delay then, vip! the hair pulled through at such a speed it nearly disappeared.  Then the camera operator took his eye away from the lens and said that he didn't like the framing and asked if we could we do it again.  Ugh.  Shyte.

We had better luck with the change-O head that had a combination of mechanics and bladders that spread the human eyes outward to mimic the final Wolfman, while pushing out the snout and inflating the cheekbones.  Also, Emilio Gonzales built a back prosthetic with bladders that pushed muscle shapes and dental acrylic bumps to suggest growing vertebrae that also was effective.  Two out of three isn't bad, but it stings when you are the one out of three that fails!

For the scene where it appears that a dead John Gries transforms back into the Wolfman in an ambulance, a mechanical arm outfitted with bladders was built, and as the camera settled on the characters shoe, a puppeteer's hand inside one of the latex Wolfman feet burst through.  That shot still makes me wince.

The biggest disappointment was that the Wolfman was sculpted in a permanent roar.  For whatever reason, (my guess is that Stan just didn't want that Wolfman to look anything but ferocious at all times), it wasn't sculpted in a neutral expression, so Dave Kindlon was severely limited to what he could bring mechanically to the head.  In the end, it didn't matter much, because as we all know, the Wolfman had nards.

As work on the Wolfman dissipated, I transferred over to the Dracula crew, assisting Alec and his crew with finishing the large bat puppet, the transformation arms, and the puppet body that was to represent Dracula in mid-transformation from bat to undead man.  Lindsay McGowan had sculpted the little bat, while Alec had sculpted the bigger bat.  Dave Nelson was chiefly involved with the mechanics of most of the Dracula pieces.  The mid-transformation body was not unlike what Rick Baker had done with David Naughton in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON; the actor was put on a slant-board through a hole in the floor of the set and a puppet torso was glued and blended on to the actor's chest.

However, unlike THE AMERICAN WEREWOLF, Alec upped the stakes replaced one of the actor's arm with a puppet arm in mid-transformation, complete with elongated fingers and wing membranes.  A set of facial prosthetics resembling bat features were produced for actor Duncan Regehr, and the make up was finished with hair pieces.

I had the pleasure of going to set a few days on MONSTER SQUAD, certainly not as much as any of the other lifers who, in general, had to be on set with their respective creatures.  So while Stan, John, and Shane were on set, maintaining the Wolfman and the Mummy, and Tom Woodruff was in his Gillman suit, assisted by Matt Rose and Steve Wang, Alec ran the shop while we completed the Dracula transformation effects.

I worked on the first,  main unit shoot, not just for the disastrous Wolfman transformation, but for the day the Wolfman exploded and reconstituted (see: Blood, Sweat, and Latex: Lending a Motorized Hand to MONSTER SQUAD).  I do recall another day when we were on a foggy swamp set where all of the monsters were playing.  Duncan Regehr had some intense, quiet dialogue during a scene and Stan thought the camera had cut and just went into a loud, Jerry Lewis comedy routine.  I don't know what was funnier, the routine or the fact that Stan had ruined a take, blushing while the A.D.'s then yelled cut and then called out for quiet on the set.

Producer, Peter Hyams shot the scene at the beginning where Dracula transforms from a bat into his undead, human form.  The crypt set was beautiful and it was so strange having a live armadillo running around on set.  We shot a series of puppets and parts that day, starting with Lindsay's small bat, Alec's large bat puppet, then the series of transformation arms; I think there were three stages but only two were seen in the film (or maybe it was four stages and only three...).

How about a little supplemental video?

While crews were busy finishing pieces needed to complete MONSTER SQUAD, and working on set with the performers, a group consisting of a couple of producers and a director came to the shop to speak to Stan about their troubled picture.

It seemed that they had completed principle photography of their new sci-fi/action film, but were unhappy with the creature that another company had built and now, they wanted the genius behind the Queen Alien.

The movie was PREDATOR, and my life was about to change forever.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Part 43: The Amazing Story of "Miss Stardust"

Steven Spielberg.  A name so important that it appears in "spell check."  JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, all have gone beyond being simple, fun, movies, to be accepted as institutions of contemporary film making*.  So, when Steven Spielberg announced that he would be producing a television show, it was sure to be something exceptional.  Using his influence, Spielberg attracted "A" list feature-film talent to be involved with his television series AMAZING STORIES.  Robert Zemekis, Martin Scorsese, even Burt Reynolds directed an episode of the anthology series that revolved around fantasy, horror, and science fiction themes.

I think this series was just a bit ahead of its time.
 As I mentioned last time, Stan Winston and his crew did an outstanding job for the Bob Zemekis episode "Go to the Head of the Class" creating incredible animatronic heads of actor Christopher Lloyd.  So, it came as no surprise that Stan would get the call to produce more creatures for a new episode to be directed by Tobe Hooper entitled "Miss Stardust."  In a nutshell, the plot involved a shyster (played by the legendary Dick Shawn) promoting a Miss Stardust beauty contest to chose the most beautiful woman in the universe, and, of course the crashing of that contest by aliens insisting on being represented, lest the earth be destroyed. Hey, they can't all be Shakespeare.

The alien contestant representative would be played by Weird Al Yankovic camouflaged by an elaborate prosthetic make up.  Now joined by Alec Gillis, fresh from Kevin Yagher's studio, the lifers jumped at the chance to begin designing.  Shane designed Weird Al's make up, which would be based on a huge head of lettuce - no, you read that correctly.  Tom designed "Miss Venus", a tall, slug-like creature with dangling tendrils and big bulging eyes.  "Miss Mars" was created by John, who envisioned her with a tall cranium, sharp teeth and pointed ears.  That left "Miss Jupiter", a six-legged, six-breasted, horse-faced monstrosity designed by Alec Gillis.

Other than Weird Al, the rest of the aliens would be elaborate puppets.  It was about that time, that Stan saw the necessity to expand his operation.  He had already rented a secondary unit in the industrial park that had served as a mold shop during ALIENS, but as I recall, Stan had vacated that shop once they left for England.
 However, Stan's intention was to move the mechanical department into their own space and so rented another unit that was directly opposite his bay door across the expansive parking lot.  While a moving strategy was being formulated, Tom and Alec took advantage of the empty building began sculpting Miss Venus there.

As Shane began molding lettuce leaves for the purposes of producing clay representations and John began roughing out Miss Mars another Stan Winston alumnus appeared at the studio.  Having worked with the lifers in England on ALIENS, Linsday McGowan had spoken with Stan about the possibility of coming to America and pursuing his career in Los Angeles.  Diminutive, soft-spoken, polite, funny, Lindsay found himself thrust right into a flurry of activity.  Without a car, Lindsay would rely on public transportation or the kindness of others to get him from his apartment to the studio.

He hadn't been in town for a week, when walking down Parthenia Street west toward Tampa, a black-and-white police car screeched to a stop in front of him.  Two of L.A.'s finest threw Lindsay to the ground and began questioning him.  As luck would have it, he fit the description of a suspect who had just robbed a convenience store.  Once Lindsay explained who he was, and what he was doing in Los Angeles, the police realized they had apprehended the wrong man.  "Welcome to Los Angeles." one of them said as they released him. 

Also around that time, Matt Rose rejoined the team as well.  I could be wrong about this, but I believe that he began sculpting the arms for Miss Jupiter.  My first order of business was on Miss Venus.  Tom's design featured three dangling "feelers" that ended in a tiny, bee-hived shape swelling.  Once Tom had the head roughed out, he made a quick alginate (flexible, dental, casting material) mold or "snap" which furnished an accurate base for my feeler sculptures to blend.  Nothing beats experience.  I had done something similar to this already in my blossoming career - the pineal gland for the Dr. Pretorious monster.  Yep, time to break out the ole prolapsed rectum reference.

Miss Venus, as she used to sit above the Foam Room at Stan's studio.
Yep, prolapsed rectums at the ends of her feelers, poor girl!
 Based on my sculptural performance, Tom then assigned me the task of roughing out Miss Venus' pudgy, three fingered hands.  This is where I stumbled.  Miss Venus, although a creature from another planet, was still "a lady."  The hands I roughed out were...well, rough.  Wrinkly and gnarled, they didn't match what Tom and Alec had sculpted on the body.  Eventually, I was relieved of my hand sculpting duties and they were finished by Tom.  I don't blame him.  When I saw the finished hands they were smooth and feminine - worthy of an intergalactic beauty contest.

Meanwhile, the mechanical duties had been split as well.  Richard Landon and Dave Kindlon would be building the exhaustive mechanisms for Miss Mars.  She would have a full radio controlled face, a neck that could stretch upward, mechanical arms and hands, as well as legs and feet.  The entire puppet would be able to be mounted onto a rod that would go through the floor for gross body movement.  Miss Venus seemed to be primarily Steve James' task with the help of his mentor, Dave Nelson, who was supervising the mechanics of Miss Jupiter.  I suppose it wouldn't be fair to not mention Lance Anderson here.

Lance, a long-time friend and collaborator with Stan, had built a tail mechanism for Stan's pet project entitled MORGULUM.  It was an impressive five or six foot-long mechanism about 30 or so inches in diameter at the base, terminating in about a six-inch diameter tip.It sat on display in a corner of the shop covered in soft, charcoal-colored upholstery foam. Stan suggested that Tom use the mechanism as a base to build Miss Venus' slug-like tail, so the foam was stripped, the mechanism covered with plastic wrap, and a mold was made to generate a sculpting positive.

As soon as sculpting armatures were built, Alec Gillis began roughing out the Miss Jupiter head while Tom Woodruff sculpted the body.  Lindsay and I sculpted the left and right legs as she would need six of them (3 on each side).  The large size of Miss Jupiter's head pushed the limits of Stan's small foam-latex oven and it was clear that the studio's needs would exceed the modest piece of equipment.  Soon, we would a bigger oven.

Miss Jupiter, striking an angry pose!
I don't understand how she didn't win the contest?

It was clear that for the larger bodies of Miss Venus and Miss Jupiter, running foam latex was out of the question so they were run in soft, urethane foam.  Miss Venus had a latex skin where Miss Jupiter's mold was just released and run repeatedly until we were able to pull a soft polyfoam casting out, with the least damaged surface (Polytek's 1014 is a soft urethane foam that is not advertised as self-skinning.  We were out to prove them wrong-ish).  We managed to get one casting that needed extensive patching, but it worked...well...sort of...

Meanwhile, on the Miss Mars front, there was a physics problem.  It seems that the mechanical arms were constructed with differentials in the shoulders that were engineered to disengage, rather than strip the gears inside, under a specified amount of torque.  In theory, the differentials seemed ideal for the task, but father physics stepped in with his concept of leverage.  The weight of the spindly arms matched with their length was too much for the gear box, which prevented the cable controlled arms from functioning.  This meant that the arms would have to be counter-balanced at the wrists with wires leading up to pulleys with weights attached at the ends.

Miss Mars is pissed because she needed to be supported by wires...Not really, she always looks pissed.
 In the art department, Matt, Lindsay and I were assigned to paint Miss Jupiter's body, arms and legs, based on Alec Gillis' paint job on the head.  I only bring this up because Matt Rose taught me something at that time which stuck with me to this day.  He asked if I had ever seen the skin on the inside of a baby's hand, or a baby's thigh.  He indicated that they were covered in a translucent network of veins in varying shades of red and purple.  Then, he demonstrated how to achieve such a look with an airbrush; this technique has remained one of the foundations of my painting.

When the puppets were completed, they were trucked to Universal Studios where we set up on one of the stages.  I say that with such aplomb, but at the time I was freaking out!  Universal Studios was one of the most famous studios on the planet and to be there as an employee was mind-blowing!  I really felt that I had landed in the big time when production told us that we would have a few days of (paid) rehearsals!  Then, Stan Winston informed us that we would be "Screen Actor's Guild, Taft-Harley'd"; I didn't know what that meant. 

Those of us who were not in Screen Actor's Guild, would be permitted to operate (or "perform") in front of a movie camera without being in the union....once.  We would receive our pay and residuals (what?!) based on a standard S.A.G. contract!  All I know is that it was more money than I had ever earned up to that point!

Production furnished us with musical playback for Miss Mars' Dance and Miss Jupiter's operatic performance.  We puppeteers slowly began to develop a routine based on the capabilities of the puppets.  For Miss Mars, Matt Winston and I would get on a platform above the stage where we would assist with the gross arm movements moving a horizontal pole back and forth with the counter-balancing pulleys on either end of it.  During a lighting test, one of the weights came loose, fell, and struck the stage mere feet from where a technician stood.  I shudder to think what would have happened had it struck him in the head!

During our rehearsal, a member of the Art Department stopped by to see our puppeteering set up and was impressed.  Apparently Rob Bottin and his crew had been on set a few weeks earlier with his creature ("The Greibble") and, according to this crew person,  it took a bunch of people with enormous controllers to make it work  They had had a hell of a time framing them out of shots. 

When shooting commenced we finally got to see Weird Al in his make up.  Kevin Yagher, who, unlike the rest of us, was in the make up union, applied Shane's make up which turned out looking fantastic.  Kevin was (is) an amazing artist.  During the day when he was on set, keeping an eye on Mr. Yankovic's make up, he clipped a teddy bear out of a foam sponge using a pair of cuticle scissors!  It was perfect and demonstrated how incredible his eye truly was!  I've never seen anyone do anything like that since!  Remarkable.

"You are one, humorless vegetable, you know that?!" Actual dialogue delivered to Weird Al from Dick Shawn.
 Shooting the puppets went smoothly.  The only hiccup was that Miss Jupiter's  operatic playback was "enhanced" and no longer had the same tempo as the routine we had worked out.  But we rallied and managed to get an impressive performance on camera.  To get a look at our puppets in action, check out this link: Miss Stardust on Youtube

Miss Jupiter, lit garishly, on set.  Nice teeth, though.
 It was also an honor to work on set with Dick Shawn.  Even though we really didn't have much interaction with him on camera, watching him work was a treat.  It is one of the many regrets of my career that I didn't ask him for an autograph at the end of the shoot; he would die, on stage doing his one-man show a year later!

While we were at Universal, between takes, walking amongst the classic soundstages, Stan told us what our next job would be - a cross between GHOSTBUSTERS and the GOONIES entitled THE MONSTER SQUAD.  And, it would feature the classics - Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon!

I was just happy that there was more work on the horizon.

*I would have added later efforts such as SCHINDLER'S LIST and JURASSIC PARK, but at this time, those films had not been produced yet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Part 42: Back at Stan Winston's Studios

During my first tour of duty at Stan Winston's back in 1985, things were a bit unusual.  Stan's "lifers" as they had been called, had left for England within a few weeks of my employment with the exception of Alec Gillis.  Although I had been introduced to and worked a bit with the others, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant, Tom Woodruff, Jr., and Richard Landon, I honestly didn't know that much about them or their working habits.  But now, I had found myself back at Stan Winston's studio, invited by Stan himself, to join the team in their latest effort which was building a mechanical boar for the film BLACK WIDOW.


Upon my re-introduction to the lifers and after working with them for a few days this is how I would classify them:

Shane Mahan was an artist.  A dreamer.  He had such a charming and deep sense of self-deception that it was difficult to not like him instantly.  He loved art, especially traditional fine art as well as the trappings of what I would call "the good life."  I still like Shane very much but have a difficult time resisting the temptation to knock his rose-colored glasses off.  Shame on me.  Years after I left Stan's, my wife would tell me that Shane actually had the right idea about how to live life.

He wore leopard print slip-on shoes in the kidding...
 Tom Woodruff, Jr. was the perfectionist.  Highly talented and detail oriented.  Of all of the TERMINATOR heads that were on display, Tom's was the one that was the cleanest.  I recall being at Tom's house and seeing one that he had made for his home display that was more perfect than the one in the studio!  Possessed of a wicked sense of humor, Tom's true passion was writing.  He had dreams of writing screenplays and one day moving his family back to his native Pennsylvania.

I like this frame grab of Tom because you know he just did something he's embarrassed about...
 John Rosengrant was the ramrod.  It is difficult to see what a necessary and thankless position that is for anyone, and there were many times, in my immaturity, that I would see John as a frustrating figure at the studio.  A bit hot-headed and deed-oriented, John made goddamn sure that the work was moving forward in the shop!  Having had that position myself, since, at other shops, I recognize what a difficult position it is.  I'll take this opportunity to apologize to John for my youthful lack of vision.  He was doing what was best for the studio, which is what made him invaluable to Stan.

I forgot to mention that John, too, was a good sculptor.
 Richard Landon was the head of the mechanical department.  Educated and intelligent, Richard attempted to bring logic and dispassionate thinking into the studio which was a difficult notion.  Ironically, Richard was also very sensitive and polite which meant that he wasn't always heard above the rabble.  I admire Richard for his stalwart service to Stan Winston and his bottomless patience.  I never possessed those admirable qualities.

Richard looks like he's thinking about something.  He was always thinking about something, bless him.
 Other familiar faces had returned to Stan's as well, such as Dave Nelson, and Steve James, who were designing and assembling the chain link running mechanism for the boar (truly amazing).  And it was during this time that I met someone who would become a life long friend, Stan's son, Matt. 

Matt was just instantly likeable.  He was such a fan of his father and the studio's work that it was disarming!  He had boundless energy and enthusiasm and would be working at the studio that summer between school years.

At the time of my return, Alec Gillis had taken a sabbatical and was helping his friend Kevin Yagher with a demon puppet for a film entitled TRICK OR TREAT.  But he was due to return sometime in the future.  Of course, at the helm, was the man himself....Stan Winston.

There he sat in his office, no multiple Oscars nor high-tech furniture yet.  A star on the rise.
 As I put my tool box down on a workbench, I was greeted by a large, red fiberglass mold; its silhouette was immediately recognizable as some sort of pig.  Also, in the mechanical area of the shop was a chain-link mechanism.  These were the parts of the boar puppet that were under construction for BLACK WIDOW.  The idea was that the antagonist, played by Theresa Russell's, would trick the protagonist, Debra Winger into the forest where she would be threatened by a wild boar.

For shots of the wild boar chasing at Ms. Winger's feet, this puppet would be utilized.  Built like a wheel-barrow, it was only the front 2/3rds of the body.  Where the rear legs would have been, instead was a beefy frame with wheels that a puppeteer could motivate, coordinating with the movements of the front legs to give the illusion of running.

Here is the mechanism balanced across the foam room counters.

For those of you who are mechanically inclined, here's a close up of the shoulder array. Very impressive stuff.
I was told that it would be my responsibility to cast the skins for the puppet.  The head would be run out of foam latex, and the body would be a thin skin of regular latex over a soft urethane filler.  The mold was cored to create a thickness of about a half an inch, so that was going to be a challenge.

Stan Winston's foam room was just a bit bigger than a utility closet in those days (see the photo above).  He had several Sunbeam Mixmasters and two injectors that were acrylic-bodied with machined aluminum tips and plungers.  The injectors were not something you could just stroll down the street and pick up, they had been custom built per specifications; one held about two large Mixmaster bowls, the other about four bowls of foam.  The acrylic had been machined on the ends, threaded like a big screw so that the cap and tip as well as the plunger guide could be attached to withstand the immense amount of pressure exerted on the injector while filling molds.  To make matters worse, the threads were relatively thin, meaning that it would take a fair amount of revolutions to completely seat the cap on the acrylic tube.

I've spoken about running foam latex in many of the past blogs, but running foam at Stan's and using those injectors was a new experience.  Prior to running the foam, it became a responsibility to clean out the injector, castor oil all of the rubber O ring seals, and make sure that everything would be ready to go, quickly, in order to get the foam latex into the injector, cap sealed, and then material injected into the mold. It sounds easier than it was, especially doing the lion's share of the work by myself.

The initial run of any mold for a mechanical character, would be a test skin.  The overall quality of the foam and the run was less important than providing the mechanical department with something that they could begin working with to strategically plan how they were going to assemble the animatronics. The skin served as a departure point for the engineers to request a softer foam while indicating stress areas to be reinforced. It also gives the foam runner the opportunity of working out any bugs in the casting of the skin, so that subsequent runs only get better.

So there I was in this tiny foam room, with a red, fiberglass, boar head mold.  I had delicately attached a nylon stocking over the core positive (the piece inside of the mold that displaces the foam to a specified thickness) and had cut out the areas where the core contacted the inner surface of the mold.  I had drilled tiny "bleeder" holes throughout the core to allow air to escape while injecting that would cause air bubbles or voids in the skin.  Everything was ready.  Injection gun was clean and I was ready to run foam.

Chemicals weighed carefully, Mixmaster speeds and running times executed and recorded with precision, it became time to add the final chemical that would "gel" the foam to prevent the air cells from collapsing as the material baked out in the oven.  At this point, I leaned out of the foam room and asked someone to help me.
Sometimes it was Matt, or Shane, or Tom...whomever was free to throw on a smock and lend a hand.

Dispersing the gelling agent into the foam was putting the operation against a unreliable stop watch.  As I've said before, there were so many conditions that could make foam latex gel too fast, or not at all, so what any foam runner had when they were performing their task, was an idea of how much time they have to effectively get the material into the mold.

The foam was front-loaded into the injector (the cap end) as the plunger sat at the very bottom of the tube.  Once filled, the cap was screwed on (All those threads!  It felt like an eternity!) and then the plunger was carefully pushed upward allowing the large air voids and bubbles in the mix to escape until the foam latex hit the cap.  A bit of material was allowed to escape from the tip and then into the mold the injector went!  Slow, steady pressure was exerted on the plunger as spirals of foam began appearing at the bleeder holes.  When finally, all of the holes bled and there was enough back pressure on the injector, a ball of water-based clay was pushed into the injector hole as the injector was removed to maintain the pressure and prevent the latex from spewing out.  WHEW!  Done!  Now all that had to be done was let the foam gel and then into the oven.

Within a few minutes, the foam had gelled completely. Ah, success!  I carefully moved the mold into the oven, set the temperature and timer, and then returned to the foam room to clean up (another thankless task for foam runners!).  I went to open the injector cap to clean it out and it is stuck.  Solid.  Like through some alchemy the acrylic had permanently bonded with the aluminum.  The cap, which was about three inches in diameter, was larger than any channel-lock pliers in the shop and the acrylic was too fragile for me to put it into a table vise.  I held the injector between my knees and tried to twist the cap off.  It wasn't moving.  I unscrewed the bottom, pulled the plunger, and the excess foam out of the tube and tried to clean as much as I could from the reverse.  I tried to twist again...nothing.  Ugh...

I opened the foam room door and asked John Rosengrant for a hand.  He came in, saw what I had done and slapped me upside the head, like a father from the '60's would do after his kid  had just wiped his ketchup stained lips with  his shirt.  It was more shocking than painful, but...he had just hit me...right?  "Don't let the foam gel in the closed injector!" he snapped.  All I could do was hang onto the acrylic tube while John wrenched it off.  "After you finish injecting the mold, unscrew the cap immediately next time!" he added, and then left.

What could I do?  Go tell Stan?  Confront John and get my ass handed to me?  I was too shocked and stunned to know what to do.  I had just arrived back at one of THE best creature effects studios in the world.  Was it worth risking dismissal?  At the time, I thought not.  My ears and cheeks burning red, I continued cleaning the foam room.

It was a sad and defining moment at Stan Winston's studio for me.  I had returned, but not in the way I had hoped.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Part 41: Evil Dead to Cute Dogs

As Mark Shostrom and company left for North Carolina, I found myself unemployed again. That was short-lived after a call from a friend, Scott Wheeler, who was working for Ellis "Sonny" Burman at Cosmekinetics in Northridge, California.

Apparently, Sonny had been hired by the EVIL DEAD II production to make some specific props: A giant Evil Tree puppet, three miniature Evil Tree hand puppets, and the Evil Deer Trophy Head for "the Laughing Room" scene.

How could you forget THIS guy?!
But more importantly, Sonny built the all-important, iconic chainsaws that Bruce "Ash" Campbell eventually uses to replace his dismembered hand.

Sonny made several versions of this saw for different purposes.
Scott, again, was going to North Carolina while I was going to remain in the shop with Sonny, but in any case, they needed assistance with running foam latex, and some finishing work before the pieces shipped to location.

Cosmekinetics was in the same industrial park that Stan Winston's studio was located in, but however close together they were, the studios themselves were worlds apart.  Sonny Burman, first of all, was ex-military.  At first that may sound a bit daunting, but I found Sonny to be a straight-shooter.  He never said anything that he didn't mean or couldn't back up and I admired that.  When I worked for him he must have been in his early 50's and I'll tell you this: He looked like he could have crushed a girder with his bare hands!  I had heard a rumor that during the shooting of THE TERMINATOR, James Cameron was frustrated with the Endoskeleton puppeteers who were working in a trench and began yelling at them.  Sonny responded, by shouting that if Jim didn't shut up, he (Sonny) was going to leap out of the trench and knock Cameron's dick in the dirt!  True?  I don't know, but if Sonny had yelled that at me, I would have unloaded my colon into my pants.

Sonny's partner was Bob Williams who was intelligent, level-headed, and had a wry sense of humor.  The entire time I was there, I never saw Bob get ruffled.  Frustrated? Yes, but he always handled it calmly and with a droll quip.

Arriving to work my first Monday, I was greeted by the sight of a casting of the full-sized Evil Tree puppet.  It was only 1/2 around (I would say roughly 3 1/2 to 4 feet in diameter)I want to say that the casting was latex and soft polyurethane foam behind it.  It was backed by fiberglass, but not the traditional laminated layers of cloth or matte, but was covered in "chop" from a "chop gun."  Pardon my naivete but I had never seen fiberglass chop before and I was impressed. It made sense. Something that sized, to laminate layers of matte would have taken a few people many hours to build up a significant thickness.  With the chop gun, it had taken one person just a few hours.

"Calling all evil trees!  Calling all evil trees!"
Unfortunately, all of the chainsaws were completed by the time I showed up.  All expertly aged and matching one another, Sonny and Bob had built at least 3 that I recall: a hero working chainsaw (with no chain), a light-weight smoking shell that Bruce wore on his hand, and a soft version for stunts. There may have been more, but it is difficult to remember.

What I do remember were molds.  Four of them to be exact.  All made from pink Tool Stone (which was a mold making favorite back in the day). Three of them were miniature Evil Tree puppets complete with Tool Stone hand positives in puppeteering poses.  The last was the Evil or Laughing Deer Trophy Head.  Scott Wheeler had sculpted the deer head and for some reason we had run the foam latex for it at Mark Shostrom's shop.  Perhaps that's what gave Scott the idea to call me to work at Sonny's when the Shostrom team left for North Carolina?

Scott took the skin back to Cosmekinetics and finished off the deer there.  He recently told me that he hand-laid crepe wool for the fur!  That's a lot of work.  However, when it was time to run the miniature Evil Tree molds, I was working at Sonny's.

A little more information for those of you reading this who don't know of the pitfalls of running Foam Latex:  it is environment sensitive. How the foam reacts has a lot to do with the air temperature and humidity.  Most shops have environmentally enclosed rooms to run the foam latex, but Sonny?  Nope.  I was to run the foam latex on a shop table in the middle of the room during spring time in the San Fernando Valley.  Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

As a consolation tactic, Sonny and Bob bought an electronic Ph meter so that I could get a reading prior to adding the last gelling chemical that reacted based on the mixture's ammonia content. So, I would stand at the Sunbeam Mixmaster spinning my bowl, watching my stopwatch, then Sonny or Bob would come over with a small plastic case that housed a "pen sensor" on the end of a coiled wire.  They would dip the end into the mix and let me know if I had to add more ammonia or not before the gel.  Believe it or not, we got it to work and  somehow or another I managed to run the foam.

Working for Sonny was a joy.  It truly was.  And Sonny was so cool; he took most things in stride.  Like the time I found one of the HOWLING II werewolf masks just bunched up under a table.  I unbunched it, put it on, and then leaped into Sonny's office growling.  Sonny, who was reading a Motor Cross magazine, lowered it for a second and said, "Damn that Jack Bricker." (Jack Bricker had supervised the show for Sonny), and then lifted his magazine and went back to reading while I stood there with a smelly old foam latex mask on.

Some time later, he also decided that it was time that I get over my ridiculous fear of snakes. See, Sonny had this terrarium that was at about eye-level and in it was a disgusting rattlesnake that he kept as a pet.  One day, Sonny arrived on his motorcycle with a small cardboard pet carrier.  On the exterior of the box it read: "Someone loves me." and "I've found a home!" 

Sonny got off of the bike and told me that it was the day I was going to get over my fear of snakes.  He grabbed me by the shoulder and moved me to the rattlesnake tank.  He opened the pet carrier, removed a little white mouse and dropped it into the tank.  He then put his hands on my shoulders and held me, facing the tank, so I HAD to watch the rattlesnake eat the mouse.  As the rodent landed, I heard the rattlesnake buzzing angrily.  Sonny began saying that my fear of snakes was based on not having and understanding and an appreciation of how they work, what they do, how they do it.  If I just saw for myself...THUNK! The rattlesnake struck the mouse and the venom did its work.

At least I think so.

What Sonny didn't see was that my eyes were closed the entire time.  After I had heard the thunk, I opened them to see half of a mouse sticking out of the snake's mouth.  Yech!  Appreciation?  For THAT?  I'd just as soon stay away from snakes.  Indiana Jones and me.  We hate snakes.

Okay, the rattlesnake treatment didn't work....yech!
During my time at Sonny's, he landed another job.  It seems like Hollywood was going to produce another sequel to the successful BENJI dog movie by Joe Camp.  This one was going to be entitled BENJI, THE HUNTED and was going to to feature a group of puma cubs that Benji would rescue after their mother had been killed somehow.
No, that's not a Rob Bottin werewolf chasing them.  But.  Hmmmmmm....
Sonny had received a call from Steve Martin's working wildlife, a motion picture animal training and rental facility north of Los Angeles.  They needed some fake puma cubs to train Mr. Benji.  The idea was for Benji to carry the cubs like their mother would which is an unnatural action for the dog to perform. So, off to Steve Martin's working wildlife, I went,  with a camera and a measuring tape (Steve Martin's Working Wildlife).

I arrived , parked and began to walk up a hill to the compound where the puma cubs were.  As I walked, I froze as a black leopard came around a bend only to be followed a split second later by a trainer holding a leash.  If I didn't know better, I would have sworn it was one of the black leopards from THE CAT PEOPLE.  Who knows, it probably was.

I met the trainers, who were very nice, and they handled the puma cubs while I tried in vain to measure and photograph them.  They squirmed and tumbled while "crying".  The trainers explained that they would be needing a fake puma to work with the dog because every time they had given him something to carry the way they hoped he would carry the puma cub, he would shake it like a rag doll.  That would be disastrous.  The idea was that the body of the training puma would be hollow and they would be able to add weight to it in order to train Benji to not shake the damn things!  Also, if they needed shots where carrying the puma cubs would be dangerous, they could use the artificial stand in as to not risk the life of a cub.

So I returned to Cosmekinetics and Sonny felt that I should just build the cubs myself since I had been the one to see them in person.  I sculpted the puma in two pieces: the head, and the body.  I molded them separately and Bob made an armature that would be run into the foam latex to keep the arms and legs from being too floppy. There were at least three made: one that was a simple training cub, no frills just the bare minimum for what Benji needed for day to day training and two more that were essentially camera ready. 

With little to know experience, I did manage to do some fur transfer which is the technique of taking artificial fur, removing it from the material backing and adhering it to another surface (in this case, the artificial puma cub). The final product was effective and the clients were happy with it.

Okay, maybe not PHOTO real, but it would be good for dog training!

His hollow belly could be filled from the back with weight. Ironically, that's Stan's studio reflected in the doors to the left.
See? That cub would have been shaken like an old dish towel without the proper training!
 One day, while dumping a garbage can in the huge common dumpster that serviced the entire industrial park, I ran into Stan Winston.  The crew was back from England and already back to work.  He had seen the issue of Mad Movies that featured my Evil Ed puppet photo and asked if I had sculpted it.  I told him I had.  He then asked where I was working and I told him I was around the corner at Sonny's.  I couldn't tell him how long Sonny was going to keep me employed, so, Stan, being Stan, decided to come with me and ask Sonny himself.

Stan met with Sonny in his office while I went about my business cleaning up at the end of the day.  Finally, Sonny called me into his office.  He told me that Stan wanted to hire me and the only thing Sonny had coming up was to do on-set maintenance on an alien puppet for a television series called ALF.  They were going to start shooting the first season soon and I would be on set to repair the puppet if needed.

The photo Sonny showed me looked something like this.  Seeing the black, air brushed paint, I was not enthused.
Having no idea what the hell ALF was, I thanked Sonny and told him that I'd like to return to Stan's if that was okay with him.  We parted on good terms.

That was the last time I worked with Sonny, but of all of the bosses I have worked with over the years, Sonny was truly one of the best (if not THE best).  By this part of the story, EVIL DEAD II fans are probably wracking their brains wondering if they had seen Sonny's name in the credits.

I don't believe you do.

Sonny received a call from production during the shoot, unhappy about something, and I heard Sonny in his office read them the riot act.  Sorry, but I have to admire the courage it took to do this.   He dressed them down, standing behind his product and crew like none other.  It is this type of integrity that is so rare in Hollywood.  Right or wrong, Sonny sided with his business and in his opinion he had done what he had been paid to do - honest work for the price and if they didn't like know.  I had seen the work done by Cosmekinetics and so have many of you.  Sonny, like all of the effects companies, Shostrom's, Beswicks, Gardner's, had delivered.  Sonny just wasn't going to take production's shit and didn't.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is not the land of integrity and for what ever reason, a few years later Cosmekinetics closed.  I have heard through the grapevine that Sonny, also a talented make up artist, had gone back on the union roster and returned to make up full time.  What a loss.  I was sorry to see Cosmekinetics close, however it did raise one question in my mind....

What happened to that rattlesnake?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Part 40: EVIL DEAD II - The First Truly Defining Job

This is a difficult post.  So much has been said about the making of EVIL DEAD II that I'm afraid that this will all seem redundant.  On the other hand, history IS history and I was fortunate enough to participate in one of the greatest cult movies ever made.

After STAR TREK IV wrapped I found myself back in our little apartment in Eagle Rock, CA unemployed for what seemed like a day or two.  Mark Shostrom called me to tell me that he had just landed the sequel to Sam Raimi's incredible midnight movie classic THE EVIL DEAD.  I had seen THE EVIL DEAD but not in the theater.  Oh no.  I watched the film on video in a dark room, by myself in the middle of the night.  It was so unique, frightening, funny, weird, and wonderful that by the time it was over I wasn't sure how I felt about it other than I loved it.  I had also seen CRIMEWAVE (The XYZ Murders) and loved it! So the opportunity to work on EVIL DEAD II would be a career high, after two previous career highs.  I seemed to be on a wave and was so happy and fortunate to be invited to participate.

Mark told me that he had also hired Howard Berger and a friend of his, a sculptor from Pittsburgh that he and Greg Nicotero had worked with on DAY OF THE DEAD.  This was Mike Trcic.  Greg had already worked for Mark as his coordinator and would be returning as well as Aaron Sims, who Mark had asked to do a few designs. Because of the nature of the effects in the film, Mark said his plan was to parcel it out amongst the artists and have each artist take care of one of the major characters in the show.  He would be handling the "Henrietta" chores.  It was to be be the largest, most ambitious possession character in the show.  Howard would handle all of the "Ash" possession make ups on Bruce Campbell.  The "Linda" corpse effects would be sculpted by Mike Trcic.  Aaron Sims would work on Ash's "Evil Hand" as well as Henrietta's "Pee Wee Neck" as Mark referred to it.  That left the character of "Evil Ed" in my hands.

Mark asked if I was interested in doing some drawings.  The only note I got was that Ed was going to have an over-sized mouth.  Hmmmmmm.  I got to thinking.  The best over-sized mouth make up I had seen was the one that Steve Johnson had done for the character of Amy in FRIGHT NIGHT.  In fact, I LOVED that make up.  But what could I do to sort of take it to the next level?  I thought back to my Halloween costume the previous year.  Remember?  This one:

For all intents and purposes, this was the prototype for my Evil Ed make up.
My goal was to do a practical big mouth but somehow hide the fact that beneath the over-sized, foam latex mouth, there was a regular sized human mouth beneath it.  That's when I came up with the lamprey multiple rows of teeth idea.  This did two things (that you can barely make out in the photo above):  It successfully hid the actor's mouth and it allowed the shortening of the nose length to really exaggerate the size of the mouth.  If you look closely at the photo, you care barely see the indication of the shortened nose.  Armed with this experience an inspiration, I drew this:

My design for Evil Ed.  White prismacolor on black paper.
Of course this was just a conceptual piece.  Not having access to who was actually playing Ed nor the limitations of his transformation, I tapped into something that had scared the hell out of me when I was a kid - the cover of one of my brother's books, "Tales To Tremble By".  Here, take a look at the cover and you can see my inspiration:

I can't remember a single thing about this book, except its haunting cover.
I showed the first piece to Mark and he responded positively to it and asked me to draw a couple of more sketches, one of "Henrietta" and the second, a variation on Evil Ed that showed a bit more than just his face.  I drew two color pencil sketches that were ultimately never used.  Besides, I would have a lot of work to do for Ed anyway.

After we all met in the shop, it was evident that we would all have to establish our working areas because there were so many artists and so many pieces to build in the show.  Within a few days, actors began arriving for life casts.  The first up was Ted Raimi, Sam's little brother whom many of you might recognize from his later efforts like SEAQUEST and the SPIDERMAN series.  Ted arrived first because he was going to go into the suit to portray the possessed Henrietta. As Sam Raimi put it - He could torture his brother on camera with no fear of repercussion.

We life cast Rick Francis, who would portray Evil Ed, Denise Bixler, Linda, Bruce Campbell, Ash, and finally Kassie Wesley, who played Bobbie Jo.  I can't remember why it happened, but we realized that we needed a pair of leg casts for Bobbie Jo after Kassie's casting session had been completed. Calling her back would have been a problem, so we called in my girlfriend (at the time), Tracy, to come in and get her legs cast up to her hips!

And the, the sculpt-a-thon began...Howard started on sketches of Bruce Campbell's possession make ups.  Mark started on his Henrietta sculpts, Mike Trcic began work on his Linda headless possessed Linda body, Aaron worked on Ash's possessed hand, and I began Evil Ed's appliances.

How often do you see video of a photo being taken or vice versa?

I can't remember how many weeks it had been before Bob Kurtzman and Dave Kindlon returned from Italy and the shooting of FROM BEYOND.  Bob came back to the shop to help out Mark with the hand and feet sculptures of Henrietta.  Dave was "farmed out" a few jobs, but more on that later.

Sam came by early on to see Howard's sketches and check on our progress...

Finally, it is revealed.  My "true" inspiration for Evil Ed:

After Mark had finished the Henrietta suit, Don Pennington (SPLASH, COCOON, THE ABYSS) was hired (I have NO idea who contacted him or how we got in touch with him or him with us) to make the fiberglass mold on the huge body.  Again, I'm not sure why Steve Patino was not hired; perhaps he was too busy at the time.  I'm not sure but he might have been building stuff for John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS around that time.

So Don came in and did something that I've never seen someone before or since do when prepping the clay for molding in fiberglass: He had Mark buy two cases of Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic spray and then sprayed all 12 cans on the sculpture allowing each coat to dry completely before going on to the next layer.  I recall that it took him the better part of a day just to do that.  Don Pennington knows his craft where it comes to fiberglass!  The mold he made was outstanding.  I wonder what Mark did with it when he closed that shop location in South Pasadena???

No, I didn't ACTUALLY sculpt like this, but wouldn't it have been cool if I had?
 Inevitably it was time for foam running (which, generally Howard, Bob and myself would do first thing in the morning so the molds could get loaded into Mark's oven early.

For Evil Ed, I had sculpted the facial appliance that had broken down into two parts: The face, and the bottom lip.  The pieces needed to be pre-painted so that the multitude of teeth could be glued in prior to the application.  I also fashioned a set of dentures for Rick that not only changed the shape of his pearly whites from their photogenic straight appearance to jagged, sharp teeth and I even included a set that protruded from the roof of his mouth!

Working on the appliance sculpt
See how I was able to shorten the nose by burying Rick's real nose within the upper lip?
The effects lenses (because it had been established in THE EVIL DEAD that once possessed, your eyes turn pure white) were handled by Larry Odien.  Larry, had researched soft effects lens-making techniques and had ventured out making his own lenses.  So Ed would not only wear his facial appliances and teeth, but lenses AND latex finger extensions I had sculpted for him as well.

Ah, the 80's, when we loved finger extensions!
 I had pulled a clay pour out of Rick Francis' head mold and began changing it to match the appliance sculpture with the understanding that it would have an asymmetric expression.  The idea was that Ash was going to chop the top of Ed's head off, revealing a shriveled brain (Mark Shostrom's genius idea) and the piece that hit the ground would appear to have a different expression as the eyebrow moved up and down.  Dave Kinlon mechanized the little eyebrow move via cables.

Rick Francis' clay pour became...
...this sculpture of the Evil Ed puppet head.  This photo appeared in MAD MOVIES, a French publication.  Remember that for later.
I don't recall why, other than sculpture quality, I replaced the clay ears with flexacryl copies from Rick's cast.
 I made a second fiberglass core (thinner than FROM BEYOND!!) cut the foam skin and the fiberglass along the bias that divided the face's expression.  The result was that the remaining face looked shocked where the chunk on the ground looked angry.  I fabricated a brain by putting foam latex into a syringe and "noodled it" around a small cut piece of upholstery foam.  For the webs, Mark gave me some DuPont Elvacite (that plastic that Dick Smith had used on SCANNERS to make fluid-filled bladders) and using a hair drier and a chip brush I created the webs by stretching the Elvacite from the inner head cavity to the withered brain.  The result was quite amusing.

"Chop Top" with his withered brain and Elvacite webs...
Here is the left over piece, mechanized by Dave Kindlon so that the eyebrow moved.
This was in the spring of 1986 and the details of why  a.) either I decided I was not interested in going on location or b.) it WAS decided that I wasn't going on location are fuzzy.  I will say that I was the only crew member that was living with their girlfriend if that means anything.  Honestly, I think it was better that Bob Kurtzman went instead of me.  Bob was (is) a much better make up artist that I ever was (am).  I knew that if he applied Evil Ed, it would be superior and take much less time than if I was there sweating my butt off struggling to blend foam edges down.  And when it came to blending edges, Bob was amazing!

Okay, so not technically "first person" but designing and sculpting this make up has been one of the defining pieces in my career.
So much was going on in that little shop in South Pasadena, that I need to break some things out that when I recall them, it impresses me.  The first is that Mark Shostrom, who landed the job, sculpted that giant Henrietta body and head on his own in oil clay (Roma plastilina for the body, white oil clay for the head).  Nowadays that sculpt would be done in less-expensive water clay and would get "banged out" in a few days.  Not so with Mark Shostrom.  That sculpture meant the world to him; he took his time and refined the hell out of it and I think it shows.  The Henrietta demon may not resemble Lou Hancock, the actress who plays the human character Henrietta, however the result is now an icon of horror thanks also to Ted Raimi's fantastic performance.

I would also like to recognize Aaron Sims, who at the time was still relatively new to the business, however, Mark let Aaron spread his wings and sculpt several important items.  Ash cutting his own possessed hand off with a chainsaw is still, to this day, one of the defining moments of EVIL DEAD II.  Aaron's illustrations and sculptures set a foundation for what he has managed to accomplish for himself today as one of the preeminent creature designers and production designers working in contemporary Hollywood.  Good show!

A few weeks before everyone left for North Carolina, Sam Raimi and Rob Tappert came to the shop for a marathon make up test day.  Howard made up Lou and Bruce, Bob and I made up Rick Francis.  The only thing missing that day were lenses, but in any case, I was able to see that my "big mouth" theory was going to work well.

Howard doing an out of the kit possession make up on Lou Hancock
Howard applying an Ash possession make up to Bruce Campbell.
Bob applied the camera-left side of the test make up...
I applied the camera-right side, although technically I'm taking the make up off in this photo.
Here's how Rick looked in the shop from the side.  Look how BIG that mouth looks!
See? Teeth on the roof of his mouth!
 Satisfied with what they had seen, Sam and Robert Tappert left the shop and we all were elated.  Everything looked awesome however, there was one thing Sam requested that wouldn't get made until reshoots later that year: An over-sized Bruce Campbell head that would have a "hollow eye" that could be filled and drained with white fluid to simulate the eye metamorphosis during possession.  Bob built that after they had all returned from location.

This Bruce Campbell head went to North Carolina for "Fake Shemping" - a Sam Raimi term meaning to stand-in for an actor who is about to be physically abused on screen.
 One the last days before we shipped everything, we tested the Evil Ed puppet to see how effective it would be. For the most part I was happy.  Unfortunately my biggest regret was that the hair work on the puppet didn't match Rick Francis as closely as it should have.  I do remember that the heads were farmed out at the last minute to be punched by someone off-site and when they returned, we barely had the time to shoot some video tests and photos before they were packed up and shipped away.

The Evil Ed puppet prior to shipping and filming.
Bob tried the puppet on to get a feel for it when he operated it on set.
 This is where the First Person of this Monster blog stops.  We packed everything and it shipped to North Carolina.  At the time, Bob, Howard, and Greg all lived in a rented house that we called the "home of wayward make up artists."  As they packed their stuff to go to location, I stopped by and said my good-byes.  I felt a bit like Chuck Yaeger watching the other test pilots go off to become astronauts.  And in a way it was.

What those guys experienced in North Carolina really defined THEIR careers in many, many ways.  It established long-lasting relationships between them all and Rob Tappert and Sam Raimi.  During the shoot, they sent me a video tape to share their experiences, but since I wasn't actually there, you'll have to watch a DVD or Blu Ray of the film's extras to get a sense of everything they went through.  

No one could have predicted what a cult sensation EVIL DEAD II would become.  But it would be some time before the film opened, and I was to continue working on the show, but at another location.