September 30th, 2013
He’s a man on a mission. His career spans decades and features some of the most iconic movies ever made. From learning his craft on Star Wars to allowing his creative juices free rein on the set of Harry Potter, he’s now trying his hand at producing. Warpaint chats to the irrepressible Nick Dudman.
WP: What made you want to get into prosthetics/SFX?
ND: I actually wanted to be a cameraman when I left college. I’d always done prosthetic bits and bobs for college films, but I never really thought of it as a real job.
WP: You started out by working with the designer of Yoda. Did you anticipate the immense success of the character? What was it about Yoda that caught people’s attention?
ND: I knew he would astound people the minute I saw him when I walked into Stuart (Freeborn)’s office for the first time. He was immediately engaging, although the big fear was really just about him working. The design just shone out though.
WP: With the new Star Wars films you were returning to the universe older, wiser, and with new technology and techniques at your disposal. What processes go into developing the looks of other-worldly creatures? How much did you rely on what you’d learned from the original trilogy?
ND: Techniques change, but the basic skills are the same. Can you sculpt? Can you paint? Can you make moulds? Translucency came along with silicones, whereas before you just had gelatine which was unstable, or PVC that killed you. I like silicone! We tried different tricks, but the job is really just as it’s always been. You have to ask, “Does it look real?”
WP: What made you want to expand your repertoire into animatronics?
ND: I didn’t. I was approached on The Fifth Element to do giant golden robot suits and thought, “Well I’ve dabbled, but I have no idea how to do this.” The producer just said, “but you know the folks that do – hire them.”
WP: With your work on Jack Nicholson’s incarnation of The Joker, it was only the second live-action film of the franchise. More than 20 years after the original version, how did you craft Nicholson’s look? What helped to shape it – the comics? New techniques? The previous film?
ND: The look was based on the comics originally, but it was Jack’s take. He was the guy we had to please. It was just small foam rubber pieces trying to keep as much of him as possible. I didn’t reference the Batman TV show at all…it was just what worked on Jack.
WP: You’ve created all sorts of looks – aliens, vampires, goblins. What has been your favourite creation?
ND: I loved the Diva from The Fifth Element…and the Potter goblins…and Jack as The Joker.
WP: You were involved from start to finish with Harry Potter. So much changed over time – the characters developed, the technology developed, expectations developed. What was it like being involved with the projects over such a long time? Did you treat each film separately?
ND: Each film was separate, except for the two at the end, which were one project. It was wonderful being able to refine characters over time. Usually everything you do is a prototype, so to be able to return and improve was a joy.
WP: Did you discuss your designs with J.K. Rowling? Did she have any input or advice for you?
ND: On the first film everything was vetted by Jo. After that it was really Stuart Craig, the production designer, who set the bar. There is no finer designer to work with, quite frankly.
WP: You’re taking a turn into producing now with Highgate Vampire. What made you want to take on this new challenge? Why this project?
ND: I wanted to try something new, and I have two projects in development, a small British seaside drama, and a four part sci-fi epic series I have optioned. The team on Vampire approached me, and I thought it would be a great learning curve for me with my own material. So far, it has been!
WP: What are your saviour products on set?
ND: There are no saviour products, everything is useful, but you should never rely on anything. What if it’s not there? There are, however, saviour crew.
WP: How have the re-introduction of 3D and the development of HD changed how you work?
ND: You up your game, you look at tests, you view result. If you do your best work, the medium shouldn’t matter as long as you understand what is actually hitting the screen.
WP: Tell me about your upcoming projects: you’re developing a feature film based on the Pliocene Exile series of books?
ND: Yes – The Saga of The Exiles is quite a massive project to cut your teeth on. But I’ve waited for someone to make it as I think it is a wonderful story and no one has yet. So I will.