House of Horrors

October 19th, 2015

October 19th, 2015

With Halloween rolling around once again, we’ve been busy admiring the various pretty sugar skulls and artistic demons popping up on Pinterest and Facebook.  However, for a real taste of terror this Fright Night, we turned to some of the artists in the industry who deal with the horrific and the terrifying on a day-to-day basis for some expert tips to elevate your creations.

We caught up with Mike Spatola again to give us some hints on how to keep monster make-up believable and fearsome.  In both his role as tutor and Chief Academic Officer of the Cinema Makeup School, as well as a Hollywood SFX artist, he has created his fair share of creatures – as is demonstrated in his incredible Monstrous Make-Up Manuals.  You can find our previous full interview, and exclusive chapter extract from his latest book, here.  Look out for the Third Manual soon, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign!


WP:  When coming up with a new monster or creature design, where do you begin?

MS: When designing a new creature, I have to keep in mind the creature’s back-story.  Sometimes not all of the details are in the script.  So, just as an actor might create a back-story for their character, I try to understand things like where it might have come from.  Where does it live?  Is it inherently evil, like a demon, or is it a creature of circumstance – perhaps caused by birth defects, or even a curse?  These things, when researched and combined together, will help greatly in the design of the monster.

WP:  For you, what is the most important part of creating a new monster?

MS:  For me, that the character makes sense in it’s place in the story, that is most important.  When you see the finished creature, nothing should have to be explained, and it should never take the viewer out of the story.


WP:  Do you have any products you favour for believable creations?

MS:  The products that I do rely heavily on are my paints.  After all, the finishing of the make-up, regardless of whether is a realistic character make-up or a full-on creature, it what makes it believable.  Most of my painting is done with Premiere Products Skin Illustrators.  With them, I can vary the density and opacity of the colours, and layer them to see depth.  It helps in how realistically my creations are perceived.

WP:  Any tips on what to avoid?

MS:  I would avoid using too much blood and gore.  Anyone can throw blood on something.  That doesn’t evoke anything but the ‘Eeewww’ factor.  I’m not trying to gross anyone out, that’s not my objective.  My job is to help communicate the story to the viewers.  Unless the story is “guy covered in blood,”  I avoid hiding my work by drenching it in blood.


A world away from Hollywood, a different approach to SFX make-up exists in the wilds of Yorkshire.  For Linzi Foxcroft and the team at Trauma FX, realistic injuries are what they have based their entire business on.  Their work – training with emergency services, the armed forces and medical personnel to name a few – relies on dedicated accuracy and realism, as it could prove to be a matter of life and death in the field.  You can find our original full interview with Linzi here, but we thought we’d ask her for some extra tips on injury creations.


WP:  When you’re looking at wound work, what sets apart adequate and truly realistic work?

LF:  Knowing and understanding the human anatomy is key.  Skin colour, form and textures are all things you need to pay attention to, while remembering that the appearance of the wound is all dependant on the mechanism of injury, so research and planning is important.  For example, if you were creating an amputated wound prosthetic, you would begin by researching the difference between, say, a blast and crush injury, and how this would affect the damage to the skin and tissue, muscle and bone.

WP:  Do you have any preference in terms of materials? Perhaps a favourite silicone or adhesive?

LF:  Plat Gel 10 is an excellent silicone to use, and we couldn’t live without Skin Illustrators.  Trauma FX Face Blood is the best blood for realistic injuries. We can’t always control the location or environment in which we have to work, so having pre-made wound prosthetics available to use is very helpful. We use our own SIMWOUNDS with great success – this enables our make-up team to apply quick and realistic wounds.


WP:  What tips do you have in terms of injury placement and planning, to aid realism?

LF:  Firstly, look at the mechanism of injury:  how did the wound or injury occur?  If we look at a simulating a casualty in a car accident, we have to take into account all sorts of factors, such as where were they seated?  Did they have a seat belt on?  Did the windscreen shatter, could there be glass embedded?  Looking at all of these questions in the planning stage can help to ensure that any injuries and wounds you create make sense in the scenario.

WP:  Continuity is often a skill required on film sets.  Do you have any advice for replication and maintaining the same level of skill and precision on a repeated injury?

LF: Documenting the wound and injury using a good quality camera is important.  If it’s a complicated process, document the stages of the application in detail, and allow plenty of time to recreate it!  Just try your best to repeat the process in the same manner each time.


WP:  What tends to pose your biggest technical challenge when working, and how do you overcome it?

LF:  It’s normally not being in control of the environment in which we are expected to deliver our make-up effects.  Because we specialise in casualty simulations, we don’t always have the opportunity to work out of a warm, light studio or workshop.  We often find ourselves working in austere conditions… outdoors, in barns, from the backs of vehicles in all weathers, you name it.  It is very challenging because we always work to a high standard, so we as a team try to be prepared for anything and pack plenty of kit that can easily be moved around!



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By Deborah Murtha

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