In December 2010, I read a great little script for a short indie film called SPOILER, written, directed, shot and produced by Creature Buzz members Dan Thron and Karl Denham. I’ve worked on low budget films before but this production would be better defined as “no budget meets no time.” The story takes place in a time where zombie-ism is common and for the most part, relegated to a controllable disease. Apartment units are set up with special devices that detect the level of putrefaction and if the level spikes too high, all units are immediately quarantined until everyone is checked and cleared. If a unit is discovered to contain an individual that is beyond help… a controlled burn may be issued by the CDC.
Working on a head shot of Margret “Meg” Ryan, Dan Platt created a photoshop comp of the proposed make up. With ONLY one week to prepare for the zombification of Meg – the traditional ritual of life casting, sculpting, molding and casting were not possible. About a dozen generic zombified wounds were sculpted on a flat board in chavant clay and silicone molds made. The molds were filled with pros-aide, frozen and then dehydrated in preparation for zombie day weekend. We used brown tooth enamel to dirty Meg’s real teeth and used chocolate syrup with red and green food coloring to create the thick, dark saliva.
The make-up design was based on settling blood. When the body dies, blood flow ceases and gravity takes over causing the blood to settle and pool in the lowest parts of the body. So we designed our look with Meg’s head pinned to the floor and her body positioned as it will be in most of the shot. We then traced outlines of impact areas, specifically where her face touched the floor and where her husband hands and fingers would cause imprinting when he forcibly held her down. Impact areas where colored a deep indigo black and bruising colors were used to radiate color along vein routes to visually carry and connect the infected disease. This assymetric approach made the design very unique, absolutely natural and have a sense of history which played a vital role to its success.
In 2011, “Spoiler” won Best Make-up and Best Score at the LA New Wave Film Festival!
Kei Chong and Dan Platt apply the prosthetic make-up to Margret “Meg” Ryan for the horror indie “Spoiler”
Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas
In 1992, I was contracted to recreate stop motion, miniature puppet versions of the life sized creatures created by KNB FX Group and Tony Gardner’s Alterean make-up FX studio. Working from KNB’s full scale winged Deadite suit, I methodically reproduced a 1/6th scale version for shots where the Deadite takes flight with Sheila (Embeth Davits). The original Deadite and miniature Embeth sculptures were created in supersculpey and cast in dental stone molds.
After 4 weeks of hard work, the stop motion puppets were delivered on time to INTROVISION, the company awarded with the visual effects shots. A few weeks later, I got a call (on my birthday!) to make a small repair to the Deadite. The “runner” handed me a paper bag and inside was something that resembled a shredded piece of bacon. That was all that remained of the Deadite puppet! This was no small repair, it was an entire redo and of course, it was due to shoot the next day! I learned that one of the “Igor’s” in the model shop attempted to drill into the delicate foam latex skin but as soon as the latex touched the high speed drill bit, it wound the foam around the bit, ripping the skin from the armature – chewing it to pieces. Like a good, obedient steward of my craft, I worked through the night and delivered an “ok” version but charged them 1/20 of what it cost to do the first time. Everyone in LA cries poor but its bullshit. If I knew then what I know now, I would have charged them a FORTUNE for that repair.
12″ Tall, Evil Deadite sculpture
The complete, 1/6th scale stop motion Deadite puppet
The same Deadite puppet, but destroyed!
But as production quaintly stated: “it needs a little repair”. Effers.
Flying Deadite semi-posable replica
With the molds long destroyed, this is the only known casting of the flying Deadite in the world . This replica is made of flexible urethane and has an internal, semi-posable wire armature. Its safely stored in my collection.
Sheila Stop Motion Puppet
I also needed to make a miniature, stop motion puppet of Sheila (played by Embeth Davitz) to be carried away by the Deadite. This puppet stood approximately 10 inches tall.
There was a scene where Bruce Campbell had an evil Siamese twin joined at the torso, that forced him to crawl away like a spider. Internally we referred to the shot as “Spider Ash.” If I am not mistaken, Tony Gardner’s Alterian Studios created a life sized practical puppet/costume combo. But for potentially more challenging (or comedic) shots, the production company asked me to create a stop motion puppet version. This is how it went down…
Tony’s group supplied me with two head casts of Bruce Campbell, both taken with extreme facial expressions along with a slew of incriminating photos to use as a guide to match in miniature. Created in supersculpey in 1/6th scale (approx. 12″ tall), they were baked to a hard finish.
I needed to get a “buy off” on the sculpture from Sam Raimi before I could proceed with the molding and casting phase. With the delicate and fragile Spider Ash sculpture carefully packed, I slipped into a production meeting already well under way. Sam was sitting on the far end of the long boardroom table and when it was my turn to be addressed, my sculpture was carefully passed forward. Energized with enthusiasm, Sam Raimi gave it the 5 second once over and said “Gentlemen, this is a vision of beauty” and with that… he slid the sculpture back to me, across 8 feet of boardroom table, as if he was playing air hockey. I caught the sculpture before it took a nose dive to the floor – matched only by my elevated blood pressure.
After all of that, the “Spider Ash” stop motion puppet never made it into the final print of the film, but presented here as a piece of ARMY OF DARKNESS history.
Spider Ash Stop Motion Puppet
This image is one of the only surviving pictures in my archive that depicts the Spider Ash puppet as it was delivered. The molds to these puppets have been long destroyed.
Spider Ash Surviving Replica
This image shows the only known surviving copy of the 20+ year old Spider Ash puppet safely stored in my collection. This replica is made of a flexible urethane with a semi-posable wire armature.
…and the “Full Monty” shot.
“What an excellent day for an exorcism.”
In April 1972, Dick Smith began work on designs that would forever change the face of demon possessed horror. Regarded throughout the world as the Dean of modern make-up, Dick Smith worked closely with director William Friedkin to turn 12 year old, cherub faced Linda Blair into a believable, demon possessed child. In my opinion, its still the most frightening and believable possessed designs in cinema history.
Unlike CG where anything is truly possible (often to a fault), prosthetic make-up is an additive process applied to a living person – a delicate balance of dimensional illusion, careful lighting and coloring without making the head or body part appear fatter.
Five months before they began shooting, Dick Smith took life casts of Linda Blair and using Roma Plastilina, sculpted several different possession designs on those casts. When a few appeared promising, molds were made, foam appliances created and test applied to Linda for Friedkin’s approval. The final version included a distorted, asymmetrical look with self inflicted, infected wounds. Throw in a set of dentures, a rubber tongue and contact lenses; the Exorcist broke box office records and terrified millions.
For an extensive coverage on the making of The Exorcist, hunt down the long out of print Cinefantastique Vol. 3, Number 4 from 1974.
Click here for a pdf of Dick Smith discussing his ground breaking make-up work on the Exorcist from this issue, as interviewed by David Bartholomew on April 4, 1974.
The life casts below are from my private collection, preserving a few of the early make-up tests forever in stone.
They are NOT FOR SALE.
The Linda Blair Eyes Closed life cast
Linda Blair Dummy Head Life Cast.
She was cast with her eyes open (using special schleral lenses), dentures and lower lip prosthetics so the distortion to her jaw line is built in. This was used for the famous head spinning scene.
Cast of an early test make-up.
From what I can tell, the extensive cheeks, wide nose where not used in the final version. The now famous “demon possessed brows” appears to have made it in the final version.
Following is a gallery of make-up tests, behind the scenes shots and stills from the film.
The Max Von Sydow (Father Merrin) Prosthetic Make-up
Max Von Sydow was just 44 years old when Dick Smith turned him into the senior, demon battling Priest recruited to save Regan McNeil. His extensive prosthetic make-up included cheeks, chin, a neck “wattle” and a good dose of Dick Smith’s secret “old age stippling”.
For its shear design and flawless application, it remains as one of my all time favorite character make-ups. Early in my make-up career, I heard a story that Max’s agent had a difficult time finding the actor work after the release of the Exorcist because casting directors thought he was too old to play younger parts! Bravo Mr. Smith, BRAVO!
Life cast of Max Von Sydow of the old age prosthetic make-up design.
Life cast is NOT FOR SALE!
The complete Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) prosthetic make-up.