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  Vance Hartwell is a one-of-a-kind.  So maybe that statement is overused, but I think not.  He is a great talent and jack of all trades in the FX business.  Chances are he's done something you admire from some of your favorite movies.  Living in New Zealand, he manages to stay knee deep in the business.  He has also been kind enough to contribute to this site in more ways than this interview.  Oh, about the title of this interview, read this footnote to find out just what the heck I'm talking about.
  Vance dug up an article from Airbrush Action magazine he did in 1998.  You can check out this article in either Adobe Acrobat .pdf format or as scanned jpgs included in a zip file.
  HartwellAAMgazine.pdf                  Hartwellairbrushmagjpg.zip

·       LMC: Did you get started sculpting and creating monsters at an early age?

VH:  No.  I did some of the basic makeup stuff at Halloween that all kids do, but that was it.  I first did “effects” type makeup at college.  I took beginning makeup as a general education class.  I figured it’d be easy, fun and help boost my GPA (grade point average).  The class taught basic theatrical makeup (paint, nose putty and hair).  I liked it so the next year I took the advanced class where I learned how to make a prosthetic.  It went from lifecasting to application.  The makeup I did was based on the one Michael Ironside wore in “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone”. 

Actually, I’m kind of a rarity in the FX biz.  I was born in southern California.  I didn’t get into makeup until I was 20 and I don’t really like horror films. Most makeup effects guys seem to come from anywhere but LA, seem to start out by putting oatmeal on their faces when they’re about 10 and just love horror flicks.

LMC: Any formal training coming up?

VH: See above.  Other than that, I’d say 99.9% of what I know I learned on the job.

  LMC: Were you a natural or did you have some early rough periods?                                         

VH: I think I was a natural in the technical aspects of makeup.  I really took to the lab work without any problems (stuff like molding, casting, fiberglassing, sewing, machining, fabrication, etc).  I mean, there was lots to learn, but it was fairly easy for me. 

The artistic side (sculpting, painting, etc) took more time to develop.  And I’m still learning.

LMC: Are there any talents or skills you wish you could improve on?

VH: My sculpting and design abilities.  These are my two weakest areas.  But I’m quite happy leaving these things to those better at it than me.

  LMC: Were you intending on getting into the FX business?

VH: No.  I always wanted to make movies.  At college I was a film major.  FX just ended up being the first way in for me.  In fact I never finished college as a film major because I got too busy with FX work to finish.  Not a bad reason to quit school, I guess.

LMC: Do you regret not finishing and staying in FX?             

VH: Sometimes yes.  It’d have been nice to have a degree and have learned more about the other aspects of film.  But, it’s also nice that I was able to get “in” pretty quickly.  And I really enjoy making stuff so I’m happy with the way my schooling went.

LMC: Where did you’re big break into the FX business come?      

VH: It was kind of gradual.  The guy who was supposed to be the TA (teacher’s assistant) for the advanced makeup class I took couldn’t do it as he had just got a job at Rick Baker’s.  Our class had a party once the semester was over and it was at this guy’s (Mike Burnett) house.  I think most of the others were there just to party.  I was there to “pick his brain”.  Soon after I went out and bought a lot of supplies and started playing around with it all.

I started helping Mike out (for free) with some jobs he had.  Videos, haunted houses, etc.  After about two freebies he started paying me.  Not a lot, but I was getting paid to make stuff.  Over the next year or so I worked on lots of stuff with him, but just in the evenings or weekends.  I had a full-time job at a warehouse my uncles ran and they were really good about letting me take time off to do makeup effects work (I was still going to college, just taking classes at night now).  I got to the point where I would do two or three days at the warehouse and the remainder of the week working with Mike.

I finally quit the warehouse and went full-time in film in January, 1988.  Mike got a feature that he was keying the effects on.  It was “Twice Dead”.  It was low budget schlock, but it was a feature.  I had done some work on other features before this, but it was always small stuff that was subcontracted out to us.


LMC: Who have your worked for in the past?

VH: I started out with Michael Burnett Productions (2½ years), moved on to Alterian Studios (almost 3 years), then to the Weta Workshop (7 years).  I then worked at Artist’s Asylum (formerly Alterian Studios) for about 6 months.  I have done small jobs for other shops, but it was usually just a week or less.

  LMC: Where any stops on the way your favorite?                                         

VH: I think, overall, that working for Tony Gardner (Alterian Studios and Artist’s Asylum) has been the best times I’ve had.  There were lots of great times at Weta, too, but I was happiest at Tony’s.

LMC: Any comments on the various studio bosses?

VH: I can really only comment on the ones I’ve worked for. 

I learned a lot with Mike.  For a long time it was just him and me doing the work.  Because of this, I got to do lots of different jobs, learn about lots of different materials and gain lots of new skills.

Tony Gardner is great to work for.  He listened to input, he let you try new things and he wasn’t afraid of giving/sharing responsibility with others on a job.  He told me once that he wanted to be able to leave the shop and know that it would continue to function without him there.  And he’s a really, really great guy.

Richard Taylor is amazing.  He’s built his company up in a place (New Zealand) where there was no makeup effects industry.  He not only does makeup effects, but also miniatures, props, costuming, etc.  He oversaw four areas of work on LOTR: makeup, miniatures, armour and weapons and a huge part of costuming.  He was nominated for three Oscars (Makeup, Visual Effects and Costume Design) and won two (Makeup and Visual Effects).

LMC: Any good stories to tell about them?

VH: Not really.  They all have their good and bad points, just like anyone else.  But, they all were pretty good to work with and I wouldn’t change my past, even if I could.


LMC: Any good stories about the biz… something juicy maybe?

VH: One of my all time favorite stories from my career is from my time on set on “Freaked”.  I was working with the character “The Worm”.  He had a long worm body, but for some shots he would wear just the top part of the outfit and kneel on a board with wheels that I would push around.  There’s a shot where all the characters are on a stage.  I wheel Worm forward and just crouch down low behind him.  Mr. T is in the film as the bearded lady.  In this shot he steps forward and stands behind Worm like he’s straddling his body.  Of course, there’s no body, just me down there.  I’m crouched down, between the legs of Mr. T, who’s wearing a dress and girlie makeup.  I did not want to look up!  At that moment I thought, “If only my mother could see me now!”

LMC: That’s great.  I’m sure Mr. T. has fond memories of it too

  LMC: You have done just about everything in a shop, what do you enjoy the most?                   

VH: The things I enjoy most are painting, application and puppeteering.  To me, these are the stages where the stuff comes to life.  Paint can make a prosthetic/dummy head/puppet look alive. Application really makes the prosthetic come to life.  And puppeteering gives life to the inanimate puppet.  Plus, puppeteering gives me a chance to perform. 

I do enjoy a lot of the other stuff like making teeth, eyes, casting precision parts, life casting, machining, sewing, hair work, but painting, application and puppeteering are my absolute favourites.

LMC: Any pros you admire?

VH: Larry Odien, Gino Acevedo, Rick Baker, Stan Winston.

Larry, because he’s just an amazing all-around makeup genius.  I think nowadays he mainly does mechanical effects, but he’s also an amazing artist.  He’s the first guy who inspired me to really get into makeup effects.

Gino Acevedo, because I learned so much from him regarding painting.

Rick Baker, because his shop is the most artistic shop, in my opinion.  He has always gone for quality and artistry, above all else.

Stan Winston, because he was able to turn makeup effects into a huge, corporate type industry without losing quality.  His shop runs like a “real world” business, complete with health and dental plans, profit sharing, etc.

LMC: What work have you seen done by someone else that completely floored you?

VH: The head done by Kazuhiro Tsuji. It’s amazing!

LMC: Have you seen Kazu’s Dick Smith head?  Unbelievable!

VH: Yes, I have.  I didn’t realise that Kazu had done it, but I should’ve known.


  LMC: What has been your favorite character to work on?

VH: Hard to say.  So many have had aspects that I’ve enjoyed.

LMC: What has been your favorite movie to work on and why?

VH: The best time on set  was on “Freaked”.  There were three shops involved (Screaming Mad George, XFX, and Alterian Studios, which is where I was working).  All three shops were on set practically every day.  It was a blast.  Because we were all responsible for different effects that didn’t usually work concurrently, there was always lots of down time for most of us.  We all used to screw around and just have fun.  The actual shooting was fun, too.  Alex Winter and Tom Stern, the two directors, make it a very fun set.

Batman Returns was good, too, as I was only puppeteering.  It was fun, had some great sets to work on and they had amazingly good food! 

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