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  Jordu Schell is well known by just about everyone in the FX industry.  He has worked on countless movies and is regarded as the best of the best in creature creation and design.  Artists come by the scores to learn how to perfect the craft at his studio, some of which are already at the top, but looking for that edge that Jordu has mastered.  His design concepts are out of this world, literally.  Take just about any idea and he can turn it into a living, breathing creature that you can pity or even loathe from the expression alone.  Gods of the FX world such as Rick Baker turn to him for concepts for top Hollywood movies.  Jordu isn't one to mince words.  He and I spent alot of time working on this interview and it's only part 1.  Read about his upbringing, his years spent in the mask world and his opinions on life.  He is going to follow up with an extensive part II covering the world of Hollywood FX as seen through his eyes and clay.  Go get a coke and sit back for a great read through the life of the master.  Don't forget to leave him a little feedback when done at the end.

 

LMC: Why did you become interested in making creatures?

JS:  I think that my first interest, or fascination, was the art of simulation. This fascination led me to be very curious and obsessed with practical jokes like fake dog crap, fake puke, fake rocks, etc.,etc. I had tons of this stuff as a kid—it was all I wanted to buy with my allowance. Ironically--probably because these items were found most often at magic shops, and I was spending a lot of time in them--my dad thought I wanted to be a magician. He must have bought me $200 worth of books on magic  before he realized that I didn’t give a shit about magic! Well, the other major thing that these stores carried regularly were latex monster masks. There was an enormous explosion of popularity for masks in the mid to late 70’s,most likely attributable to the success of Star Wars, and the now classic cantina sequence. That seems to have been a major inspiration to a number of mask and creature makers, myself included. It was a natural progression, therefore, that I should become increasingly interested in the challenge of simulating living things.

LMC: Did you create monsters as a kid?

JS:  Oh yeah. I have been very fortunate to have parents who not only accepted my interests, but did everything they could to support and encourage me. I never had a shortage of  clay, drawing paper, books on makeup and  art…as a matter of fact, my mother and I would watch Creature Features together! You can’t beat that with a stick.

LMC: Did your parents work as artists?

JS: Neither of my parents were particularly drawn to visual art, although they definitely had talent in a number of areas. My Dad was a very good painter, and I can recall a specific painting he did of what looked like a smooth cantaloupe fruit floating against a field of ochre….very surreal, and very cool. My mother, after retiring from a career in teaching and administration at a major college, became an award-winning writer. She could also draw rather well. My  biological father is a very well-respected writer and historian of Jazz music. He was best friends with Miles Davis! So although there were no monster-makers in the family besides me, there was definitely creativity.

 

LMC: What artists and monsters inspired you growing up?

JS: The first movie I can remember that really scared the shit out of me was “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”. It’s amazing that today, it’s unlikely you’ll see extreme violence on television, but sex and language? Absolutely. Well, this movie (made in ’63) was always on T.V. when I was a kid, and it features what has to be one of the most horrendously gory scenes ever filmed. A ‘monster-in-the-closet’ rips off a man’s arm, and the guy stumbles around the room in shock for what has to be a minute, streaking his bleeding stump against the walls—on TELEVISION. I was 4. This was a sufficient trauma for me to want to conquer my fears and start making stuff of my own. When I was 10, I saw “The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad”, and I was permanently imprinted. I still consider the Cyclops to be one of the greatest fantasy characters ever created. Later, of course, Rick Baker’s work, Rob Bottin’s, Dick Smith’s—these all helped to cement my interests and my striving for realism.

LMC: What brought you out to L.A.?                           

JS: I was running a mask company out of my basement in Philadelphia, and I took some of my masks to a convention in Albany, New York in 1989. I met a guy there who liked my masks, and said he was going to work for a guy named Screaming Mad George in L.A., and would I like him to show George some photos of my work. I had seen George’s work in Fangoria and loved it, so of course, I said yes. George called me a few weeks later to work on a flick called “The Bride Of Re-Animator”, and he flew me out to sculpt. My work on that picture was terrible, but it was a start.

LMC: Talk about Screaming Mad George--the man himself.  Any neat stories to tell?

JS: The one story I always seem to remember when asked this question is one that took place I would say, oh…in my first 15 minutes in California. George picked me up at the Burbank airport, and had told me he would be easy to identify because he had blue hair! Well, he decided to dye his hair back to black the night before I arrived, but he was still pretty easy to identify—he was wearing eyeliner and eyeshadow! Anyway, we get back to his shop, and I’m all excited looking at his showroom and all this great stuff he’s done over the years, and he says, “Let me show you this type of clay I like that you may not have heard of…”, and we go into the main shop area. He brings out this bag of stiff, grayish mud and starts slapping it onto a lifecast and says, “This is called WED clay, and we use it to sculpt larger work out here---go on, sculpt something!” I’m standing in the middle of this big-- shot effects artists’ studio, my first 20 minutes in the state, and he wants me to sculpt right in front of him with this slimy shit that doesn’t look like you could make it into much of anything! I tried—believe me, I tried—but that crap was impossible as far as I was concerned. I ended up doing a couple things in WED during that show, but I just could not get the hang of it. All I ever wanted to use was Roma Plastilina. Looking back, I honestly do not know how I survived so long WITHOUT WED!!! Slimy mud? I refer to it now as golden mud. I am one of the only people in the industry, I think, who sculpts maquettes out of the stuff! It was all George’s doing, and I am eternally indebted to him for that. As far as George the man goes, he is fantastic with imaginative designing, and very generous as far as hiring new talent. He honestly loves to see other people’s work. He is very hard on you when you work for him in the sense that he wants you to dedicate yourself totally to the craft. In that respect he is a great deal like Rick Baker or Rob Bottin or Steve Johnson. They want your complete commitment, and it is only now that I understand why. All these guys want to know that you are truly serious about this work, and are willing to sacrifice the time and effort it takes to be a master of it. As a newcomer, it’s really hard to get used to this ethic, but it gets instilled in you eventually no matter what---assuming you really do  care about this work.

 

LMC: Did you catch any big breaks?


JS: The big break was definitely George’s doing. He put an awful lot of trust in me, this green new kid from Philly who had never worked on a film before. I subsequently had a nightmarish first 2 or 3 years out here, struggling financially, having to learn lessons about Hollywood politics the hard way, leaving everything I had in Philadelphia; but I am so glad I took the chance. I have been lucky.

LMC: Ever consider at that time quitting and going back home?       

JS:  I suppose I never really considered that option because it would be too pathetic. Going back to Philadelphia with my tail between my legs was not my idea of success. I was absolutely determined to make it out here.

LMC: You’ve worked with a lot of shops and people.  Any funny stories you can recall? 

JS: My friend Mark Villalobos played a pretty rotten trick on me once when we worked together at the Chiodo Brothers years ago. I had left a maquette there that I was rather happy with, and I came in the next day to find it crushed underneath a pile of books that had been haphazardly piled on it. Mark and a few of his friends watched me out of the corners of their eyes as I sputtered indignantly for a second or two until I realized that the base of the maquette didn’t quite look the same, that the ‘sculpture’ was actually a crude facsimile of  the real one, and that they had hidden my sculpture. It was effective. I didn’t like Mark. It’s a wonder that he is one of my best friends now! Another great story that is similar is a trick that my good friend Ken Brilliant played on a  fellow at Kevin Yagher’s shop on ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’. He had 2 copies of a mask that the guy had sculpted. One was the ‘hero’, the good copy, and one was a bad copy, the first one out of the mold; it had air bubbles and various other imperfections—it was not going to be used. Well, Ken’s job was to use a Dremel tool to grind down the seam, so as he sees the guy coming towards his table to check on the progress, he gets the bad copy from under the table and just tears right into the face with the Dremel as if he’s lost his mind. Needless to say, this guy was horrified and not a little pissed off. Even more so when he realized the joke.

 

LMC: Talk about your history in the mask making world when your career started.

JS: I started collecting masks at the age of 12. By the time I was 17, I had nearly 100. Masks have always been one of my favorite things. Growing up, my Mom actually collected replicas of  African tribal masks which were hung all over the house. This was a very early and potent stimulus for my creative leanings, particularly because these masks were so expressive. I still think that character is the most important aspect of maskmaking, and these African masks had that in spades. Well, by collecting my own masks from such an early age, I became very familiar with the companies that created them; Don Post, Savage Eye, Be Something Studio, Distortions Unlimited, Death Studio, and the like. It got to the point where I could identify the maker by just looking at the mask on the shelf! With the exception of Savage Eye ( a French company that no longer exists) and Be Something (in Illinois), I’ve worked for almost every major mask manufacturer in the country, and learned an awful lot. I first got the idea of trying my hand at selling my stuff when I was a junior in high school. I would go down to the local costume shops in Philly and show them my stuff, and they would buy ‘em. When I graduated in ‘85, I put together a little color Xerox catalog that I advertised in Fangoria. I was ecstatic when I went to my P.O. box one afternoon and there were several requests for my catalog. I sold a few masks by mail, but not many. Not long after, I worked at a company called Death Studios (located in Indiana) in the Fall of  ‘87 for a man named Jeff Keim. I learned more there about latex masks, their production, and how to finesse their overall quality then anywhere else I’ve ever been. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Jeff ‘Death’ Keim’s work,  ACQUAINT YOURSELF IMMEDIATELY. He is a genuine mask scientist, and the creator of some of the highest quality masks in the world. The masks I did after this stint in Indiana are probably the best examples of a true leap in quality for me. In March of the next year, I  took 6 or 7 designs to this HUGE trade show in Chicago. I sold quite a lot there. While there I also met another one of my mask idols, Ed Edmunds, who started Distortions Unlimited in 1978. I ended up doing some sculpting for him in ‘88.

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Let Jordu know what you thought of his interview.  At the end you can leave him some comments or click the doggie to go leave your mark now.