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  You have to pay your dues if you  want to make it in the FX biz and Rich has done quite well for himself.  If you are an aspiring makeup artist, take heed of Rich's advice and practical experience.  He's worked his way up to running his own shop and getting some acting experience to boot.  Read about Rich's life and work.

 

LMC: How did you get into FX?

RK:  Before I ever got into special effects I was a mask collector. I got my first over head latex mask, a Don Post Boris Karloff/Frankenstein's monster, when I was about seven. I was fascinated with the classic monsters from the 30's and 40's like Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy, etc. I later began to experiment with paper mache making masks, with my brother, of Star Wars and Muppet characters. I was a huge Muppet fan, and I still am. This led to me making my own puppets. My mother used to take me to garage sales to find materials that could be used to make my own puppets. I also used to take models and use the miscellaneous parts to create spaceships. I was notorious for taking apart stuffed toys and converting them into puppets. I never really knew how they did it in Hollywood, so I tried to figure out my own way of creating the monsters and characters and puppets that I loved. I made my first mustache by cutting the hair from our pet collie and gluing it on with Elmer's glue. There's nothing stranger than seeing a 12 year old with a mustache, but at that time I thought it made me look grown up so I wore it to the local mall. Needless to say I received many strange looks from people. Halloween was always a big event for me. Each year I tried to come up with a bigger and better costume than the last. I often would go out trick-or-treating, collect candy from every house in the neighborhood, then return home to put on another costume and go back to the same houses again to get even more candy. As I got older my interest in effects waned and I became more interested in music and playing guitar. It wasn't until I saw the movie Batman in 1989 that my interest in mask collecting was reinspired. Being a huge comic book fan, I was amazed at how they were able to create the muscular body suit for Michael Keaton and bring the Batman character to life. I then began collecting masks from my favorite movies once again. It was not long after that when I realized that I would like to learn how to create my own prosthetic makeups, masks and body suits.

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LMC: Did you always want to make a career of it?

RK:  No, I wanted to be a rock star. I played guitar and sang lead vocals, in fact I still do, just not professionally. I played in many rock and heavy metal bands. I played the club circuits in Northern California, New Jersey, Ohio and Las Vegas - in all the towns I lived in at one time or another. In 1993 I came to a crossroads and knew that in order to advance my career I would have to go to school. At that point I was heavy into collecting masks, costumes and comic books. I was tossed between going to school for music or for special effects. I decided to go with my gut and went with special effects.

LMC: Any regrets on that decision?

RK: No, not a single regret. Although I still enjoy singing and playing the guitar from time to time, music does not satisfy me as much creatively as practicing special effects makeup. My taste in music has changed a lot over the years, and today's music just doesn't inspire me like it used to. My taste in movies and monsters on the other hand remains solid - I love the original Universal Studios "Frankenstein" just as much today as when I first saw it as a child. I can not say that about the favorite bands of my youth. I know that I made the right decision, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

 

LMC: Did you get formal education? If so, what can you say about formal as compared to learning on your own?

RK: Yes, I went to the Institute of Studio Makeup, Ltd. in Hollywood. The school is no longer open, it closed down in 1994 I believe. I learned a lot in school and when I graduated I thought I was an expert. It did not take long to discover that my education in special effects makeup had just begun. My school taught a lot of the basics, but there were still many things that I did not know how to do. At this point I was hungry for knowledge and started reading every book and watching every video about FX makeup that I could get my hands on. I practiced as much as possible and every extra dollar I could scrounge up went towards makeup supplies. I believe that school is helpful for some, but it is not for everyone. I am grateful for what I learned in school, it forced me to learn not only what I wanted to learn, but also the stuff that I wasn't so interested in like beauty and straight makeup. I don't think that you need to go to school to be a great makeup artist. I do think that it is important for an aspiring makeup artist to try to learn as much as possible about special effects whether in school or not. With the Internet it has become much easier to learn about special effects and the techniques that are used to create them. There's also much more books and videos available today than when I first started. I also think that it is important to make as many friends in the FX industry as you can. I have learned much from my fellow FX artists and have also received a lot of work because of my makeup friends. Too many artists out there are in competition with other FX artists. It is better to befriend fellow makeup artists rather that compete with them. After all, why compete with someone that could possibly refer work to you in the future? It is of course natural that sooner or later you will be in competition for an effects job, but even so that competitive spirit should be of a friendly nature.

LMC: What did you do in some of your early FX jobs?                          

RK: My very first paying job was for a dinner party at Treasure Island in Las Vegas for the Cirque Du Soleil. It was a party that preempted the opening of Mystere. We were hired to paint the wait staff to look like circus clowns like those that appeared in the show. After that I took whatever makeup related job I could find. I worked in a photo studio called Style Shots that did beauty makeovers for a short time. I later started working for a company called Creative Themes and Effects and designed everything from 3-D characters to large scale murals for the casino industry in Las Vegas. Although these jobs were in my related field I felt that I was still far from my true goal; creating monsters and creatures and the like. It was then that I decided to team up with my brother and begin our own business creating masks and model kits. We started a company called RK Industries and we made Alien toys, masks, model kits, sculpted busts, lamps and alien test tube key rings. We decided to go with aliens because at that time they were so popular due to shows like X-Files, Sightings and of course that Alien Autopsy video that had surfaced. We sold our alien toys at the San Diego Comic-con and many X-Files conventions. That is what brought the attention of the X-Files writing staff who ordered about 30 of our best selling alien baby dolls to be featured on the episode: Dreamland 2. After the alien craze died down I decided to pursue more work in film and television. I started by volunteering for student films and low budget independent features that advertised in Backstage West magazine. I learned quickly that volunteer work was not the most fun way to break in to the industry, but it served it's purpose and gave me the experience I needed to go on towards my goal of making my living as a professional makeup artist. It was not long after working those "freebie" gigs that I was contacted by Rojak Films to do the FX work for the film "Fear Runs Silent". As it turned out I was referred to them by a PA that worked with me on one of those volunteer jobs. This was my first real makeup job, I had my own trailer, a radio, two assistants of my choosing, a small budget, a salary and weekly per diems. I had two weeks of pre-production time to create a big foot like monster and about 16 similar background monsters as well as many working effects. This was a great experience for me not only because I finally got to head a makeup department for a legitimate film, but I also got to work with celebrity actors Stacy Keach, Dan Lauria and Billy Dee Williams. After Fear Runs Silent, I was hired by Saban Entertainment to work on "Power Rangers in Space" (which shows from time to time on Direct TV) as a day player in the makeup department. From that point on I continued to pursue film and television work. The funny thing is even today I regard myself as a student of special effects, constantly learning and practicing my craft.

LMC: How successful was the Alien toy company?

RK: We did pretty well for ourselves with the Alien Toy business. Our biggest seller was our alien test tube key ring and our alien baby doll. The biggest problem for us was that we couldn't make the products fast enough. Our alien baby doll was so popular it got us the attention of a show called "Strange Universe", a short lived paranormal news program on UPN. After my interview on "Strange Universe", the alien baby doll was in high demand, as were the key rings. Our alien baby doll was also featured on the X-files in an episode called "Dreamland II". Unfortunately we had five different knock-offs of our test tube key ring, three knock-offs of our alien lamp, and two knock-offs of our alien baby doll. The poor quality knock-offs ruined the market for us because the cheap products looked the same as our high quality alien products. Sadly the buyer didn't know the difference between our stuff and the cheap copies because they looked the same. Ultimately as the alien fad died down so did our business, and in 1997 we closed up shop - That's when I decided to pursue more film and television work.

 

LMC: How was the experience on your first makeup job? Did you find you were capable of doing all that was asked, was it stressful?


RK: My first makeup job was both exhilarating and stressful, all at once. Not only was it my first legitimate makeup gig, but I was the key. I was in charge of all the makeups, beauty, straight and special effects. I brought my brother and my ex wife to help as my assistants on the project. I allowed my ex wife to talk me into sharing the key title so that she could help build up her makeup resume as well, a decision that I would later regret. The job itself was a challenge because I only had two weeks to prepare for shooting. I had to create multiple foam latex appliances for the main creature, as well as stunt masks, background creature masks, a severed torso, creature gloves and feet. There was a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, and I was virtually doing everything that I had learned in school on this project. I remember at one point being in my hotel room and hearing the other crew members partying next door while I was stuck making dentures that were needed on set the next day. I was definitely capable of doing all the work that was expected of me despite the lack of time. There was certainly a lot of stress involved on that set, but then again - there wasn't any more stress than usual. I think that overall, the experience was good because it really prepared me for my career as a makeup artist.

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