What were your early inspirations?
let me thank you for interviewing me. It is an honor to be in such
My early inspirations are varied, but all
point to the same thing- the imitation of life through trickery.
Hyper realistic or cartoony, it all fascinated me.
My parents took me to Walt Disney World in
Florida the first week it opened. I was 6 or 7, and it completely
blew me away. The worlds that this man, his brother and their
artists created still amaze me ( I now have a year long PREMIUM
pass to Disneyland). I didn't just love the animatronics, I loved
the environments that enveloped you, whether it was the deepest
darkest jungle or a dark and foreboding river-front haunted
mansion. I know that everything in the park is stylized in a Disney
way, and it's corny, but it rings true to me. In my mind The
Enchanted Tiki Room is a stroke of genius. Same with Pirates of the
Caribbean. I also loved the walk around characters. Today, they
don't get me like they did when I was 7, but of course, I've seen a
lot of amazing stuff since then.
Back to inspirations: Walt Disney was
definitely a huge inspiration. Also, Ray Harryhausen, and his
mentor Willis O'Brien. Jim Henson- I love puppets. Sid and
Marty Krofft. I LOVED those Krofft Saturday morning shows- SIGMUND
AND THE SEA MONSTERS, LAND OF THE LOST... I saw Marty Krofft in a
restaurant two years ago and almost moistened myself. As I got
older, Dick Smith and Rick Baker. Now, my inspirations are things I
see in real life that interest me.
I think my interest in things that looked
real led to my interest in taxidermy. Frankly, I was a country
boy and taxidermy was the only art of that kind that I was exposed
to. I didn't see a Fangoria or a Cinefex until I was 18! I would
go to museums and just soak in dioramas. I remember going to
people's homes when I was younger and just sitting there and
staring at the mounted deer on the wall instead of going out to
play . I was a strange kid I guess.
The make-up or effects moments that I think
inspired me the most are in KING KONG (1976) when Kong is blowing
Jessica Lange dry. That blew me me (no pun intended) away at how
real it looked. THE THING of course. Dustin Hoffman's make-up in
LITTLE BIG MAN fascinates me. It's everything I love about
make-up. ET was amazing to me, the way his eyes moved and blinked.
Just brilliant. And most recently, JURASSIC PARK: the
Tyrannosaurus paddock scene. Excellent, mind-blowing cgi. It
hasn't been done better since, in my opinion. And of course THE
WIZARD OF OZ. That movie is probably tops for me. Oh yeah, and that STAR WARS movie. God, I can
still remember stumbling out of the theatre after seeing that. I
was a 12 year- old eye candy junkie and George Lucas was my dealer.
It's funny how different our inspirations
are. Some of my peers hate the Muppets and are only interested in
puppets if they are hyper realistic. Not me. Others draw their
inspiration from serial killer movies- Freddy, Jason, Michael
Myers, etc. I grew up before that whole scene, although I really
dig THE TEXAS CHAIN-SAW MASSACRE. I think my inspirations come
from a more innocent and less gloomy place. That's not to place
judgment on anyone; It's just to help explain why I don't use a lot
of blood or gore, and my subjects tend to be more creepy and fun
than horrific. Of course if I'm in the mood, I can squeeze out the
horror. I think that I am more sensitive now post 911 about
what I create.
How did your early years practicing taxidermy help in FX work?
think it helped for a few reasons. You are trying to recreate life,
so you focus
on the little details that make things come alive. I did taxidermy
for 14 years, starting at age seven. I was pretty good at making
my specimens look alive. That is also very important in fx work.
The eyes are so important, whether it's in a fake head or in a
make-up. It's how you frame the eyes. Notice that 99% of all age
makeups look fake. It's not because the sculpt or the application
is bad. It is because the youth of the eyes shine thru. The artist
did not spend enough time changing the shape and color of the eye
area. I think my Norman Bates-like beginning has given me perhaps a
more finely tuned appreciation for organic realism than time spent
, say, building models (of course, I did that too- I loved
Did Taxidermy teach you any important lessons on hairing?
Not really, other than noticing how hair flowed and it's density and
triggered you learn to learn makeup FX when you went to college for
something totally different?
It was a situation where I grew tired of what
I was doing and wanted a career change. I graduated with a B.A. in
advertising with a minor in marketing. It was sort of drilled into
my head that I couldn't make a living from art. And in actuality,
from the perspective of the small town that I, and probably most
of us grew up in, this is a correct assumption. My particular
small town had one artist. He had a sign business and he had a
hobby store and gave art lessons. So he had the art market
CORNERED! This of course, was before the computer explosion. I
chose advertising because it was a happy medium. I could think and
dream creatively but I was still in "business". So I made everyone
The ads that I wrote or directed were pretty
whacky. I used humor a lot. My old boss says that I was ahead of
my time- now you see all kinds of business using wacky ideas to sell
products today because they have to compete in an ever crowded
media world. But my work was hard to sell to a conservative
audience so it was very frustrating. I also had a desire to make
things with my hands, or work with tangible, real things if I
wanted to. That got me thinking. I thought about it hard for
about three years. Finally one day I asked myself, "What would you
do if money was not an issue." Special effects, making creatures
and characters immediately popped into my head. What I loved as a
kid but never considered as an occupation. I mean it happened
that fast. It really just asked the same question I had been asking
myself for three years differently. And I began immediately after
that. Now, the lesson to take from that is NOT that money is not
important. It is very important. But when you ask yourself a
question in a different way than you ever have before, you come up
with some amazing answers. Now that I have achieved a lot of my
goals with respect to working in effects shops, I look to the future
and think that now I'd like to take what I've learned and
accomplished and create something special for people AND make
really good money too. I've just never bought into that starving
Were your parents supportive at that point? What about now?
parents have always been extremely supportive of me. Of course, I
was always one who was going to do what I wanted no matter what
others thought. I still am. Believe me, a lot of people thought I
was crazy for just leaving home and moving to Hollywood with no job
and no prospects for a job. I think it took winning an Emmy before
some people actually believed that I was working on this stuff for
is also difficult for people who are not in the entertainment
business to understand how it works. When you finish a movie,
you are unemployed. You can work on 5 different jobs in one
year, or if times are lean, you can work on one. Coming
from a small town where everyone works at the same job their entire
lives, the movie industry must seem insane.
Support from others is important, but as I've gotten older, I have
learned to trust my gut and not worry what others think or want me
to do. Trusting my gut has never failed me. The earlier you learn
that, the better off you'll be.
What did you start out doing on your own to
learn the trade?
did two things simultaneously that helped me. One was taking Dick
Smith's course and the second was switching to an occupation in my
area that was similar to FX work. I remember this very clearly. after I
decided to pursue makeup fx, I was in a bookstore and I just
happened to see Makeup artist magazine. Never saw it before, but it
popped out at me this time. I opened it out pops this huge article
about a makeup trade show. Six weeks away. So I buy the magazine ,
go home and purchase tickets.
I begin working on a corpse head and an old
age makeup. I use as reference for the old age a picture of the
Jack Crabbe (LITTLE BIG MAN) make-up. How original. I used a #1 or 2
clay and smoothed it down with PETROLEUM JELLY, not alcohol. I do
not recommend this method of smoothing clay. What a gooey mess.
Anyway, I manage to finish these two little gems and I go to the
Trade show. I was walking around, meeting people, and showing people
these two horrible things in my portfolio. The first person I was
able to trap to show my work to was Jeff Dawn, who for some reason
feigned interest. This was a very important moment, because I took
that little bit of praise he gave me and actually believed it.
That encouraged me to
keep going. Then someone, I don't remember
who, said, "You ought to show that to Dick Smith". I said "DICK
SMITH IS HERE??????" The only makeup book I had owned as a kid was
"Making a Monster" by Al Taylor and Sue Roy, which features a
separate chapter on each of the prominent makeup artists . I would
always go back to Dick Smith's and Rick Baker's chapters and stare
at the pictures (sorry Stan). Their work was different. Better.
REAL. Dick Smith was THE GOD OF MAKE-UP (still is) . So I go
about my business, and I happen to see Dick walking out of the
building. I go up and introduce myself, and he asks to look at my
portfolio. He looks at my zombie, and says "well, these are pretty
easy to do , aren't they? And this one isn't particularly good ".
Second most important moment for me . Because at that moment I
realized that Dick was more than a make-up legend - he was a real
guy in whom I could believe. No BS. So then he asks me if I've
heard of his course. DICK SMITH TEACHES A COURSE!!?? I had no
idea. He gives me the details and gives me his card and I realized
at that point that I was taking Dick's course whether he liked it or
not! I went home and worked on a few more things and sent an
impassioned letter to him. I got a letter back almost immediately
saying I could take the course. I have it framed in my office. Thus
began the hard work.
Work-wise, the first thing I did unload my advertising clients. I
was a freelance creative director and writer. I had a girl who did
my graphic work, who is a great friend of mine who took over the
clients that I had. I went to work in the Mardi Gras business
sculpting large props. I didn't care how much they paid me, I just
needed to get my hands working. The first company I worked for
demoted me after two weeks because I wasn't good enough. They
wanted to move me to a different department and lower my rate from
$12 an hour to $7 an hour. I told them I had to think about it and
at lunch I went to their competitor and got a job with them for $11
an hour. And I steadily worked at that until I moved to Los
Angeles. I know when I left I was one of the highest paid sculptors
in the Mardi Gras business, even though I was far from being one of
the best. I don't know how I did it. I guess it was my southern
charm. But this helped me get in the "groove" again after years of
Comparing your sculpting before taking Dick's course and after, what
do you see different? How did Dick help you to see and correct
That's easy. Before Dick's course it didn't look real at all and
after it did. Anyone can see that. And believe me, in my mind, I'm
still taking that course. I have a looonnng way to go.
is as masterful a teacher as he is an make-up artist. I worked
really hard, every night, on those first sculptures. After I
would get them to where I liked them, I'd send him pictures.
He would at first give me general direction, but as I got better, he
would critique closer and closer. Today when I send him stuff
(of course I still send him stuff) he is just as tough as he was
before. He pretty much tore up my Loomis mask ("Make sure you
tell people this is a Halloween mask and not a fake head") which I
love him for. I mean, how can you ever get better unless you
have some one who is very good tell you like it is? It
is great for your ego for people to tell you your work is good, but
it is WAY better for your growth if someone who really knows
are to tell you the God's honest truth, just tear it apart.
You become better much faster.
Let me say another thing about the course and
learning under Dick. It is not just about make-up. It is
about learning self respect. It is about problem solving. It is
about learning discipline. It is about learning about yourself. It
is much, much more than just learning about make-up.
Here is a great Dick Smith story. Not too
many people know this, but I entered the Make-up Artist Magazine
Trade Show historical character make-up contest in 1998 (or '99).
This is before I moved to LA. Anyway, I got Dick to help me think
of a good character. I wanted to do a gender transformation. I had
a male model who had really nice features that could be easily
transformed into a female. We thought and thought, and Dick came up
with Carol Channing, the famous broadway actress, because her
features lent well to my model. At the time I thought it was a
great idea , but in retrospect I would have chosen someone more
famous and recognizable to the general population. Anyway, I get the make-up completed the day
before we leave for California. I stayed up all night doing a trial
make-up. We get to the Trade Show and I apply it. I manage to get
it on without any catastrophes. We go before the judges and Dick is
one of the judges. I wait for him in anticipation of what he's
going to say. Keep in mind that this is the only the second time
I've met him in person although we converse on the phone. He comes out of the judging room and I ask
him what he thought of the make-up. He says, "Well, I think you
could have done more with the eye make-up and the mouth. Nice try,
but it really didn't cut it."
Can you imagine the sinking feeling in the pit
of my stomach at that point? I did not get first, second, third or
honorable mention in a group of really bad make-ups. I went back to
the place I was staying and curled up in a ball until the next
morning. I was devastated. My own teacher basically shut me out
!! BUT the moral of the story is any other teacher would have sold
me out and voted for me. But not Dick. He knew the make-up was bad
and that it would do me no good to have won anything. And he was
right. I learned a lot from that. And man, he was right. It was a
introduced me to some really good artists who were also his
students. He introduced me to Ken Hertlein, one of his best
students. We have become good friends. Ken is an amazing artist
and has done some make-ups that blow me away to this day. And I've
seen some good make-ups since I've moved to Los Angeles.