Quantcast Tom Woodruff Jr. interview

FX Artist/Performer
Tom Woodruff Jr.!!!

Next time you watch one watch “THE MONSTER SQUAD” try to imagine the Gillman holding an Oscar. That's because the man in the suit is Academy Award winning effects wizard Tom Woodruff Jr., who over the last 30 years has been not only behind the rubber masks, but on the forefront of practical visual effects. From a kid inspired by the makeup work in “PLANET OF THE APES”, to learning with greasepaint in the bathroom mirror. Woodruff would later train under some of biggest names in effects history, and then carve, sculpt and design for himself a nearly three decade long career by building and performing some of the most memorable creatures in modern horror history. - By Mike C. - 12/07


Not too long ago “THE MONSTER SQUAD”, in which you played the Gillman, finally came out on DVD and was a hugely successful release. Were you surprised at how well the “THE MONSTER SQUAD” DVD sold? It came out and it almost immediately sold out everywhere.

Yes, I was very surprised, I knew a lot of people were very interested in the movie and a lot of that was because it wasn't available. Had it been out on DVD I think people would have picked it up and not caused such a stir. It was one of those things that was unavailable and it made people want it even more. I know, as Fred Dekker has said, it wasn't a hugely successful movie when it first came out, we all thought it was a great movie but it wasn't a hit. But still you've seen far smaller movies come out on DVD, but it was a situation where ownership of it kind of got shuffled around and it didn't happen for so long. I think that helped it to age, you know?


So, what were your some of your earliest memories of the horror genre?

Well, my earliest memories were of the Universal monster movies. The original Frankenstein. Not so much Dracula. Dracula always kind of bored me for some reason. I always liked the imagery of being in the basement of the mansion and the castles, but for me it was always Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon. And I remember from when I was a kid “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein” was a very cool movie because it played all the Universal monsters for real. They didn't make fun of the monster, it was just really well done for the time. It was funny but it still had some good monsters in it.
When you caught the Universal movies was it back when they were finally getting replayed on TV.

Yea, it would have been probably the mid to late 60's. I was able to see them on TV when I lived back east and would always get things like Chiller Theater on TV. They would show a lot of crap, but every once in a while they'd show a real classic. When they showed the Karloff “Frankenstein” I remember that was a big event for me, to have to wait until Saturday.


Did you have any favorite horror movie host on TV?

No, it's funny because I wasn't really much into the hosts. I can't remember the guys name out of New York. A guy with dark glasses, trying to be really cool and mysterious, and look shadowy. I can never remember the name he went by, but for me I would always want to get through that stuff and get back to the movie.

So would these have been the movies that inspired you to get into special effects?

For me it became more of a career kind of goal when the “PLANET OF THE APES” movies came out. I remember picking up Famous Monsters of Filmland, this was before I'd seen the movie, and seeing pictures of the John Chambers makeup and I thought, “This is what I want to do”. It was amazing seeing that in a magazine at the time.


Were you the kind of kid who went home and had to try this stuff out?

Yea, well I put down Famous Monsters of Filmland and picked up the yellow pages and started looking for theatrical makeup. And I lived in a small town, you know, and there wasn't any to be had. There was one store in a neighboring town, so of course at age 12, I immediately would have visions of my mom taking me to the store and expecting bins of makeup and all the tools and the right pieces of the puzzle to put together. She finally drives me over to this drugstore and it's a small case of grease paint and a few boxes of crepe hair. But I bought it, these were tools, this was what I needed.
Also, it was difficult to get information. I went to the school library and checked out a book on makeup, and started to learn how to work with crepe hair, how to apply grease paint. I started to learn the basics about shadows and highlights. At the time there was something about having to dig for all that information. You really have to be motivated, it wasn't easy to find at the time. There certainly weren't any DVDs or instructional video tapes like we have today. You had to be motivated to find information and I treated it with a lot of respect, as was a real craft, and there were all these volumes of material that had to be learned. And I think because I was on my own I really dug deep for it. I remember reading about a Life magazine photo essay on Maurice Evans from “PLANET OF THE APES”, so I went to the library, looked through all the microfilms and finally found it. I went through all that stuff, trying to dig up as much information as I could.


Ok, you finally got all this information together and the tools that you could find. What were some of the projects you did to learn your craft before you became a professional.

I spent a lot of hours just with greasepaint, a magazine that Dick Smith put out in the 60's, and just some traditional stage makeup, like learning how to paint wrinkles. Standing in the bathroom, looking in the mirror for hours and hours putting paint on my face and just seeing how you could make it look like 3-dimensional work, which was great for stage. And certainly playing around like gluing hair to the back of my hands, trying to make finger nails out of wax and rubber. Trying to learn how to sculpt and do simple latex appliances.

I remember the first big disaster was talking my dad into doing a life cast of me and not having the right tools and just using modeling plaster, which is a horrible way to do it. It heats up and locked into my eyebrows. Of course my dad, he's suddenly thrown into the middle of this thing, and I'd given what I thought was good information and it was all wrong. I had the guy stuck with trying to get me out of this with a minimal amount of pain. But still it's all a learning process. Once I finally had a lifecast of my face that thing was like gold because I had to go through so much to make it. And I remember learning to sculpt and make molds, ordering foam latex from Paramount Theatrical Supplies in New York. I remember the days coming home from school and there would be a box sitting for me from Paramount and knowing there's a whole kit of foam rubber inside that I'd spent weeks and weeks of allowance on just to get a little one quart kit of foam latex. I remember it was like this rare commodity to have. Then trying to learn how to cook foam in my mom's oven in the kitchen, it was just crude steps taken to understand the medium.
Were you always planning on taking this professionally, or was it a hobby for you at the time?

It's funny, I don't remember that there ever was a difference for me. Since I was a kid it was that and making movies. I remember my dad teaching me how to use his regular 8mm movie camera when I was 10 or 11 years old and I started making movies. I mean, it certainly was a hobby, but I never thought of it in terms of “Here's my hobby, now what do I want to do for a profession”. One just ran into the other, it seemed like a natural progression.


It sounds like you were working with your dad a lot, so he was encouraging?

My parents were great, and I think that was really important. Really important aspect. They were parents who really didn't understand anything about the art or the world of movie making, except as my dad said, “Hey somebody's out there making these things, so why not you”. And they had no idea what was necessary to get into the business, certainly living at the other end of the country it could have been a million miles away. But they knew I had this intense desire and intense interest and they supported me. They were always encouraging me to move forward with stuff and keep trying. I remember they turned over the basement of the house over to me, and I set up a little shop. I had a place to make masks, a place to do stop-motion animation, and a place to set up a projector and an old bedsheet to project my movies. That was my whole life growing up.

How and when did you start to get yourself there? You grew up in Pennsylvania, how did you get from Pennsylvania--

I made a couple of stabs at it. When I graduated high school, as a graduation present my parents brought me a ticket to come out to Hollywood for two weeks, just to fly out and see what it was like. My sister and I flew and being out here in Hollywood, not knowing anyone, not knowing where to go. Completely on our own, it was intimidating, intimidating as hell! I'd at this point in time been writing letters to everyone. I had letters from Gene Roddenberry, letters people from the “Planet of the Apes” TV show.


But some my favorite letters are from people like John Chambers, who would write and send me little critiques of pictures of my work that I would send him. So the idea was that when I graduated high school I'd come out to California for two weeks and meet John Chambers, who was busy in the middle of a project and I didn't get to meet with him during the first week. Then some things happened and we had to cut our trip short and I didn't get to meet him. And he always felt bad about that so he made sure, a few years later when I drove out to California with a friend just to spend the summer, I got meet him. And he had me on my days off from work meeting everybody in town. That's when I met Stan Winston, when I met Tom Burman, and these are people that I ended up working with and who helped shape the path that I ended up on.

Before this now, had you done any professional work close to home?

Yea, I did, it wasn't professional in the sense that it was a paying job, but there was money for materials and when I was still in high school I was doing the high school plays, and I started doing community theater. Then when I was in college, I was doing a lot of the productions. And every once in a while we'd do a show like “Sleuth” that would allow me to do some kind of foam latex appliances or we did “Dracula”. Little pieces here and there beyond basic make up.

So when did it turn into a job or a career?

Well after that summer I went back and finished college. I came out here right after I graduated, in September, the following fall. And the town was in the middle of a really miserable writers or actors strike. From what I was told at the time it was the biggest one that every hit. I remember John Chambers said, “Boy, bad timing. I know makeup artists who'd been working for 20 years that are losing their houses.” I remember hearing that at the time and thinking, “Wow, is the business that fickle?” You know that you could be established for 25 years, be established and suddenly losing everything because of a strike. I thought what a horrifying career choice, but then I also thought well maybe some of that is decision making on the part of the person who's losing their house. I did open my eyes to being financially responsible and not to take for granted that it would be an easy task to move out here and start a career. So, you know, I lasted for a few weeks, ran out of money, and went back home again.


Probably about two years later I'd saved up some more money and I was married and my wife and I moved out here for a final time and made it work. I was out here six months and I just took a job anywhere. I was selling cameras in North Hollywood because it was something I'd done going through college, I'd put myself through college doing jobs like that. Then again on my day off I'd just keep making the rounds of all the different makeup effects places. Then finally after about six months I'd gotten a job offer and never looked back. It's always been about moving forward since then.

Do you remember what that first movie was?

Yea, my first movie was “METALSTORM”, a Universal 3D movie, it was also Kelly Preston's first movie too. And it was great! It was fun because I got to do everything on that movie. I had a portfolio of things I'd done on my own, makeups and miniature work and stop motion models, but I'd never worked in a shop or studio before so it was starting at the bottom, and literally, like sweeping the floors. And then over the course of one movie, over four or five months, I was taught how to make molds, how to sculpt things. Then I was moved into the foam room so I was able to make appliances and paint them, then I was on-set gluing on appliances and puppeteering some of the creature puppets. In the space of five months it was a gigantic learning experience, learning every aspect from beginning to end.

And that was a Charlie Band low-budget movie, so I guess every one had to pitch in in some way, right?


Oh, absolutely, it was like never ending hours and very little pay, but the enthusiasm was completely unchallenged. You just get going on and on.

Now, your first credited work, in special effects, was on “CHILLER”, the Wes Craven TV film, right?

No, actually it would have been METALSTORM, and then from that I went to work with Tom Burman on BUCKAROO BANZAI. Those were uncredited because you know, it was credited as the Burman Studios. But man, what a great experience that was too, to be working with the guy who was right there through it all with John Chambers on “Planet of the Apes”. A great history.

That must have been a huge difference to go from METALSTORM to a big budget film like “BUCKAROO BANZAI”...

Well, I don't know if it was a step up, but a step in a forward direction. Here was a guy who'd been around for what, for me, were really substantial movies, to be working for the guy who worked on “Planet of the Apes” to me was a huge thrill and experience.


How did you develop a relationship with Stan Winston, and working for his company?

When a show would end, there was nothing to move onto, you were basically freelance, out on the street again. John Chambers had sent me over to see Stan, and Stan saw my book of pictures—oh, you know what was really helpful with Stan was that I had been working with a couple of guys from METALSTORM: Shane Mahan and John Rosengrant. While we'd separated after METALSTORM and gone our own ways they'd both ended up at Stan's working on the TV series “MANIMAL”, remember that?


Oh yes!

So they were working over there and I'd finished at Burman's and they had Stan look at my book again and he brought me in and I did a couple of weeks on a series that didn't go anywhere. Still, I knew who Stan Winston was, I'd read all about him growing up, and the very next thing we started was “TERMINATOR”.

So you worked on “TERMINATOR”?

Yea, I was on the first “TERMINATOR”.

Did you design or build anything?

Stan had us sculpting designs for the endo-skeleton for the skull and neck for Cameron to look at, and combined elements of them all into a single design. I sculpted things like the neck and the spine, and the pelvis, and ended up going on set, and puppeteering. I was the guy reaching up through the neck of the Terminator when it's walking around the plant.


Puppeteering, now that's interesting. I guess you have to have kind of an acting aesthetic for that.

Well, I think a lot of that came from all my interest in, and experimentation with, stop-motion and having the fundamental understanding of performance, things like body language and body expression to pull off a character.

How did all this lead to something like “MONSTER SQUAD” where you're now in a suit...

Well, it was just such a quick step, because I love being on set and puppeteering. Once we finished “TERMINATOR”, we did “ALIENS”, went over to London to do that, and I remember being kind of dissatisfied with the look of the stuntmen wearing the alien suits. The alien suits weren't that detailed because they were only meant to be seen in really extreme lighting conditions, a lot of shadows, a lot of sidelight and stuff. I was watching these stuntmen thinking this wasn't the way I expected it to end up looking. Even though it looked great in the movie I still thought I could do this, I could get in a suit and do this. I remember one night when we were done in the shop putting on one of the alien suits and doing different body poses and positions for still shots, and looking them later and thinking was an improvement over what I'd seen on set.
It was only when we were back in the States and gearing up for “MONSTER SQUAD” that I went to Stan about trying to do the Gillman. Here was a role that didn't rely on a actor or a guy who has any kind of experience delivering lines on-set, it's a silent role, and I thought maybe this was the one to go for, and Stan was supportive of it.

Who ultimately made the decision to put you in the role? Was it because you were on the make up team, or did you have to audition?
I didn't have to audition, which was a break because I hate auditions. I've gotten through 20 plus years of doing this without having to do an audition. I think it was because, well, the decision was made not just by Stan, but he was a voice in it because he's the guy behind the creature stuff. I'm sure he did have to have Fred Dekker's approval, and he got it. There was never an audition process, just the next thing I had a body cast done and they started sculpting.
Did you participate in sculpting that suit?

I didn't, it was done by Steve Wang and Matt Rose. I was working on the Frankenstein appliance design at the time. So I worked from Stan's drawing and got the Frankenstein makeup going, and then when I got to set ended up playing the Creature.


You know what's interesting, and must have been a challenge, was designing these classic monsters, and yet having to avoid the Universal look for copyright reasons.

Well yea, exactly, when the project first came our way and we saw the script for the first time there was some plan, at least to some degree, that we were just going to capture the look of the old Universal movie monsters, which for a guy who grew up loving that to have the opportunity this early in my career to pay homage and do our own version would have been a hugely satisfying job. But ultimately the licensing issue emerged and we had to change them all so they didn't look like the original.


But that had to be hard, what do you go to change?

It's subtle stuff, it is subtle stuff. I mean, I remember on Frankenstein he didn't have eyebrows, he had a big forehead, like the Universal, but he didn't have electrodes, I didn't put them on his neck. He had a scar across his forehead, you try to do things that are reminiscent without necessarily making it look like the Boris Karloff makeup, but with things are indicative of classic Frankenstein.

So, now you get on-set and you get to be The Gillman. What did you have in mind for the performance?

At least for me it was playing “for real”, because I remember that's what was cool about “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein”, the monsters were still played for real. So the comedy was not about making fun of what you're doing and let the monsters be real and the comedy come from the situation.

What about interacting with the kids?
There really wasn't a lot of interaction between me and the kids, there certainly was action with Fat Kid, but I was more involved in things with the stuntmen who play the police men who try to stop the creature when he's coming out of the hole.

The film wasn't a hit theatrically, as you've said, but it has developed a cult following. Do you remember when you first starting getting a hint that it was developing an audience?


No, I never did. It came and it went. There was no real awareness of whether it was financially successful or not, it was just something that we did and then moved on to different things.

What was the first horror convention you did?

As a guest, it was after “TREMORS” and Universal sent us to New York to do a Fangoria convention. I'd gone to a couple as a kid. As a kid I'd gotten on a bus to New York City to go to a Famous Monsters of Filmland convention and that was unbelievable. Again, small kid coming from a small town where the only monster fans I knew was me and a friend who sat in basement reading Famous Monsters and scouring the TV Guide hoping a monster movie was going to be on. Then to be in the middle of a convention and see people like Peter Cushing, and meet people like Forry Ackerman, who I never thought I'd meet. Seeing what real makeup appliances, and Don Post's masks, the dealer room, it was unbelievable as kid. And that was always my impression as kid was seeing through fresh eyes like that and going back as a guest was fun, but it could never quite capture the magic of being a kid.


So, what was the first time you remember having a fan come up to you who recognized you and knew your work? What was that experience like for someone who grew up being a fan?

That's a good question because I don't remember the first time because for whatever reason I always end up seeing things through another's perspective, other peoples eyes.

So when I'm at a convention as a guest and people come up to me I try to make sure that if there's questions they might have that they want to ask I try to pull those questions out of them, I try to make myself as approachable as I can. I remember what it was like to be on the other side, meeting Peter Cushing and wanting to ask him questions but thinking, “Ugh, he's probably been asked that question a hundred times.” But I don't care, for me if I've been asked something a thousand times and some kid comes up to me and he hasn't asked it I'm just as happy to let that be the first time I've heard the question. I just want people to be able to ask questions and have their picture taken, and satisfy them the same way I was when I was a kid.


At conventions have you ever run into any of the guys who've played the Universal Gillmen?

I used to collect autographs of guys in monsters suits, so I have autographs from Ricou Browning and Ben Chapman, and I finally met Ricou at a show a year ago back east. I met him and just started talking and he turned out to be a great guy. I mean you go to these conventions and do a little Q&A thing, so I left my table and I had to go see Ricou Browning. It's just great to see the real guy tell all these stories.

Hopefully you'll get a chance to meet Ben Chapman sometime soon, he's a great guy. We did an interview with him a few years ago when we started and he's got some great stories. Ok, so after you did the Gillman you're next suitwork was “PUMPKINHEAD”?

Yea, that's right.

Ok, now there must been a lot riding on that, and there must have been a certain amount of trust put in you because we're talking Stan Winston's directorial debut. So, did you design any aspects of the creature at all?

Well, at the time all I remember it was probably the high point of my career because everything was taking off. I'd kind of proven myself in the suit stuff. Stan had complete faith in us so he turned PUMPKINHEAD over to us as a design element. It was actually Alec Gillis and me, and John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan. We designed PUMPKINHEAD, and the various stages and the makeup for Haggis the witch completely on our own. It was like your parents turning over the keys to the house and saying, “Ok, we'll be back in 3 months”, and everyday was just an amazing day at work. You just felt like nothing is going to go wrong with this movie. Not that it wasn't hard work, you just knew that everything we built was going to be used the proper way because there was a director involved who knew and understood the importance to make our stuff on-set work.

PUMPKINHEAD is an interesting creature. What were you looking to, or drawing inspiration from when designing him?

It was mostly from cadavers and dead bodies. We definitely wanted it to have the feeling of something that had been dead and something that was partially human, but also more evil and monstrous. Not in a science-fiction way, but more of a folklorish kind of way. A legend that was brought to life.

Any particular old ghost stories or legends?

No...growing up we all share the same ghost stories and local legends.
I'm thinking back and I remember him being a huge creature. Was this a suit creature or a puppet? I mean, I remember him being so big. I always thought he was a giant puppet.

No, it was all me in a suit. I mean, I'm 6'2”, I got a little bit of height because my head was in the neck of the creature. We also had leg extension, so we probably added about a foot and a half for a couple of scenes where I was walking. For scenes where he was shot from the waist up I was always walking on platforms.
For performing him, now this has to be a lot different than the Gillman, because not only are you creating an original creature but you've got to strive to be truly intimidating.

And also we had to get the feeling that it was a creature born from a dead body, a regenerating thing. That was the point where I tried to work in those Ray Harryhausen-type moments, always trying to look toward his stuff. I incorporated a lot of his idiosyncrasies into not just PUMPKINHEAD, but things I've done since then. There are times where I'll try to put a lot of that body language into a performance.


Ok, well, how did you get involved in the ALIEN series after all this?

Well, with the Alien series, by the time ALIEN 3 rolled around, Alec Gillis and I had formed our own company Amalgamated Dynamic, which we did shortly before Stan's second feature that he directed. The final movie we did with Stan was “LEVIATHAN”, which was another creature suit thing, and Stan was going off to direct his second feature.

You were the creature in “LEVIATHAN”?

I was the creature in LEVIATHAN.

That's another good movie, I really like that one.

Yea, that's a funny one too, because it was the summer of 3 underwater movie, “THE ABYSS”, “DEEPSTAR SIX” and “LEVIATHAN”.

Oh, yea, underwater, now that had to be tough. You guys were working with a LOT of water in that. Was that ever an issue?

Well, there was amazing photograph that was shot on a dry soundstage. We were in Rome and they would burn these flares that would produce this ash that would kind of float in the air. When you shoot, if you're well lit and shooting slightly slow motion it looks like underwater sediment, you know.


Wow!

And we actually built these little bellows into the footpads of these suits so when you'd walk on this fuller's earth, this kind of dusty ground it would blow the dust away and it looks like your walking through silt on the ocean floor. And they'd hang fish and stuff like that. It's kind of a cool effect. And I got to do the creature stuff for that. When we did the final sequence. We were in Malta, and there was this huge outdoor tank that was built so that the horizon of the tank lined up with the horizon of the sea. I had to do some water stuff and we all had to get certified as divers, it's always an adventure doing these thing.

So, anyway after we finished that Alec and I started our own company and shortly after that we got the call from 20th Century Fox to see if we'd be interested in going to London and doing ALIEN 3, considering we'd been through it once before with Stan and Stan was not available for ALIEN 3. He was their first choice, obviously, and had won an Academy Award for his work, but he was on another project. So we filled in with Fincher directing. We were back to one creature instead of a horde so I was able to do that role.
Now, the Aliens were these iconic creatures by this point, so were you redesigning any aspects of it?

Yes, we re-designed it quite a bit from ALIENS in that it was now a full-body suit. In Aliens it was kind of an impressionist suit that worked in those lighting conditions. Fincher’s approach was wholly different from Cameron's, you know, in the way he was capturing images on film so it had to sustain more close-up scrutiny. So we had to do a full sculpted body suit that I had to wear. For the most part it was a single body suit.
What do you use to keep that sort of thing from becoming incredibly heavy? I mean, the Aliens look like they're made out of metal.

Well, a lot of that is the finish, and a lot of the body suits are pretty light. They're pretty tight, like a lighter version of a wetsuit. Certainly the heads get heavy with all the radio controlled elements, and there are times when a head can weight 8 to 10 pounds.
That doesn't seem like a lot of weight except my heads down in the neck of these creatures so I have 8 to 10 pounds kind of cantilevered out, sticking out past my head another foot, foot and half and that adds a lot of stress and strain. And some of them are very heavy, there was a gorilla suit that we built to be completely realistic, like you see in a zoo. Because of that my head is way down in the neck and we have a radio controlled face, with radio control eyes and 37 servo motors in the head. If we packed that suit up with batteries and radio control gear so I can walk around without an electrical cable attached in any way it's 75 pounds between the head and the body that I'm carrying around.


You know..., now... “ALIEN 3” has been known to have been a difficult movie to make. Did you feel any of that on your end?

Yea, some of it, some because the difficulty was that the script wasn't 100% locked down. We went to London, started building and then some substantial script changes were coming in and they'd already invested in moving us all to London. There were 6 of us together including Alec and me, so we kept building things. You know, “Here's some elements that haven't change, so we'll need these dead bodies”, we just kept working. But the time frame that we had to finish it was changed because now shooting was not going to start as early as expected. So we slowed it down a bit so as not to eat up all our resources. It definitely extended the workload in terms of time.
Well, I watched that documentary for “ALIEN 3” from the box-set and it just seemed like such a nightmare. That poor David Fincher, man...

He bore the brunt of it more than we did. For us it mainly impacted our flexibility, we had to make sure we weren't burning up money. It didn't effect us artistically, it effected Fincher artistically. I remember Sigourney would come over to our shop a lot because she loved the artwork. And for us it was very inspiring to have her come over and remind us that it was art. I don't think a lot of us had looked at like that. We looked at it as something we liked to do, but it is art. It is a practical form of art.
And you continued with that series too, so they keep coming back to you. How do you feel that you grow with the creature every time? If you want to make changes do they let you?

They do, and there are some changes we make from time to time. Like in “ALIEN 3”, we took four extruded-looking appendages and removed those because the alien is now running on all fours. It got in the way of the head, and in “RESURRECTION” we put them back on. On “ALIEN VS. PREDATOR” we went back to a darker color palette, more like the original, the first one. So we kind of change around things, but you don't change things for the sake of changing them. There is an artistic temperament you have to keep under control, because the truth is H.R. Giger did such a remarkable design job that you're not going to improve it. You can alter it, and change it, and we do from time to time for practical reasons, but to change something when it works so well is foolish.


How did ALIENS VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM work out for you?

It was great. Everytime we get to work on one of these movies it's great to have the same kind of enthusiasm and energy you had 3 or 4 years previously. You pull everything out of the box again, and you reinvent some things and try to show something fresh. But the truth is they are still very effective movie monsters. The fans should be very pleased with it. It's a good story, I mean, technically we were on Earth last time, but it was such a remote part of the world that it didn't impact us the way this one does. We're in hometown America.


You're still doing creature work today, and a lot of stuff has gone digital. How do you keep up?

It's funny because for the longest time we were busier and busier because of digital. Digital certainly opened up the ability to put stories on the screen on a scale you never could have done before. “STARSHIP TROOPERS” was a perfect example of that, a huge movie and 95% of the creature stuff was digital and gorgeous. The thing is that without digital that movie wouldn't have been made. Still, there's still that 5% where you needed the contact so we had quite a bit of work in that movie even though in comparison, it was small in quantity it was still substantial.
We still had 3 full size warrior bugs, and the whole head for the front section of the brain bug. A huge amount of work. What's happening today is that is becoming much more “corporatised” in that effects are becoming more like production line techniques where there are hundreds of people involved. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the art, there are thing in the digital world that are amazing. Still, there's almost an over reliance on it as a crutch and a tool to fill up time on-screen that doesn't really move you anymore.
We've seen the cloudy blue-ish, gray, murky CG world. To do it right is an accomplishment. Doing something on the level of “KING KONG” or Gollum is a huge accomplishment, these are standout examples. If everyone was churning out that level of work there'd be no reason to keep our shop open. But what doesn't work to me is the proliferation of CG creature effects that have no real-life counterpart. There's no interaction with an actor. I know audiences are aware of it, that they're watching something that appears to out of a high end video game, and not a totally immersive environment.


I would never want to knock CG, a lot of people like to, but I'd almost rather see a cheap creature than a cheap CG effect.

Well, that's what directors are saying to us. They want to go back, they want it to look like it did in ALIENS. AVP was a great example, we had a ton of practical stuff, and there was digital that was really good in that. And a guy like John Bruno, a visual effects supervisor who understands both worlds, he can pull on both. He is the right guy to supervise visual effects.
He's got the burden of tying together the look of pulling together the look of all the visual, and a lot of time these guys don't have a practical visual effect experience. So what they have in their toolbox is digital effects. I think it'd be a horrible position to be in to suddenly realize that I don't have enough time or money because of studio needs and what's the digital answer. I think that's what's contributing to an overall mediocrity in creature effects.
So what do you think will be the next big stuff is? Are they going to come to the realization that they have to merge both the digital and the practical?

Yea, people are doing it now. And we've been doing it for years. I mean “ JURASSIC PARK” was a perfect example: people don't realize that when you time out all the dinosaur shots in the first film more than half of them were animatronic dinosaurs. You know it all worked together perfectly. We did a movie “JUMANJI” with a digital lion overlapping our practical.


Thank so much for taking the time to talk to us, I mean you must be so busy with everything--

Yea, but I remember how hard it was trying to find information and if I can contribute to getting the right information out there then I enjoy doing it.


Special thanks to Ian Holohan!

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