A Lot of Love in a House of Horror


3D makeup transfer

Photo by Looking Glass

I had the good fortune to sit in on an instructional video shoot presented by premiere makeup effects wizard Howard Berger. It took place at his shop at KNB EFX Group.  Howard, Greg Nicotero and his team created the memorable make-up effects for Kill Bill, Sin City and a host of others.  The company also won an Oscar for the fabulous creature FX for Chronicles of Narnia.  As I entered the shop it was no surprise to find any number of fantastic creatures, dismembered bodies, skeletons, corpses and zombies about the place (KNB is currently working on the TV series The Walking Dead.)  In this shoot Howard gave a step by step illustration of the use of the new 3d makeup transfer technique by turning his son into a zombie.  The special video lesson was created for the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.

3d makeup transfer is a great step forward in the art of effects makeup.  For many casual observers creature make up seems a fairly straight forward affair and it is easy to forget the huge challenge presented by preserving continuity in motion pictures.  If a ghastly bullet wound is created in one shot it must look exactly the same day after day and perhaps a month later if a pick up is needed.  Creating this type of effect from scratch for each shoot and have it be identical is extremely difficult.  With the 3D process, molds of specific gore effects are created and numbered. Cast pieces made from the prosthetic adhesive Pros-Aide are frozen and dried to prepare a series of identical applications to accommodate the rigors of production.  It is not unusual to cast dozens of the same piece to ensure the same look for each and every shot.  The elegance of the technique is that the appliance is applied with water and the thin edge can be blended invisibly into the skin.

The beauty of watching the process was not only the clear visual explanation of the technique but the marvelous insights and stories Howard brought to the viewer.  He related helpful hints, problematic errors, revelations on painting for realism and any number of the important “between the lines” commentary that are a treasure trove to the dedicated student.

The most heartfelt commentary was his relating of how he started in the business by being allowed to visit the Stan Winston Studio when he was a teenager as long as he proved he had good grades on his report card.  This was a prime example of a master artist taking a young enthusiast under his wing.  Berger eventually wound up working for Stan Winston (Legendary Creature FX Creator for films such as The Terminator, Aliens, Predator, and Jurassic Park) and then eventually branched out on his own.  He is now honoring his late mentor by passing on his hard won experience with all the love and affection for the art that Winston shared with him.

In my book I mentioned that I took part in the last age of apprenticeship with my mentor Bill Taylor.  I am happy to say that the passing on of cinema artistry from the masters is alive and well in the educational content being created by this groundbreaking online school.  This terrific Internet resource is scheduled to open later this year and is a wonderful cutting edge extension of many wonderful texts on the subject of make up effects and is well worth exploring:

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