TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF.
I grew up around Bow, Bethnal Green and South Hackney with Punjabi/Spanish parents and an elder sister, going to local schools and colleges. Special effects was a childhood dream job but I had absolutely no understanding of how to learn more about it and info was scarce, just the odd fangoria magazine to look at. Making things with my hands always came naturally and was something my mother encouraged. The ability to manipulate identity through masks, costumes and make-up appealed to me greatly growing up in an area as diverse as it was, yet with the prevalent problems with racism that were a part of normal life there. Movies provided escapism but also social commentary and context for a younger me.
HOW DO YOU RUN YOUR STUDIO?
It’s kept pretty low-key as this allows me to scale up in space and crew when needs be and I can sometimes be away working on a build or shoot abroad so we don’t want a big space being kept idle. We have a small permanent facility near our home which houses my workspace, tools and equipment and I’ll usually have at least one assistant working with me who tends to be an all rounder. My wife Deirdre helps me run the admin side of the company and is integral in working through design ideas and important decisions with me, though she doesn’t get involved in making stuff that much anymore. I’m otherwise competent in most of the aspects of a build but specialist freelance artists will come on board when the workload requires it.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO PROSTHETICS MAKE-UP?
As with any niche hardcore creative job, if you’re not already doing it on your own, there is no “getting into it”. When you’re starting out you don’t necessarily get to see a job through to the end or you might just be doing menial work, therefore I kept practicing on my own and improving my portfolio between jobs.
I had an HND in 3D design from college which got me into model and prop making, mainly on commercials and in theatre earlier on in my career and eventually I began to study autonomously under Dick Smith’s makeup effects program until I felt able to focus entirely on prosthetics and makeup effects. He’s held as the literal godfather of the craft having designed the makeup effects for The Godfather, Taxi Driver, The exorcist, to name just a few and has inspired me and many of my peers.
WHAT IS THE WEIRDEST THING YOU HAVE EVER BEEN ASKED TO CREATE?
This one’s easy. I was once commissioned to develop a slip-on genital augmentation for an exhibitionist to use when holidaying on nudist beaches, I kid you not, but I like a technical challenge and the occasional weird patron. The client had a great physique but whatever his thing was he wanted to appear to be as proportionally big all round to the point of believability and not to have to use any glues/self apply etc. The job was interesting to say the least; the clients lifecasting session was memorable, I made a few different versions playing out ideas and many funny feedback photos were sent back my way of him testing these out. In the end I made something that incorporated a titanium U shaped spring that went between his legs attaching the piece over his bits by hooking up between the pelvic mound and coccyx bone.
TELL US ABOUT THE BODY THAT YOU 3D PRINTED.
We made that as part of a science-ed “what if” show where Dr Alice Roberts asked the question of what could the human body look like if it were intelligently designed. Renowned digital sculptor Scott Eaton reworked a 3d scan of Alice into her vision and my team were able to take that data file, break it down into printable parts and assembled the finished lifelike figure which is now on display at London’s Science Museum. The end result is a mix of printed PLA plastic, silicone rubber, human hair and acrylic eyes.
IS THERE A FILM PROSTHETICS MOMENT THAT INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO IT?
Absolutely yes. There were many films that piqued my imagination but it was watching F/X (1986), a film about an effects guy hired to fake a real-life mob killing for a witness protection plan, that solidified the dream. I must have been 9 or 10 years old..
It was the first time I had seen certain key processes being done on film like taking a lifecast of an actor and applying realistic prosthetics (even though these scenes are “faked” and make me laugh now!), but it was the mixed in hero mythology of that film that made me believe I could beat the odds by using my talents and take it seriously as a career path.
HAS THERE EVER BEEN A PROJECT WHERE YOU HAVE ALMOST THOUGHT “I CAN’T DO THIS”? IF SO WHY?
Ha, it’s sometimes more like “ I can’t do this anymore”.. The problem normally is that what the client is asking for is plainly unrealistic, either in terms of the time available, the logistics or what they thought it might cost. The motto is “we do movie magic, not perform miracles”.
That said there’s moments when the pressure is on in a big way and you can question your own abilities, but the love for and commitment to the craft mixed with a bit of courage sorts that out.
HOW HAS YOUR PROFESSION GROWN OVER THE LAST 10 YEARS?
I think that certainly the growth of high end television and streaming has increased demand for our work which has worked in parallel with improvements in the materials and processes we use over that time period.
There’s also been huge growth in the education sector of what we do. Traditionally techniques were learned by word of mouth in an informal way, today there exists a litany of degrees, diplomas, certificates, schools, online tutorials and short courses specifically in makeup effects. I think this means the craft will further bleed outwards from being exclusively used in film/tv and more into other sectors of society like medical training, fashion and more affordable cosmetic/corrective prosthetics.
HOW IMPORTANT IS TESTING BEFORE A SHOOT?
By definition as a creative maker almost everything we make is a prototype and a one-off event, we may repeatedly employ the same processes but the context is always different, depending on the job. For us to best achieve that unique end result, testing is an essential part of refining these building blocks/elements into that final construct.
That said there’s plenty of times where a full test before a shoot is impractical or not doing one carries minimal risk so one has to make those judgment calls as they go, I think these examples serve as infinite-game tests that add to your skillset over the long term.
WHAT ARE THE KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN WORKING IN PROSTHETICS.
I think that the actor/model is key, both in terms of the design of the makeup and also not treating them like an armature for the artist’s work. A good makeup design isn’t about coming up with an idea and superimposing that onto just anyone’s face, a model with a strong bone structure is the best for a cool makeup design! Having a good bedside manner with the model is great as is knowing not to bother them too much when they are on set but to keep a keen eye on them from a distance.
YOU HAVE RECENTLY LAUNCHED SOME NEW SKIN SACHETS? WHY DID YOU DO THIS AND WHAT ARE THEY FOR?
Working with the silicone rubber we use for making prosthetics has always been a complicated, messy affair that limited how and where it could be used due to the many components and equipment needed. The pigments that are normally available didn’t quite cover the whole spectrum of tones either, so working with a company that makes adhesive repair kits for the aviation industry I developed a product that contains all the measured, pigmented material in separate compartments for a mix-in-the-bag system.
The product comes in 4 skin tones, from very pale to quite dark skin, and thus opens up the craft of making prosthetics to a wider audience and environments to work in. The system also somewhat limits the amount of waste produced and all the product packaging is compostable.
IS THERE A COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT PROSTHETIC MAKE UP?
I saw an advert for a makeup school on social media the other day that said “learn special makeup effects in just 8 weeks”, like it’s that easy. There are definitely a lot of distinct aspects to the craft and they all have to be practiced to get good end results, which takes years to bring together.
There’s also a lot of disinformation about the time it takes to prepare an actor in the morning, thanks to reports of actors such as Jim Carey hugely exaggerating how long he would spend in the chair or how uncomfortable the makeup can be, we work so hard to make sure neither of these situations happen.
HAS THERE EVER BEEN A PROJECT THAT HASN’T WORKED OUT RIGHT?
Sure, that’s life right? It’s frustrating when working for someone else and they ask you to make/do something a certain way even though my personal experience makes me sceptical at least, and then it goes wrong on set. Blood/bleeding gags are the worst for this kind of on-set mishap.
ARE THERE ANY MOVIES WHERE YOU FEEL LIKE THE PROSTHETICS ARE IMPRESSIVE FOR THEIR TIME?
There’s definite milestones for me, you know the stuff that makes an impact on you personally and the industry at large at the time they come out. I think Terminator 2, Coming to America, Nightbreed, The Exorcist, these movies all did great work for where and when they were made.
ARE THERE ANY MOVIES WHERE YOU THINK THAT THE PROSTHETICS ARE TERRIBLE?
Haha so many!! I don’t know.. There’s absolutely beautiful work done on quantifiably terrible films, equally beautiful work in obscure little films and ropey work (politics and/or technique) done on critically acclaimed films. It’s a shame for me when I’m in a packed cinema, everyone engrossed in the film, and I see a big bad edge on a prosthetic or poor colouring, it throws me but I’m not sure if others pick up on it or if the production understands/cares. Most of the really terrible stuff was done with by the 80’s but I have a special place in my heart for a lot of it.
WHAT IS THE MOST GRUESOME INJURY OR ABNORMALITY YOU HAVE CREATED?
It feels like I’ve done it all in that sense- both visually and emotionally; bomb victims, decapitations and stabbings, exploding animals, ridiculous zombies etc etc. For me it’s about the context, even a small bullet wound on a child actor playing in a real-life story will have much more impact on me than fountains of gore in a fantastical setting.
I once made a prosthetic bum for a play about the life of Sara Baartman, a 19th century Khoikhoi woman exhibited in European freak shows because of her unique features and the distorted world view held by her keepers. That kind of recent history is truly gruesome.
WHAT IS THE LONGEST IT HAS TAKEN TO MAKE SOMEONE UP IN THE MAKE UP CHAIR?
I think the longest I’ve spent working on someone till they are camera ready was 8 hours!! We make time for breaks and food but this was one of those situations where a test was not possible and there were a lot of elements to bring together – the character was a ghoulish figure pretty much covered head to toe in layers of prosthetics and other makeup effects. Whilst it sounds like ages it is in fact quite a jovial, fun thing to do and no one involved gets bored in the process!
YOU HAVE WORKED ON SOME INCREDIBLE TV SHOWS AND MOVIES INCLUDING DR STRANGE AND A LITTLE OLD SHOW CALLED GAME OF THRONES, WHAT HAS BEEN ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE PROJECTS TO WORK ON?
This is probably the hardest question to answer. Indeed I’m hugely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to help create iconic moments in pop culture and many childhood fantasies have been realised, it’s fairly safe to say that a few hundred million people saw Caitlin Stark murdered at the Red Wedding?
I think my favourite projects to work on have been those where the team I’m working with has the best vibe and where the work being done is of great quality and is appreciated by the production regardless of the stature of the show, a lot of the time it’s the smaller stuff where everybody involved is invested in creativity and teamwork.