Interview with Special Makeup Effects Artist Paul While
To me, there is no debate on which type of special effects is better when it comes to horror films - practical versus CGI (computer generated imagery). Of course, it is all a matter of opinion and personal taste but, to me, practical effects wins this battle, hands down in the horror genre. Some might say that the art, and unique craft, of practical effects is a dying art form because of the constant incline of technology and the use of computers which is deemed “cheaper” for the most part. I beg to differ. As does special makeup effects artist Paul While.
Paul took the time to sit down and answer a few questions for Reelybored Horror and give us a little more insight on the intricacies of practical effects as well as his take on CGI versus practical effects. He also gives us a sneak peek of his work on the independent horror film, Psoro.
Reelybored: From what I gather, you are an avid fan of horror films. What was your first experience like with a horror movie that made you fall in love with the genre and what was that like?
Paul While: I was fortunate, at a very young age, to be allowed to watch most horror films that my parents would rent or buy from our local video store. Back then, in the late 80s & 90s, there were so many iconic monster movies that stayed with me and even gave me nightmares. Rawhead Rex, Creepshow, Evil Dead and even mainstream movies like Legend and Jaws had images that really freaked me out as a kid. From what I remember, it was Return of the Living Dead that really made me fall in love with the genre; it was also my first experience with zombies! It was the only horror film where I felt it could happen for real and that sense of reality would give me a thrill. I got goosebumps just thinking about it. I remember telling my friends at school all about the horror films I watched and even wrote or drew story projects using the films as inspiration. Makes me wonder what the teachers really thought of me [laughs]. Great memories!
Reelybored: What got you into special make-up effects?
While: I’ve always loved drawing monsters but doing special make-up effects never surfaced until I was doing my Art A-Level course at college. I remember I used to experiment with colored chalk pastels on my friend to create bruises and water colored paints to create dirty slash markings during break times. People actually thought they’d abused themselves which was a great compliment to me. From there my interests grew further; I started sculpting and building a portfolio that would see me starting a technical effects degree course at London College of Fashion. There, I would learn all the processes on making practical FX.
Reelybored: Can you name some of your influences that have inspired your work?
While: I grew up admiring the FX work of Tom Savini (Creepshow), Rick Baker (American Werewolf in London), Rob Bottin (The Thing), and Greg Nicotero (Evil Dead 2), I’ve always based my creations with them at heart. I also have a passion for Clive Barker and early David Cronenberg whose work and imagination are so unique and creative using the human form. They’ve inspired me to use my dreams as a tool for seeking unusual designs.
Reelybored: With technology evolving at a rapid rate, the use of CGI is rampant, especially in horror movies. How do you feel about its use in horror movies?
While: There was always something real and terrifying about watching a monster on-screen built entirely out of practical makeup FX, but with CGI that effect is almost nonexistent. I do believe it can be a great tool in the right hands but since it’s less restrictive and somewhat cheaper than practical FX we see a lot more of sloppy digital effects in modern-day horror films. Unfortunately, with this being the norm, we have seen a decline in true quality creature FX that I used to grow up watching.
Reelybored: Would you say that the use of CGI in horror movies can sometimes be warranted?
While: Most definitely! As I said before, computer generated imagery can work effectively if it is used in the right way without overdoing it. A great example was the recent ‘The Walking Dead’ television series. You had the superb zombie make-up effects by Greg Nicotero and CGI was used to help polish the gore and blood shots. The most memorable scene was the legless zombie from the first episode where they had digitally removed the actor’s legs; it looked so real! CGI has the advantage of being designed from the ground up to look and act like the thing it is supposed to simulate, but that can also be its downfall.
Reelybored: Do you think that filmmakers today are using the excuse of “now having the technology to do it right” a valid argument to remake/reboot horror movies deemed as classics such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Halloween and the upcoming Evil Dead remake/reboot?
While: I always believe that when a movie is made well the first time, there is no need to try it again; once made right, it cannot be improved upon. Hollywood is using marketing tactics to make a quick buck simply because they’ve lost their ambition to churn out original films in fear of losing profit. Ok, we’re trying to improve the economy here but there’s no reason to take a classic horror film and literally dilute and butcher the story and characters. Why remake Evil Dead when the sequel was already more of a reboot taking advantage of the improved practical make-up effects?! A Nightmare on Elm Street remake had 35 million dollars pumped into the production yet they failed to create the nightmarish world we loved from the previous originals. With that sort of money and technology available they lost an amazing opportunity to succeed but instead left us with a mediocre slasher film to appeal to the modern day audience. For comparison, Freddy Vs Jason profited much better in the first opening weekend costing 10 million less than the reboot – take that as you will. Problem here is that the new generation of moviegoers grows up not watching the originals so they will continue to watch these remakes/reboots expecting that quality of production and effects.
Reelybored: Well said, I completely agree! What would you say are the advantages that practical effects have over the use of CGI?
While: The main advantage is that practical effects are made from something real and that’s how our brains trigger to sense it on the screen. It helps create realism and believability into fooling us and that’s something a lot of modern CGI effects has never made us feel yet. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and the 2011 prequel is a good example where CGI is inferior to animatronics created 30 years ago. The way Rob Bottin made those transformations out of materials is artistic perfection!
Reelybored: The more gore, the merrier – how do you feel about that statement in relation to horror movies?
While: Not necessarily true, it depends on the tone of the movie and how the filmmakers choose to portray the story on film. One of the reasons why people are so fascinated with horror films is the excitement it provides through thrilling elements like suspense and violence. Peter Jackson’s Braindead, one of the bloodiest at its time, however, had very comedic tongue-in-cheek humour so it didn’t come across as overly excessive. On the other hand you have films like Hostel & SAW which have now been labeled as ‘torture porn’ for its gratuitous gore dragged across many sequels. I personally wouldn’t want to see blood & guts in a ghost/paranormal story as it would ruin the whole scare factor. But with a good old midnight ‘popcorn’ monster movie it is definitely “the more gore, the merrier” for me.
Reelybored: Fill us in on your process, from concept to completion.
While: I was asked to make a realistic severed head for a short gangster movie called ‘One Last Hit’. The idea was for the head to be kept inside a bowling ball bag and to have its shocking reveal at the end. The technical effect is made from 4 main processes: Life-casting, sculpting, moulding, and casting.
I took a life cast from the model’s head using an impression-making material known as alginate.
A positive cast was taken by pouring melted clay which can then be sculpted upon.
I cleaned up the sculpture and created a 2-piece plaster mold.
I had chosen silicone to cast from as it gives a much more realistic look because of the material’s translucent properties. This was then backed by expanding ridged foam for the core.
The prop was painted and real human hair punched through the silicone to complete.
Reelybored: What are some of the challenges you have met working on independent horror films?
While: Time and budget are your closest enemies when it comes to working on independent films. Making props aren’t usually a problem, but when you’re on set shooting a special effect you often only have one take to execute it. This is because either the money only allows one to be made or the shooting schedule doesn’t give enough time to start over again. Although most problems can be fixed through post production, it can give you extra pressure to make sure you fulfill what the Director wants.
Reelybored: What can you tell us about your current work with independent horror film Psoro?
While: Well after completing One Last Hit with Director Wayne Daniells (from LiarDice Films) we started talking about making a horror film. The idea of Psoro (Latin for itch) originated through Wayne’s father who is sick with a skin condition that would make him uncontrollably scratch himself. From that idea we had built a tense mental horror, gory story complete with a surreal climatic ending. Our aim is to bring the horror viewers back to the real practical FX days we grew up watching where very little or no CGI was used. Wayne had built a working relationship with producer Sid Kali (Slice of Americana Films) so we welcomed him to work with us on Psoro. Using the social network as a tool, the three of us collaborated together on new scenes using several locations from around the world. We felt more comfortable expanding the origins of the story and so the production grew from a small featurette to a full feature film. I spent a lot of time in the studio creating prosthetics & props that looked gruesomely awesome on camera. Psoro will certainly prey on people’s fears when it’s released towards the end of the year.
Reelybored: Wayne Daniells, director of Psoro, made mention of your casting work on actor Lucas Hansen who had a part in the Human Centipede 2. What can you tell us about that?
While: We were very fortunate to have Lucas Hansen playing our lead for Psoro and during the weeks before shooting he stopped by my studio for life casting. A lot of the practical FX for Psoro was on Lucas so I had to take plaster cast impressions from a couple of his body parts. Doing so allowed me to create these gruesome prosthetics and props that would fit perfectly on him. Lucas had already experienced life casting and prosthetics for the Human Centipede 2 movie so he was really good to work with.
Reelybored: What’s next for you?
While: Well Psoro is nearing to completion now and ready for post production work. I’m currently creating a zombie baby puppet for a horror short film where viewers can watch me build in real-time through pictorial updates on my Facebook fan page (Graphic Delusions). I will also be working on an upcoming feature Sci-Fi film The Reptilian Agenda later in the year.
Reelybored: Any advice for anyone looking to get into special makeup effects?
While: In this area of work you got to be committed and hungry for the jobs out there, but first get the education and experience needed! I recommend taking a course into makeup/technical effects because you’ll learn a lot on the process involved to increase your skills & talents. There are also plenty of communities online to share your thoughts, and books/DVDs that will aid you in your path.
Paul while and Psoro director Wayne Daniells are currently holding a Twitter competition to win a signed Psoro poster. See details below!
We are giving away a Psoro poster print, designed by artist Steve Simmons, hand signed by our talented cast & crew including lead actor Lucas Hansen (Human Centipede 2), Tim Dax (CSI, Troma), Edd Muruako (Bloodless) and scream-queen Jennifer Day. To win you simply have to follow @LiarDiceFilms on Twitter and the first 200 people will be put into a hat and a winner will be selected at random.
For more about Paul While and Graphic Delusions, visit his Facebook page, Graphic Delusions! or Follow him on Twitter @PaulWhile. You can also visit the Graphic Delusions website at http://www.graphicdelusions.com/
Take a look at some of SFX Artist Paul While’s other work including Exclusive images of Psoro in the gallery below!