Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Top 13: Special Effects and Makeup Artists of All Time

compiled by Nickolas Cook

Welcome to another Black Glove Top 13 list. This month, what with all the overblown big budget Hollywood CGI SPFX ex-crap-a-ganzas that have already begun to crash and blast their way through the theaters, I thought it would be a great time to remind Horrorheads about the special effects and makeup artists who were, and still are, such innovators in their fields that they have changed the horror genre, and cinema in general, with their individual contributions to their projects. In some cases their graphic depictions of violent deaths has also changed the world of horror literature--i.e., The Splatterpunk movement in the 80s and 90s, for instance.

As I was putting this list together, I found myself being swept away by memories both bloody and fantastical, of the greatest moments I've watched on the big screen, the horrifying, the gross, and sometimes even the revelatory. Images offered to a young Horrorhead back in the 70s and 80s. It was during those decades that the special effects and makeup artists who helped bring those moments to the screen, especially the unforgettable "kill scenes" in such classics as "Friday the 13th", "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Exorcist". They brought the taboo to life for audiences around the world. These master artists were gods to young horror fans and readers of magazines devoted to the genre as "Fangoria", "Starlog" and "Famous Monsters of Filmland". I've never forgotten some of the things I saw in those pages. It was like being given a behind-the-scenes peek at the people who made such things possible. The knowledge of how the effects were done made many a young Horrorhead such as myself that much hungrier for more horror films. I know seeing those films made me a lifelong Horrorhead. At one time I even had dreams of becoming a special effects tech myself. I wanted very much to do to others what those masters of the art form had done to me. I finally found the same satisfaction in writing horror fiction.

For many years, the genre was almost more about the special effects, and the strange and wild men behind them, than the movies themselves. During those years, the SPFX and makeup techs were as reported upon in the media as the stars of the movies they worked on.

But these days movies are less about physical special effects and more about digital CGI rearrangement of reality. A lot of 3-D this and that; it's everywhere you look. Even movies that really aren't special effects films are now getting the 3-D treatment. But can you name any of the people (the literally freakin' thousands in some cases, depending on the budget for CGI effects) who worked on this new breed of forgettable effects cinema?

Back then, names such as Tom Savini, Stan Winston and Rick Baker in a film's credits was an ironclad guarantee that, no matter how shitty the movie might turn out, the special effects were going to totally kick your ass.

In making a list of only 13 people whom I found to be the icons of their profession, I found I had to leave off way too many great artists, both past and present, from the list that really deserved mention. Special effects and makeup men such as John Carl Buechler, "Screaming Mad" George, Kevin Yagher, Douglas Trumbull, Chris Walas, John P. Fulton, Richard Edlund and Bob McCarron. They were, and in some cases, still are, people who helped make this genre exciting in their own right. Their contributions should not be forgotten by any true Horrorhead. And I could easily add another fifty names to that list as well. But I encourage you to check out the credits in any of your favorite genre films of the past. I can almost guarantee you'll find their names associated with the films somewhere along the way.

Like I said, so many people deserve to be recognized on this Top 13, but the final 13 names are people who I feel truly go one step beyond with their catalogue of creations for horror, science fiction and fantasy films, pros who have helped elevate the genre in film. I have them in alphabetical order, not by order of importance to the genre; I leave that up to you, fellow Horrorhead, to choose where each of these awesome master artists belongs.

So without any more jibba-jabba, please enjoy our Top 13...

13. Stan Winston (April 7, 1946 – June 15, 2008)

Known primarily for his work on Spielberg's box office defining "Jurassic Park" (1993-2001) series' dinosaur designs and animatronics creations, Winston also wore the producer/director's hat on such modern monster horror classics as "Pumpkinhead" (1988) and others. For many decades, Winston was the leader of the pack when it came creative creature designs, making his name early in his career with other classics, "The Terminator" series (1984-2009), "Aliens" (1986) and "Predator" (1987). Stan Winston died after a seven year battle with multiple myeloma, leaving a huge blank spot in the special effects industry. It was a truly sad day for Horrorheads around the world when he passed on.

12. Bud Westmore (January 13, 1918 – June 24, 1973)

Bud Westmore came from a long line of special effects and makeup artists in old Hollywood, including such familial greats as George Westmore and Frank Westmore, and worked on some Universal's greatest monsters on the loose movies of the 40s, 50s and 60s, including his design for "The Creature From the Black Lagoon", an iconic monster from the studio responsible for "Dracula", "Frakenstein" and other iconic monster images in the genre. He worked with the great Jack Arnold on many of his giant radioactive monsters on the loose movies of the 50s, which would have been enough to include him on this list, but Bud Westmore's legacy was such a big deal for Universal that they named a studio in his honor on their backlot, something normally reserved for directors and producers important to the studio's legacy.

11. Dick Smith (Born: June 26, 1922)

His work on 1973's "The Exorcist" had people fainting in the theaters, had them running away in terror, and caused many a lapsed Catholic to return to the fold. He is one of the most respected talents in the industry for his work in special effects makeup, including "The Godfather" and "Amadeus", for which he won an Oscar, and made him the top man for 'age makeup' work for many decades. His book on the subject of special effects makeup, "Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook", has become one of the industry's top resources for the beginner, and has sold steadily for decades since its release in the mid 1960s. Most of the other people on this list were inspired by his work in the field, which is a hell of a legacy in the industry to have given some of the names below a kickstart in their careers.

10. Tom Savini (Born: November 3, 1946)

This man is a legend in the genre, for his work in the 70s and 80s on such films, "Friday the 13th" (1980), "Dawn of the Dead", (1978) and "Maniac" (1980), just to name only a few, for his credits are many and varied. For decades, if there was an impossible gore effect to filmed, Tom Savini was the man to which they all came to make it happen. He has also appeared in several classic and modern classic horror titles such as George R. Romero's "Martin" (1977) and Quentin Tarantino's "From Dusk till Dawn" (1996). But he's also worn other hats in the industry, directing a surprisingly awesome remake of Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" (1990), and producing others. These days he also lends his name to a makeup/special effects school, where under his direct leadership and guidance, the young, new talents in the field are being molded every day. I could easily spend pages talking about this man's enormous influence on the horror industry, and not only in film, but in horror fiction as well. Without him, it is certain the 80s Splatterpunk movement would not have been as tremendously impactful as it was on the horror industry in all media formats, including today's video game entertainment industry.
If you see his name in the credits of even the worst 80s horror movie made, watch it anyway, for you're sure to see something extraordinary in its special effects.

9. Carlo Rambaldi (Born: September 15, 1925)

He has worked with the greatest names in the genre, including Lucio Fulci, Steven Spielberg, Dino DeLarantius, Dario Argento and the list goes on. His effects are so realistic, in fact, he had to go to court for his work on Lucio Fulci's "A Lizard in a Woman's Skin" (1971). The skinning of a dog upset enough people that he and Fulci were slapped with a suit filed by Anti-Animal Cruelty groups. Some of this other work, such as his creation of "E.T." for Spielberg's film is certainly one of the most iconic creatures ever put on celluloid. But his work on such films as "Deep Red" (1975), "Dune" (1984) and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) have made him one of the most respected effects men in the industry. It's hard to think of 80s genre films without his imagination guiding them along.

8. Jack Pierce (May 5, 1889 – July 19, 1968)

His makeup work for Universal Studios helped the failing studio from going bankrupt. That's no exaggeration. He created the iconic makeup for "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Mummy" (1932), and later "The Wolfman" (1941) are THE images we think of when we think of those monsters. It's just that simple. He is a legend, having worked for many decades at Universal, until he was fired because he refused to go to full mask creations, instead of his tedious hours long daily sessions of wrinkle by wrinkle, hair by hair makeup effect work. It's a shame to know he died damn near penniless after all of the nightmares and joy he gave Horrorheads around the world for nearly a hundred years with his work in the industry.

7. Willis O'Brien (March 2, 1886 – November 8, 1962)

This man was hired by THE Thomas Edison to help make short films for the, then, very new invention called moving pictures. When his wonderous process of stop-motion animation caught the attention of legendary producer Merian C. Cooper, he hired O'Brien to create the dinosaur creatures for his first Hollywood feature, 1925's "The Lost World", based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book of the same name. From there, he became legend, by creating what is still considered one of the best and most emotive creatures ever put on the silver screen, "King Kong" (1933). Later that same year, he also created Kong's son for "Son of Kong" (1933). And then we have another gorilla who has become legend in the genre, "Mighty Joe Young" (1949). O'Brien also happened to be a young up and coming effects master named Ray Harryhausen (more about him below) and helped make the effects industry what it is today. His impact on genre films cannot be overrated by anyone who has ever sat through "King Kong". It is pure movie magic from start to finish. And although he would always come back to his beloved stop-motion animation over the years, he also moved on to other special effects tricks and worked with the likes of Orson Welles on his cinematic classic "Citizen Kane" (1941).

6. Gregory Nicotero (Born: March 15, 1963)

Oscar winning special effects master Greg Nicotero may have moved onto the realms of CGI effects in today's cinema in films such as the big budget adaptation of C.S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005), but it's his works for Romero's Undead series that we Horrorheads will always love him for best. He began his special effects career under the guidance of the master himself, Tom Savini (see #10 on this list). His later work on "Day of the Dead" (1985) is beyond horrifying, it's downright impossible looking, realistic as you can get, and mind blowing. It's also genre expanding, working along those thin lines of what is art and what is pure exploitative for the sake of shocking the viewer. And while any Horrorhead worth his salt knows it's wonderful that one of our own has made it BIGTIME HOLLYWOOD in the above mentioned Narnia series of films, it's also great to see Nicotero has come back to us with his recent SPFX work on the incredibly intense and realistic zombie apocalypse AMC series "The Walking Dead" (2010-present), based on Robert Kirkman's graphic novel series of the same name. I expect he's due for even more awards in the coming months with this new project under his control. He knows how to make the undead seem to come Or is that unlife?
In any case, this is a man who is already legend. He can only add to his legend status from here on out.

5. Phil Leakey (May 4, 1908 – November 26, 1992)

In the 1960s and 70s, Leakey was to British horror giant Hammer Studios (now known as Hammer Films Productions and back in business after all these years, thank the Horrorhead gods!) what Jack Pierce (see #8 above) was to 1930s and 40s Universal Studios. Without him, their productions would never have become such industry expanding and smashing films. He had the task of making the, then, new process of Technicolor come to life in all new ways in which it had never been used before in the horror genre. And he did so by making red blood redder than it have ever been seen before on film, and by also taking the classic Universal monster catalogue and re-imagining them for a modern audience who was wallowing in its on post modernist state of having seen it all before. He gave Christopher Lee these all new monster faces for "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), "Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (1966) and, of course, "The Mummy" (1959), and he did so for many more of their films. As mentioned above, his gory effects helped bring about the horror literature Splatterpunk movement in his home country and all around the world.

4. Ray Harryhausen (Born: June 29, 1920)

Mentored by known other than the godfather of SPFX in cinema, Willis O'Brien (see #7 above), Harryhausen has become a legend in his own right for his amazing and highly influential film catalogue, which includes such giants of the genre as "War of the Worlds" (1953), "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (1953), "It Came From Beneath the Sea" (1955), "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (1956), "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) and more into the 70s and 80s.
Most young genre fans will probably know him best for his famous SPFX work for producer Charles H, Schneer on the Sinbad movies and "Clash of the Titans" (1981), but his influence on 50s and 60s children who would later become Hollywood directors and producers can't be overestimated; we're talking the likes of genre giants Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi and James Cameron. Alive today, he's still seen as a legend who helped create and mold an entire industry with his films.

3. Lon Chaney, Sr. (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930)

Known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces" by his legions of adoring fans around the world, Chaney made special effects makeup what it is today. Without him, there's no way the industry would be as exciting as it has been and can still be with the right people working on real world SPFX. But he was an actor as well, and so he was always his own best test subject when it came time to creating the facial appliances for his classic silent era films, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923), "The Monster" (1925), "The Unholy Three" (1925), "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) and hundreds more movies starring him and his makeup effects. Born to deaf and mute parents, Chaney learned to communicate with them by using body language and facial expressions that were out of the norm. He later applied these same tricks in his acting career to create some of the most iconic faces in the history of cinema. He was the world's favorite monster and his films weren't just releases, they were huge multimedia events, covered the world over. Sadly, when sound came along, his genuis was diminished by the fact that now he also had to learn how to use his voice in his acting. It did not translate as well with movie going audiences and he finally fell from grace. But he passed along the acting bug to his son, Lon Chaney Jr., who would later become known for his own legendary portrayal of Universal's big budget special effects monster movie, "The Wolfman" (1941). This is a man who is more than legend; he is the foundation of the industry.

2. Rob Bottin (Born: April 1, 1959)

His mentor was master special effects man, Rick Baker (see #1, below), and his first solo project was "The Howling" (1981), which contains, for my money, one of the two best werewolf transformation sequences ever put on film (see below for what I consider #1). Since that time, Bottin has gone onto work with Carpenter on "The Fog" (1980), and most importantly, "The Thing" (1982), which contains some of the most mindblowing transformation effects ever seen up till then and even today. Bottin has also worked on other classic genre films, such as "Se7en" (1995), "RoboCop" (1987), and "Legend" (1985), to name only a very few of the fantastic industry changing films he's worked on throughout his career. Again, his creations have helped fuel a new generation of imaginative SPFX people all over the world.

1. Rick Baker (Born: December 8, 1950)

Last, but certainly not least, we have THE MAN himself, Rick Baker, who actually created the single best werewolf transformation scene I've ever seen in "An American Werewolf In London" (1981). He has been working in the industry since the early 1970s, adding his own unique turn on such films as "It's Alive" (1974), "Squirm" (1976), "The Incredible Melting Man" (1977), "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (1977) and many more throughout the decades. He's still working today, bringing his expertise to modern genre films, including last year's remake of "The Wolfman". Over the years, because of his work on gorilla based creature features such as "King Kong" (1976), "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984) and "Harry and the Hendersons" (1987) he has been the go-to man for all things simian in big budget Hollywood productions. He's been awarded top honors around the world for his work, including 7 Oscars.
His talent is vast and he's probably one of the last true industry holdouts against the flood of CGI (less than) special effects disasters we see hitting the big screen in increasing numbers every year.

--Nickolas Cook