How To Create More Special FX In Less Time!

This is Part 2 of 3 with my interview with Steve Siegelbaum of GutRot Effects. He has worked on sets with George Romero and he even did make-up for Elvira. Here we discuss simple ways to help develop your make-up techniques more efficiently and some tips for bringing your Special FX artists team together while saving loads of time with your actors too! If you haven’t read Part 1 then read it first. Click Here!

When setting up an assembly-type process in the make-up room, what are the stages for the actors and the artists?

This all comes down to planning. The how, what and why of what you and the owners want to accomplish..

Room Set-up

• Having a space to set everything up. The bigger the better! No matter what size the space is you need to create a safe, clean, and accessible environment.

• Then actor placement, what part are they playing and what makeup and costume are they getting.

• Labeling before and after photos of each actor in and out of makeup is a great way to stay organized, as well as numbering all the costumes and assigning each actor the according number for their costume.

My last gig was at the Number 1 rated FOREST OF FEAR in Tuxedo, NY which was designed by the great Chris De Troy and his team from Loki’s work shop. In my opinion, one of the best crews in the industry. So I’ll use our makeup room as an example…

We had three FX artists for 40+ makeups each night and each artist had their own work area with a tall chair (preferably one that spins). Each work area also needs..

• A mirror.

• All the necessary paints- pigments , brushes , adhesives , blood , guts ,and applications within easy reach as not to waste valuable time in searching for the next color or brush need for the next step in your application. This means shelving to hold your applications and needed materials. A brightly lit room is very important so the artists can see what they are doing.

• Being that airbrushing is not only an amazing time saver but holds up very well limiting the need for constant touch ups, we each had our own airline or compressor for airbrushing. Plus, all the necessary airbrush paints, cleaners, and hoses. When it comes to airbrushing, a compressor with a four way splitter that can allow for the use of more than one airbrush at a time is extremely valuable. Picking up another airbrush already attached to its own hose with its own dedicated color and ready to go; rather than stopping, cleaning the airbrush, then switching out the color which is a major pain and time killer.


Actor Set-up

Special effects application takes time. I believe expressing that to the owners as well as the actors themselves is really important. I make it a point to constantly remind people to come early for makeup. This is one frustration that comes with the territory. This is why I break down the FX into categories. Each actor category has its own time slot when the makeups are applied.

Costumed actors. These are the actors with mask-based costumes and do not get makeup or at the very least need black around the eyes. This is something they can do themselves and head right to their spots.

Placed actors. These are the folks that scare within the attraction. They are assigned specific areas that become their domain and have durable prosthetics and makeup applied for the characters they play. These folks should be started as early as you can, depending upon the amount of makeup needed. Now yes you want to be as detailed as possible but also be time conscious and understand the use of lighting in the haunt. The patrons just aren’t gonna see a lot of that detail you just spent a bunch of time on, so knowing when and where to spend your time with a lot of detail is a very needed skill.

Walkers or roamers. My favorite position when I play in a haunt! This is when your most seasoned actors get up close and personal and interact with the patrons entertaining them with the highest detail of the costumes and makeups. This is where the most detail and time will be placed. Once finished they head out to terrify the masses..

Last call effects. These are the managers , late actors , and the artists themselves to dive into their own costumes and make ourselves up so we can go and spread some nightmarish joy.
I do believe in assigning times for touch-ups, usually at a bathroom break. Many haunts have breakers that go around to all the scares and give actors a small break. This is a great time to instruct them to pass by the makeup room and see about any need fixes or touch-ups to the applications or makeups. Yes, there will be an artist in the makeup room at all times. With multiple artists you can rotate an hourly schedule where there is always someone there for a makeup emergency. Allowing for the artists to go and play while another takes their turn in the makeup room touching up applications. Happy artists, great make-up , and happy actors = great scares , repeat customers and added revenue.


Artist Set-Up

Just as in performing a great scare; timing is very important for an FX artist.

Knowing and understanding the types of materials you put on people, safely applying them in a timely manner, and the cure times in between layers of the application process are all part of the job.While waiting for one application to dry up for the next layer or step; the artist should call in the next person waiting and start their application process. I always have a few extra chairs set in a line alongside my station to keep things moving along smoothly. Each person in each different chair is in a various step in the application process. When I finish with one I call the next and everyone slides down one chair. A ‘train of pain’ that goes until all the makeups are finished.

An FX artist can expect to be applying makeup and applications for more than one person at a time until all are finished and the show is open and running. But the job is not over… long after the actors are gone; the artists are cleaning and prepping for the next nights shenanigans.


Artist’s Tip: Everything that touches someone’s skin must be sanitized! This means all brushes must go in a sanitizing solution like 99% alcohol in between each application and at the end of each night to prevent the spread of bacteria such as a staff infection. This is no joke folks! Before you consider continually dipping an applicator or brush into those paints keep in mind those little containers are like petri dishes capable of growing bacteria at an amazing rate. So scooping a little of what you’re using with a designated spatula or even a Popsicle stick and putting it on a pallet is very important and sanitary. No double dipping!!

What is your favorite technique for applying make-up?

That’s a tough one. As different applications call for different methods of execution, and I enjoy them all. In a place that calls for people to have makeup and prosthetics applied and worn for long periods of time while jumping, running, crawling and screaming with as few touch ups as possible is very challenging.

Consider placement of a large wound. To keep it where you need it- you need a very good adhesive like pros-aid. You have to keep in mind to place that wound in a visually stimulating area that isn’t harmful like on an eye without proper precautions (like covering the eye first) or in a high motion area like the elbow; where constant bending of the skin will pull the seams and it will fall off. But that’s the magic of special effects makeup: Getting to those issues and solving them with a little imagination.That’s what love!!

You don’t just slap a wound on and that’s it. You perfect it, expand on it, and create a complete costume from a head wound to bloody fingernails. I will take that application and show it who’s boss! Slap that puppy on and stipple on some layers of latex. Roll, pull and tear some holes in it, expand on it bringing in some veins, and bruising and blood to add the illusion of trauma or infection. This allows you to carry this single effect to other areas and bring it from just an application to a larger and more intricate focal point that flows with the costume and completes it!

I have always been a more hands on kinda guy. I also enjoy working right on the spot. Creating the needed effect right there on a scene or ‘soft sculpting’ as it’s called. Take a material like Gel-10 or morticians wax in addition to some sculpting tools or even again Popsicle sticks. Then applying those materials directly onto your actor. I love mixing up this technique and adding pre made applications to create some really grotesque and wild effects on the spot that encompass what that character is. It also allows you to change things up and perfect the makeup from the previous season or the night before.

Remember, the key is to make a complete costume. It bothers me to see great effects on an actor’s head but nothing carrying that makeup down to the arms or even legs. So don’t forget that! Even the addition of just some dirt and blood to the arms or hands and anywhere skin shows through will help to complete any costume.

..stay tuned for more next time! In Part 3 we will discuss where Steve gets his inspiration and some lasting tips for special effects and make-up artists.

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