EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Special Effects Make-Up Legend Todd Tucker
Todd Tucker has contributed his special effects skills to everything from Ali to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. This year is particularly busy for him and his studio, 'Illusion Industries', as they take on G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Smurfs 2, The Iceman and Fright Night 2 to name just a few. I was lucky enough to recently have the opportunity to put my questions to Todd about his illustrious career AND all of the projects above. DC Comics fans will want to make note of the fact that he also reveals that the studio has put forward their take on Warner Bros.' planned big screen adaptation of Lobo.
Special effects make-up legend and founder of Illusion Industries, Todd Tucker, talks to us about his work on everything from prosthetic makeup to animatronics, puppets, and specialty costumes. This includes details on G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Iceman, Watchmen and even a pitch for Lobo!
Firstly, can you tell our readers about how you entered the world of special effects?
I was an only child and spent most of my youth at the movies. I loved films like Star Wars, The Dark Crystal, Gremlins and knew at an early age that I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I was always drawing, sculpting and really enjoyed creating characters and creatures, then moved to L.A. in 1990 and started working as a professional special effects make-up artist on [Steven] Spielberg’s Hook.
What advice would you give to anyone who is interested in working in this area?
To anyone who is interested in entering this field, you need to learn how to sculpt, mold, fabricate and apply. There are a number of books and DVDs that you can order online to help walk you through the many steps and techniques. Buy some materials then practice, practice, practice. When you feel confident that you are ready, put together a portfolio to showcase your best art work. Then locate different make-up FX companies and try to get an interview to show them your work. That’s what I did.
You've worked on everything from prosthetic makeup to animatronics, puppets, and specialty costumes. Which of these is the most challenging AND enjoyable?
Prosthetic make-ups, puppets and specialty costumes all have their own individual challenges. I think animatronic puppets are the most challenging because of all the mechanical and technical aspects of the builds. The prosthetic make-ups are the most enjoyable for me, simply because of how rewarding it is to see an actor or actress, who is wearing our make- up, bring that character to life. It’s a rush.
You founded your own studio, 'Illusion Industries', back in 2010. What was it like for you to do this and what sort of pressures and work are involved in its day-to-day running?
Illusion Industries was founded in 2010 however, my business partner, Ron Halvas; the core creative and admin team; and I had been together in prior companies for many years. Even though we had worked on over 100 films and television shows, the biggest challenge was marketing the company and letting the studios know about our past credits and who we really were. On a day-to-day basis our team is responsible for breaking down scripts, create a budgets for the make-up effects, work with the director on designs and effects, and then build the different creatures, characters and effects. Finally, we go on set and apply the finished make-ups to the performer. We are a one-stop-shop and do everything from start to finish.
Looking back on your past projects, which of them stands out to you as being a particular favorite?
One of the favorite movies that I’ve worked on was a comic book movie called Trailer Park of Terror. Not only did we create the redneck zombie family, but I also got to produce and 2nd Unit Direct the film. It was not easy wearing so many hats at the same time, but the director Steven Goldman was very supportive and my creative team headed by Martin Astles, was amazing as usual.
Watchmen is definitely a fan favourite comic book movie. Take us through what your work on that film involved.
For the movie Watchmen, we worked closely with Zack Snyder to help him adapt the classic graphic novel to the big screen. We created all the historical look-alike make-ups along with the Comedian’s old age look and all the core effects. Zack is an outstanding director and had a very clear vision of what he wanted to see. Anytime we had a creative question, Zack would tell always ask us to reference the novel. Over all, it was a great experience and a lot of fun to work on.
Looking ahead to the future, what should fans expect to see from your contributions to G.I. Joe: Retaliation?
Unfortunately, I can’t talk too much about the make-up FX that we did for G.I. Joe Retaliation until it comes out. I can tell you that I think the fans are really going to like this one. The visuals in the movie are awesome and the action scenes have a very realistic look as opposed to a CG video game finish. From what I saw on set, it’s gonna be a fast and fun movie.
What sort of work did you do on The Smurfs 2 and how does it differ from what you did on the first installment?
For Smurfs 2, we designed, created and applied the Gargamel make-up, worn by Hank Azaria. We designed and created Hank’s look for The Smurfs but did not apply it and for Smurfs 2 we had to re-sculpt the nose appliance and made it a little smaller to compensate for a slightly thinner Hank. It’s always interesting when you are asked to create a realistic make-up that is based on a cartoon character. The make-up consists of a prosthetic nose, ears, teeth, eyebrows and a wig. Fortunately, Hank is such a great character actor, that he really beings the make-up to life.
Can you tell us anything at all about Fright Night 2?
For Fright Night 2, we created a head to toe creature make-up for the big finale. I can’t say what it is, but I can tell you that horror fans will not be disappointed. The make-up application was so extensive that it took two of our artists over five hours to complete the final look. I always liked the original movie so it was a lot of fun to be involved with the new franchise.
And what did you do for The Iceman exactly?
For The Iceman we designed and created the different period looks for actors Michael Shannon and Chris Evans, which included wigs, beards, mustaches and prosthetics. We also made a number of gore effects. I saw a screening of the film at the Toronto Film Festival and the movie was intense. Director Ariel Vromen, got chilling performances from all the actors.
How closely do you work with the directors and actors on movies such as these?
We always work very closely with both the directors and the actors when we are designing the look for a character. Sometimes the director will have a very specific idea of what they want, if they don’t, we present them with different design ideas and see what they respond to. We often try to involve the actor in the design phase, mainly to get their input and make sure we are creating something that actually helps them find and perform their character.
You've served as a second unit director in the past, but would you be interested in being more heavily involved in directing in future?
I served as producer and 2nd Unit Director on a number of films, then in 2010, I created and directed a family feature called Monster Mutt. The movie got worldwide distribution and can be purchased at Walmart.com, Target.com, and Amazon.com. It also premiered January 15, 2013 on Direct TV, iTunes, and VUDU. Monster Mutt is a PG Family Comedy and was made for kids 5-10 years old. Illusion Industries Inc. has two new in-house feature films in pre-production for 2013. One is a PG13 supernatural/horror film and the second is a PG13 dark fantasy. Both films are FX driven, dark and edgy. Fans are gonna love them.
Are there any particular superheroes that you would like the opportunity to work on?
A few months back we heard a rumor that the studios were moving forward on Lobo, so we created some designs for the character and presented them to the studios. That would be a fun one to work on because Lobo is such a mean spirited badass.
What other projects are on the horizon for you guys?
We are talking to a number of different productions right now. So 2013 will be a very busy year for Illusion Industries.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of ComicBookMovie.com?
You are only as good as your team. I would like to give a special thanks to the Illusion Industries family. My partner, Ron Halvas; Martin Astles (Key Artist), Joe Colwell (Key Artist), Adam Walls (Project Coordinator) Marine Khachtryan (Project Coordinator), and Jane Pfeister (Project Coordinator). Check us out at IllusionIndustries.com and @illusionindinc.
Interview with Todd Tucker from Illusion Industries on Vimeo.
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