Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Part 41: Evil Dead to Cute Dogs

As Mark Shostrom and company left for North Carolina, I found myself unemployed again. That was short-lived after a call from a friend, Scott Wheeler, who was working for Ellis "Sonny" Burman at Cosmekinetics in Northridge, California.

Apparently, Sonny had been hired by the EVIL DEAD II production to make some specific props: A giant Evil Tree puppet, three miniature Evil Tree hand puppets, and the Evil Deer Trophy Head for "the Laughing Room" scene.

How could you forget THIS guy?!
But more importantly, Sonny built the all-important, iconic chainsaws that Bruce "Ash" Campbell eventually uses to replace his dismembered hand.

Sonny made several versions of this saw for different purposes.
Scott, again, was going to North Carolina while I was going to remain in the shop with Sonny, but in any case, they needed assistance with running foam latex, and some finishing work before the pieces shipped to location.

Cosmekinetics was in the same industrial park that Stan Winston's studio was located in, but however close together they were, the studios themselves were worlds apart.  Sonny Burman, first of all, was ex-military.  At first that may sound a bit daunting, but I found Sonny to be a straight-shooter.  He never said anything that he didn't mean or couldn't back up and I admired that.  When I worked for him he must have been in his early 50's and I'll tell you this: He looked like he could have crushed a girder with his bare hands!  I had heard a rumor that during the shooting of THE TERMINATOR, James Cameron was frustrated with the Endoskeleton puppeteers who were working in a trench and began yelling at them.  Sonny responded, by shouting that if Jim didn't shut up, he (Sonny) was going to leap out of the trench and knock Cameron's dick in the dirt!  True?  I don't know, but if Sonny had yelled that at me, I would have unloaded my colon into my pants.

Sonny's partner was Bob Williams who was intelligent, level-headed, and had a wry sense of humor.  The entire time I was there, I never saw Bob get ruffled.  Frustrated? Yes, but he always handled it calmly and with a droll quip.

Arriving to work my first Monday, I was greeted by the sight of a casting of the full-sized Evil Tree puppet.  It was only 1/2 around (I would say roughly 3 1/2 to 4 feet in diameter)I want to say that the casting was latex and soft polyurethane foam behind it.  It was backed by fiberglass, but not the traditional laminated layers of cloth or matte, but was covered in "chop" from a "chop gun."  Pardon my naivete but I had never seen fiberglass chop before and I was impressed. It made sense. Something that sized, to laminate layers of matte would have taken a few people many hours to build up a significant thickness.  With the chop gun, it had taken one person just a few hours.

"Calling all evil trees!  Calling all evil trees!"
Unfortunately, all of the chainsaws were completed by the time I showed up.  All expertly aged and matching one another, Sonny and Bob had built at least 3 that I recall: a hero working chainsaw (with no chain), a light-weight smoking shell that Bruce wore on his hand, and a soft version for stunts. There may have been more, but it is difficult to remember.

What I do remember were molds.  Four of them to be exact.  All made from pink Tool Stone (which was a mold making favorite back in the day). Three of them were miniature Evil Tree puppets complete with Tool Stone hand positives in puppeteering poses.  The last was the Evil or Laughing Deer Trophy Head.  Scott Wheeler had sculpted the deer head and for some reason we had run the foam latex for it at Mark Shostrom's shop.  Perhaps that's what gave Scott the idea to call me to work at Sonny's when the Shostrom team left for North Carolina?

Scott took the skin back to Cosmekinetics and finished off the deer there.  He recently told me that he hand-laid crepe wool for the fur!  That's a lot of work.  However, when it was time to run the miniature Evil Tree molds, I was working at Sonny's.

A little more information for those of you reading this who don't know of the pitfalls of running Foam Latex:  it is environment sensitive. How the foam reacts has a lot to do with the air temperature and humidity.  Most shops have environmentally enclosed rooms to run the foam latex, but Sonny?  Nope.  I was to run the foam latex on a shop table in the middle of the room during spring time in the San Fernando Valley.  Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

As a consolation tactic, Sonny and Bob bought an electronic Ph meter so that I could get a reading prior to adding the last gelling chemical that reacted based on the mixture's ammonia content. So, I would stand at the Sunbeam Mixmaster spinning my bowl, watching my stopwatch, then Sonny or Bob would come over with a small plastic case that housed a "pen sensor" on the end of a coiled wire.  They would dip the end into the mix and let me know if I had to add more ammonia or not before the gel.  Believe it or not, we got it to work and  somehow or another I managed to run the foam.

Working for Sonny was a joy.  It truly was.  And Sonny was so cool; he took most things in stride.  Like the time I found one of the HOWLING II werewolf masks just bunched up under a table.  I unbunched it, put it on, and then leaped into Sonny's office growling.  Sonny, who was reading a Motor Cross magazine, lowered it for a second and said, "Damn that Jack Bricker." (Jack Bricker had supervised the show for Sonny), and then lifted his magazine and went back to reading while I stood there with a smelly old foam latex mask on.

Some time later, he also decided that it was time that I get over my ridiculous fear of snakes. See, Sonny had this terrarium that was at about eye-level and in it was a disgusting rattlesnake that he kept as a pet.  One day, Sonny arrived on his motorcycle with a small cardboard pet carrier.  On the exterior of the box it read: "Someone loves me." and "I've found a home!" 

Sonny got off of the bike and told me that it was the day I was going to get over my fear of snakes.  He grabbed me by the shoulder and moved me to the rattlesnake tank.  He opened the pet carrier, removed a little white mouse and dropped it into the tank.  He then put his hands on my shoulders and held me, facing the tank, so I HAD to watch the rattlesnake eat the mouse.  As the rodent landed, I heard the rattlesnake buzzing angrily.  Sonny began saying that my fear of snakes was based on not having and understanding and an appreciation of how they work, what they do, how they do it.  If I just saw for myself...THUNK! The rattlesnake struck the mouse and the venom did its work.

At least I think so.

What Sonny didn't see was that my eyes were closed the entire time.  After I had heard the thunk, I opened them to see half of a mouse sticking out of the snake's mouth.  Yech!  Appreciation?  For THAT?  I'd just as soon stay away from snakes.  Indiana Jones and me.  We hate snakes.

Okay, the rattlesnake treatment didn't work....yech!
During my time at Sonny's, he landed another job.  It seems like Hollywood was going to produce another sequel to the successful BENJI dog movie by Joe Camp.  This one was going to be entitled BENJI, THE HUNTED and was going to to feature a group of puma cubs that Benji would rescue after their mother had been killed somehow.
No, that's not a Rob Bottin werewolf chasing them.  But.  Hmmmmmm....
Sonny had received a call from Steve Martin's working wildlife, a motion picture animal training and rental facility north of Los Angeles.  They needed some fake puma cubs to train Mr. Benji.  The idea was for Benji to carry the cubs like their mother would which is an unnatural action for the dog to perform. So, off to Steve Martin's working wildlife, I went,  with a camera and a measuring tape (Steve Martin's Working Wildlife).

I arrived , parked and began to walk up a hill to the compound where the puma cubs were.  As I walked, I froze as a black leopard came around a bend only to be followed a split second later by a trainer holding a leash.  If I didn't know better, I would have sworn it was one of the black leopards from THE CAT PEOPLE.  Who knows, it probably was.

I met the trainers, who were very nice, and they handled the puma cubs while I tried in vain to measure and photograph them.  They squirmed and tumbled while "crying".  The trainers explained that they would be needing a fake puma to work with the dog because every time they had given him something to carry the way they hoped he would carry the puma cub, he would shake it like a rag doll.  That would be disastrous.  The idea was that the body of the training puma would be hollow and they would be able to add weight to it in order to train Benji to not shake the damn things!  Also, if they needed shots where carrying the puma cubs would be dangerous, they could use the artificial stand in as to not risk the life of a cub.

So I returned to Cosmekinetics and Sonny felt that I should just build the cubs myself since I had been the one to see them in person.  I sculpted the puma in two pieces: the head, and the body.  I molded them separately and Bob made an armature that would be run into the foam latex to keep the arms and legs from being too floppy. There were at least three made: one that was a simple training cub, no frills just the bare minimum for what Benji needed for day to day training and two more that were essentially camera ready. 

With little to know experience, I did manage to do some fur transfer which is the technique of taking artificial fur, removing it from the material backing and adhering it to another surface (in this case, the artificial puma cub). The final product was effective and the clients were happy with it.

Okay, maybe not PHOTO real, but it would be good for dog training!

His hollow belly could be filled from the back with weight. Ironically, that's Stan's studio reflected in the doors to the left.
See? That cub would have been shaken like an old dish towel without the proper training!
 One day, while dumping a garbage can in the huge common dumpster that serviced the entire industrial park, I ran into Stan Winston.  The crew was back from England and already back to work.  He had seen the issue of Mad Movies that featured my Evil Ed puppet photo and asked if I had sculpted it.  I told him I had.  He then asked where I was working and I told him I was around the corner at Sonny's.  I couldn't tell him how long Sonny was going to keep me employed, so, Stan, being Stan, decided to come with me and ask Sonny himself.

Stan met with Sonny in his office while I went about my business cleaning up at the end of the day.  Finally, Sonny called me into his office.  He told me that Stan wanted to hire me and the only thing Sonny had coming up was to do on-set maintenance on an alien puppet for a television series called ALF.  They were going to start shooting the first season soon and I would be on set to repair the puppet if needed.

The photo Sonny showed me looked something like this.  Seeing the black, air brushed paint, I was not enthused.
Having no idea what the hell ALF was, I thanked Sonny and told him that I'd like to return to Stan's if that was okay with him.  We parted on good terms.

That was the last time I worked with Sonny, but of all of the bosses I have worked with over the years, Sonny was truly one of the best (if not THE best).  By this part of the story, EVIL DEAD II fans are probably wracking their brains wondering if they had seen Sonny's name in the credits.

I don't believe you do.

Sonny received a call from production during the shoot, unhappy about something, and I heard Sonny in his office read them the riot act.  Sorry, but I have to admire the courage it took to do this.   He dressed them down, standing behind his product and crew like none other.  It is this type of integrity that is so rare in Hollywood.  Right or wrong, Sonny sided with his business and in his opinion he had done what he had been paid to do - honest work for the price and if they didn't like know.  I had seen the work done by Cosmekinetics and so have many of you.  Sonny, like all of the effects companies, Shostrom's, Beswicks, Gardner's, had delivered.  Sonny just wasn't going to take production's shit and didn't.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is not the land of integrity and for what ever reason, a few years later Cosmekinetics closed.  I have heard through the grapevine that Sonny, also a talented make up artist, had gone back on the union roster and returned to make up full time.  What a loss.  I was sorry to see Cosmekinetics close, however it did raise one question in my mind....

What happened to that rattlesnake?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Part 40: EVIL DEAD II - The First Truly Defining Job

This is a difficult post.  So much has been said about the making of EVIL DEAD II that I'm afraid that this will all seem redundant.  On the other hand, history IS history and I was fortunate enough to participate in one of the greatest cult movies ever made.

After STAR TREK IV wrapped I found myself back in our little apartment in Eagle Rock, CA unemployed for what seemed like a day or two.  Mark Shostrom called me to tell me that he had just landed the sequel to Sam Raimi's incredible midnight movie classic THE EVIL DEAD.  I had seen THE EVIL DEAD but not in the theater.  Oh no.  I watched the film on video in a dark room, by myself in the middle of the night.  It was so unique, frightening, funny, weird, and wonderful that by the time it was over I wasn't sure how I felt about it other than I loved it.  I had also seen CRIMEWAVE (The XYZ Murders) and loved it! So the opportunity to work on EVIL DEAD II would be a career high, after two previous career highs.  I seemed to be on a wave and was so happy and fortunate to be invited to participate.

Mark told me that he had also hired Howard Berger and a friend of his, a sculptor from Pittsburgh that he and Greg Nicotero had worked with on DAY OF THE DEAD.  This was Mike Trcic.  Greg had already worked for Mark as his coordinator and would be returning as well as Aaron Sims, who Mark had asked to do a few designs. Because of the nature of the effects in the film, Mark said his plan was to parcel it out amongst the artists and have each artist take care of one of the major characters in the show.  He would be handling the "Henrietta" chores.  It was to be be the largest, most ambitious possession character in the show.  Howard would handle all of the "Ash" possession make ups on Bruce Campbell.  The "Linda" corpse effects would be sculpted by Mike Trcic.  Aaron Sims would work on Ash's "Evil Hand" as well as Henrietta's "Pee Wee Neck" as Mark referred to it.  That left the character of "Evil Ed" in my hands.

Mark asked if I was interested in doing some drawings.  The only note I got was that Ed was going to have an over-sized mouth.  Hmmmmmm.  I got to thinking.  The best over-sized mouth make up I had seen was the one that Steve Johnson had done for the character of Amy in FRIGHT NIGHT.  In fact, I LOVED that make up.  But what could I do to sort of take it to the next level?  I thought back to my Halloween costume the previous year.  Remember?  This one:

For all intents and purposes, this was the prototype for my Evil Ed make up.
My goal was to do a practical big mouth but somehow hide the fact that beneath the over-sized, foam latex mouth, there was a regular sized human mouth beneath it.  That's when I came up with the lamprey multiple rows of teeth idea.  This did two things (that you can barely make out in the photo above):  It successfully hid the actor's mouth and it allowed the shortening of the nose length to really exaggerate the size of the mouth.  If you look closely at the photo, you care barely see the indication of the shortened nose.  Armed with this experience an inspiration, I drew this:

My design for Evil Ed.  White prismacolor on black paper.
Of course this was just a conceptual piece.  Not having access to who was actually playing Ed nor the limitations of his transformation, I tapped into something that had scared the hell out of me when I was a kid - the cover of one of my brother's books, "Tales To Tremble By".  Here, take a look at the cover and you can see my inspiration:

I can't remember a single thing about this book, except its haunting cover.
I showed the first piece to Mark and he responded positively to it and asked me to draw a couple of more sketches, one of "Henrietta" and the second, a variation on Evil Ed that showed a bit more than just his face.  I drew two color pencil sketches that were ultimately never used.  Besides, I would have a lot of work to do for Ed anyway.

After we all met in the shop, it was evident that we would all have to establish our working areas because there were so many artists and so many pieces to build in the show.  Within a few days, actors began arriving for life casts.  The first up was Ted Raimi, Sam's little brother whom many of you might recognize from his later efforts like SEAQUEST and the SPIDERMAN series.  Ted arrived first because he was going to go into the suit to portray the possessed Henrietta. As Sam Raimi put it - He could torture his brother on camera with no fear of repercussion.

We life cast Rick Francis, who would portray Evil Ed, Denise Bixler, Linda, Bruce Campbell, Ash, and finally Kassie Wesley, who played Bobbie Jo.  I can't remember why it happened, but we realized that we needed a pair of leg casts for Bobbie Jo after Kassie's casting session had been completed. Calling her back would have been a problem, so we called in my girlfriend (at the time), Tracy, to come in and get her legs cast up to her hips!

And the, the sculpt-a-thon began...Howard started on sketches of Bruce Campbell's possession make ups.  Mark started on his Henrietta sculpts, Mike Trcic began work on his Linda headless possessed Linda body, Aaron worked on Ash's possessed hand, and I began Evil Ed's appliances.

How often do you see video of a photo being taken or vice versa?

I can't remember how many weeks it had been before Bob Kurtzman and Dave Kindlon returned from Italy and the shooting of FROM BEYOND.  Bob came back to the shop to help out Mark with the hand and feet sculptures of Henrietta.  Dave was "farmed out" a few jobs, but more on that later.

Sam came by early on to see Howard's sketches and check on our progress...

Finally, it is revealed.  My "true" inspiration for Evil Ed:

After Mark had finished the Henrietta suit, Don Pennington (SPLASH, COCOON, THE ABYSS) was hired (I have NO idea who contacted him or how we got in touch with him or him with us) to make the fiberglass mold on the huge body.  Again, I'm not sure why Steve Patino was not hired; perhaps he was too busy at the time.  I'm not sure but he might have been building stuff for John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS around that time.

So Don came in and did something that I've never seen someone before or since do when prepping the clay for molding in fiberglass: He had Mark buy two cases of Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic spray and then sprayed all 12 cans on the sculpture allowing each coat to dry completely before going on to the next layer.  I recall that it took him the better part of a day just to do that.  Don Pennington knows his craft where it comes to fiberglass!  The mold he made was outstanding.  I wonder what Mark did with it when he closed that shop location in South Pasadena???

No, I didn't ACTUALLY sculpt like this, but wouldn't it have been cool if I had?
 Inevitably it was time for foam running (which, generally Howard, Bob and myself would do first thing in the morning so the molds could get loaded into Mark's oven early.

For Evil Ed, I had sculpted the facial appliance that had broken down into two parts: The face, and the bottom lip.  The pieces needed to be pre-painted so that the multitude of teeth could be glued in prior to the application.  I also fashioned a set of dentures for Rick that not only changed the shape of his pearly whites from their photogenic straight appearance to jagged, sharp teeth and I even included a set that protruded from the roof of his mouth!

Working on the appliance sculpt
See how I was able to shorten the nose by burying Rick's real nose within the upper lip?
The effects lenses (because it had been established in THE EVIL DEAD that once possessed, your eyes turn pure white) were handled by Larry Odien.  Larry, had researched soft effects lens-making techniques and had ventured out making his own lenses.  So Ed would not only wear his facial appliances and teeth, but lenses AND latex finger extensions I had sculpted for him as well.

Ah, the 80's, when we loved finger extensions!
 I had pulled a clay pour out of Rick Francis' head mold and began changing it to match the appliance sculpture with the understanding that it would have an asymmetric expression.  The idea was that Ash was going to chop the top of Ed's head off, revealing a shriveled brain (Mark Shostrom's genius idea) and the piece that hit the ground would appear to have a different expression as the eyebrow moved up and down.  Dave Kinlon mechanized the little eyebrow move via cables.

Rick Francis' clay pour became...
...this sculpture of the Evil Ed puppet head.  This photo appeared in MAD MOVIES, a French publication.  Remember that for later.
I don't recall why, other than sculpture quality, I replaced the clay ears with flexacryl copies from Rick's cast.
 I made a second fiberglass core (thinner than FROM BEYOND!!) cut the foam skin and the fiberglass along the bias that divided the face's expression.  The result was that the remaining face looked shocked where the chunk on the ground looked angry.  I fabricated a brain by putting foam latex into a syringe and "noodled it" around a small cut piece of upholstery foam.  For the webs, Mark gave me some DuPont Elvacite (that plastic that Dick Smith had used on SCANNERS to make fluid-filled bladders) and using a hair drier and a chip brush I created the webs by stretching the Elvacite from the inner head cavity to the withered brain.  The result was quite amusing.

"Chop Top" with his withered brain and Elvacite webs...
Here is the left over piece, mechanized by Dave Kindlon so that the eyebrow moved.
This was in the spring of 1986 and the details of why  a.) either I decided I was not interested in going on location or b.) it WAS decided that I wasn't going on location are fuzzy.  I will say that I was the only crew member that was living with their girlfriend if that means anything.  Honestly, I think it was better that Bob Kurtzman went instead of me.  Bob was (is) a much better make up artist that I ever was (am).  I knew that if he applied Evil Ed, it would be superior and take much less time than if I was there sweating my butt off struggling to blend foam edges down.  And when it came to blending edges, Bob was amazing!

Okay, so not technically "first person" but designing and sculpting this make up has been one of the defining pieces in my career.
So much was going on in that little shop in South Pasadena, that I need to break some things out that when I recall them, it impresses me.  The first is that Mark Shostrom, who landed the job, sculpted that giant Henrietta body and head on his own in oil clay (Roma plastilina for the body, white oil clay for the head).  Nowadays that sculpt would be done in less-expensive water clay and would get "banged out" in a few days.  Not so with Mark Shostrom.  That sculpture meant the world to him; he took his time and refined the hell out of it and I think it shows.  The Henrietta demon may not resemble Lou Hancock, the actress who plays the human character Henrietta, however the result is now an icon of horror thanks also to Ted Raimi's fantastic performance.

I would also like to recognize Aaron Sims, who at the time was still relatively new to the business, however, Mark let Aaron spread his wings and sculpt several important items.  Ash cutting his own possessed hand off with a chainsaw is still, to this day, one of the defining moments of EVIL DEAD II.  Aaron's illustrations and sculptures set a foundation for what he has managed to accomplish for himself today as one of the preeminent creature designers and production designers working in contemporary Hollywood.  Good show!

A few weeks before everyone left for North Carolina, Sam Raimi and Rob Tappert came to the shop for a marathon make up test day.  Howard made up Lou and Bruce, Bob and I made up Rick Francis.  The only thing missing that day were lenses, but in any case, I was able to see that my "big mouth" theory was going to work well.

Howard doing an out of the kit possession make up on Lou Hancock
Howard applying an Ash possession make up to Bruce Campbell.
Bob applied the camera-left side of the test make up...
I applied the camera-right side, although technically I'm taking the make up off in this photo.
Here's how Rick looked in the shop from the side.  Look how BIG that mouth looks!
See? Teeth on the roof of his mouth!
 Satisfied with what they had seen, Sam and Robert Tappert left the shop and we all were elated.  Everything looked awesome however, there was one thing Sam requested that wouldn't get made until reshoots later that year: An over-sized Bruce Campbell head that would have a "hollow eye" that could be filled and drained with white fluid to simulate the eye metamorphosis during possession.  Bob built that after they had all returned from location.

This Bruce Campbell head went to North Carolina for "Fake Shemping" - a Sam Raimi term meaning to stand-in for an actor who is about to be physically abused on screen.
 One the last days before we shipped everything, we tested the Evil Ed puppet to see how effective it would be. For the most part I was happy.  Unfortunately my biggest regret was that the hair work on the puppet didn't match Rick Francis as closely as it should have.  I do remember that the heads were farmed out at the last minute to be punched by someone off-site and when they returned, we barely had the time to shoot some video tests and photos before they were packed up and shipped away.

The Evil Ed puppet prior to shipping and filming.
Bob tried the puppet on to get a feel for it when he operated it on set.
 This is where the First Person of this Monster blog stops.  We packed everything and it shipped to North Carolina.  At the time, Bob, Howard, and Greg all lived in a rented house that we called the "home of wayward make up artists."  As they packed their stuff to go to location, I stopped by and said my good-byes.  I felt a bit like Chuck Yaeger watching the other test pilots go off to become astronauts.  And in a way it was.

What those guys experienced in North Carolina really defined THEIR careers in many, many ways.  It established long-lasting relationships between them all and Rob Tappert and Sam Raimi.  During the shoot, they sent me a video tape to share their experiences, but since I wasn't actually there, you'll have to watch a DVD or Blu Ray of the film's extras to get a sense of everything they went through.  

No one could have predicted what a cult sensation EVIL DEAD II would become.  But it would be some time before the film opened, and I was to continue working on the show, but at another location.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Part 39: Boldly going where three films, a television series, and an animated series had all gone before.

I was first contacted about STAR TREK IV by James Cummins.  It was strange because, although we were still friends,  he had been disapproving of my professional decisions such as when I went to work for Stan Winston on ALIENS.  Not that he was working, in fact, it was quite the opposite.  Regardless of what IMDB says, James' contribution to ALIEN PREDATORS (as it was released) had been prior to HOUSE when the project had been called THE FALLING.  That means that over a year had passed since HOUSE and James hadn't taken or landed any work.  In his defense, he always had said that he wanted to write and direct his own films and was one of the first (to my knowledge) to face the stigma of the "Make Up Effects Artist Who Wants to Direct". While he was fighting for his opportunity, his money began to run out and he needed to find work.

I'm unclear on the details but enter Kirk Thatcher.  (It is difficult for me to write objectively about someone who is such a good friend, but I shall endeavor to do so.)  Kirk was (is) a very big personality.  A talented illustrator and designer in his own rite, Kirk had done some conceptual art pieces for HOUSE prior to James' arrival on that project.  I believe that prior business relationship was the catalyst that drove James to speak to Kirk (who was then assistant to director Leonard Nimoy) about submitting designs and bidding on STAR TREK IV.   Who could have foreseen that Jame's pursuit of the show would cost him a friendship?

James called me because he recalled an alien design I had done in New Orleans and was interested in reworking it. You might recall this (I can't remember if I posted this earlier...):

My Shrimp-Headed alien drawing.

I had already sculpted a maquette of the design...
I had finished up at Doug Beswick's, was looking for work and the thought of participating on a STAR TREK movie seemed to good to be true.  It would still be a few years before STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION so all anyone knew was the classic crew and their exploits.  I agreed and James asked me to show up at his house on Saturday morning with the drawing in hand (no Internet or e-mail).

When I showed up to drop the drawing off, James then asked if I was interested in spending the day sketching alien concepts for him...for free.  Having no pressing plans so I agreed.  As we took our seats in James' home office, he gave me some guidelines.  Having met Leonard Nimoy earlier in the week, James now felt he had a grasp on what they were looking for.

He said that Mr. Nimoy had cited the major difference between STAR WARS and STAR TREK was that the latter dealt with alien cultures and civilizations and not just alien animals and creatures.  I pointed out to James that the alien illustration he held in his hand was basically a "Shrimp Guy" (okay, I'm cheating a little.  That is how Bill Sturgeon describes aliens built for the MEN IN BLACK series: ___________-guy; I just think it's funny).  James said that he felt the design was strong enough, that with his tweaking, would end up being one of the stronger concepts.  Whatever.  I was just happy that I could have the opportunity to work on a STAR TREK movie.
The rest of the day found me sketching a lot of "alien cultural beings" - think Ming and the denizens of Mongo rather than Jawas and Sand People.  James would look at a sketch and say "No!" (and discard it) or "Yes!" (and take it and redraw it in his style).  By the end of this crazy drawing session, I would say that James ended up with 20 or so designs, all done in his distinctive style.  Great!  Now just to show them to Mr. Nimoy and we start building! Right?


For whatever reason, James was not awarded the show.  Instead, it went to  Richard Snell, a bay area make up effects artist that James had hired on HOUSE! (See:The Making of House)

I first met Richard Snell when he showed up with sculptor Tony McVey at James' house in Glendale, California  to show their portfolios to be hired on HOUSE.  I liked Richard from the beginning.  I recall James not being as enamored with Richard as he was with Tony, but Richard, bless him, just kept selling and selling.  He started with his sculptures, then his make ups, then his wigs, then the teeth he had made, and finally the soft painted effects lenses he manufactured himself.  At this time, most effects lenses were HARD and a bitch to deal with.  Needless to say, Richard got the job, made lenses and hair pieces for HOUSE but I recall him being very frustrated with his treatment.  By now, I'm sure that most of you know that sometimes in life, people just don't "click" and I think that is the way it was between James and Richard.

So, the spiral downward of my friendship with James started with a call from Richard offering me a position on STAR TREK IV.  He asked my rate, I told him, and without hesitation, hired me on the spot.  As a courtesy, I called James and told him I was going to work for Richard on STAR TREK.

"Betrayal" was the word he used a lot in our conversation. I suppose it was a matter of perspective. I needed to work.  I was offered a job.  James' designs were rejected. Richard was going to pay my rate.  I couldn't understand how this warranted "betrayal".  A job was a job after all.  I didn't get angry when I was asked to "donate" a day and countless drawings so that James could redraw them and represent them as his ideas. It was a job.  Nothing personal.  Or so I thought.  Changing tactics, James then told me that he might have something going soon for a television show.  I might have still been green but I knew the difference between a couple of weeks of work versus a month or so of work.  I told him that I had committed to Richard and it would be unprofessional to quit before I started.  Poof!  Our friendship vanished.

This was a major turning point in my life.  I had tried to reason with James, but he was attempting to manipulate me with guilt (being raised Catholic, that was an easy thing to do). We had been friends by that point for 6 years.  He had been VERY generous with Tracy and I, but I felt that this was crossing the line.  To my knowledge, James was not the victim of some cabal, it was business and for him to ask me to not take work as a symbol of "loyalty" was not the sign of a true friend.  He hadn't worked for OVER A YEAR!  I couldn't afford that kind of a break!  So, unfortunately we parted company.

Richard didn't have a permanent shop.  In fact, I believe that this was the first show that he was keying on his own.  He rented a small industrial unit off of Willis Street (how do I remember that? Willis O'Brien of course) in Van Nuys.  It was a crappy area of town, but good enough for the needs of the show.  To fill out the crew Richard had hired Brian Wade, Dale Brady, and Craig Caton-Largent all of whom were seasoned veterans by this time.  Our ambassador to production was Kirk Thatcher who would come in from time to time to see the progress and make suggestions based on Mr. Nimoy's reactions.  The script was top secret, so Kirk basically told us the entire story so we would have a better understanding of where and how our aliens would play in scenes.  I recall that he actually remembered large sections of dialogue and acted it out for us.  I love Kirk!  For those of you who don't know him, he is famous amongst Star Trek fans as "the Punk on the bus" in Star Trek IV that Spock shuts down with his famous Vulcan neck pinch.

"I hate you and I berate you!!!"
The work load was something like this: Vulcan Ears for Spock, Sarek (Mark Lenard), and Saavik (Robin Curtis), a couple of Klingon appliances (one for lead Klingon, John Schuck) a protsthetic make up for a new alien navigator for the U.S.S. Saratoga, an alien appliance make up for Michael Berryman, an alien look for former Go-Go's band member Jane Wiedlin, and some masks and puppets to fill out the Star Fleet Federation council.

Richard told us that Leonard Nimoy's daughter, Nancy, was going to be contributing to the alien designs and we would be receiving them soon.  I asked Richard if I could do a piece of artwork, on my own, at home, revisiting some classic Star Trek aliens.  I did a pencil illustration of the "Tellarite" (a pig-nosed alien from the episode "Journey To Babel") as well as an "Andorian" (a blue faced alien with antennae from the same episode) and finally, a "Gorn" (a lizard-like alien that Kirk fought in the episode "Arena" - one of my all time favorites).  I turned the artwork over to Richard, who gave it to Kirk, who discussed it with Mr. Nimoy and it came down that we would do Tellarites and Andorians, but no Gorns.  See, the Federation has never made peace with the Gorns...Well, two out of three ain't bad!

We started off with life casting.  Richard met Leonard Nimoy at Paramount and cast his ears at the production office, however Mark Lenard and Robin Curtis both came to the little shop and had their ears cast.  I recall that Mr. Nimoy was VERY specific about the size, shape, and curve of his famous pointy ears so Richard took it upon himself to sculpt them to Mr. Nimoy's satisfaction.

I'm not sure "Fascinating" would be the word used to describe sculpting and designing these ears...

I sculpted these ears for actress, Robin Curtis and...
...these ears for Mark Lenard.
 We did full head casts of John Schuck, Michael Berryman, and Nick Ramus who would play the helmsman of the U.S.S. Saratoga.  Of all of the actors who came in for casting, I remember Michael Berryman most.  Having seen his as the face of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, I was a bit thunderstruck when he came in.  I recall that he couldn't have been nicer and told us of his wolf sanctuary and the work he did protecting these animals.

Nick Ramus as the navigator of the U.S.S. Saratoga.  Richard designed this make up.  I think Brian Wade sculpted it?
Michael Berryman in his alien guise.  Sculpted by Richard Snell.
There really weren't specific designs sent for Mr. Berryman, Mr. Ramus, or Mr. Schuck so appliances were just sculpted based on discussions between all of us at the shop.  I recall a big shop debate to bring the Klingon appearance closer to STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and less like STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. That was a doozie! The end result kind of looked liked a compromise between both designs.

The Klingon Commander from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE
Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon commander Kruge in STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
STAR TREK IV's Klingon.  I can still hear Kirk Thatcher's voice reading the lines Mr. Schuck would eventually say on screen!
 It was about this time that we received "designs" for the Star Fleet Federation Council.  Aside from the large-headed "China Dolls" as we called them and a design that looked like a strange welding mask, there were: Cat-man, Frog-man, Turtle-man, Pig-man (The Tellarite), and Lizard Man.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  After James had made such a big deal about staying away from "animal" designs there they were - a virtual menagerie of aliens!  I suppose Turtle-people potentially can have culture too.

Another crew member that we only saw once and a while was Allen Feuerstein, a medical prosthetics expert, who consulted with Richard specifically about the design and construction of alien eyes. He seemed like a nice guy, but I don't remember what he specifically did because I recall that all of the eyes were either made by us in the shop or they would be contact lenses that Richard made and painted.  Allen did bring a cool display case with silicone medical prosthetics.  It was the first time I had seen silicone body parts and they were very realistic and creepy.

An Andorian.  The antennae were sculpted generically. 
 The aliens were divided amongst the sculptors and it fell to me to sculpt the lizard man puppet and a weird alien welding mask (that I didn't understand, especially since it had a long wig attached to it).  Dale sculpted the Tellarite (pig guy), and Brian Wade sculpted the cat guy ("Cat man doo" as Kirk would refer to it).  Craig sculpted the weird turtle guy and Richard sculpted the frog guy.

Brian Wade paints the Cat Man mask.
A finished Black Cat man, the back of the Tellarite's head and another Andorian in the back ground.
Craig Caton's Turtle guys.
Richard's Frog guy.
Dale Brady's Tellarite.
Another shot of the Tellarite with one of the China Dolls in the back ground.
One of the "China Dolls."
The "Red" Cat Man.
My W.E.D. clay sculpture of the Lizard Man...
Another view...
Still another view....I apologize...
...these are the only behind the scenes photos I've found!
My Lizard Man puppet.
And the weird hairy welding mask.  WTF?
Perhaps the most impressive of all: Kirk Thatcher pretending to be a Tom Savini puppet head.
Since most of the Federation Council were going to be in crowds, they were simple rubber masks - well, all but the Frog guy and the Lizard guy who were constructed to be latex and soft polyfoam puppets.  When it came time to shoot them, you guessed it, it was in San Francisco and was to be handled by union make up artists, so after all of the masks were painted and finished (I recall Craig Caton-Largent punching all of the hair in the China Dolls at break neck speed!) they were packed up and shipped out.

I asked Dale, Craig, and Brian if there was anything that they cared to recall.  Dale mentioned how FREEZING it was in the shop (it was January of 1986) as well as the make-shift oven we built (another one!) to bake the foam.  He reminded me that one night the thermostat broke and the entire foam run was burned and ruined!  Craig recalled one of us throwing a HUGE firecracker into the dumpster which amplified the sound so much that it drew everyone out of the neighboring businesses thinking something dire had happened.

My favorite recollection is of Richard Snell.  Richard was a very fair boss and, in my opinion, very talented.  But what I found more impressive is  that he took personal responsibility for his show (which is huge).  No matter what it was. When we needed supplies, it was Richard that would jump in his truck and go pick them up. When there was a problem that came down from production, Richard would step up, jump into the fray and try to work things out for himself.  What I had no way of knowing was that STAR TREK IV would be the last time I would work for Richard Snell.

He pursued a successful career in Make Up while I moved on  and pursued puppets and creature effects. Richard died  in 2006 of heart failure while working in the Bahamas on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END.  He was a sweet man; I never had the chance to thank him for STAR TREK IV.

Richard Snell (1955 - 2006)
 POST SCRIPT: Working on a Star Trek movie was a big accomplishment since I had been such a huge fan when I was younger.   I have to admit that it was very cool seeing my name in the credits rolling past a shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  I know - NERD!
My friend, Tim Guillory wearing a Klingon make up I made for him to wear at a Star Trek convention in 1983