What do “Iceman,” “The Smurfs” films and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” all have in common? They’re makeup effects were created by Illusion Industries. Several films the FX team at Illusion Industries have worked on are making their theatrical debuts this year, and ShockYa was thrilled to speak with the owner and President of Illusion Industries, Todd Tucker, about makeup effects, the industry’s evolution and what project he would love to work on.
You can learn more about Illusion Industries at their website, Facebook page and Twitter page. You can also buy “Monster Mutt,” an in-house film directed by Tucker at Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon.com. “Monster Mutt” can also be seen on DirecTV, iTunes and Vudu.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” will be in theaters March 29. “Iceman” will hit theaters May 3 and “The Smurfs 2″ comes to theaters July 31.
Being a movie fan, I’ve always been interested in how special effects work, so it’s really cool to talk to you today.
Todd Tucker: Thank you! There’s a lot of cool stuff to talk about when you’re building giant monsters and old age effects…It’s not your every day job, I’ll tell you that.
You have a lot of films coming out this year, such as Iceman and G.I. Joe: Retaliation and The Smurfs 2. How does it feel to have so many feel to have so many films with your stamp on it?
Todd Tucker: You know, I started this version of my company, Illusion Industries, about two-and-a-half years ago. One of the hard things about starting a new company…you have to kind of market it so that people understand who you are if you’ve been working in the industry as long as I have. And I have the same creative team that I’ve had for the last 10 years over all the different films we’ve worked on…For the first two-and-a-half years, all the films we worked on weren’t coming out; they’re all coming out this year. So there are actually seven films coming out this year. They range from, like you said, “The Smurfs”–a family comedy–we did the Hank Azaria “Gargamel” makeup. “Iceman” is a very tense, mafia story–we did some of the makeups for that, some of the period makeups and gore makeups. Then we did “G.I. Joe,” which is complete fantasy-action…we did all kinds of makeup effects on that, character makeups. And then we also did a movie called “Fort Bliss,” which is a drama, we did a movie called “The East,” which is also a drama. We did “Fright Night 2,” which is a horror film, a sequel to the Colin Farrell movie that just came out a few years ago. And we also did an untitled film with Renny Harlin ["The Dyaltov Pass Incident"] that was filmed in Russia. So, all of these films are supposed to come out this year, so it’s interesting to have all of the films we’ve worked on for the last two years come out at the same time.
What made you want to be in the special effects industry?
Todd Tucker: I was an only child that was obsessed with films as a kid and used to spend all my weekends in the theaters, so I knew I was going to be somehow involved in the film industry. I really enjoyed all the fantasy films and the Spielberg movies and the Lucas movies and all of the films from the ’80s. Growing up, I just knew I wanted to do this, and then I started learning how to sculpt and paint and make masks and makeups and puppets right around the end of high school. [I] then moved down here [to Los Angeles] in 1990 and started working. My first big studio film I worked on was “Hook,” which was great, because I got to sit there and watch Steven Spielberg do his thing. It was very cool.
Special effects in films have come a very long way, from the George Melies movies to Ray Harryhausen. What do you think of the special effects industry now, in its current form?
Well, the real challenge for the makeup effects industry now is that for a long time, you used foam latex appliances. Even going back to “The Wizard of Oz,” was foam latex. [It was in] “Planet of the Apes” and stuff like that. The cameras that are being used–because they’re not film anymore; they’re high, high-def digital cameras–see every single pore in the faces of all these actors. We’re now using more silicone makeups that have a translucency and look like real skin and move more realistically. So, the materials that we’re using are really what have advanced in makeup effects, but we really have no choice because the cameras see everything now. So the makeups have to look hyper-realistic to the point where it’s being looked at with a microscope. So they have to be very, very clean appliances.
Do you think silicone makeups and motion capture are in competition with each other?
Todd Tucker: Well, obviously, computer graphics have taken over a lot of what used to be practical effects. But, I think as far as creating a giant creature, that’s very different than doing a computer-generated old age makeup on someone. I think actors still want to be put into makeups to become the characters when they’re wearing a particular character makeup or old age makeup. And because we have the makeup looking so real for the cameras now, there’s no reason to do them digtally unless you want to go in and do something to enhance it…So, it…became really CG-heavy in the industry for a while, but it seems like directors now are wanting to use more practical effects. So, hopefully, we’ll continue to keep [doing the effects].
Do you have a favorite film you’ve worked on?
Todd Tucker: One of my favorite films I’ve worked on, actually more recently, was “The Smurfs 2.” We shot up in Montreal and I applied Hank’s makeup everyday. It’s one of those situations where you create the design and the look for a makeup, you then have to depend on the actor who’s wearing it to bring it to life. Hank Azaria is such a great physical, comedic actor, that when he becomes Gargamel, he’s just really fun to watch. He’s just really funny, so being on set everyday [with] Hank was fun. It was a blast, and he’s a really cool guy…And they’re talking about doing a [third film] now, so we’ll see how that goes.
Is there a character you wish you had the chance to design?
Todd Tucker: I would say, right now there are talks going around town that they’re trying to reboot the Ninja Turtles. It would be amazing to create a new version of the Ninja Turtles as practical elements. They’re saying they’re going to be done as CG characters, but that would be a really fun one to redesign and re-imagine as more realistic-looking turtle people and create a year 2013 version of the Ninja Turtles.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a part of the makeup effects industry?
Todd Tucker: What I did was start by reading books. I started practicing in my garage, I got materials and just started…doing it. There are a lot of online information, DVDs, books, a lot of stuff you can get to start creating, sculpting and painting…There are also a few schools you can go to. They’re relatively expensive, but they teach you how to make molds and the technical aspects. But what it really comes down to, at this point, is if you’re passionate about being a makeup effects artist, then get your information, get your materials, set up in your garage and just start practicing sculpting and painting and the artistic part of it so you can get your skills down. Then build a portfolio–take pictures of your work and build your portfolio of the work you create. When you feel like you’re ready and you want to make the jump, send your work to different studios here in Los Angeles or wherever and try to get an interview and a job, probably starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up, but that’s how it works.
Makeup effects isn’t getting a lot bigger because most of it is going to digital, so if you want to be a makeup effects artist, it should definitely be your passion and something that you really want to do. It’s something that you’re going to want to do on weekends if you end up getting a normal job. That’s kind of like the guys who work here at Illusion Industries. We’re all really passionate about what we do, so it’s a love for us.