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BRAIN DEAD SPECIAL REPORT!

Sometimes we wanna try to focus on the underlying special effects in gore filled movies, so what could be better than to interview one of the horror worlds greatest effect creator? Gabriel Bartalos has worked with everything from small independent films to major blockbusters. Early in his special make-up effects career, Bartalos left his mark on the horror genre by teaming up with director Frank Henenlotter. He has also handled the prosthetic make-up effects for renowned artist/filmmaker Matthew Barney since 1991, and it is a great honor to present our interview with him online:





Tomas Larsson:
What was it that brought you into the interest of special effects?

Gabe Bartalos:
- First it was seeing the Japanese monsters on television, especially the original Godzilla. The film is quite dark and gritty, and very well made. It is only in the later sequels that it became playful and the miniatures were exposed as being modest. The film had quite an impact on me as a child. Its darkness had a real resonance.

Do you have any FX artists as role models who meant a lot for your own learning or creation?

-The two biggest influences were Dick Smith and Rick Baker.
Dick first because he was accessible to me, I grew up in Westchester, NY and he lived 15 minutes from me and I had the good fortune of corresponding and visiting him while I was still young, but fully interested and getting active in Make-up effects work.
   Then Rick, who happen to really take the elvolving science of the now growing make-up effects field and really make it his own with a palette of films that spoke directly to me in a perfectly impressionistic period in my life. His work was featured in Videodrome, Greystoke, An American Werewolf In London, all were outstanding films and exactly the type of FX I was enjoying then. It was easy to see him elevating the craft to an art form. Rick Baker was also younger, he bridged a generation gap by being so youthful and successful, that it was not such an abstraction to think one could do this as a career.

You have worked in many films like Spookies and Leprechaun. Can you tell us a little about your career so far?

- I began working in NY with a very talented make-up artist Arnold Garguillo when I was 16 years old. I got to do hands on make-up effects on many films through him. That transitioned to Spookies and then I moved to Los Angeles CA. and worked in films like Crawlspace, From Beyond, The Outing, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Pt:2 and Frank Henenlotters Brain Damage, Leprechaun, Friday 13th: pt.6 and others were made.

   I then worked at Rick Bakers studio for three years on Gorillas in the Mist, Beauty and the Beast (TV), Michael Jacksons Moonwalker, Coming to America, Something's Out There, and Gremlins 2. That was a blast to now be working with Rick Baker, and to see that he truly excelled in all forms of make-up effects and was a nice guy as well.
   I incorporated my own effects company Atlantic West Effects in 1991 and this led to a bunch of more films: Basketcase 2 & 3, Frankenhooker, Frightnight pt.2, the Leprechaun sequels, Freejack, Sometimes They Come Back, Dead Space, The Cremaster Cycle, Slaughter of the Innocents, in each of these films I was always looking for a character that I could creat something new with. I am definitely a sucker when it comes to the challange to dream up something that has not been seen before.


We have seen you as director in Skinned Deep. Will we see you enter the chair of directing in the future again?

- In 2004 I directed my first feature film Skinned Deep and had a lot of fun with it.  Skinned Deep gave me a chance to dream up some characters and now envision their worlds entirely. With directing, it allow an audience to see how these physical traits inform, or sometimes more importantly, how they inform their surroundings. I enjoyed directing and will do more.

 And sure he did, in 2013 he made "Saint Bernard"

Let us move on to look at your special effects in Brain Dead from 2007 by Kevin Tenney. A fantastic movie with stunning make-up and special FX for satisfying the most dedicated gore fans out there. How did you get the opportunity to be a part of this movie?

- I knew director Kevin Tenney from working with him on Pinocchios Revenge and we got along and admired each others work. With Brain Dead, Kevin was clear to me that he wanted to come out swinging and let the horror effects be the star of the film. I was happy to oblige.



How's the discussions around the creation of the effects? How do you know what kind of FX you are supposed to create?

- I liked Kevins' script for Brain Dead and all the effects were pretty specifically written out. I went through the script and highlighted each make-up effect and we met and discussed the best way to approach each effect. The idea was to use all the tricks that the medium of film allows for, but only in the sense of making the effects very 'cinematic', and not to hide anything. In fact, my specific goal was to show the audience in gruesome detail all the violence that these creatures were unleashing, so very quickly, the audience knew they were dealing with a real threat.


HOW TO OPEN A HEAD:

Let us take a look at some of your fantastic creations in the movie. The first one I would like to call "How to open a head". This scene is one of my personal favorite; can you please describe how this was done.

- I began by taking a cast of the actors head in a dynamic screaming position. I then recreated two different heads that were capable of two very different FX. The first head allowed for a mechanical mouth to compliment air tubes and a hollow space in the eye sockets that fired out a high pressure mixture of Karo Blood, bananas and Methocil as the zombie plunged his fingers into his eyes.

   The second head was hinged on the sides, so the zombie could use the eye sockets as a grip and rip the head in half. We even made a finger puppet out of the tounge, so it could pathetically twist and twitch though all the blood spraying. The silicone brain was cradled between the two halfs, so it had gravity to gracefully allow it to drop to the ground completing the effect.



HEAD EXPLOSION:

Here we have a really bloody, nasty head explosion of a policeman done by a shotgun.

- For this effects Kevin and I knew that the cop was already passed out, so I encouraged his head to be to the side, so again there was a dynamic energy to the pose, even if he is not moving. I took the impression of the actor at my studio in the predetermined pose with his head on the sides we saw the natural neck wrinkles, the cheek sagging and the hair falling to one side, in the hopes in that when the cut is made from real head to fake, it is as seamless as possible.

   I also tried something new on this effect. Sometimes when we turn a head or body over to the physical effects department top achieve a blast with pyrotechnics, they almost do their job too well. The head just vanishes. There is no carnage, the whole effect is vaporized. I decided that on this effect I wanted to see the aftermath, especially since it was taking place in the back of a van. You would most definitely see the carnage. So I handled all aspects of the effect. I began by cutting the head into seven large pieces that I wanted to se 'go away', then I reassembled them and attached hinges on them. While the head was still in my shop I opened the hinges and pre-dressed all the gore exactly how I wanted the audience to see it.

   Then on set, I packed the head with blood bags, artificial brains and 'folded the head' back together. I placed a medium sized air-mortar in his chest with the air nozzle up the neck and released a mammoth volume of air that instantly ripped the blood bags open and propelled the entire gory mess smashing against the hinges that gave way to create the illusion that all this was from the shotgun blast. Pretty effective.


GRAB THE BRAIN:

I have to say that this one is pretty cool. The alien-monster strike his fist straight through a head and grabs the brain.

- The 'Grab the Brain' effect was fun because it had so many 'tricks' going on, at such a fast editorial rate, that it was a great challenge to design. Kevin and I started by having the female cop just turn right into the Zombie punch. Then I had a fake head that was just cosmetic in the back, that allowed for the Zombies hand - all ready holding the brain - to slam it through the camera side so the audience sees the graphic reveal. Then the full body shot of the female cop stagger around was a prosthetic of carnage around her face that the digital effects team added a background to, so it looked like she was really missing the contents of her head, and then just when the audience may think the know how we achieved this, I added yet another waist up dummy of her with now the front of her face smashed it, so you could see all the way through her head, this piece we had drop to it's knees and topple out of frame, really fun to do! This was a great example of working closely with a good director who understands and enjoys treating the audience to an extreme scene and knows how to do it with clever effects and cuts.

MELTING HEAD:


The FX in the end-scene when the creature get his head cut of and explodes. How was the procedure of making this kind of FX?

- I created a fiberglass torso that could hold the head on until it needed to be shot off. Four magnets steadied the head and again an internal airmortar propelled it off the neck stump.

   The body was already separated into pieces and secured to an enormous speed rail that looked like a football goal post that reached out of frame. Three long, strong wires ran to crew members stationed out of frame so at just the right moment we all yanked as the blood and slime bags shredded from my air-mortar placed deep in the creatures chest cavity. It was a very theatrical death.


MONSTER MAKE-UP:

You have created some hungry brain-eating monsters with awesome make-up. How is the procedure of making such a make-up? Where did you get the inspiration?

- Creating the make-ups began with casting each actors head and I would study their faces and allow my sculpture to follow some of their natural anatomy, and then twist it to a dark place. Sculpting is a very fun part of the process because each tool stroke really matters. I even elongated the lenght of their skin pores to reinforce the distorted qualities in their skin texture.





MACHETE CUT:

The next scene is when the alien-monsters get a really deep stab with a machete through his body and later get his head cut-off.

- Like many of the effects in Brain Dead, the 'Machete-cut' utilized was many effects pieces to accomplish the images. First we had the actor with his arm tied back in a harness that allowed a fake shoulder and arm to be attached. This was cool, because once he was positioned just right, his 'new' body still seemed properly proportioned, so when we slammed a real machete into his shoulder, you kind of gasped, thinking "woah, where is the fake-stuff?" Then once the zombie falls to the floor, he begins crawling away. For this we rebuilt his body on all fours and made him controllable with rods.  In the beginning, I just took a duplicate of his head from our mold and attached the prosthetics to it. The head was fiberglass, since we thought it would be a quick cut. Now two days before the effect is to shot, Kevin calls me and says "Gabe, you are going to hate me, is there any way we can make that head have any facial expression in that split second before the head separates, even though I already know it is hard, stubborn, non-flexible fiberglass?" Well, I thought about it  and came up with a pretty wierd solution. I put a trap door on the back of the head and was able to reach inside. Then with a dermal saw, carefully cut away any areas that would normally show some signs of movement, especially the two eyebrows and the cheeks. The prosthetics were already glued down, so it was ridiculously difficult not to cut  too far and rip or get caught up in the foam. Once I got these four panels out, I had a crew member go to a pet-store and buy two female rats (They are notorius for not getting along)

   On set, with 30 crew people around as we set up the effect, I gave neither Kevin or the rest of the crew a hint of what I was up to, and right before cameras rolled, I opened the heads trap door and we placed in the two rats and locked them in. Kevin starred in disbelief as he called for action, and as the machete comes down and hacks off the head, in that split second before the head separates the rats are brawling and stepping on the back of the prosthetics pushing and slightly distoring the face.

   After the effect, we opened up the head and one of my effects crew members took home the rats, who are still happy, healthy pets today. Kevin pulled me aside and was so flipped out and then began laughing as he said, "Gabe, you need to become famous before you get institutionalized!"



Just a few ending questions. My feeling is that it must be more challenging and difficult to create good effects in daylight than at night when the visibility isn't as clear because of the dark setting. Is that correct?

- Yes, selling an effect in daylight is more difficult because there are less places to hide. At the same time I realized that this was to become a big part of the challenge.


Of all the effects in Brain Dead, which one was the toughest to go through to obtain the results you wanted?

- Each effect carried its own set of difficulties, the whole film was a fun challenge by the sheer quantity of Make-Up Effects that supported the story telling.



Thanks a lot for taking your time and explain your fantastic special FX creations for the readers.

- Glad to talk with you and your readers, it's always fun to explain how effects were created. It makes for fun when reviewing a film, to think about what is going on the other side of the camera to achieve each shot. Take care!


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