Creature Effects Makeup: An Interview with Matt Rose and Chad Waters

From left to right -- Matt Rose, Frank Rydberg and Chad Waters on the set of "When Zombies Attack!!"  See more creature effects pictures.
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

With a lot of foam latex and even more imagination, two of Hollywood's best creature and makeup effects artists have been giving life to a variety of beasts, monsters, creatures and characters conceived by dozens of movie directors and screen writers. Matt Rose and Chad Waters have spent decades in the special effects makeup trade, working on movies like "Hellboy", "The Nutty Professor" and "Batman Returns." Today, Matt and Chad continue to work as a team at their company, Grimm Grotto Goods , on various projects -- including their movie, "When Zombies Attack!!"

Recently, we had a chance to talk to Matt and Chad about their experiences with creature creation and their take on the evolution of special effects makeup. Let's see what they had to say.

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Training

Ron Perlman as Hellboy in the makeup designed by Matt Rose and Chad Waters
Ron Perlman as Hellboy in the makeup designed by Matt Rose and Chad Waters
Photo courtesy of The Orphanage © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved

HSW: What are your backgrounds? What kind of makeup training have you had?

Matt Rose: I just started making masks when I was eleven. I was a big fan of monster movies and makeup and I jumped in when I could. I started in '85 on "Aliens" for Stan Winston working in the mold shop and getting to sculpt a few things. And from there you just hop around to different shops and do other projects. And then I landed the [job at] Rick's [Rick Baker] full time in '88 and, Chad?

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Chad Waters: Well I never thought it would be possible to get into the movie business. I was always a fan of everything and ... in high school was monitoring it [the industry]. I took art classes and was drawing, and finally just as a fluke I got an internship type job on "Batman Returns" and that turned into working at Rick's [Rick Baker] forever 'cause I met a couple of guys that worked on that ["Batman Returns"] -- then worked with them on another project. And then they called up and said, "Hey do you wanna work at Rick's for a couple of weeks?" and I was like, "Yeah!" And it turned into 10 years.

It seems like ... we're all fans of the same kinds of stuff; same horror movies, same sci-fi stuff. I was a "Star Wars" kid. You know, that was probably the thing that got me into wanting to do all this stuff in the first place was "Star Wars." So we all have similar stories about Bernie Wrightson and zombie movies, stuff like that. We all have this built-in kinship or brotherhood that draws us all to this stuff.

Studio Work vs. Freelancing

Movie Poster for "When Zombies Attack!!"
Movie Poster for "When Zombies Attack!!"
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

HSW: At the moment, both of you are freelancers. How is working freelance compared to working in the studio? Do you prefer one to the other?

Matt Rose: Every project is so different. There's something to be said about the security ... about being in the shop. But then, sometimes you can't pick and choose what kinds of movies you're working on. It's not like we're not gonna do a good job if it's a bad movie, but you work with so many great people in shop, it's great to have them again ... you develop a new technology ... and you apply it to the next one [project], the one after, and again. Working with these incredible people who are the best of the best from Cinovation [Rick Baker's shop] -- that's a joy. For instance on "Hellboy" we had Sylvia Nava making these hair pieces for us, and she is just this gem -- a wonderful woman of Hollywood -- she's been doing this stuff forever and we were lucky enough to have her ... that's so rare.

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Chad Waters: So when there is no shop [note: Rick Baker's shop, Cinovation, was closed at the time of this interview] everyone kind of gets scattered and you loose that momentum that might have been being built. And, then you don't have a job every day and ... we don't have a name, you know. [We can't] just walk into some place and say "Hey we're so and so, can we have a job?" ... Fortunately for us we've been trying to segue into these other things on our own. Our own projects that we're talking about [their new movie project, "When Zombies Attack!!"] - it's been keeping us busy for sure, but not necessarily supporting us financially. This is one of those things that we're investing our time now hoping it will pay off later but there's just no guarantee. But at the same time there's just no guarantee at a shop either because at any point, they could shut down ... At least we're still young enough that we can adapt to the situations.

Cine-makeup effect in general has been damaged by the rise of computer technology, too. So, that's ... something we've been battling anyway. Luckily ... Rick's shop was always one of the two top shops in the industry so [as an employee] you're pretty much guaranteed some makeup work when it existed. But, if you're in a smaller shop, they're kind of just getting swept away ... So now that we're not in a big shop anymore, it does make it even more difficult to get a makeup job because a producer is now going to ask themselves, "Should we spend time and try to research a makeup effects company to do this monster or should we just wait 'till after we shoot the movie and do this CG [computer graphics] guy?" ... The trend lately has been just to do that. But thank God there are directors like Guillermo [del Toro] that understand that you need both to coexist in order to make something feel truly real.

Creature Creation

Make-up design bust sculpted for "Hellboy" makeup
Make-up design bust sculpted for "Hellboy" makeup
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

HSW: Would you tell us about the life of a makeup designer, from a HowStuffWorks take? What's a typical day like, either on a set or when you're in the shop?

Chad Waters: Well Matt for the longest time, he just preferred staying in the shop to crank out all the makeup; basically sculpt, supervise. He'd hardly go on set until this project ["Hellboy"] basically. Matt should tell the story, but he swore off it years ago, "No more set." It was "Hellboy" that actually got him to go on set again. Because me, on the other hand, I don't mind it and I go. ... Anything we worked on I'll go to set and maintain whatever we've made. If it's done in makeup -- some creature -- we gotta dress the actor, there's lots of little things that keep it running. Matt was usually just day-to-day in the shop. But part of the deal when we took the show ["Hellboy"] was, "Matt, well are you gonna go to Prague?" and he's like, "Uh, yeah." (Laughing)

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As far as day-to-day stuff -- well any show really -- there's a period of "R and D," research and design where we're trying to figure out what were doin' and then we spend probably three or four months, sometimes even more -- " Mighty Joe Young" was a year in the shop ... just building the stuff. Then you have to -- when it gets close to shooting, you have to anticipate what you're gonna need on the set; how many people, what kind of materials and supplies just to maintain anything. Then it all shifts gears because when you get on the set, it's like a whole different world. Everything is so rushed, and you have to use everything you spent so long creating. And, hopefully you did it well enough that it doesn't break down or cause problems on set.

HSW: What is the typical process for the creation of each creature or character?

Matt Rose: It kind of depends on the project or piece. There's this illustrator I love working with when we can work together- Carlos Huante, who is this amazing artist. If you working on a project and he's involved, you can work right off of his maquettes. They're almost like blueprints. Sometimes, like on "Hellboy" we just start with a clay maquette. I feel more comfortable in 3D than 2D, but again in HellBoy it was all based on Mignola's [Mike Mignola] drawings. He was on the production. He was there to consult, and of course he wasn't really sure what all of this was all about. Everything was very overwhelming and we'd ask him, "Can you just do a character study of Hellboy upfront, side, back?" In the comics he's always in some punching pose or some dynamic position. He would just say, "... I already submitted a few things." Once we got to know him and after "Hellboy" was made, he made me look -- he's got this one book that has exactly what we were asking for at the time. It would have helped so much (laughing) ... to have those drawings from Mike at the time but he was just so bombarded with everything he was probably [thinking], "Who are these guys calling?"

Like Matt was saying, he went from Mike's artwork into a maquette or a 3D kind of interpretation. A lot of people go from a drawing, but that's usually very out there, exaggerated stuff. You usually put a person inside of there [the creature], so you have to pay attention to a person's anatomy as well. So on "Men In Black" for instance, on Mikey, Carlos did these beautiful sketches of that character but then Matt had to go in and basically do a mockette of the actor who was gonna be in it - you know with his anatomy and his proportions first to make sure that was all there. Then actually put the monster on top of it so that everything was related. A lot of people, they don't think of these things together. They just look at this crazy drawing and say, "Make that." You can't really make that, you might make parts of it, make it like a big puppet. But, if you want someone in there, you have to really think about it in a different way.

Make-up design bust of Hellboy profile
Make-up design bust of Hellboy profile
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

Material Men

A poster for the movie "When Zombies Attack!!"
A poster for the movie "When Zombies Attack!!"
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

HSW: What types of materials and mediums are you into/ using a lot right now? What are some interesting or innovative techniques?

Matt Rose: What's funny is foam latex- it's old as old as makeup in fact ... a time when you couldn't rely on the foam latex -- you cross your fingers because it'll rot or break very easily but then there'd be a person -- again it's innovation -- this guy Roland Blancaflor who reinvented making foam latex basically -- the best you've ever worked with. So it's kinda funny it's -- innovation but it's the oldest [material]. So if you're on location and you open a box and your pieces for that day are no good, you're sunk. And to have something like that -- consistent every day for 90 days, it's great. And then there's also mechanical technologies too ... this guy Jurgen Heimann you know Ron's [Ron Perlman as Hellboy] stone arm. It's crazy- it's an amazing development. People like that are really clever coming up with things.

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HSW: Do you have materials that are your favorite to use?

Matt Rose: It actually kind of hops around -- Chad and I also did Mikey's [alien character played by John Alexander] suit for the first "Men In Black" and we wanted to come up with a new way for an eyeball to move so we used hot melt [also known as hotpour; poly vinyl chloride] for this mechanical eye. It's like that old ... that toy -- it's like really stretchy vinyl.

Chad Waters: Yeah, you get 'em in gumball machines sometimes and there's like a little hand -- you can throw it and it'll stretch.

HSW: Like the "Wacky Wall Crawlers"?

Chad Waters: Yeah, exactly!

Matt Rose: We used those for his eye. If you watch the movie, you'll see how that works. We saw a squid or something with those crazy moving eyes and we said, "We want to do that! How do we do it?" Not with foam latex but for the rest of the body it's poly-foam, foam latex, and hot melt for his eye -- it's really crazy. So, stuff like that happens a lot.

Zombies from "When Zombies Attack!!"
Zombies from "When Zombies Attack!!"
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

HSW: Did you ever use a material that had a really weird side effect ... that didn't come out ... where you had to start over from scratch?

Matt Rose: Well, for the same vinyl -- we love that stuff so much -- when we did "Mighty Joe Young" we wanted to make his faces out of that because it's so stretchy and (laughing) that did not work. It weighed too much and if you don't control it, it would just start sagging all over the place. So, we went back to foam latex. But we did end up using the hot melt for his chest. If you watch the movie, you can see his chest moves a little more like skin and muscle because we used hot melt there.

Chad Waters: This gives you another example of the technology though, too. The reason why we wanted to use the real stretchy material for the gorilla's face was that we could, in one mechanical head, go from a neutral expression of the gorilla to a full roar. When typically, you'd have to switch heads. You can only go so far with foam latex before it would actually rip the mouth corners. So the idea was if we have the stretchy material, we might be able to do that all in one head. But again, like Matt was saying, the downside to it was the weight. It was just too loose, too sloppy -- we just couldn't do it. But what happened in the meantime was ... the mechanical designer came up with this new way of designing the head or the mechanics of the lips so that we could actually use foam latex and go from a neutral expression to a roar.

Nowadays, no one would even care about that because [of] computer stuff - you can do it all the time. But back then, it was just a huge deal- we were ecstatic that we could actually get this thing to happen in one head. It sounds probably really silly right now but you have to imagine being on a set where you've got a gorilla suit ... [and to] change the regular head to the roar head, you have to take everything off, do the roar shot, and then change it back to the other head -- it takes a lot of time ... in "Mighty Joe Young," especially, we were shooting to have so much character in the gorilla's face, we had to have that option and it turned out with the foam and the mechanics and everything and John Alexander's [actor playing Mighty Joe] performance that it really came across. And that was big enough that it's one of our things that we're proud of. The movie didn't do too well. But, the work in it was really kind of a breakthrough thing at that time.

Tricks of the Trade

Zombie from When Zombies Attack!!
Zombie from When Zombies Attack!!
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

HSW: What are some tricks or techniques for construction and application that you've learned during your career?

Chad Waters: When I got into the business I was expecting everything to be already spelled out -- we use this for this, that for that. But when you get in there, you really are just using anything that would possibly work. I mean it is funny to think of Eddie Murphy [in "The Nutty Professor"] ... under his body suit, at one point, he had this network of many different sized water balloons that were strategically placed to jiggle at the right spot. But they're literally water balloons that you buy anywhere -- but walking into that you'd expect ... they would have made every balloon from scratch or something like that -- but really it comes down to using whatever is available -- whatever will work best.

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Matt Rose: And we ended up abandoning the water balloon suit partially because during a makeup test, its breast exploded (laughing). So, we'll limit that a little bit. We can't have his [Murphy's character] whole body blowing up all over the place.

During Hellboy Ron Perlman wore a body suit to make him appear even more muscular.
During Hellboy Ron Perlman wore a body suit to make him appear even more muscular.
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved Photo credit Egon Endrenyi Photo credit Egon Endrenyi

HSW: It seems like full body suits could be rather uncomfortable for an actor to wear. Are they?

Chad Waters: It's really hot. It's really uncomfortable. That's another technique we've all been working on -- making lighter-weight suits that are a little more breathable that look big. And that's an [incredible undertaking] itself because its usually custom carved and we sell them. We used to use things called cooling suits that would pump cool water in a series of networks of tubing ... but that became almost more of a shock to the body because you go from really hot to really cold. So a lot of actors decided they didn't want to use that [anymore].

Matt Rose: For our gorilla suit [for the movie "Mighty Joe Young"] -- John Alexander played Mighty Joe Young - he [John] found that that thing to do, 'cause he was wearing not only a body suit to replicate the gorilla's muscle anatomy, he also then had a full-hair suit on top of it -- that's hair, that's fur, its really hot -- he found the best thing to do between takes was to stuff a vacuum cleaner hose down into the suit and actually suck the hot air out of the suit, instead of pumping air into it. He just liked pulling the hot air out -- that would work for him, so that is always an evolving kind of thing.

And, also it comes down to the person - Ron [Perlman] in "Hellboy" ended up just wearing this motorcycle -- I'm not even sure what it is, one of the people in the shop suggested [it] - they ride motorcycles - and I guess there's some kind of an under suit, which is basically a thin spandex suit that has a bunch of little holes and little vents in the fabric that somehow lets your body breathe and keeps you cool. Ron wore that the whole time he wore his body suits and he seemed to really like that.

HSW: Have you ever had an actor totally "freak out" on you in the middle of a makeup application or while they're wearing a body suit?

Matt Rose: It's funny because I've had one freak out when we were taking him out of makeup, just one. And he was a handful because he was asking us -- the two guys that were taking him out, "You don't know what it's like wearing this stuff?!" I've worn it all man. Before Chad came along they'd do all the test makeup on me. I'd ask for it. So I'm really sympathetic to the actor. I know what it's like. But we have had a couple people faint when they've done body castes on them.

Chad Waters: ...What happens is as it [the body cast material] hardens it kind of keeps your diaphragm from moving, so you gotta not talk and take it easy breathing. It can knock your wind out real quick. I've seen -- three times somebody's passed out. But it's pretty rare. And it's usually because they aren't paying attention. We tell them, "Don't talk." Or, it's the first time they've done it so they bring family members along to watch the process and they're yapping to them and they're having a good old time and we're sayin', "You gotta watch yourself." And fair enough, "Whoa -- told ya!" (laughing) We're really nice about it. It's really hard when it happens but we try to warn this possibly can happen ... and then it happens and they're real embarrassed and on the floor.

The Future of Creature Effects Makeup

A maquette from the movie "Hellboy"
A maquette from the movie "Hellboy"
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

HSW: Where do you see special-effects makeup ten years from now?

Matt Rose: I kind of think it's gonna be in the same spot. It's been kind of the same since I've been doing it -- just things have gotten more daring or bigger -- definitely bigger. There's more people coming into the business that are much more talented and I'm hoping that there's [others] like [directors] Guillermo [del Toro] and Peter Jackson who embrace the idea of working together with digital ... I'm the same as Chad, I enjoy watching a movie where I can tell there's something physically there. And, at the same time I like seeing great digital work too.

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HSW: How has CGI affected your industry? Is it killing the industry?

Chad Waters: Some people say that, and it's true, at one point when Jurassic Park came out, I don't know how many years ago that was now -- but, people were saying, "We're done, pack your bags." That was the attitude. But it's been at least 10 years since that happened, and like Matt said, back then if you were to have said, "Well, what's the future of makeup gonna be like in 10 years?", you would say "It's probably not going to exist." But it does. "HellBoy," for instance, is one of the coolest things we've done before or worked on in 10 years. So 10 years from now, like Matt said, it could be the same kind of situation ...

A zombie takes a dip in "When Zombies Attack!!"
A zombie takes a dip in "When Zombies Attack!!"
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

Best in Show

A re-creation of a Bernie Wrightson illustration on the set of "When Zombies Attack!!"
A re-creation of a Bernie Wrightson illustration on the set of "When Zombies Attack!!"
Photo courtesy Grimm Grotto Goods

HSW: So, you mentioned "Star Wars" earlier. Is that your favorite example of special effects makeup in a movie?

Matt Rose: Well, for me the "Planet of the Apes" is the one that got me going. I still think that's pretty good stuff- the original "Planet of the Apes." That one got me started. I don't know about you, Chad?

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Chad Waters: I think with "Star Wars" it was more just movies in general. That was the first -- I was probably five when it came out. But it was the first time I was totally transplanted into another place. It was costumes, it was creatures, it was sets, it was everything ... That was probably the biggest hit over the head that way. But just as far as creatures and stuff go, there are so many breakthroughs in that time too ... when you're wowed. And that came from, most of it was Rick [Rick Baker of Cinovation]. Like the [movie] "America Werewolf in London." That was one of the greatest transformation werewolves ever done and it still holds up. And that stuff you see like "The Thing," the John Carpenter thing ... they just dropped everything that was expected of what people thought were aliens or monsters and just ran with it. Went crazy. That was one of those movies you'd watch and [say], "Whoa! How did they do that?" That's part of the draw ... it's kind of like watching a magician do their magic tricks. When I was a kid, whenever we saw a magician you kind of got distracted. You couldn't really enjoy the show because you were [wondering], "How did they do that?" 'Cause you know they're not actually doing it. I think that's what drives a lot of people in the business as well. You want to know how they do it and then do it yourself.

HSW: What's an example of a movie where you've just been blown away by the makeup?

Matt Rose: …the makeup on "Monster."

HSW: For Charlize Theron?

Matt Rose: That was not Charlize to me -- that was a lot of work and even design ... dentures ... the makeup effects -- that's like "Lord of the Rings" -- even the noses on that show are cool. What else? Anything that Kazu Tsuji [Kazuhiro Tsuji] is involved with, he works at Cinovation. He's the best makeup artist ... This guy does makeup effects that you can't believe. He even did one of the best makeups I ever saw. It was never used - for I think it was called "Steal This Movie" -- the Abbie Hoffman makeup on Vincent D'Onofrio.

Chad Waters: Yeah, that's right.

Matt Rose: It was incredible but they decided not to use it. But when I saw that in the shop I was just blown away -- it's just amazing.

For more information on creature effects makeup, Matt Rose, Chad Waters and related information, check out the links on the next page.

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