Meet Cliff Wallace- Makeup Effects and Movie Monster Maestro
Gory greetings, boils and ghouls. I am back with another killer interview for all you monster lovers out there. I am HEXcited to talk with this FANGtastic Monster Man! Every film and project he has been involved with is just absolutely TERRORiffic. I wouldn’t want to eat him before the interview so let’s get to it… Without further Ado, meet the movie monster maestro himself.
1. Please introduce yourself… Tell us what you do and where you are from?
My name is Cliff Wallace, I’m a creature designer and special makeup effects artist from London, England. As well as working on movies and television. I’ve also exhibited sculptures throughout Europe and the US as well as organized art shows featuring other mufx artists. I’ve written numerous articles for Makeup Artist magazines, and other Sfx journals. I ran the museum gallery at the London IMATS for over a decade. I’ve also written several collections of horror short stories. Although I’ve worked on feature films in all genres, horror was my first love and is the genre I still most enjoy working in.
2. Whom or what inspired you to pursue art/effects makeup?
My makeup heroes are really the people who were pushing the envelope in the early 80’s. A time when special effects makeup really took off as an art form, Dick Smith, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin in the States, Stuart Freeborn and Christopher Tucker, here in the UK. Further back, makeup artists who were working for Amicus and Hammer here in England. There was a show called ‘Appointment with Fear’ on Friday Nights when I was growing up and that was how I was introduced to the nightmarish creations of Phil Leakey and Roy Ashton, which had a huge impression on me long before I knew the artists' names. My other heroes growing up were Gerry Anderson who produced English puppet shows like Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and Ray Harryhausen, the stop motion animator responsible for films like Jason and the Argonauts and the Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
3. Your work is intricately diverse, how long have you been an effects artist for? Over thirty five years now , which was not my intention. I certainly never thought of it as a long term career, but I’ve managed to fake it pretty well.
4. What kind of art did you start with?
I had no idea what I was going to do when I left college. I was ‘artistic’ in temperament at least, but in no way an artist. I’d always had a good imagination and thought that If I didn't end up in a band, I could probably do something in advertising or television.. . but I never had any formal art training. Eventually I got accepted on what was at the time one of the first ‘Media Studies’ courses in the country. It seemed the ideal course for someone with absolutely no idea what they were going to do with their life, which is why they’ve become so popular over the last thirty years or so. The big appeal of the course for me was that the college was next to the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and they had a fully equipped tv studio. I learnt pretty quickly there that if I wanted to make films with lots of special effects involved, then I’d have to learn how to do them. Most of the people on my course wanted to produce ‘serious’ drama or magazine shows. No one was very interested in monsters or aliens!
5.How did your career begin? What was your first commercial gig? I used to spend a lot of time at college not actually being ‘at’ college but being at the cinema across the street watching whatever horror movie was out that week. It was a werewolf movie ‘The Howling’ that made me seriously think about makeup effects as a career. I’d never seen on screen transformation effects before and it was the most spellbinding thing I’d ever seen. Over the next couple of years I was determined to find out all I could about makeup effects and how they were done. It wasn’t easy. There was no internet then, no makeup schools, very few books or magazines. My best bet was to find out what movies were shooting in England, write to whoever was in charge of makeup effects and hope they’d answer your questions or maybe even invite you to the studios. The first person I contacted was Rick Baker who was in England making ape suits for the Tarzan film ‘Greystoke’ He was very generous with his time, gave me a huge amount of information about materials and just encouraged me to have a go. Over the next couple of years I taught myself and made a lot of mess in my bedroom. Eventually I had the beginnings of a portfolio and had a friend who was selling my masks from his wig stall in Covent Garden Market. A researcher from a kids Saturday morning tv show saw some of these and invited me on the show to demonstrate my peculiar little hobby. It was a live show and whilst it was on, I got a job offer to work on a low budget horror movie that had just started shooting. The film was called Rawhead Rex, and it was based on a short story by an up and coming British horror writer called Clive Barker.
6. Taking it back to the 80’s, what effects did you do in “Hellraiser “and “Hellbound: Hellraiser II?” Whilst I was working on Rawhead, I heard about another Barker feature that was coming up called ‘Hellraiser’. Again it was going to be low budget but the big draw was that Clive Barker was going to be directing it. I went to see Bob Keen, who was going to be in charge of the effects work, and he said he could use me on Hellraiser. It took a while to get the money together but Bob took me and a couple of other guys over to Clive’s house to talk about the movie, and draw monsters. It was the best of times for me. I loved Clive’s writing and he was such a charismatic guy, wickedly funny, loved horror, and was just about the most intelligent and articulate man I’ve ever met. Just a powerhouse to be around. My main task on Hellraiser was the various incarnations of Frank, the skinned man. It was a huge learning curve as I’d never sculpted anything more complicated than a mask at this point. Clive had the coolest references too, Vesalius etchings, Joel Peter Witkin photos. Books on piercings and body modifications, - stuff that was very underground then. Kind of scary and sexy at the same time. Always a potent combination. I did a lot of early mornings on Hellraiser, the Frank makeups were long and complicated, especially when you were learning it on the job. But Bob had assembled such a great bunch of people. None of us were very experienced, but we were all enthusiastic and Bob really just let us all go for it. We knew we were doing something right when New World came up with some more cash for Frank's birth sequence, our own little ‘transformation scene’ which I got to build a lot of the puppet elements for. I also built the box demon at the end of the film. Clive had asked that it be constructed of bones rather than sculpted, which took me a long time to get my head around, but fabrication has since become a most important tool to me. None of us were really prepared for the success of Hellraiser, and it seemed that “Hellbound” came together very quickly. I got to do Frank again, and also applied the Browning makeup. I adapted the Butterball cenobite and sculpted a new version of Chatterer, principally so that actor Nick Vince could see, but I don’t think it was as successful as the original mask from Hellraiser. He wears both masks in the movie. Again I learnt a valuable lesson… things with no eyes are scary! There seemed to be a little less energy on Hellbound. Clive’s star was very much in the ascendant and he wasn’t about as much. I think that shows, but I’m incredibly proud to have been involved with both movies. The fact that people still love them over thirty years later means we must have done something right. Every few years a reboot is announced, which usually fills me with dread. None of them ever seem to come to anything, but the latest person to be linked to it is David Bruckner who did such a great job directing the film of Adam Nevill’s book The Ritual, he might just be the person to pull it off, Let’s hope so! 7. Which character(s) or jobs are you most proud of? I’ve done a lot of war films, both period and modern. Black Hawk Down and Kingdom of Heaven for Ridley Scott we’re huge projects both shot in Morocco, with gorgeous sets, loads of extras and proper filmmaking. In contrast, something I’m really proud to be associated with was a fairly unknown movie called Kajaki (Kilo Two Bravo in the US). It's a true story about a group of British paratroopers caught in a minefield in Afghanistan. The characters go through just about the worst traumas imaginable and it’s a very harrowing but tautly made film. It was made with a very small crew in Jordan, and was just a fantastic team effort and a real tribute to the heroism of the men who suffered life changing injuries and died on that day.
8. You wrote, produced, and worked on the Killer short “The Birch.” Was this your first personal project? How did you come up with the idea? I met Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton (Bloody Cuts) when Millennium FX who I’ve worked with off and on for the last ten years. He asked me to come up with a spectre/demon for the Bloody Cuts short “Don’t Move”. They pretty much just let me get on with it and we were all happy with what I came up with, which was a mostly fabricated suit with a sculpted head. The short was their most successful to that point and got them a lot of interest and representation in the States. I was very impressed with their professionalism and had a good time shooting with them. Crypt tv, a fledgling company set up by Eli Roth& Blumhouse had seen ‘Don’t Move’ and asked Bloody Cuts to come up with a new short for them. They had heard that I wrote occasionally and asked me if I had a story and a creature for this new project. I wanted to do something a bit folk horror, and came up with an outline that although only a few minutes long suggested a far bigger story and mythology. So it had a number of exploitable props. The book, the sigil, the effigy, the lines of conjuration… ‘For he who makes me I shall come…’ The creature I wanted to be female, both creepy and alluring. She’s really like an exaggerated fashion illustration. A tall skinny woman with bare breasts, long opera gloves, a floor length sheath dress, topped off with a wildly elaborate headdress. I loved the graphic nature of the birch tree, the black and white bark, loved that she is known as ‘The White Lady of the Woods’, and that the birch tree is so revered in Wiccan and Pagan lore as a protector. I also wanted a sense of doubt and ambiguity in the story, to show that there were consequences to The Birch’s protection. All these aspects have allowed the story to be successfully expanded in the successful Crypt Tv Facebook Watch series based on the short. I acted as design consultant and co producer on the first series, and together with Ben and Anthony, am co producer on the second series which is currently shooting in the States. It’s amazing how much people have taken The Birch to their hearts, views for the short across all platforms currently stand at about 40 million, which is quite an outstanding achievement for everyone who worked on the original short, including my wife who actually played The Birch!
9. I am a super huge fan of Guillermo Del Toro! “HELLBOY II: The Golden Army,” is one of my top faves by him. What special effects work did you do on the film? I actually met Guillermo in connection with another film he had written, which was a remake of Nic Roeg’s film ‘The Witches’. At the end of the meeting I said if there’s ever a Hellboy 2 I’d love to work on that… a couple of weeks later he rang up and said ‘ forget Witches, we’re doing Hellboy 2. ‘ People often say my work looks like it belongs in a Del Toro film. He obviously thought so too. The fact is Guillermo is drawn to people who have a similar aesthetic to him, who drink at the same myth pool. That usually means people who like the same sort of artists and writers, have similar tastes in film and music and who process popular culture in the same way. The main work we did on HB2 was to build everything for the opening puppet sequence which was all based on Mignola designs, as well as a lot of the denizens of the Troll Market, and The Butcher Guards. My crew also assisted Spectral Motion with the principal actors and doubles on location. A lot of the Characters for the Troll Market were based on designs by Wayne Barlow whom Guillermo drafted in and whom I’ve always been a fan of, some of the Angel of Death sequence is very Beksinski, again another influence… as I said the same myth pool.
10. What is the most memorable experience of your career?
The whole shooting of HB2 was a pretty memorable experience, on one day in the Troll market there was a big red creature fighting a big blue monster, surrounded by two dozen other outlandish looking creatures, all being operated by a bunch of Fx artists from Europe and the States and being directed by a guy who was as in love with monsters and makeup effects as each of us were. I remember thinking that I would probably never have another day on set like that ever again. And I never have!
11. In the history of your career, who have you enjoyed working with most and why? Danny Boyle has to be one of my favorite directors, and just about the nicest guy you could possibly meet. I’ve worked with him a few times over the years. The first movie I did for him was ‘28 Days Later.’ which was a great experience. It was shot dogme style on digital cameras. Very much guerrilla film making, which I loved. The first time I read the script I knew we were basically making a zombie movie, but no-one could refer to it as such. It’s success of course sparked a zombie revival which is still going on today. Later I worked with Danny again on the inevitable sequel, and then on the thriller Trance. I also devised an effect for his theater version of Frankenstein which worked a little too successfully and had to be cut from the show!
12. You have tenure in your career and have worked with materials or formulas in makeup that have changed or have become obsolete over the years. With the age of technological advancements and change of products used in the industry, how has the transition been for you? The basic procedures really haven’t changed that much since The Wizard of Oz. At its most basic, you sculpt new features on a life cast of the actor, make a mold of your sculpture, then cast an appliance from the mold, glue it to the actors face and paint it so that it looks like it’s a part of him. What’s changed is the materials, and that changes all the time. In the early 1990’s there was a move towards translucency in makeups and the development of urethane's and silicone's that would better mimic the look of flesh to both the eye and the camera. A lot of this came about as a response towards CGI which threatened to impact on makeup and effects massively. As a result, foam latex, which had been the industry staple for many years, became used less. The truth however is that there is no ideal material for makeup effects, both foam and silicone have their drawbacks and their advantages. We’ve seen more and more changes in computer design and sculpting programs and 3D printing, but nothing has become obsolete. All of these things are just tools of reinventions. There is no definitive approach to any job, no materials that are exclusive. Protocols go in and out of fashion, the answer has always been to work backwards from the finished effect and work out which approach and materials will be the best way to achieve what you need to tell the story given the time and money available. If there is a way to do the job within those parameters then you shouldn’t take it on.
13. In regards to your craft, where do you draw inspiration from?
I think the trick is to look outside of other makeup Fx artists for inspiration. Before the internet, you only used to see other artists work in movies or magazines if you happened to meet them and got to see their portfolio. Now there are so many visuals out there, you can see everyone else’s work instantly. I think this has had the effect of homogenizing creature design and movie makeup. Algorithms on social media platforms exacerbate the situation, as do a lot of the digital sculpting programs. There is a danger that everything starts to look the same. I’m not sure what the answer is. I have been drawn towards strong silhouettes for many years. I find form more important than detail. I’ve never been interested in sculpting every skin pore. A lot of sculptural fashion interests me. Stuff that’s extreme and structural. I love Alexander McQueen, and the English designer Gareth Pugh. Iris Van Herpen from the Netherlands. Millinery too. There’s a fantastic hat designer called Philip Treacy who creates stunning silhouettes. What if those felt and feather creations were organic? If they were flesh and bone? What if that wasn’t a hat but the shape of my creature’s skull? In the end you draw inspiration from everywhere. Look at the art, look at the artist, and then look at their inspirations. That’s usually where the most interesting and primal ideas are. The first thing I do when I go anywhere on location is visit the local museum and art gallery. If I haven’t found something that inspires me by the end of the day, I feel I’ve failed myself in some way.
14. What kinds of obstacles have you encountered as a high caliber, key effects person? The main obstacles for me are always that it’s not just the creatives who make the decisions! Film is a collaborative medium and most of the time you are employed as a commercial artist to realize someone else’s vision. A huge change I’ve noticed over the years is the increasing number of people who have to have some validation in the design of an effect or a creature. What this leads to inevitably is a design by committee approach and what usually follows is a watering down of the initial concept. Another reason why all creature designs are beginning to look the same. It’s most noticeable for example, when you get to the point where the company who is producing the packaging for the toy that’s going in the happy meal, that’s part of the merchandising of the movie looks at a design and says ’you know this really doesn’t work for us!” 15. Are you currently working on anything you can speak of? It’s been a strange year, and jobs have been fairly piecemeal. There’s a few pre Covid projects that haven’t seen the light of day yet. I worked on a Chinese disaster movie in Mexico called ‘The Rescue’, which I think will be pretty spectacular. There’s a trio of low budget horrors, all directed by women, out or due imminently. ‘The Amulet,’ ‘ The Power’ and ‘She Will’ should all be interesting.
16. Are there any future goals or projects you’d have in mind, but haven’t had a chance to do yet? I’m enjoying writing again these days, and I can see a time when I’ll have a crack at directing a short. Movie - wise, I think I’ve worked with most of the directors I’ve wanted to. I’ve never really wanted to work on franchise movies, although I suppose the money would have been nice! Unfortunately I’ve always thought that my career is a hobby that I get paid for. Working outside of the mainstream is the most interesting place for me, so I guess I’ll hang around for a while longer.
17. This may be the hardest question of all, but can you give me the names of some of your favorite horror films? There really are so many, a lot aren’t particularly great movies but if I was to give you a snapshot… Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Night of the Demon, The Wicker Man, Alien, Jaws, The Brood, Videodrome, The Howling, the Thing, the Fog, Pumpkinhead, Day of the Dead, Lord of Illusions. A couple of films that have impressed me recently are A Quiet Song and The Ritual. 18. What advice or tips can you give your fellow effects makeup fans or
he next generation of artists who want to follow in your footsteps?
I’m often asked to critique portfolios and give advice to makeup students and
my advice is always the same. Makeup effects is one of the only jobs
around that requires no formal training or qualification. The information
really is all out there now. There are books, online courses, a wealth of
information that just wasn’t there when I started in effects. You don’t need
to take a university degree or to spend thousand of pounds. There’s no
qualification from any course or makeup school that guarantees a job. The
only thing you need is a portfolio that shows pictures of the best work you
can do. A few pictures is usually enough for any employer to see if you are
worth looking at. After that it’s all down to attitude and application. It’s not a
job for everyone, and it is a job that most definitely in decline…but if you
think it’s for you, definitely go for it. Do it let anybody or anything put you
off. Most of the time it beats working for a living.
19. Where can we follow you to see your latest creations?
You can find me on Facebook, there’s lots of photos of my personal and
movie work in my album pages. On Instagram you can follow me as
creatfx. A fairly complete list of the movies I have worked on can be found
on IMDb. If you like The Birch you can download my short story collections
The new series of The Birch will be on Facebook Watch early 2021.