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Feature: Effects Make-up

Designing Demons

Behind you…

We talk to FX make-up designer Neill Gorton and make-up artist Jan Sewell about their creations for the BBC’s Strange.

Why is there such a shortage of British-made genre television? If UK broadcasters can import such American series as Buffy or The X-Files, surely there’s enough viewer interest to justify some home-grown material? That question was addressed with the début of Strange, a six-part Supernatural series, which recently aired on BBC1. Starring Richard Coyle as a defrocked priest-turned-demon hunter, Strange featured some top-notch production values on a relatively modest BBC budget.

“I think they knew they were up against the Buffys and Angels and all of those other American shows,” notes Neill Gorton, who worked on Saving Private Ryan and From Hell and handled make-up FX and animatronics for the series. In terms of budget, it was still tight, but we had Tom Brown as production designer, who does a lot of features, Jan Sewell doing the make-up and Hazel Pethig – a great costume person, so I don’t think it was ever going to be just a throwaway thing. The DP did a great job of lighting it, so they’ve gone for moody with a bit of humour to lift it out from the dark.”

For Gorton, working on Strange meant coming up with a full range of FX. “We had full body prosthetics, two stages of ageing make-up in silicone and gelatine, animatronic creatures; we came up with this animatronic gag for episode two where a sword comes out of a guy’s hand. They were talking about a digital effect like The Terminator, and I said, ‘The feel of the show isn’t like that, and if you get this nice morphing effect, it looks too clean.’ So we have this guy where the middle of his hand literally splits open and a samurai sword blade comes out. It’s all animatronic, so the skin stretches and it really looks nasty and unpleasant.

“And then we had a giant tree demon for Episode Five, which was 12 feet tall with a 30-foot animatronic arm span, with guys in green suits operating the arms, who were going to be removed digitally. Basically it was a giant marionette, that looked like some bastardized Disney creature. We also did these little incubus creatures, which were fully animatronic creatures that could walk and do everything, and we also made embryos of them, so we went from tiny little things up to a 12-foot high tree demon.”

Meanwhile, make-up chief Jan Sewell had to supervise the overall look for all of the characters, including Richard Coyle who plays the eponymous anti-hero. “From my point of view, we made him look paler and more sickly, because he had dealings with different demons, and I wanted that sick feeling to come across that there were more demonic things going on around him. That was changed from the pilot where he really looked a little bit too clean-cut.”

by Joe Nazzaro

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Photo © Neill Gorton
Feature © Visual Imagination 2003. Not for reproduction

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Shivers #106
August 2003
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