Monster Maker!

Make-up FX Wizard Greg Solomon talks about his work creating fearful faces for Buffy the Vampire Slayer

More pictures and a fuller interview in the issue!

The Polgara demon from 'The I In Team', photo by Greg Solomon

A Shivers interview by Joe Nazzaro

Selected from Shivers #88

There is an old saying in the make-up FX business, which is that everything comes down to three factors: good, cheap and fast. According to Optic Nerve’s Greg Solomon, “You can make something fast and cheap, but it won’t be any good. If you make it good and fast, it won’t be cheap, and if you can do it good and cheap, it won’t be fast.” For Solomon, who’s spent the past two seasons as make-up FX supervisor on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, much of his time has been devoted to juggling those three factors in various combinations.

Greg Solomon (photo by Joe Nazzaro)A veteran of the make-up FX business, Solomon had worked for many of the pioneers in the business including Stan Winston, Rick Baker and Tony Gardner before moving on to Optic Nerve. “When they brought me in, I was kind of jumping around – I would do a little bit for X-Files, a little for Crusade and a little for Buffy, so it was all intermingled at the beginning. At the beginning of Buffy’s third season, I began helping out Mike Pack who was the co-ordinator at that time. Mike saw what I could do and made me his second in charge, so I was working closely with him on each episode, helping co-ordinate the whole thing. When Mike decided he didn’t want to continue, they asked me to take over.”

The job of make-up FX supervisor has a number of different facets, but it basically involves taking a character from the design process to its finished form. “The concept meeting is where you have a first draft of the script and you sit down with the director, producer and the different people involved depending on what the script entails. If there are a lot of FX or CGI in it, those department heads will come to the concept meeting, so before any designs are generated, I will pick their brains to find out exactly what they want."

Because of the relatively short amount of time that’s available when creating vampires, demons and other monsters on a weekly basis, the Optic Nerve team have to design their elaborate-looking prosthetic make-ups to be applied as efficiently as possible. “We pretty much have a set system of how we do the appliances,” notes Solomon. “We can’t do the old Dick Smith eight-appliance make-up, even though it works so well for an old age appliance or something like that so the actor can move and use the expressions. There’s just no time for that, so for any kind of major creature, it usually always turns out to be a cowl or a foam latex bald cap and a face piece.

“Occasionally, we’ll add some glue-on horns or ears or something like that. If there are very large horns to go on, we’ll use a fibreglass skullcap that goes on underneath the cowl. And then the horns come out of that, but we do try to make it as simple as possible, for our own time limits as well time in the make-up chair.”

One of the unfortunate realities about television make-up FX is that some characters are seen fleetingly or in some cases, not at all. In the case of the Season Three finale Graduation Part II for example, Optic Nerve actually built a version of the giant Mayor Snake, which was subsequently cut from the final episode.

“The snake itself was a full puppet,” recalls Solomon, “that we spent a full day on set puppeteering, and having it shot against blue screen, and it looked really good. I haven’t heard a definitive answer as to why it never made the final cut, but the snake you see is all CGI and looks it. The CGI guys do a great job, but they are limited for time and money like we are, and there was so much of it that was seen. Given more time, it could have been much better than it was...”

Full version of interview commences in Shivers #88, continuing in
Shivers #89 where Solomon discusses Hush, Primeval and A New Man

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Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction