Science Fiction Filme) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like ROBOCOP, TERMINATOR II or IT of course.
A lot of movie fanatics know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness. Why have you choose the way of being into make-up?
Bart J. Mixon) I was a movie and comic book fan from a very early age, and as such had hopes of becoming either a comic book artist or special effects artist - either doing Stop Motion Animation or Make-up Effects. I grew up in Houston, Texas, VERY far from the film industry in Hollywood, so I did not think I had much of a chance of getting into that line of work, but I was still artistically inclined so I did commercial art and technical illustration for a Houston based Oil Tool company after graduating from college and before I made the jump to the film business.
SFF) Your first big Hollywood-experience, if I´m correctly informed, with films was for FORBIDDENW ORLD (1981). You were in the crew with John Carl Buechler, who sadly passed away this year. What did you learn from him?
B.M.) I only worked for John for a week in LA - so while I did not really have the chance to learn any specific techniques [in fact I introduced him to at least one] it was still educational. Basically I saw that you are - to an extent - as good as your crew. You seldom have time to do everything yourself, so your work on large shows is impacted by those you have hired to assist you and that is certainly something I kept in mind as I crewed up my solo shows in LA like FRIGHT NIGHT PART TWO and STEPHEN KING’S IT.
SFF) Which movies do you really don´t like and why?
B.M.) My favorite film of all time is the original KING KONG from 1933. I first saw it when I was about five years old and was just amazed at the effects and creatures and the world that Willis O’Brien created. This and the films of Ray Harryhausen made me want to get into the effects biz. At the same time I was watching make-up based films like FRANKENSTEIN, THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO and PLANET OF THE APES. LAO was probably the first time I became aware of the ability of make-up to transfer an actor into such a variety of characters. I think this film certainly planted the seed for my interest in prosthetic make-up. Everyone was a fan of APES in the early 70’s and I was no exception - my first sculpted make-up was a chimp from APES for a costume contest at a local comic book convention in 1971. About this time I became aware of Rick Baker and his work when he was featured in an issue of Famous Monsters. All of Rick Baker’s work was a source of inspiration, due in large part to the fact that it was SO good and being created by someone SO young - he was only 8 years older than I was. It made such a career seem possible to a young fan like myself.
As far as movies I don’t like - gee, there’s SO many… For what ever reason I was never a huge fan of the FRIDAY THE 13th as a series. I think there’s some good work in some of them, and the first few might have been somewhat creative, but it seem like they just got pretty repetitive and there’s no logical reason why Jason is such an unstoppable force. At least in HALLOWEEN it is suggested the Myers is something more than human - the Boogie Man - but not so with Jason. I actually thought the reboot did a pretty good job of condensing the first three films into one briefer, better story. I’m sure there’s plenty more, but why dwell on the negative…?
SFF) You creations of monsters in movies are wonderful examples of effects in the glorious decade of the 80s and 90s. What do you think about that time? Why do people love this period of movies?
B.M.) The 80s were a great time to be working in the film biz. Guys like John Chambers, Dick Smith and Rick Baker had made productions and audiences aware of what was possible with make-up effects, and things just exploded in the 80s. After films like AMERICAN WEREWOLF and THE THING there was a time when each new script tried
to top the last one and allowed for some great innovations and experimentation. I sort of came onto the scene towards the end of this “golden age” but was still able to contribute to and work on some great projects. I think one of the main reasons people love this period of the movies is that there are SO many GOOD films from this time, not just genre films but films in general.
SFF) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in make-up? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
B.M.) Most of my generation were self taught to a certain degree - mainly because there were not schools at that time. We had a basic knowledge of how things were meant to be done and then would figure it out from there. Artists like Dick Smith and Rick Baker would share information but you had to know what to ask them and what to do with that information once you had it. Because we WERE enthusiastic we were willing to fill in the blanks in our education ourselves. Thankfully there are some good make-up schools out there these days and I thing that’s great. I’ve worked with many artists from such schools and some have been quite good. I can not say if this is because of what they learned at the school or because they had a natural talent to begin with, but at least they are given a nice foundation to work from. I think I have encountered some that only know how to do things the way they were taught - they are not good at thinking on their feet - but again, this could be specific to that person and not because of what or how they were taught.
SFF) Your Portfolio is a wonderful compilation of fantastic work. Do you have some favorite works of yours and is there a project that, unfortunately, never came to fruition, even though you had already designed a lot for it?
B.M.) Thanks. I guess my work for STEPHEN KING’S IT and specifically Tim Curry’s PENNYWISE make-up is my personal favorite in that it was my show, I was responsible for the design and I sculpted and applied the make-up.
I have several sketch books full of concepts for shows that either did not happen or went with another shop. There are always shows that get away from you for one
reason or another. When I had my shop, Mixon & Ellis FX, we put a lot of effort into FREDDY VS JASON only to have the show shut down and then start back up a few years later with out us. I tried to get on the new IT films several years ago, and again it shut down, started back up, shut down again, and then finally went into production without me being able to get onboard - but at least I had not done any real design work.
SFF) Does CGI makes the progress of special effects easier?
B.M.) CGI is a useful tool that usually gets over used. I think it can be used to enhance a make-up if it is used properly and under the direction of a make-up or creature effects artist. Too many times I have seen horrible digital creatures because the basic design was bad and they would have been bad had they been a make-up too. It depends upon hiring the proper designers and artists to render them - same as with a make-up or creature suit. I have worked on shows like MIB3 where the digital team worked hand in hand with our team and the results were the best of both worlds.
SFF) If we look back to the movies you have done, we see that you did a lot of genre-movies. I am really into science fiction (or fantasymovies in general) because I think, that those kind of movies are the best way to show actual political and social events. For example SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING. Do you believe that these genres can transfer something to the people?
B.M.) Sure - science fiction has had a long history of “teaching” us things with out “preaching” to us. I would rather not be hit over the head with the films “message” and usually sci-fi is at least subtle about that sort of thing.
SFF) You were the creator of iconic “Pennywise” from IT (1990). He really looks creepy and spooky. Do you take some (personal) fears into your make-up? Where did you take your inspiration from for this design?
B.M.) Thanks - as I’ve said above he’s one that I am proud of. I think you always take inspiration from your personal life and experiences and interests, etc. I did a lot of clown research at the start of IT and drew inspiration from that. The concept that was eventually selected to be developed into the Pennywise make-up for Tim was based upon the classic Lon Chaney make-up for PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. The original sculpture was a stylized version of that, with the upturned nose, cheek bones, etc. Some of these elements were dropped during the testing phase, but the basic forms are still there.
SFF) You work for both: cinema and television-series like AHS or NAVY CIS. Could you please give us an overview of the extent to which the working methods in these media are different?
B.M.) Usually there is more time and money on films than tv, but this is not always the case. For the past 20 years I have been pretty much just doing on set application and - depending upon the shows - there is very little difference in the quality of the prosthetics that are being used. BRIGHT was a tv project that certainly have film quality work, while some films have had pretty tight budgets and required low budget solutions.
SFF) In the past you have done some work for so called “Low-Budget”-movies like BIOHAZARD or ALIENATOR. Today you were involved in big-budget-movies like AVENGERS: ENDGAME or ZOMBIELAND 2. What do you prefer?
B.M.) For the most part I just prefer to be working. But each project can have its own appeal. I am a life long Marvel Comics fan so working of films like END GAME [I did the Ancient One] or INFINITY WAR and CIVIL WAR [I did the Vision] is a blast for the fan in me. Working on shows like BRIGHT and ZOMBIELAND DOUBLE TAP was fun because I was working with a group of my friends. Some “low budget” films like RUSHMORE were satisfying because they turned out to be very good films and others like HALLOWEEN 2 or 31 again because I was working with friends. Back when I worked on those early Fred Olen Ray films like SCALPS and BIOHAZARD I was just happy to be creating something - anything - for a film that was going to be released!
SFF) Could you please describe the way you create a monster. From the first draft of a script till the final product which we see on screen.
B.M.) I guess Pennywise is as good an example as any. First I read the script and did an effects breakdown from that - detailing what I need to create and what it is required to do. I then did some research into clowns and read the section of the novel that described Pennywise as well as the information presented in the script.
I attempted a few Pennywise designs but found this was pretty pointless without having an actor to design it for. Once Tim Curry was cast I worked over a head shot and did about half a dozen design sketches which I sent to director Tommy Lee Wallace. Based upon his reactions, I did three clay sketches over our life cast of Tim and painted and photographed those and sent those images to Wallace. He selected the one he liked and I re-sculpted it as a prosthetic make-up. This was then molded and tested and any adjustments were made.
SFF) Imagine you meet an extraterrestrial one day. He wants to know why you were stuck into movies with just one movie to explain, which will it be and why?
B.M.) Wow, that’s a good question. ROBOCOP might be just such a choice. It is a great film and the work that I assisted with is certainly pivotal to the success of the film. There is a great sampling of make-up effects with Robo’s face and the melting Emil, a fantastic robot suit, and an amazing body duplication puppet. I also had a blast working on it - so from start to finish it was a great experience and holds up very well to this day!
SFF) I held up with one of the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
B.M.) Perhaps FRIGHT NIGHT PART TWO. This was the first film I supervised after I moved to LA and it had quite a variety of effects to create. On top of that my effects had to stand up next to the work of Greg Cannom - one of the industry giants of that time. Likewise IT was a challenge because after only four weeks of prep in LA I had to start going to Vancouver for shooting so I was traveling back and forth at least
once a week. Work had to continue in LA while I was gone so thankfully I had a great crew who could continue without my constant supervision.
SFF) Dear Mr. Mixon. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
B.M.) Thanks for asking and showing an interest in my work. I hope these answers are helpful.