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 HELLRAISER, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and STAR WARS III – REVENGE OF THE SITH of course.
Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness. Why have you choose the way of being into special effects/ make-up? Do you have any personal idols or favorite movies in your business?
Dave Elsey) I didn’t have another job before being a Makeup artist. Its all I ever wanted to be. Since I was about ten years old and I was first aware that you could do this as a job, and work in the film biz, that’s all I ever set my sights on doing. My personal idols were Jack pierce, Chris Tucker, Dick Smith, and Rick Baker, and Ive been lucky enough to know and call friends, all but Jack Pierce, who was long gone before I could do it.
SFF) Your first experience, if I´m correctly informed, with films was for LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. How did you get the job and is there a difference in the way you use special effects between this movie in particularly and movies like X-MEN: FIRST CLASS or STAR WARS?
DE) Little shop was my first job in the business, but I used to visit sets and meet my hero’s whenever I could. I would call round the studios, and ask what films where in production, and then if there was Makeup Effects on it I would ask to be put through to whoever was in charge, so I could visit and show my stuff. I had done lots of makeup stuff in my spare time, even when I was at school, so I always had a lot to show, even though it was just stuff I had done out of my home workshop, using pocket money. It was on such a visit that I met Lyle Conway, who was doing Little shop Of Horrors, and he liked my stuff and hired me. The Materials have changed a lot over the years but the way we do things is still much the same. CG has taken a lot of work away from the animatronic side, but makeup on actors continues to be used, because actors act better when they can look in the mirror and see the character looking back at them...
SFF) You are (in my opinion) a maestro of fire realistic and fantastic make-up-effects. But working with prosthetics is very difficult and quiet challenging. What fascinates you by creating prosthetics?
DE) Thank you. I guess Darth Vader is still the most famous burn makeup I’ve done. What fascinates me about prosthetics is working with the actors and directors to create characters, and tell stories. That never wears off.
SFF) What exactly did you do in the movies HELLRAISER and DEATH MACHINE? What do you prefer: big or not so big budget movies in order of creative working (I don´t want to say low, because I believe there is no low, just economical budget)?
DE) For death machine I mostly did all the nasty stuff tearing people apart with hooks, as well as the Birth of Frank sequence. For Death machine, I again focused on mangling the cast in various ways, as well as doing a lot of work on the Hardman suit. I dont mind doing any budget, as long as there is enough time and money to do it right, however low budget can be more fun artistically, as the ideas tend to not get so watered down.
SFF) I´m a teacher for children with special needs. I´ve had done this for nearly 20 years ,right now. I know my job because I want to do it, I´m enthusiastic and I have several educations to work with kids. What is your opinion about education to become an expert in special effects or make-up? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
DE) I think you need to have artistic ability, but most of the best people I know also have a perfectionist streak, and constantly feel that they have to continue to keep pushing the boundary’s of their craft.
SFF) I believe movies doesn´t belong to awards. They´re for the audience not for prices. Let´s be clear: I´m happy for your Oscar for WOLFMAN! But what do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art? Does Make-Up get enough recognition?
DE) I think the recognition you get from watching something on screen that works is almost all you need, but the Oscars mean that other people felt so too...
SFF) CGI nowadays could be a curse or a blessing. What do you think about it comparing to “old school”- films back in the days?
DE) CGI is great, and so is makeup. You cant judge what was achieved on an old movie by todays mega budgeted CGI budgets. If you took one CGI planet of the apes CGI budgets, you could probably remake all of the old practical Apes movies, and still have enough to buy a house...! Where practical has an edge, is in the way it helps actors and filmmakers to create a performance based on what they can see with their own eyes. Its a kind of magic that happens on set, and everyone on set is effected by it.
SFF) Can you please describe the way you were working. Where do you get your inspirations from and how do you start to create a monster?
DE) Three words - script script script. It has to come from the story, and then you employ all the years of makeup movie fandom to inform you of the right way to go.
SFF) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
DE) I cant say which was the most difficult, because when you are doing each job, you try to skate close to the edge in terms of what you can do, and you push yourself to the limit. Each time you make something you do that, and eventually your work will hopefully keep improving. I had some advice from Rick Baker when I was 15, he said just keep making whatever you are doing better than the last. Ive always remembered that, and I cant think of a better piece of advice to pass on...
SFF) Dear Mr. Elsey. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future.