Science-Fiction-Filme) A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Especially because for films like KING KONG, LORD OF THE RINGS or PLANET OF THE APES of course. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into film business. Why have you choose the way of being into special/ visual effects?
Gino Acevedo) Well it all started back a very long time ago! Ever since I can remember, I have always loved monsters and monster movies ,even though they scared the crap out of me and I would have terrible nightmares! But later, they all became my friends. To this day, some of my favourite characters are still the old Universal Classic Monsters like, Frankenstein, The Mummy, the Wolfman and my all-time favourite, the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Well, he was my favourite until I saw the original Planet of the Apes when I was about 7. I already had a fascination of apes in general, but when I saw this film where the apes could TALK, well that just blew my mind! Whenever we would go to the zoo, I would always want to go straight to the apes section. I would be the kid with his face up against the glass trying to talk to the apes, because I just "knew" they could talk just like in the movie! But I was sadly disappointed when they didn't respond, and I figured it was only because other people were around and they didn't want to give themselves up! But my passion for monsters, apes and love for animals in general only grew as I got older, especially for the apes!
When I was 18 and just out of High School in Phoenix Arizona, my old grade school teacher put me in contact with the husband of a student teacher he was working with who owned a Halloween Company in Phoenix called "Imagineering". The gentleman who owned the company was Larry Liff and he was the guy who invented "Vampire Blood and Evil Vampire Teeth" for the Halloween market for kids. I used this stuff all of the time as Halloween was my favourite time of the year, even better than Christmas! Anyway, I met with Larry and showed him my drawing portfolio which was filled with Dungeons and Dragons and Barbarian's. Not quite what he was looking for, but thankfully he gave me a chance in his factory - first in the production line packaging Vampire Blood and all sorts of other things that I used to beg my parents to buy for me at Halloween! Needless to say, I was in Heaven! I worked on the production floor for about 6 months and it was an amazing experience to see how these products were made. I truly felt like I was Charlie from "Charlie and the Chocolate factory" walking into Willie Wonka's factory!
After spending this time in production, Larry had me join the R&D dept (Research and Development) and I started to train myself how to sculpt Halloween masks. Around this time I was introduced to another gentleman who was friends with Larry and who was a very well known Hollywood makeup artist named Barry Koper, who at the time was the Head of the Makeup Dept at CBS Studios in Hollywood California. Barry would come out to Phoenix every year to apply the new makeups for the Halloween Catalogue that would be photographed in Phoenix. When I first met Barry (who was a mountain of man standing 6'6") I think that I reminded him of when he was young and getting started and because of this Barry took me under his wing and taught me a huge amount about makeup and prosthetics. I would then later go to Los Angeles to visit him and he would introduce me to the great makeup legends like John Chamber's , Dick Smith, Stan Winston, Rick Baker and Greg Cannom. These were some of the biggest makeup names in the business, and still are today . What is also amazing is that Barry knew John Chamber's and was actually taught by him during the Planet of the Ape's TV series!
I would continue to visit Barry over the years, and I really wanted to make the move to come to LA, but the issue I had was that my mother had cancer and I was so afraid that something would happen to her if I was away. But my Mom was so great - she knew that I had this passion and drive, and she was always pushing me to go, but I would always make up excuses as to why I shouldn't. So I was happy to stay in my "Willie Wonka Halloween-land" for now.
A bit later on Barry offered me an opportunity to come out to LA for a short period of time when he worked at NBC Studios in LA doing prosthetics for a TV show hosted by Dick Clark called "Friday Night Surprise". This was to be a take-off of a show that was done in the 60's called "Masquerade", which was an audience participation show where well known celebrities would come on stage in makeup and dressed up as other famous celebrities. Then, thru questions, the audience would have to guess who these celebrities were! I got the chance to make up the great Alan Hale and Bob Denver from the classic TV show, "Gilligan's Island". I made up Gilligan, "Bob Denver" as Mae West and Alan Hale Jr. as " WC Fields". After I finished this show, I had 2 weeks left of leave before I was to go back to my Halloween factory in Arizona.
During this time I was asked by David Miller, (who Barry introduced me to earlier and who created the first iconic look of "Freddy Krueger" from Nightmare On Elm Street) if I would be interested in working with him and the crew on Nightmare on Elm Street part 5. Of course I said YES!! I was in Heaven, and would call my Mom every night to check in on her and tell her about all of the exciting things I was doing! She was so happy and excited for me that I was finally doing what I loved. Sadly, while I was working on this film, I received a call that my mother had passed away. At first I was so angry with myself that I was not there to be with her, but later on I found comfort knowing that she left this world knowing that I was happy doing what I loved doing.
SFF.) Your first experience with films was NIGHTMARE ON ELMSTREET - THE DREAM CHILD. What experience did you take with you from your first movie?
G.A.) After working with David Miller who taught me so much on Nightmare 5, I was able to take what I had learnt on that job with me to the next job. That's what you do, just like in life you learn from your mistakes and pass on your knowledge to others and teach them what you have learned.
SFF.) Working with textures is very difficult and quiet challenging. What fascinates you by handling with this kind of effects?
G.A.) Reproducing a human likeness will always be the challenge. Creatures will always be secondary. We all know what we look like, and when we see someone on the street with some sort of difference in their facial structure , your eye will always notice it. Sadly, it seems there is a rule as to what is beautiful and what is not. There is a general rule of the "perfect" face in terms of the correct proportions, but my fascination has always been the opposite and I love how different we all are. I love “people watching” and observing all of the lovely, different, interesting, strange and varied faces!
I have always been fascinated with faces in particular, and I have over 250 faces casts of famous actors and interesting people, that I have collected over my career. But I have friends who have many, many more! As makeup artists, we trade them like baseball cards!
SFF.) I really love ALIEN 3. It´s one of the most underestimated films ever made. But it´s also a production with a lot of problems during shooting. After over 25 years: what do you think about the movie?
G.A.) I think it is a great movie. I think that if the director, David Fincher would have been left to his own accord it would have been a much better movie. It was an amazing experience to work on that film in many ways. Firstly, working with the great team that Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff put together and secondly for the adventure of going to work in London! The team consisted of Yuri Everson, Mitch Coughlin, David Leroy Anderson and myself. Besides Alec and Tom, David was the most experienced FX technician in our group from the USA. From what I understood, we were allowed 6 total "American" crew to have work visa's on this production and the rest of the crew would be made up of English FX artists. Alec and Tom had already had the great experience of working on "Aliens" at Pinewood, and they had decided to bring in a very talented artist by the name of Stephen Norrington who was an incredible sculptor and mechanical animatronics artist. They consulted Stephen about who else to bring on board on the "English" side and he suggested a very young Chris Halls who was 18 at the time (now known as Chris Cunningham), Mark Coulier, Paul Catling, Brendan Lonergan, Paul Dunn, Dave Elsey, Jeremy Hunt, Dave Keen, Gary Pollard and Mike Scanlan. It was an amazing time working with this new crew and we all instantly bonded and learned from each other.
So not only was I working on an "ALIEN" film but It was also my first time working in another country – my excitement level was x1000!
I was responsible for developing the paint scheme for the Alien. I had always been a huge fan of Giger's work even long before this, so I had a good idea of what I thought he would have done and I tried to incorporate it into the paint scheme. Yuri also helped with the huge task of painting the suits.
I never got to meet the master, so it wasn't until many years later when I was out here in New Zealand working at Weta, that my friend Richard Taylor visited him to talk about some possible future ventures. Then one day as I was driving my truck, my cell phone rang and I saw it was Richard so I pulled over and I said "hi mate! how did the meeting go with Giger"?? He said it went really well..... but hang on someone wants to say hi....and then I heard this voice on the other end that I recognized say,... "Ello, Gino? Eello, 'Dis is Giger"!
I almost crapped my shorts! He said that he really loved the painting that I did on the Alien3 suit and the painting I did on "Sil" from Species! I thought I had just died and gone to Heaven! I thanked him and told him he had, and would always be, a great inspiration to me.
SFF.) You lucky guy. I once called him in the 90's and hung up because I could not say a word. You can really feel that you are enthusiastically absorbed in your work. I am a teacher for disabled children in real life. You also have to be enthusiastic at this job. What else do you need to complete your kind of job?
G.A.) I think it goes back to having a passion for this kind of stuff, as I did. I think it would be hard to get someone interested in this kind of stuff if they were not already exposed to it.
BUT, if I was you, and if I needed to teach special needs children, I think that you could have a lot of fun playing around with makeup. We should talk about this separately.
SFF) Thanks for the offer. I will gladly perceive. You mentioned the passion for this kind of movie passion. Is it in your opinion art or "just" another technical aspect in the film industry?
G.A.) It is an art, but the tricky thing is when you are working on a film, you have to remember that it is a collaboration. There are so many aspects to a film and what goes into it. There are many different departments and I always find it amazing that they all manage to come together to make one cohesive product which ends up on the big screen! But this all has to do with extreme planning and visualization of the schedule, and how it's maintained.
I wish there could be more awards that would recognize more of the different departments that have contributed because the film could not have been done without them. One of them is "casting". I am so shocked that they do not have a category for "casting". For most films you need actors, and it's the casting agents who use their skills to find that perfect actor for the part and yet they get no recognition for this.
SFF.) What do you think of the "fight" (if there is any) of CGI against practical effects?
G.A.) I think that what is happening is that practical effects is making come-back and there is more interest in mixing the digital with the practical. When digital effects were fresh and new every director wanted to use it. But like every new toy, there are expensive ones and there are less expensive ones and there are so many films that cannot afford the new "expensive toy" so they don’t always deliver a great result.
Both practical and digital have their place in the industry, it's just a matter of finding the balance of what to use where.
SFF.) What is the job of a textures supervisor?
G.A.) I looked after the Weta Digital Textures Dept for 8 years and loved it! Digital effects was such a new learning experience for me but it was my background in practical effects and my eye as an artist that got me that role of HOD. I was able to bring new insight to the digital world from a practical perspective. With the help of some very talented colleagues at Wet Digital (Sergei Nevshupov , Jess Cowley and Keven Norris) we developed a way of taking a life cast of a person's face (a process that I have done many times for makeup effects) and poured a translucent silicone over the surface of the cast. Once the silicone cured, we could then peel it off and it was the thickness of a latex glove, but because it was translucent , when you held it up to a light, you could see all of the skin details it captured. Then we would scan this piece on a flat bed scanner at a very high resolution and then take it into Photoshop and make adjustments to the contrast to bring out the pore details. Next we would export it as a TIFF file and send it to the textures dept to use as a displacement map to get all of the skin detail. This was a major break thru and how we created life like skin detail for the first Avatar film.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
G.A.) That would have to be the practical side many years back on Lord of the Rings when we had to create an old age make up for Bilbo for the scene when he goes off to the Grey Havens. This was a difficult makeup because as mentioned before it had to be human, and doing human likeness and old age makeups are the most difficult of all make ups generally. But we managed to pull it off and I was very happy with the result. It was also a wonderful collaboration with a great actor which helped as well. Thank you to Sir Ian Holm for being so patient as we transformed you 75 years into the future as Bilbo.
SFF) Dear Mr. Acevedo. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future.