THE INDEPENDENT: (UK) Featuring Alterian, Inc. & Tony Gardner

THE CINEMA SPECIAL EFFECTS THAT ARE SAVING REAL LIVES

Tony Gardner won fame making realistic bodies for Hollywood. Now he makes them to train medics.

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THE INDEPENDENT: Bad Grandpa: When Jackass was nominated for an Oscar...

Bad Grandpa: When Jackass was nominated for an Oscar...

The make-up and hair team of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa have been nominated for an Oscar

Tim Walker

“The producer overheard a 10-year-old kid saying, ‘Dad, that’s Johnny Knoxville.’ His dad didn’t believe him. It turned out the dad was a doctor!” Bryan Christensen

In Bad Grandpa, the latest movie from the Jackass stable, an 86-year-old named Irving Zisman takes a kooky, cross-country road trip with his young grandson. Along the way, the pair shock, unnerve and offend a succession of unsuspecting bystanders, before making a subversive appearance at a child beauty pageant. So far, so Little Miss Sunshine.

Yet what sets the former film apart from its  influences is that the witnesses to its wacky set-pieces are not actors but real people, and Zisman is played not by a real eightysomething, but by Johnny Knoxville, who is 42. That his  elderly disguise was so convincing explains why Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is this year’s most unlikely Oscar nominee, in the Make-up and Hairstyling category.

Tony Gardner, one of the make-up special- effects specialists behind Zisman, says, “If  the make-up doesn’t work, the movie doesn’t work. Most of the time comedies aren’t recognised [by the Academy Awards]. But the platform that this film’s make-up stands on is the fact that the character worked in the real world, in real light, in front of real people.”

The named nominee is Steve Prouty, who worked with Gardner’s firm Alterian to create Zisman’s face, and then applied it to Knoxville’s head in daily two-hour, 45-minute make-up  sessions. “What an honour,” said Knoxville of the nomination.  “Am I as stunned as everyone else we didn’t get the nod for Best Picture? Well, of course, duh. But I won’t let that take away from my happiness for Steve, Tony Gardner and our whole make-up team. Wahoo!”

Alterian’s HQ is a warehouse on a non-descript industrial estate in the unremarkable LA suburb of Irwindale. But hidden behind its beige facade is a workshop filled with weird creations coming to life, and an office decorated with previous  on-screen triumphs: a dog in a full-body plaster cast from There’s Something About Mary; John Travolta’s female fat-suit from Hairspray; the  titular robot from the sci-fi dramedy Robot & Frank. One memento sadly missing is a 14-foot replica of David Hasselhoff that the firm made for The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie – now being used as the base of a glass-top table at the Hoff’s home.

Turning heads: Tony Gardner and Lilo Tauvao work on ideas for ‘Bad Grandpa’ (Bryan Christensen)

Irving Zisman’s features were based in large part on Gardner’s grandfather, Fred. The face was made from silicone, paper-thin and translucent. The ears and the back of the head were latex. Then there was the wig, the eyebrows, the moustache, the dental veneers, and the liver-spotted backs of his hands. The team also made a  wrinkled torso for Knoxville to wear in scenes where he removed his shirt, as well as some other anatomical items that it would be inappropriate to describe in the pages of a family newspaper. Each make-up element had to be mass-produced so that Knoxville could be disguised anew for every day of the 60-day shoot.

Remarkably, his cover was rarely blown. “There was a scene when he went to a Jacuzzi and dropped a colostomy bag in the water,” Gardner explains. “The producer overheard a 10-year-old kid turning to his dad and saying, ‘Dad, that’s Johnny Knoxville.’ His dad didn’t believe him –  he said: ‘Look at all the wrinkles on his stomach. It’s a real guy.’ It turned out the dad was a doctor!”

Gardner, who is 50, grew up in Ohio but moved to California in the 1980s to study film at USC. Ostensibly as part of his studies, he engineered a meeting with legendary special-effects man Rick Baker, who offered him a four-week job as a  production runner. “Four weeks turned into four years,” Gardner says. He subsequently worked with Baker on projects as varied as the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Gorillas in the Mist, and established his own company while working on the cult horror The Return of the Living Dead in 1985.

One of the key members of the Jackass gang is writer-director Spike Jonze, whom Gardner met while working on David O Russell’s Gulf War movie Three Kings, in 1999. “Spike was one of the people I was doing make-up on,” Gardner recalls. “He kept saying, ‘I’ve got to get back and edit my movie.’ I was like, ‘Oh God, this is one of those actors who wants to be a director.’ But we really hit it off, and it turned out later that he was in the middle of editing Being John Malkovich.”

Gardner worked on Jonze’s second film, Adaptation, and then Jonze introduced him to Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, better known as the enigmatic French dance duo Daft Punk. Alterian was instrumental in the design of the helmets worn by the band for their public appearances. Gardner and Bangalter bonded over a shared love for the 1950s sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, and the  helmets were influenced by the Gort, that movie’s alien robot.

Bart Mixon works on Johnny Knoxville’s make-up (Sean Cliver)

Alterian recently completed work on the comedy sequel Dumb and Dumber To, though the firm’s relationship with gross-out auteurs the Farrelly Brothers stretches back to There’s Something About Mary in 1998. “I had little kids at the time and I was taking phone-calls at home that involved asking people things like, ‘The sperm on Ben Stiller’s ear: is it clear or white? How long is it? Is it chunky? The boobs: do you want her nipples out or down? The balls in the zipper: do you want veins?’ These are not conversations you want your kids to hear!”

Today, the SFX industry is under threat from the rise of its rival, VFX, and Gardner explains that where Alterian might once have made creature suits for actors, film-makers now just cover their actors in coloured dots and add the creatures as post-production CGI. Though the company specialises in overweight and old-age make-up such as Zisman’s, even that business is being usurped. “There are films being shot as we speak, with younger actors playing older, and they’re experimenting with dots and digital make-up  instead of physical.”

For the real-life survival drama 127 Hours, Alterian made the fake arm that James Franco sawed off using a blunt penknife. The prosthetic was so anatomically convincing that Gardner has started a side business creating life-like babies and combat wounds to help train emergency room doctors and army medics.

And yet, he says, manufacturing believable make-up is only half the battle. “Half the success of make-up is the person wearing it. With James Franco, the arm was great, but if he hadn’t made it real, you wouldn’t have bought it. We can make Johnny Knoxville look 80-something, but if he doesn’t own it and sell you on it, you’re not going to buy it. It’s a collaboration.”


STUDIO BRIEFING: A DAILY DIGEST OF ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY NEWS

SPECIAL EFFECTS WIZ TEAMS WITH MEDICAL INSTRUCTOR

Film News From Studio Briefing

SPECIAL EFFECTS WIZ TEAMS WITH MEDICAL INSTRUCTOR
SPECIAL EFFECTS WIZ TEAMS WITH MEDICAL INSTRUCTOR

PEOPLE MAGAZINE: Overweight Undercover (ABC Special Report)

New York City high schooler Ali Schmidt put on a fat suit

and discovered how mean fellow teens can be

Click on Image to enlarge                                                                                                     


PREMIERE MAGAZINE: David Strick's Hollywood

"It was like Hasselhoff all over the place."


CINEFANTASTIQUE: THE TOMMYKNOCKERS

Alterian Studios goes down under to create Stephen King's Boogeymen from Outer Space.


LA TIMES: HERO COMPLEX: "Beastly:" Alex Pettyfer gets his monster on

‘Beastly’: Alex Pettyfer gets his monster on

March 04, 2011 | 10:46 a.m.
 In the new film “Beastly,” opening Friday, Alex Pettyfer plays a cocky high school student who finds himself transformed into an alien-looking outcast after he runs afoul of a young woman dabbling in witchcraft. Taking him from beauty to beast was makeup artist Tony Gardner, the same man who helped James Franco amputate his own arm for his Oscar-nominated turn as Aron Ralston in “127 Hours,” a veteran whose other credits include Michael Jackson’s Thriller” music video and the horror comedy “Zombieland,” in addition to “There’s Something About Mary” and “The Hangover.” Hero Complexcontributor Whitney Friedlander recently caught up with Gardner to find out exactly how he turned model-turned-actor Pettyfer into a creature only costar Vanessa Hudgens could love. It turns out, Alex Flinn’s 2007 novel, on which the movie was based, was just a starting point.
Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens in "Beastly" (CBS Films)

WF: Pettyfer’s Kyle looks very different from most beasts we’ve seen on the screen. For starters, he’s not hairy the way he’s described in the book.  How do you decide to go in this particular direction with his makeup?

TG: One of the main reasons is that there have been so many werewolf projects happening right now and [hairy beasts] seem so inclusive in that realm that we gotta make it stand alone. Daniel Barnez, [UPDATED March 5, 11:30 a.m.: A previous version of this article spelled the director’s last name as Barnes] the director, was the person who said it’s all about this character’s vanity and his hair is a major part of his vanity — it’d be interesting to make him lose that… We got into contact lenses for him and dental veneers. We left his eyes alone because that was where you really connected with the character.

WF: And the tattoos that were incorporated into the character design?

TG: A lot of the tattoos are sayings he’s flung at other people … We wanted some sort of skin texture, like tree bark. The tattoos were like trees. And the piercings couldn’t be something somebody would just take off. He’s really abusive and condescending to people. He’s vain enough to use makeup. We had to go beyond what he could cover up. If he’s hairy, the guy could just shave and put on makeup. There had to be stuff that took it further. It was Daniel Barnez’ idea to include pieces of mirror embedded in as part of a reflection — no pun intended — of the character’s vanity and how hung up you are in looking in the mirror all the time.

Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer in "Beastly" (CBS Films)

WF: This re-telling of the classic fable of “Beauty and the Beast” is set in high school, with teens intended to be its core audience. Was that factored into your research? Did you research what a teen would find frightening or ugly?

TG: My daughter Brianna is 17 and my other daughter Kyra is 13, so I figured I’ve got the teen girl spectrum as a captive audience — especially Brianna. I was really curious as to how she would respond to it. In trying to find the balance between what is attractive and what is scary, there are a lot of stumbling blocks and the character has to hit those altitudes. At some times you’re supposed to be intimidating and the other you’re supposed to be sympathetic. It’s trying to find a style and look for the character that works for the female eye, which is where my kids come into play. They’re both photographers and they’re both artistic and they’re able to articulate the why in certain things.

WF: Did they get credit on the film?

TG: [Laughs] No, but they should have.


LA TIMES | ENTERTAINMENT: Special-effects whiz conjures magic, mayhem

Special-effects whiz conjures magic, mayhem

One of the main characters in "Robot & Frank" looks like a robot, walks like a robot and talks like a robot, but it isn't a robot. It's a suit created by makeup and special effects designer Tony Gardner and his company, Alterian Inc.

The futuristic film stars Frank Langella as a retired jewel thief who makes a new friend who has more servos than scruples. Gardner's robot suit makes a convincing costar, thanks to the voice of actor Peter Sarsgaard and the movements of dancer Rachael Ma.

TO GO TO THE FULL ARTICLE – CLICK HERE 

Robot and Frank 1 - edited new title


LOS ANGELES TIMES | ENTERTAINMENT: “Addams Family Values,” How did they do that? Featuring Tony Gardner and Alterian Inc.

The Sleight of Hand in 'Addams' : Movies: How did they do that? Tony Gardner's Alterian Studios was responsible for much of the special effects in 'Values.' It's all a matter of 'illusion,' he says.

November 23, 1993|MARISA LEONARDI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wednesday Addams is standing against the wall at Alterian Studios. As soon as her wig comes back from the production company, Wednesday will join Darkman, the Tommyknocker and a life-size hippo on permanent display of Alterian's most beloved children.

Much of the special-effects work that Tony Gardner's Alterian Studios did for "Addams Family Values" ended up as "blink and you'll miss it" moments in the film, but if you don't blink, you'll go home wondering, "How did they do that?"

And that's just the reaction Gardner hopes for.

"I think it all goes back to starting as a magician," Gardner said. "The whole thing was the illusion and being able to fool somebody."

Gardner, now 30, got his start apprenticing with three Academy Award-winning special effects artists--Rick Baker, Stan Winston and Greg Cannon (who won for his work on "Bram Stoker's Dracula"). Two particular illusions Gardner created with his studio stand out in "Addams Family Values": Wednesday's blending into the woodwork--literally--and Baby What, Cousin Itt's new offspring.

For the scene in which Wednesday (Christina Ricci) camouflages herself as part of a wall to spy on the sinister new nanny, Debbie (Joan Cusack), Gardner and his crew had to make a full body cast of Ricci and manufacture a stand-in dummy. Instead of needing two hours to be put into full makeup, Ricci could simply lean into the dummy's fake neck, leaving only her face needing to be made up.

Gardner didn't have to worry about dealing with a potentially prickly actor with Baby What: the tyke is entirely mechanical. There were other challenges, though. The guidelines he received from director Barry Sonnenfeld and visual effects supervisor Alan Munro: "Here's a ball of fur: make it cute, make it happy, make kids want to relate to it, make adults think it's precious and want to hold it, and . . . good luck."

The resulting Baby What gets one of the biggest laughs in the movie, but more rewarding to Gardner was the reaction of the film's crew. "I think the reward," he says, "really comes from going on set and taking something that's a bunch of motors and foam wrapped over fiberglass, creating something that's alive and watching a film crew--probably your most jaded audience in existence, because they've seen it all--get excited about it, whether there's a person in it or not."

Gardner's studios also built the miniatures that stand in for the Addams house and Uncle Fester's new house ("We called it Debbie's Dream House" for the nanny character played by Cusack, who plots to wed Fester). The Addams house is in many shots, but Debbie's Dream House was built for one main purpose--to blow up.

"It was designed to explode and obliterate itself instantaneously, like a Looney Tunes cartoon," Gardner said.

Though called a miniature, the exploding house was actually 16 feet tall and 28 feet long, taking up a large chunk of the warehouse where Alterian is situated, in Irwindale.

"Everyone had to work around it and walk around it," Gardner said. "(Then) all this stuff drives out to the set one day on a Friday and they come back on Monday with two milk crates"--all that was left of Debbie's Dream House. Even the tables the house was built on were destroyed.

The house wasn't hard to build, Gardner says, because "we'd done a lot of exploding bodies in the past and we were able to use a lot of the existing technologies for it," and there was a certain amount of professional satisfaction in those two milk crates.

As a child, Gardner might have had a premonition about the line of work he would eventually end up in. He was fascinated by the magic set his grandparents bought him when he was 6.

"I picked up this box where you put a card in and it's got a fake bottom and (the card) falls. Well, I picked it up without reading the instructions, put a card in it, closed it and opened it and the card was gone. . . . Then I turned it over and I shook it and the card fell out from the fake bottom. Then I got it. I was like, 'It's fake! It's not real!'--and I was hooked."