Making it up: How to get a(decapitated)head in special effects

Special Effects Make-Up

Conor McMahon talks to effects expert Tom McInerney.

So, Tom, tell us about your effects house, the Rat Cellar.

I took it over in June 2009 from the guy who was living there. It didn’t have an official name but the guy who owned it use to call it the Rat Cellar. He was a fan of Tom Waits and he said he found a mouse in there once. It’s a huge space. We use it as an effects house for building, making, creating special effects and also sculpting. It’s a place where you can do fine specialist effects work.   We mobilised the Rat Cellar and brought it up to Ardmore studios to do The Tudors last year. And we did a job in Lithuania too. For that we had to produce a couple of dead bodies and a ton of prosthetics for forty dead extras, but the problem was that they didn’t communicate enough prior to production. One of the things the director had an issue with was that he wanted to feel the dead bodies were real. So it was up to me to make the guy feel like the dead bodies were real. We showed up on the day and took the bodies fresh out of the boxes and he said to me, ‘No… This is no good. I can’t smell them.’ And I said, ‘They still have to be dressed for camera’ but he kept saying ‘They’re not real, they’re not real,’ and this was ten hours before the shoot. So we covered them in slime and blood and crabs, and they looked fantastic. The director lacked the ability to see beyond the box.

How did you start off?

I went to the College of Art and Design in Dun Laoghaire about twelve years ago. It was the first time they did a course in Make-Up for Theatre. When I started I didn’t know a mascara wand from eye shadow so it was a great learning curve. That said they didn’t really concentrate on special effects, which was a bit of a pain in the ass. So I had to teach myself that side of it.   There was the book Techniques of Three-dimensional Make-Up by Lee Baygan and there was Make-Up for Theatre Film & Television by the same author. They were the two books that were crucial. At the time it was the most comprehensive book and I learned every single page. It taught me how to do a basic prosthetic, and once you had the basic principle, then everything else was an extension of that. That book is the best way to start off. It has page after page with photographs of the process, which is massively important. If it wasn’t for that book I don’t think I’d be in a position now where I’d comfortably be able to do that stuff.

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3 Replies to “Making it up: How to get a(decapitated)head in special effects”

  1. -Dear Sir/Madam,
    My name is David Ferris I am 22 years old and live in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In my spare time I help out doing art illusration designs for the make-up department of a local film production company “Yellow Fever Productions” which I really, really enjoy and would love to do it for a living. I was just wondering is there any contact/e-mail address I can contact in regards to work ?
    Many thanks for,
    -David.

  2. Dear. Sir/Madam.
    I was pretty same case as you. I am from korea.
    I have been dreaming for working in special effects industry. I wanted to study in abroad, so first step was studying english for 2years and half in the philippines.
    And 2years ago,i came here ireland to learn special effects,so i took make-up artistry and there was part of special effets not much about special effects, advanced course was offered before. But, unfortunately, it has gone, reason for useless. So i lost my chance to learn more detail about special effects.I would like to learn from you and having work experience. Is there any chance to grab for work? Please reply to me. Thank you very much.

    Sincerely Yours,
    Eunmi, yun.

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