Monday, April 3, 2017

Artists on the Couch: Brad Greenwood - Special Make-Up Effects Artist

From the orcs and elves in Lord of the Rings to fantastic sci-fi creatures, all the way to ghoulish figures in horror films, the world of cinema would not be as exciting and transporting without the magical work of special make-up effects artists.

I've had the pleasure and honor of interviewing one of the most talented SFX Make-up artists in the business.

On the couch today is Brisbane-born Brad Greenwood, currently based in Vietnam. I'm almost nervous - it's not every day one meets a creature creator. But Brad is extremely friendly and one would never guess he makes ghosts and other dark bloody things for a living.

If you've watched any Lord of the Rings films or the recent Kong: Skull Island, chances are, you've seen Brad's work in action. Brad's experience is awe-inspiring and includes an adventure series, horror, fantasy and period films both in Australia and internationally.

Brad has been kind enough to answer ten questions for us today. A rare treat.

Hope you enjoy this ride into the dark!

Brad Greenwood on the Artists Couch

1. When you first started in the film industry, what was your training and what became your first break?

My formal education in design was at the Queensland College of art. I majored in traditional Animation. My informal education has been working with so many amazing artists and filmmakers over the years… that’s only way to learn… from other people doing it better than you.

My very first gig in the film industry was working on a TV series called Time Trax based out of the Warner Roadshow studios on the Gold Coast.

2. You have worked on all Lord of the Rings films - what was that like, what did you most enjoy and what was the most challenging aspect about working on these films?

Yeah, so long ago now… I’m not sure I really understood what an amazing opportunity it was. Everyone that does their tour of duty at WETA workshop* comes out 100% better than when they went in. Richard Taylor and his crew are among the best in the world… so that rubs off on you.
I think the hardest part for everyone was trying to do such high-end work on a massive scale.

*I had to look this up: Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company based in Miramar, New Zealand, producing effects for television and film.

3. Which special effects artist has inspired you or do you look up to from past/current films?

To be honest it was Rick Baker… every make-up effects person of my generation will tell you the same. I got to meet him once and see stuff from American Werewolf in London and Greystoke in the ‘flesh’… it was amazing.

The other was make-up genius Dick Smith… Fellow FX artist Kym Sainsbury and I did his correspondence course and went to visit him at his house in Sarasota, Florida. It was surreal drinking tea with him in his garage, while he showed us stuff from The Exorcist and talked about working with Lawrence Olivier, Brando, De Niro, Hoffman… all these great actors.
Dick has passed on now… so that was a special memory.
He was widely acknowledged as not only one of the greats, but for his kindness and generosity to other artists.

4. You are currently based in Vietnam - what prompted that move and tell us about your company.

It’s a long story… but the abridged version is… I came for a holiday in 2014… and stayed… I taught English, travelled around a little, did some writing… there’s an emerging arts scene here… and the film and entertainment business is developing quickly… I’d love to be part of that. It’s early days but I hope to do a lot more here.

Derek Nguyen's The Housemaid

5. Another fascinating aspect of your work is that you seem involved in multi-national productions like Derek Nguyen's The Housemaid, which is set in 1953 French Indochina. Tell us about this film and your involvement. 

I was lucky enough to meet producer Timothy Linh Bui… they’d already shot most of the film and wanted to do some pick-ups with additional effects.
Derek wrote the script based on his family history… It’s almost more of a dark romance. The period really gave the film a gothic quality that you don’t usually see in Asian horror.

It all came together really quickly and we ended up giving them five ghosts… Derek, Tim and the whole team at HK films were great to work with… I want to do more with them.

Brad's amazing work

6. How was it like working on the latest King Kong - Skull Island movie?

"We had lots of complex tribal make-ups to do. 
It went really well. I was super proud of the Vietnamese team." 
- Brad Greenwood on Skull Island

Another nice bit of serendipity… Jason Baird at JMB FX was doing all the prosthetics for Bill Corso on Kong. I’ve known Jason for many years and when the production moved to Vietnam for a couple of weeks, I helped him assemble the local team and then went on set to do make-up. We had lots of complex tribal make-ups to do. It went really well. I was super proud of the Vietnamese team.

7. A favourite monster/creature of yours...

Years ago we did a half scale T-rex puppet for The Lost World TV series… I still like it.

" It’s always difficult creating make-ups where 
the dramatic stakes require absolute realism…"

8. What is the most difficult effect you worked on and how long did it take?

I recently worked on another period film set in 19th century rural Vietnam. The director Ash Mayfair had written an incredible script that demanded a lot of realism. We designed a pregnant belly for one of the young actors and there was also a birthing scene. It’s always difficult creating make-ups where the dramatic stakes require absolute realism… if it seems fake it will take the audience out of the movie… I was terrified of having something that would compromise the performance. Fortunately it worked well.

9. Beyond special effects, you have other interests in writing and filmmaking. Tell us a bit more about that and what projects you are planning.

Mostly I write short stories. Fantastic books publishing in the UK have been great at including a couple in their anthologies. Speculative fiction is what I like most. I’m not prolific… so my goal is just to write more.

I have a Lovecraft style story set in South East Asia that I’m working on now.

10. Which directors would you love to work with in the future and what would be your ideal project to work on?

"To be honest I really just want to work with my friends in the business. "

David Cronenberg, Guillermo del Toro and Sofia Coppola are on my wish list! So many people I’d love to work with.

To be honest I really just want to work with my friends in the business. I did The Contents with writer/ director Shane Krause a while back. He’s someone I respect and we have a creative short hand, which always makes the process more enjoyable.

Brad's SFX at work...
Horrifying pieces from a horror film Brad worked on

There are a lot of directors I’ve been lucky enough to work with on smaller projects that I’d love to reconnect with on something bigger. Particularly the directors I’ve worked with in animation… all of them are amazing storytellers, and making the move into live action.

My favourite story of all time is Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. A re-telling of something like that would be great to work on.


Wow, thank you so much for your time Brad and for the fascinating glimpse into your art. I personally can't wait to see The Housemaid.

I want to take this opportunity to share more of Brad's amazing work. So here's a sneak peek:

It turns out the above effects took over 6 hours to apply on each model.
Anyone want to star in a horror film?
I suppose patience seems to be an important trait of SFX artists...

Right about now, I should mention that I'm a trypophobic. This stuff was made to haunt me!

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