Glenn Hetrick may seem intimidating while in the judge’s seat of the SyFy hit series Face Off, but this titan of makeup/special effects art and design knows his craft. His work has been featured in iconic geek culture works such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5 , The X-Files, Heroes (just to name a few) and most recently in The Hunger Games and Agents of Shield. But not only is the prolific artist making great strides in his career, but he is also using his new company Alchemy FX Studio to spearhead the integration of CG and technical special effects application. This interview is one you don’t want to miss.
So check out our conversation below, and be sure to tune in to see Glenn on a new episode of FaceOff, Tuesday on SyFy at 9/8c or Wednesday during his guest-judge appearance for Steampunk’d on GSN at 8/7c!
NB: From your experience so far, what have you found to be most challenging? And how have you dealt with it?
GH: Well every project you do it seems there is some aspect of it that you have not done yet. Everybody wants something original and its just the particular combination of writer/director/actor, along with the people I am working with at the shop that’s different every time that we do it. The shop and me are the same, but the people we’re working for are different and therefore that chemical formula of creative individuals in and of itself can be difficult. The speed with which we are forced to do things today puts us in a position where we’re trying to pick ideas out of the ether and usually nothing but language skills. As someone who has a degree in Public Relations, which I thought would be useless, but has been essential to my success because we don’t have three months to sculpt a cast and come up with designs anymore. It is often just language and it’s trying to get the producers and writers on the same page first. Then you have to get your artists to do it and a lot of times it is without even anything but rudimentary sketches at the shop. Now that is an obstacle you overcome with each new show and new makeup.
NB: What have been some of your favorite challenges on (any season) of Face Off?
GH: Oh that’s a hard one, but I think one of my favorites is certainly the one where we brought the water tanks in to see how the makeups worked in water. I tend to have an appreciation for any challenge that other than its artistic and creative aspect manages to infuse with something that is taken straight out of our day to day obstacles in real life. That water one ( Season 2, Ep. 2) very much did that. We also did a Finale in Las Vegas with Le Rêve which is a Cirque du Soleil type show and that was on actual performers of the show. So they are not only getting wet but they are leaping 70- 80 feet in the air and the makeup had to last through the whole performance. It still astounds me that any of the makeup stayed on at all. I think the ‘Challenge Team’ does such an amazing job because we’ve worked on so many seasons now its nearly impossible to come up with new and exciting ideas without cannibalizing and rehashing what we’ve already done and yet they keep doing it. Even though you all are a ways away from the Season 9 Finale, what I can say about it, is that because of it being infused with super realistic representation of the day to day of actually being a professional makeup artist the Season 9 Finale Challenge will stand as one of my all time favorites.
NB: Going on 9 seasons and beyond – What do you think resonates with audiences so much to account for Face Offs lasting success?
GH: I think the producers that run the show have figured out a way to create a genuine experience of peeling back the curtain and seeing what it is that we do. By doing that,they’ve created a way for audiences to access something that they’ve never seen this way before. Serendipitously we’ve also created a brand new interest in our art and it is an honor to be on the show and to represent this art form. The absolute best thing is that it is turning kids onto art, and they may not all become effects artists, but they are seeing painting and sculpting and going ” Wow! I can go out and create my own idea. Sculpt it in clay. Make a mold of it and create something myself.” In an age where people are becoming technologically overdosed, it is wonderful to be part of something that encourages them to get away from a computer screen and to do something that engages their mind to grow and evolve their creative ability and I don’t think there is anything more important.
NB: On Face Off you’re depicted as the “tough judge”, or at least, that’s how audiences seem to read you as. What would you say to viewers who think you’re just being a hard-ass?
GH: I tend to do verbally put pressure on the contestants at least for the first half of the season, but people think I’m being mean. They’remissing the point. I’m not. This may SHOCK the readers, but when we get to set often times I’m turning around things in a week or two weeks and these are major characters that you’re gonna see on HD and I can’t take back. You don’t get to set and show up to your trailer to find producers waiting with roses and a bottle of wine. It’s a pressure cooker situation. This is a commercial art career, so every second that you’re on set, the lights are on,and the crew is there has a substantial dollar value attached to every single second literally. It is very very stressful and its just about getting it right and as good as it can be as a team and getting it on screen. So a lot of times when I’m pressuring certain contestants it isn’t because I feel that their work isn’t good, but I want to see how they are reacting. I want to see if they really want to do this for a living. How do you react under pressure? How do you react to criticism? How do you react to request for changes, which we do in real life. The contestants that evolve take the critiques each week and become better and better; not only do well on the show, but they also do well in their career. On the other hand the ones who don’t probably don’t want to do this for a living, not saying that they aren’t great artists, but they probably don’t want to do it in the realm of TV/Film production because that pressure never gets easier.
NB: “Keeping it real” seams to be the mantra for visual effects work in 2015 and beyond. Some of the biggest movies of the year — namely Rogue Nation, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens — relied heavily on practical effects. But they weren’t absent of CG either – they worked together seamlessly, allowing audiences to enjoy their cinematic world without being distracted by glaring and gaudy effects. How important is the marriage of CG and Practical Effects to the future of film making?
GH: It is very important and very much what we’re all about. You know, being intelligent about those decisions, its absolutely important not only creatively but it’s a financial reality as to what we are going to be allowed to do on set and what we’re not. It’s a new model. Embracing that and creating a united front between the concept designer, the effects artist (myself), and the V-Effects artists that will work on things in post production; unifying that vision and synthesizing something that is the best version of the written idea in the script is of the utmost importance.
NB: How does your new outfit, Alchemy Studios, aim to continue this promising trend?
GH: It’s really all about combining elements to transform reality, hence the name. We are focusing on integration of digital design, digital printing, and makeup effects. We’re on the verge of a renaissance of traditional makeup effects coming back. So that’s what we’re about. What is the right thing to do with CG so that it lives within the makeup, you still get the performance, still get actors reacting in the proper way, the actors are in the scene reacting to something that is physical, and then you put a VFX into the scene that allows us to do something we couldn’t accomplish with makeup. CG is so great for set locations, for fire, for water, yet there’s absolutely no way that they’ve come even close… to capturing characters on the screen. It’s not for lack of trying and it’s not for a lack of talent, it’s a matter of processing speed. Those programs cannot run enough information fast enough to truly capture reflective light, which is our eyes are reading all the time. CG still looks watery or glassy, it does not look like it exists in the environment, it does not capture the gravity and animus of a performer performing.
NB: What projects should fans of your work be on the lookout for?
GH: I will say this as a bit of a plug and a mystery, there is a makeup coming up. For one LASH just aired on Agents of Shield and the sheer size of that guy and doing a character like that on a television show was an amazing challenge. I love working in the Marvel world and I‘m a die hard Marvel geek, so it’s a dream come true. Last season we did several InHumans, including Raina which was one of my favorite makeups we’ve ever done. Raina was a chance for me to go back and explore makeup that I love from Nightbreed on Shuna Sassi and the porcupine type quills that covered her. Doing a new version of that with silicone, super high-res, and completely different colors allowed this to evoke the meaning of Raina’s character. We try to make things visually compelling.I mean everything has been done and you can’t go well this is it…this is InHuman. We try to come up with something that works for the producer, but for an audience it has to be something that you haven’t seen that way and it becomes more difficult every day. Now back to the mystery, in Hunger Games 4 (which is MockingJay Prt.2) if you go and you scour through the trailers I’m sure if you look around you’ll see one of my all time favorite makeups. No one, to my knowledge, has ever done this before; in terms of how we approached this artistically and when you are doing something brand new that’s the challenge. We pioneered ways to use existing tech on this character in a way we haven’t seen before.
NB: You are set to appear this week as a guest-judge for the GSN’s “Steampunk’d” tell us a little bit about your experience on this show?
GH: I was just over the moon! I’m walking onto the set and just losing my mind. I’m going “Wait a minute, I expected them to maybe make a singular small item.” I thought we were going to be looking at things sitting on a desk like a ‘Steam-Punk’ Type-Writer or ‘SteamPunk’ Guitar. They built these entire rooms! I did not expect them to be doing a room with characters in costume and with a major prop that is working in our garage episode, which maybe because I saw it live, but I gotta tell you it is my favorite episode. I’ve watched all the episodes and am set to see mine this week, but what the idea was and the main element of the episode with the vehicle they have to build. It doesn’t look like it’s possible. It seems like there is a team of twenty people working on each room when you aren’t looking, but I was there and they did it in small teams with the time that they had. It was a dream project to work on and the most fun and rewarding experience you can imagine because that is my favorite asthetic..period. To see so many incredibly fluent artists working within the paradigm of that asthetic and doing it so efficiently and quickly with so much originality…I was blown away!
Don’t forget to tune in to see Glenn Hetrick on a new episode of FaceOff, Tuesday on SyFy at 9/8c or Wednesday during his guest-judge appearance for Steampunk’d on GSN at 8/7c, and for more info on Glenn’s makeup/visual effects studio at Alchemy FX Studios.