Featured Artist

Brian Penikas

Email: afryt4u@earthlink.net Website: http://www.makeupandmonsters.com/

Age now: 45

Age when started in the business: 19 (back in 1982)

Specialties: Illustration & Design, Sculpture, Painting, Prosthetics, Monster-suits, Specialty puppets, Management.

Originally from: Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

Two sentence bio:
Two sentences?! Yikes! I love to create. I enjoy people, and making them smile. I find great reverence for all things beautiful and much inspiration in oddities and ugliness.

How did you got into the biz?

A culmination of all childhood interests (drawing, painting, crafts, modelmaking, costume making, comic books, etc.) led me in the direction of a career in film.

After graduating High School, I went to work for a photolab. I refused to go to art school, thinking that I was soooooooo talented that I didn't need it (and couldn't afford it). You know how it is, the "know-it-all" teen syndrome. I did not want to go to an academy and lose my identity by becoming a generically "stamped out" art school graduate. (Had I only known...)

So I put together several photo portfolios (at the expense of the lab) and sent them to the makeup artists that I knew of at the time. My choices were few and limited. Mind you, there was not a great interest in special makeup effects yet. Star Wars had only been out a few years and home video was just a concept.

Anyway, people started to call. A couple of calls were to tell me that certain artists were "No longer with us," but I did get some real offers for work. My first gig was making a few background masks for a cantina scene in Ice Pirates. Rick Baker referred me to Greg Cannon for an illustration gig, and Michael Westmore called me in to do some prototype sculptures for Mask (the Rocky Dennis Story). That film won the Oscar for best makeup that year. Kind of exciting for the second makeup gig of my career.

And that's pretty much the beginning...

Who inspired you?

Jack Pierce, John Chambers, Dick Smith, and Rick Baker.

John Lennon

My High School art teacher, Gene Gill. This man should've been teaching college. We were very fortunate that he chose to teach high school. I have always felt that his instruction gave me a great head-start in my creative career and an unfair advantage over most folks who had to go to college (and pay) for the instruction that I received from Gene. His art history lessons exposed me to artists and techniques that I never would have bothered to research myself, being that Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, and the Playmate of the Month were all that mattered back then. The appreciation for art that I gained from those lessons is instilled to my brain forever.

One should take note that in the early years of film and especially with the dawn of the Technicolor process, art directors and cinematographers turned to classic paintings and art for reference to help "sculpt" the images that were to be created on screen. Many times they would actually steal the composition of a famous work to design a shot. So, art appreciation is not just something for the snooty-snob set. It has great purpose, especially in the history of our business.

Who are the artists you admire?

Classic: Michelangelo, Rodin
Contemporary: Malvina Hoffman, John Soderberg, Tom Hester.

Classic: DaVinci's drawings, Michelangelo, Winslow Homer, Peter Paul Rubens.
Contemporary: Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Frank Frazetta.
Comic Book Illustrators: Berni Wrightson, Neal Adams, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, and Dave Stevens.

What Films inspired your interest in make-up?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, RKO 1939
This film has never been equaled as far as the portrayal of Victor Hugo's pitiful Quasimodo character. Laughton's performance teamed with the George and Gordon Bau/Perc Westmore makeup just worked beautifully together to create a character that (as a kid) never appeared to be a makeup to me. Later attempts to remake this story for film and TV have never come close to the 1939 version. In my opinion, the makeup was not the "star" in this film as it has been in so many other versions.

Planet of the Apes
Another major influence that goes without saying.

Many thanks and kudos to George Lucas and crew for setting my career interests in stone. The release of this film sealed my destiny.

Advice for Newcomers

Wow! Okay kids brace yourselves. Uncle Bri's gunna soapbox:

GOLDEN RULE: "BATHE!" You can be "trendy" and still be clean. I've seen people lose gigs because of poor personal hygiene.

Rule #1: (Artistically speaking): When I was just a tyke, William Tuttle said to me, "Son, learn anatomy, and know it well. Having the ability to draw well, and draw accurately, will make you worth your weight in gold in this business." At that time William Tuttle was one of only two makeup men to EVER have received an Oscar for outstanding accomplishments with makeup in a film.

I went home and drew my fanny off for days. I familiarized myself with anatomy, without becoming a doctor or scientist, and drew, drew, drew. I also grew up and got fat! Hey, he did say "worth your weight" didn't he? So bigger is better, right? Seriously, Bill was right, many of my first jobs were illustration and design for makeup artists or labs that could not draw. To me that was easy money and a foot in the door. Once in, I branched out to different departments and honed my skills. In retrospect, coming into a studio as a flatwork designer earned me an almost immediate respect from the employees and crew members. It was good experience, especially for and very young and shy kid.

Rule #2: ATTITUDE: Be respectful of your clients, without compromising yourself, your crew, or your work. Don't think that they owe you the job just because YOU think you're talented. Take the opportunity to prove to the client what your skills are. Impress them with results, not words. First impressions are important and no one listens to excuses.

REMEMBER: "Your day goes the way the corners of your mouth turn."
Smile, be cordial, and confident and you will earn respect. Being unsure, stressed out, or angry will not get you a job or a call-back. You want to leave a long lasting, positive impression. I can't tell you how much repeat business and referrals I get just based on my attitude and reputation. Believe me, you don't want to be known as "that artist" who everyone has had problems with.

I remember once; while working for Stan Winston on ALIENS, I was getting a little too emotionally tied to the project. I don't know if it was a realization[?] that there is definitely a conflict between being an artist and just making "stuff" for movies. One must always remember, the entertainment business is just that . . . business. I was stressing, or fatiguing myself, I can't quite remember, over issues that were not within my capabilities to change. Alec Gillis caught up with me at one point and said, "Hey Bri! Sure, we might be putting in the late hours right now and we're all a bit beat, but when the show's all over and done with, you'll look back and remember the good times and laugh. You'll also miss the steady paychecks. So why not just relax and enjoy the time that you are putting into the show? It'll all be over before you know it." And he was right. I've kept his comments tucked away in my creative pocket ever since. And it has made a difference. By also realizing that we provide product for clients rather than works of art commissi

Rule #3: Don't sell yourself short or spread yourself too thin. When asked to give a budget for a gig that requires you to build something (rather than just day-check) make sure you have the whole picture of what is required.

Advice for Newcomers

Let's see. More advice. . . .

Naturally, when you budget a project, the following cost areas should be addressed:

1) SUPPLIES: Can't do the work without the stuff!
You should figure the cost for supplies based on what it will cost you to stock-up for the project. Treat each gig as if you have nothing in stock and you won't run out of money or materials. When I first started, I used to quote bids on the actual amount of work time and the actual amount of supplies used. I always came up short. Also remember, "time is money".
If you have to do research to get reference materials for a project you should allow for that in your budget too.

2) LABOR: Budget enough cash for you and your crew to be comfortable. If you're busting your butt working around the clock to meet an unrealistic deadline, you should be getting paid extra. Having money in your pocket helps in the post-project recovery process.

Of course, every so often a project does come along that has your name written all over it, and the client has no time or money to spend. Sometimes you'll have to make the decision to do the gig as a labor of love and a noble donation to the better cause or pass on it. I've done a lot of favors in my day, and to tell you the truth, they're the most rewarding. Besides, producers and directors will remember you and sometimes will comp you with free stuff or an on-screen cameo or some such thing. Sometimes it's just plain good PR work to do a favor every now and then.

What is the Range of your experience or abilities?

My interest in makeup began in the 6th grade, which by today's standards would be classify me as an early bloomer. Back then Star Wars was just a glint in Lucas' eye. The only films being made with any sort of notable monster makeups were the sequels to Planet of the Apes, none of which I was allowed to see in the theater. When it became a TV show I was thrilled, although the stories were a bit disappointing. The only other films of interest were the occasional classic Universal and Hammer monster movies when they came on TV. We didn't have VCRs back then. Heck, there was only one mall and it was called a "plaza". Many people still rode horses and buggies to work. Just kidding.

Anytime a book, magazine, or View Master reel came out with monster stuff it was cherished like gold!

What are your favorite shows that you've worked on?

I don't think people are aware of the fact that just because a film is great or wonderful to watch, the actual experience of making it all happen can be anything BUT enjoyable. Every now and then a little project comes about and just makes it all worthwhile.

Carlsberg Beer "Bigfoot" commercial.
This was more of a vacation than a job. We had a blast!

Batman Forever
Just one big, "good" clean fun project.

Call From Space
One of the first Showscan projects designed for an amusement park attraction along the line of IMAX, this gig was one big time travel piece. We did everything from cavemen, to Greek warriors, to gangsters and cowboys. The biggest and most enjoyable day of my career to date was the battle of Waterloo sequence. Man-Oh-Man! It was entirely one continuous shot and dolly move. Soldiers and guns and horses and cannons and explosions! WOW! An epic scene that took days to prepare and moments to film. We did two takes, and that was it. But man! What an event to experience! Veteran effects man, Joe Viscosal out-did himself on blowing up the Big Sky Ranch (Little House on the Prairie location) that day!

And of course, JEEPERS CREEPERS 1&2.

I'm also currently having a great time on PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN 2.

Favorite Movies that you've seen:

Wow. Way too many to mention, but here a some of my top favorites:

Young Frankenstein
Blazing Saddles
The Three Musketeers
(Gene Kelly)
The Rocketeer
anything JAMES BOND

Relate one or two embarrassing and awful experiences that you've had

Only two that I can recall, but still two too many.

Number One (in 1986) was when an actor had a reaction to an adhesive remover that I had been using for years. Apparently the manufacturer that had newly acquired the rights to produce this product had reformulated it with a solvent that was very strong, yet did not notify its retailers of this change. Michael Westmore told me he also had a similar experience with the same product. The actor that I had done the makeup on months later asked me to do the makeup one more time so he could get publicity photos for his book. I noticed that the areas that had been affected by the remover back on that fateful day still showed signs of discoloration, almost like a small concentration of freckles had accumulated in the affected areas. The marks were small, but noticeable.

The Second most embarrassing moment happened on Murder In the First with Kevin Bacon. Kevin's character was supposed to have been locked in the Alcatraz dungeons for over 3 years, living in his own filth. The wife of the director (who was also keying the makeup department) was concerned about any sort of "mud" makeup being able to last for the full day's work, 16 hrs. was the average for that show.

She was so overly concerned with mud continuity that I suggested a variation of a formula that I had concocted for the Call From Space cavemen. These guys had to be outdoors all day running jumping and acting like savages, so their mud had to hold up really well. The formula was a mixture of oatmeal, corn meal, Fuller's earth, corn syrup, glycerin, and a small amount of Pros Aide. It worked great and came off with minimal effort at the end of a long physically active day.

I mixed up a batch for Kevin, and with his OK, my assistant and I muddied him up. Just as we were about to finish, word came to the trailer that there was going to be some sort of long delay -- camera problems or something. We had lots of new and cool camera toys on that show.

Well, this didn't go over too well with Kevin, a man who prefers not to wear any makeup at all. It was becoming very apparent by this point in filming that the performers (and much of the crew) were not being treated very fairly by production, and tempers were getting hot. This delay (of a projected 6 hours, if I recall correctly) set Kevin off pretty bad. The Director's wife privately removed the makeup in Kevin's trailer, which I felt was a mistake in protocol, [especially since most of the key performers had a low opinion of her.] Anyway, the fact that Kevin had not worked at all and had no chance to start sweating or wearing the mud off, made the removal time-consuming. He was justly upset.

When it finally came time to shoot his mud scenes, I reformulated the mix so that it was nothing more than glycerin, Cabosil, Fuller's earth, corn syrup, oatmeal, and corn meal. As far as continuity was concerned it was decided that with the darkness of the set and content of the scenes, continuity was the least of our worries.

The bigger concern was the constant battery of earthquake aftershocks that would cause us to clear the sound stage after every jolt. Did I forget to mention that we were filming during the now infamous Northridge Quake of 1994? Yup. That was a nightmare in itself, but anyway, back to the story...

A building inspector would have to give us an okay to resume filming after each tremor. Our stages were just a few miles away from the freeway collapse in the Newhall pass (California), where the motorcycle officer died when he drove off the edge of the broken freeway overpass. So we were working in a strongly affected region. We were also on set at the time of the initial earthquake filming courtroom scenes. We had the biggest crew of the show working that night. So it was a big trauma shared by all. No one really wanted to be back in that area working three days after the quake. A lot of us were displaced by damage to our homes. It seemed silly and selfish for production to want to continue working in a disaster area, which was pretty much void of any local resources because of quake damage. But that's a whole 'nuther story.

Anyway, we brought in a portable hot tub for Kevin to use after the initial mud cleanup every night. He seemed to look forward to that after a long day's work.

Subsequently, in projects that followed, working with and meeting up with Kevin's people and the other actors from Murder, it has been expressed to me that Kevin doesn't hold any ill feelings toward me or my assistant. He did however take great anger in expressing his feelings about being chained to the wall of the dungeon, closed into the cell, and while rolling on a take realizing that the dungeon door actually LOCKED when it was shut! As if he hadn't been through enough! There he was, completely nude, covered in mud, changed to the wall of a dungeon, with a locking door, with the ground moving, and everyone running out of the building in a panic every time it did move. He was not a happy camper.

Looking back, the mud incident was only the beginning of a great movement of growing dissension between production and the cast and crew. Having so much faith in this show and putting so much of myself into the project (for close to 5 months), my disappointment with the end result and the abnormal trauma of the whole experience is not one I care to ever repeat. Movies are supposed to be fun, that one seemed at times to be like fighting in a world war. It had a dark cloud hanging over it from the very first day of screen tests.

On a funnier note

Number Three: Cast A Deadly Spell:

One of my contributions to this "Made for HBO" movie was the Oatmeal Monster, a demon that is conjured up in a 10 gallon pot of coffee shop mush.

We built the puppet but physical effects and props rigged the oatmeal pot, which consisted of a large bottomless metal pot with a water proof bag attached to the bottom to hold the oatmeal. From under the table, I had to push the puppet up through the mush into frame by grasping the bag around the puppet. There were no handles or rods extending through the bag. Controlling the action was not that easy because the oatmeal was very slick and clumsy. This made holding onto the puppet and keeping it on it's mark a bit of a chance thing.

One thing that no one took into consideration was that 8-10 lbs of oatmeal weighs 8-10 lbs. Add water to it at 10 lbs. per gallon and you now have a solution that probably weighed about 70 lbs. that I had to displace with a silly little rubber puppet. It was a job for He-man...and a stronger bag. After a few takes, the bag burst, and I was doused with 70 lbs. of oatmeal laced with AB smoke and rubber cement flames. Needless to say, no one wanted to shake my hand after we got the shot. The grip department gave me a couple of sound blankets to protect the interior of my car on the drive home. Nice guys that they were. Somewhere I have a photo of me under all the guck. It's pretty funny.

A "Trade Secret" you wouldn't mind sharing

Learn to give good neck and back rubs! You'll be very popular on set! And a standing unwritten rule of back rubs is you give one, you get one! This might sound silly, but on a long hard show, everything that helps you to keep your sanity is a blessing.

Also, check people's references BEFORE you hire them! This will save you a number of headaches. It's also a good idea to check references of those who want to hire you. This way you can avoid working for people who have a habit of not paying their people, take credit for other people's work, have no clue how to make movies, and no clue how to run departments. Save yourself some anguish, check-up on people.

Take note of this simple equation: Big Talkers = Little Experience.

A friend once said, "Heroes make the choices. Zeroes have loud voices."

Avoid people with a chip on their shoulders.

As far as makeup techniques? Well, those are secret! Ha!

Long range goals or plans

This business is full of endless opportunities. It's hard to know what will happen next.

I would like to direct more at some point. My experience on Tommy Knockers was enlightening. At the moment, I am being approached by several people interested in doing different independent films.

I'd like to do more acting as well. It's fun, and personally gratifying. And after spending many a long day on set with celebrities who can not act or deliver a performance that the director is looking for, just kinda makes a guy like me want to get up there and show these goofs how it's done. 25 mil per picture and you can't get the line right! SHEESH!

I also plan to publish an "Art Of" book in about five years. There are so many of them out there, mostly book-cover artists, and it's down right insulting to see the pure garbage that makes it into some of these books. In five years time, I think I'll have enough junk compiled to make my own coffee table/drink coaster book.

On the booknote, I did get a whole chapter in a book "Special Effects: An Oral History--Interviews with 37 Masters Spanning 100 Years" -- by Pascal Pinteau. That's pretty cool to be sharing pages with my heroes and insprations in the same book, but I'm so unworthy!!!

In later years, I've always fancied moving to a lake area and just doing fine art, but also having a little storefront gallery to display things (other people's work as well). I've wanted for a long time to teach a workshop for local kids in any number of media and then have the gallery do a viewing of their work. That idea has always intrigued me. I feel it may help to give the kids a direction at an early age, much like mine.

But for now, I'm enjoying being a make-up artist and working with the fine people at Make-up & Monsters Studios. I'm looking forward to many more years of creative jobs, or at least until CGI completely puts all us old-schoolers out of business for good!