Last week, I brought you an exclusive still from ABCs of Death 2, specifically, from “Y Is For Youth,” by Japanese effects artist Soichi Umezawa. It was the one with the girl with the giant silicone penis on her face, remember? Yes, well I also sat down with Soichi (and a translator) in a weird karaoke room at Fantastic Fest, and, rather than doing a traditional interview about his turn ons, his turn offs, his perfect date, his desert island disks, etc., he provided some stills of his past FX work and I asked him how he made stuff. Cool, right? …I mean, my mom definitely thought so.
FILMDRUNK: So technically speaking, how do you go about creating something like that?
SOICHI UMEZAWA’S TRANSLATOR: You first make a model based on that the person that you’ve seen. And make a sculpture out of clay. And you make separate parts for forehead, the fingers, the eyes, everything in detail. And you pour silicone into all the [clay models] that you’ve made.
FD: And what was the idea for that one? Do you get an idea in your head first and then you start making it, or do you gradually build upon your initial inspiration as you go?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: What he wants to do is something that nobody else has ever done. He likes Hollywood films but he wanted to do something that’s never even done in Hollywood films. He likes deformed forms of the body, but not just like making it look creepy and weird. He wanted to make something that is meaningful at the same time.
FD: Is it more fun to be able to do your own creations, or do you enjoy getting an assignment from someone else and coming up with your take on what they want?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: He doesn’t mind doing assigned work, as long as he can make everything from scratch. But if he has to make something that’s already being made, he wouldn’t want to do it.
FD: Okay, so tell me about this design. What was it for, how did you do it, etc.
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: There’s a book that was being published years ago. You had a collection of artwork done by special effect makeup artist and he participated in that. This was for the second edition of that, and it’s basically explained how to do special effect makeup. It’s like how to make scars on your face.
FD: And was that more silicone work?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: Yeah. And the idea was that this man, he loves a woman that is in love with Louis Vuitton. So he wanted to create himself as Louis Vuitton to impress her.
FD: So does the backstory come before the makeup, or do you think of the visual and then create the story to go with it?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: When he comes up– he has ideas for the design, the visual first, and the stories comes afterward.
FD: Okay, so tell me about this one.
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: There was a feature film, and he worked as a special-effect makeup artist. And this girl, she has a dream about her father turning into a rat.
FD: Is there anything inside of the mouth, or is that all on the outside of the face?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: It’s like on a nozzle – there’s a balloon, and there’s a [tube] that’s kind of going through the back of his neck. So when he inflate, he breathe out into that tube, the balloon inflates. That’s why he gets that chubby cheek [chuckles]. And you can also sniff and the nose moves.
FD: Awesome! So does the actor have to keep it puffed up to– does he have to keep breathing into it to keep it puffed?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: Yeah, he has to.
FD: And how long does that take to put on someone?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: Two hours. And four for the last one.
FD: And are they just sitting in the chair that whole time?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: Yeah [laughter]. He said that all the models are former actors or actresses and kind of patient [laughter].
FD: When you work on a film, do you get as much joy out of watching the finished product as you do out of creating the effects for it?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: It’s really fun making it, but it’s kind of challenging and– It’s time consuming and you have to work on shoestring budget. And no sleep [laughter]. And so going through all that and seeing the final work, that’s really rewarding. But at the same time, during the process of making it, it’s really hard work.
FD: But say if you create a really interesting effects piece and then the movie that it’s in isn’t as good, does it matter to you? Does it bother you?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: It’s really disappointing. You’re upset with it. He worked on this feature film, and what he did was to inflate somebody’s face. But what happened when he saw the final film, they did a heavy computer graphics all over his face. So you couldn’t see his makeup at all and he was so devastated [laughter].
FD: When you see films with a lot of digital makeup, do you watch it thinking that it could have been done better as a practical effect?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: Yeah, he does feel that way sometimes when he sees somebody’s face with computer graphics work on it. He said that it could be done better with the practical special effect makeup.But when he saw Pirates Of The Caribbean, Dead Man’s [Chest] with the octopus, when he saw that, he felt that there would be no work for him in the future [laughter]. But he has been working ever since, so he’s doing well.
Editor’s Note: I went to see Dead Man’s Chest solely because of how cool the effects work looked, and then the plot was so pointlessly, exhaustingly convoluted that I spent the next three or what felt like four hours trying to will myself to fall asleep.
FD: Do you think of that, now that the fashion is very much digital effects, do you think that’s changing? Do you think it’s going back to a mix, with more practical effects?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: He said, it’s so much easier to do digital makeup. But he feels that the good thing about doing the practical makeup, is that the actor can actually see it, the transformation, right up the– you know. So, he actually thinks that that’s the best thing about the practical makeup. And I think the trend is not really going back to the practical, but he feels that there is a little more– there are good things about that practical makeup.
FD: Do you have heroes or movies that stand out in your mind as being influences on your work now?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: He’s inspired by Dick Smith.
SOICHI: Dick Smith, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, and Tom Savini.
FD: Are makeup artists, are they open with the tools of the trade or are they more protective of the secrets of how they create things?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: He said that Dick Smith, who is somebody that is really happy to pass on his skills. He’s like a mentor, right? And he think that what he did is pass on to the next generation of makeup artist, so they like to share their skills and ideas amongst each other. But for people that are protective of their skills, especially in Japan, if they want to make a lot of money with their special skills, they are very over-protective of what they know.
FD: And do you have a philosophy on that? Are you open or do you protect your secrets of the things that you know?
SOICHI’S TRANSLATOR: He respects Dick Smith. So if he has some new ideas or skills, he wants to share it with his young generation of makeup artists.
ABCs Of Death 2 is currently available on VOD, and hits theaters October 31st.