From Mailman to Make-Up Artist: Adrian Rigby talks with Burbank Students for MUD Talks

Working as a postman for the UK Royal Mail, Adrian Rigby began his career reaching out to special effects make-up artist Nick Dudman. They had never met, but both living in Northern England where there was little work, Rigby figured Dudman was the only big professional he might be able to get to look at his portfolio. A few months later, Dudman invited Rigby to one of his first four-day make-up courses, and to his surprise, offered him a job on Harry Potter.

Photo courtesy of IMATS

“I had the interest from 11 or 12 years old” says Rigby about his swift career change. With little-to-no experience, it’s pretty remarkable that he would start his make-up career on the set of one of the world’s biggest movie franchises. “I had very little experience in film at that point so it was a completely new world for me,” he said about starting off in the Potter mold shop. His first task, making a mold for one of the Basilisk’s tongs, took him “longer than it should” and longer than his boss expected. But his appreciation for the job and raw talent shone through, and Dudman asked him to help run his courses in their time off between films.

Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers

Though Dudman may have catapulted his career, Adrian Rigby has gone on to make a name of his own. Since entering the industry professionally in 1998, he has done a lot of freelance work, including projects for Neill Gorton’s Millenium FX, KMFX, and Mark Coulier’s Creatures company. The films he’s worked on include Merlin, World War Z, Atlantis, Heart of the Sea, and Eastenders. And, in addition to working on the Harry Potter series, he also has contributed to other fantasy franchises like Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. We found out his best tips:

  1. Let your passion show. When asked why he thought Nick Dudman so serendipitously wanted to hire him, Rigby guesses that “he could just see I really wanted it.” And, despite now being so established, throughout our interview Adrian Rigby kept calling a career in make-up things like “a dream come true,” or “fantastic.” In a field with so much talent, it’s clear how easily your passion can become the factor that sets you apart.

    Photo courtesy of AdrianRigby.net
  2. Be kind to your coworkers. When asked what makes some of the make-up professionals he’s worked with so special, Rigby answered “they’re just nice people. It comes across in working life.” Though this might seem like a no-brainer, it can be surprising just how important being enjoyable to spend time with is in the working world.

    Photo courtesy of IMDb
  3. Find a hard-working crew. Rigby says that though working on the set of Game of Thrones is “hard work,” it is also “one of the best jobs ever because of the crew we work with.” It can be easy to to get tired on a film or TV set, especially when you and your coworkers are working 12-hour days for months at a time. But when you’re with the right crew, the real magic begins to unfold. On the set of Game of Thrones, for example, Rigby says “nobody says no, because they have such a good time.”

    Photo courtesy of AdrianRigby.net
  4. Pursue the jobs you’re fanatical about. When he worked a day on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rigby skipped his break so he could watch the actors: “I just wanted the opportunity to be on set…I’m such a Star Wars fan.” He says the same thing about Game of Thrones as well, having watched the series before ever working on it. Needless to say, a job is going to be a lot more fun if you’re excited about it.

    Photo courtesy of AdrianRigby.com

Thanks for talking with our students Adrian!

Special Make-Up Effects Professional Neill Gorton Speaks to Students for MUD Talks

British animatronics and prosthetic specialist Neill Gorton has developed a name for himself on the sets of Saving Private Ryan (1998), Children of Men (2006) and Doctor Who (2005). Starting at only 17 years old, he has won the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards four times with six nominations, and won the RTS (Royal Television Society) Awards two times with five nominations.

Photo courtesy of The Prosthetics Event

Having grown up watching other renditions of the same monsters he now recreates for Doctor Who, Neill Gorton’s successful makeup career is a childhood dream come to life. Now, with Doctor Who as a career-defining project, he spends much of his time on set redesigning his own characters rather than those of years past. The show’s humanoid robots “cybermen,” for example, have already been reimagined and recreated three times. This opportunity, he says, is due to working in TV instead of film: “you can take a great character and start exploring different directions.”

Photo courtesy of WhosFX

But Doctor Who isn’t Neill Gorton’s only career milestone. “In my teens it was working on Hellraiser II and Nightbreed…in my twenties the next big milestone was Saving Private Ryan…[and] in my thirties when Doctor Who came around it’s just ticking off all these great things” he says. Here’s some of his best stories and advice:

  1. When recreating a character, do your research. “You have to show respect to the source” says Gorton. As he finds himself reinventing characters that have been been previously featured on Doctor Who, he says it can be difficult to find a balance between an old design and a new update. Thus, instead of completely reimagining something, he advises artists to reference back to original designs and focus on carefully tweaking it for a modern setting.

    Photo courtesy of National Film School Lecture Series
  2. If big productions aren’t for you, try TV instead of film. Although Gorton has had the privilege of working with some great directors, working on film felt to him like he was just a “cog in the machine.” When working on The Wolfman, for example, Gorton says he went to a production meeting with almost 120 people. “You can’t even have a conversation because you have to shout at everyone across the room” he says. In television, however, a makeup artist is able to work with a smaller crew and take on a greater variety of projects.

    Photo courtesy of Make-Up Artist Magazine
  3. On working with Steven Spielberg: Gorton says working with Steven Spielberg was one of his most exciting jobs. “He could edit in his head” says Gorton, and “there was so much attention to detail because you only need to do one thing wrong in one of those movies and there will be people pointing it out.” After life casting all the crew for Saving Private Ryan’s deadly battlefields, for example, Spielberg stopped him because he had made the bodies look British rather than American–something that had never occurred to Gorton. Working with that level of film craftsmanship was inspirational in his career.

    Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
  4. On the future of special effects makeup: Although the onset of CGI might scare a young makeup artist interested in special effects, Gorton gives us a comforting dose of reality: “people love new new toys,” but “then when they see something live they go: ‘hey, there’s something else there: it’s on the set, I can light it, I can perform with it, I can do something else.’ “ When Jurassic Park was released, there were all the same fears circulating through the industry, and now 25 years later there are even more professional artists doing special effects. According to Gorton, all that’s going to happen in the industry now is “closer collaboration” between technology and makeup artists.

    Photo courtesy of The Prosthetics Event

Thanks for talking with our students, Neill!

Battle of the Brushes: Toronto

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MUD: Which category are you competing in and why did you choose to enter that category?

Korbyn Rachel:  SFX Character

Rose Ripley: I am competing in the character/prosthetic category. I really love creating characters and doing creature design, so this category, to me, is a lot of fun. I also just love Guardians of the Galaxy, so it is really cool to be able to participate when that is the theme of Battle of the Brushes.

Samantha Martino: I am competing in the Character/Prosthetic FX category. I was drawn to it because I loved how much you could do with it. One night my friend let me do 2 completely different looks on him back to back (which is a lot!) and both times he just looked like a completely different being.

Ashley Soper: I am competing in Beauty/Fantasy. During 301 I was able to build my portfolio and I felt really good about my photos. I loved the models I got to work with and was very happy about how my photoshoots came out.

Melissa Ginzel: I am competing in the character/ prosthetic category in Toronto. When I originally enrolled at MUD I definitely thought I’d be more on the track of doing beauty makeup in the industry. While in school however, I loved seeing the intense transformation that could occur using different appliances and painting techniques. Sean Conklin and Ray Schaffer definitely worked with me to cultivate that passion and my final project was so successful, I was hooked!

Caliann Feimer:  I am competing in the FX portion of the Battle of the Brushes competition. I chose this category because FX is what I love to do. I’ve been an FX artist at Six Flags Great Adventure coming up on four seasons and I couldn’t think of anything I enjoy more than bringing a character to life.

Faith Grady:  I was accepted for the Beauty/Fantasy competition! I chose this category because I love the creative side of avant-garde makeup, and really wanted to challenge myself to create something outside of the box.

Skyla Mangine: I will be competing in the prosthetic/character design portion of the competition. I chose to do the SFX competition because for me it’s where I can really show my skills and creativity. I love having the opportunity to completely design a new character and turn someone into an otherworldly creature.

MUD: What’s the best/most encouraging advice that you’ve received so far?

Rachel:  The best advice I’ve been given has been to always be true to myself. I am one to think outside the box and I think being told to embrace that really helps me expand more artistically.

Ripley: “Do or do not. There is not try” -Yoda.

Martino: The best advice I’ve received was to just move on. When something isn’t working out the way you planned or isn’t looking the way you want it to, just move on. I am one for always dwelling on something that isn’t necessarily going my way, but when I remember to just move on and work on something else, sometimes something better than what I planned can come out of that. Happy accidents!

Soper: Asides from the family, the first email I made was to Gil and Paul. Gil was one of my teachers for special fx 201. I brought in what I felt were my best photos, he helped me and gave me advice on which ones I should submit. I shared my inspiration photos with them and received amazing advice. I then texted Caitlin Nash, a girl from my class, after she offered to brainstorm with me, she then said “You are going to do so F*ing good. Like you know what you’re doing. You got this”. I also reached out to Lacey who took first place at IMATS New York and picked her brain about the competition.

Ginzel: To not be so hard on myself and to not let fear win out – take everything that comes to you and be confident in your decisions.

Feimer:  It’s honestly absolutely an honor to be chosen for this competition. The overwhelming support I have from previous employers, coworkers, and friends is extremely encouraging. Make-up Designory has also helped keep me in contact with a lot of previous competitors who offer the best advice given that they’ve been in these shoes.

Grady: Ever since I was a little girl, my mom has been telling me, “You’ll never know if you don’t try.” As I have gotten older and made big decisions, such as applying for Battle of the Brushes, I have listened to that advice. It’s nice to know that the worst thing that can happen is them saying no, and by trying I avoid that annoying “what if” that can linger in the back of your mind.

Mangine: So far the best advice I have gotten would be to follow your gut feelings and don’t get caught up in your own head.

MUD: What do you hope to get out of this experience?

Rachel:  I hope to connect with other artists and people in the industry to further advance in my career!

Ripley: I hope to gain exposure and experience. Hopefully, the competition will get my name out there and help me with networking opportunities. It will also help give me experience in a “high stress” environment because it is timed. In addition, it allows me the chance to deal with problems that happen on the fly, which is also something that happens on set.

Martino: I hope to be able to really discover and hone in on my adaptability skills. Being able to come up with a look and adapt it to whatever prosthetic pieces I may get is definitely freaking me out a little bit, but I can’t wait to learn how I will handle that situation when I’m in the thick of it.

Soper: Just that, experience. This is very outside of my norm. I haven’t done anything like this before. I have experience in Bridal and Print makeup, not avant guard or fantasy makeup. This really challenges me, and I am up for the challenge. Just the fact I got accepted to compete is amazing!

Ginzel: The whole thing seems to be very character-building– how to perform under pressure, how to develop a character or concept, how to adjust when curve balls are thrown at you. But ultimately I want to create something that leaves a lasting impression that I can be proud of.

Feimer:  I really hope to grow as an artist in this experience. The nature of the competition is stressful and exciting all at once. I hope to create an amazing character and create some connections with the other artists and people I encounter on this project.

Grady:  Best case scenario, I’ll be able to earn back the money I spent getting there, haha! Really though, I’m so excited to learn a few things while having fun and being inspired by the other competitors! I’m truly honored to be selected to compete in such a prestigious competition, and if one person likes the make-up I do, I’ll be happy.

Mangine:  I would like to get my work out to a bigger audience. I hope that I can show more people what I’m capable of and get a career boost.

 

 

 

MUD Talks: Eryn Krueger Mekash

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Photo: Deverill Weekes

MUD: Talk about your early life and how you became a MUA?

EKM: My early life was spent in the hospital. So I’ve had kidney problems. I’ve had a lot of surgeries, which I think very much led to my imagination running wild and escape tactics to get out of the hospital. I had a huge support system with my parents and my brother who is younger than I am. My family loves Halloween, so I think in an effort to have this normal childhood when I was home, we had big Halloween parties and Christmas was a big deal.  So I was exposed to not only so much realistic horror but also you know monsters and all kinds of stuff because my parents loved that. I’d been doing make up on myself like little funny things since I was 7 or 8. So I always loved it and it kind of started leading me in that direction as I went to do art classes and things in Junior High School.

I started High School in 1982, which was the year of American Werewolf in London, Thriller, and The Thing were happening.  Make Up Effects were everywhere. It was booming. So I got see a lot of behind the scenes things on television and I just knew that was what I wanted to do. So I slowly moved in that direction and was in college taking art classes and taking Sandy Berman’s Make Up Effects school, which was this 4 week course where I learned the basics. Then I quit college and got a job but the make up and the monsters had always been there my whole life.  Whether it was creature features on Saturdays or my brother making horror films and me helping him, it just was something that was always a part of my life so it seemed like “oh of course that’s what I want to do.” Although it took a minute, because I didn’t know that was a real job!

Also there wasn’t much access back then. I mean you could write letters and send up a smoke signal, but there wasn’t any internet. There wasn’t any way to contact people and say “I want to work for you.” You just had to make a lot of cold calls. There was a lot of men and not very many women. Initially it might have been a token thing to have a girl working in the shop. John Beakler took a chance on me. That was my first job I had. So many people have worked for him that have started their careers there and I’m so grateful to Sandy Berman and to John. They both know that. 

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Eryn doing make-up on Jane Lynch for Glee
Photo credit: Eryn Kruger Mekash

MUD: Talk about working in the shops and how your career began?

EKM: I started off at John’s shop and quickly moved to other shops where I didn’t realize that at John’s shop you could do everything.  You were doing whatever he had available to work on. So the sculpting, foam running and going to set with it were all things I did. However, the bigger the shops you worked at, the less you got to do that. It was more of a specialized area and I was not a good painter, not a good sculptor and not fast but I was a good mold maker.  So I started doing that as well as doing seaming, finishing work, and some hair work.

Those kind of propelled me along but I wasn’t really getting on set the way I wanted to. I really wanted to be doing application. Of course, I would just practice on the weekends and do little jobs. I worked in the shops like 4 years and it was really hard but I loved it. After that time, I finally decided to start moving away from shop work and doing beauty make up, because I knew that would eventually help move me into being on set more and getting to do more prosthetics.  So I worked on General Hospital and got all my Union days. That said, it’s invaluable having worked in the shops. I mean at least four to five times a week I’m referring back to that or how to correct an issue or how to talk to a shop owner or an effects person on how to do something. I know exactly how hard it is to create a piece and deliver it to set because I have all that background.

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Make-up on Evan Peters for season 1 of American Horror Story
Photo credit: Eryn Kruger Mekash

MUD: Talk about working with Ryan Murphy?

EKM: Ryan and I started working together about 14 years ago when James McKinnon was the Department Head on a pilot called Nip/Tuck.  James was going to go back to do Alias and he wanted someone that he knew that he could trust to take over Nip/Tuck for him. So he did about four or five episodes of the first season and I was the key. Then I took over from there. After that, Ryan and I just had a really good connection and he would ask me to do other projects. I’ve done almost all of his projects. It’s been an incredibly rewarding relationship. I can’t say enough about him. He’s an incredible boss but he also loves make-up, hair and costume so much. It’s rewarding to be with somebody like that who values what you do, because I’ve been on jobs where they are just so put out with having make-up or hair there at all. In those situations it really is just a paycheck and it doesn’t feel great to be involved with people that feel that way. So I just feel so rewarded and grateful to have found a relationship with somebody like Ryan.

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Make-up on Sarah Paulson for American Horror Story : Asylum
Photo credit: Eryn Kruger Mekash

MUD: You had a pretty amazing night at the 706 awards. Can you speak about the awards you won and what happened when Ryan Murphy spoke when he received his lifetime achievement award?

EKM: I was very excited that Zoe and Heather were honored for the People vs OJ. I designed that show and stayed on as designer but Zoe did the day-to-day after the first two episodes the last eight episodes she was Department Head. She ran all of that with Heather, who was the key. They did such a terrific job. I was so pleased that they won for that.

The other one was for the prosthetics and that was really surprising. I was excited that we won! It’s really so cool to get an award from your peers for something that you’ve always loved doing. It was really neat. Plus I get to work with my husband, which is really cool. So he won for that as well. I have an incredible team and I wish we could share it with everybody. I wish there were more award spots available that we could have everyone up there.

As for the lifetime achievement award… that was a total surprise for the most part from Ryan. I had no idea.  I had just spoken to him over an email where he wanted to know how many characters we developed for Feud, so I told him and that was it. I thought maybe he was just going to mention it or something. Remember it was his distinguished artisan award so it’s about him and how amazing he is. Yet he pretty much spent the entire time talking about 706 and how amazing make-up and hair are to the craft of filmmaking. So that was so moving in the beginning and then he started talking about Feud and how honored he was to have all these crews that were so diverse.  Then he said I was going to get a producer credit this year and I couldn’t believe it! I’m still in shock about it. I’ve pretty much had a similar role for these last few years where I’m the mouthpiece for him. He said “You know what I like. You make sure that I’m represented on set.” So that’s what I do. I make sure that what directors ask for is in the realm of what he wants being shot.  My whole team is like that though. It was a surprise and I’m super excited and honored.

 

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Eryn with Taissa Farmiga 
   Photo Credit: Eryn Kruger Mekash

 MUD: Have you discussed what this means now you are a producer for his company?

EKM: I had a meeting with him yesterday and some concept meetings. What would be cool is that I get to have more time with him. Ryan’s so busy so a lot of our relationship in the last few years has been an email relationship. So I don’t get to see him all that often. Once in a while we’ll connect in a meeting or he’ll come to set and chat with me but it’s very brief.

I don’t know how much more than what I’m already doing is going to fall under a producer title. I think it’s just more of an honorable thing that he gave me. A couple of years ago, I moved up to having a make up designer credit. So I think it’s going in that direction which is showing my responsibilities. We’ll see. Its always exciting around the Ryan Murphy world.

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Make-up Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon for Feud
Photo Credit: Vanity Fair

MUD: Any advice for up and coming MUA?

EKM: Early on, try and focus on which way you’re going and not be super spread out. It’s hard in the beginning, because you want to just take every job to pay the rent. I understand you have to kind of do that, but I think once you start working a little bit then you should try and fine tune exactly which way you want to go with thing. Don’t stay out there drifting. I knew that what I wanted to do but I wasn’t sure how to do it. So I think focusing and being more proactive on what you want is key.

MUD: Any final thoughts?

EKM: You are only as strong as your weakest link. It’s your team members that propel you to do these great projects so I have this great base of people I rely on. Mike McCash and Kim Airs are my two main people that help me move forward through all these different projects. Ryan has a very unconventional view on how to do things and not everybody would support that but my team does. I feel very fortunate for that.

 

 

 

Industry Speaks: Vincent Schicchi

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Vincent Schicchi with NY students

Thank you, Vincent Schicchi for stopping by our NY Campus to chat with our students! Vincent has had a long and successful career spanning over 2 decades as a special effects makeup artist. In that time, Vincent has racked up a multitude of movie, television, and Broadway credits. These credits include Spiderman 2, The Heat, SNL, The Fault in Our Stars, The Wiz Live. He also runs the New York based state of the art Creature FX Shop.

vincent quoteThough, he has found a great deal of success as a SFX makeup artist Vincent continues to sculpt and create as much as he can in his free time and stressed to our students the importance of practice stating “Get your name out there, you’re going to learn that there’s ten different ways to do one thing. When you get bored and you’re at home still practice to keep your skills up” We’re sure our students will follow your advice Vincent!