The newest installment in the TCM franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, just hit Netflix. I recently had the privilege of chatting with Todd Tucker and Martin Astles of Illusion Industries, responsible for constructing Leatherface’s newest look. Here is what they had to say about the process and creating interesting characters. Be sure to scroll down to see exclusive images depicting the process and the final result.
This interview is edited for clarity and length.
Becca Stalnaker: What got you interested in special effects makeup?
Todd Tucker: For many of us, we were weird kids with a lot of artistic abilities, and we loved movies. There was this attraction to fantasy and horror movies as a kid and just being a huge movie buff. In the 80s, there wasn’t a lot of information about how to do makeup effects or creature effects. So you had to make it up on your own.
I know for myself, I got lucky and ended up meeting two guys named Matt Rose and Steve Wang, who kind of took me under their wing and taught me how to sculpt and paint and do all this. I moved to Los Angeles and started working my first job and got to work from there, but it’s a whole process of learning all the different aspects of sculpting and painting. That’s at least my end.
Martin Astles: Unlike Todd, I wasn’t really into film. I went to art school to do fine art. I ended up falling into film by chance, and I fell in love with the process of it. But I think the thing that pulled me to creating effects, and like Todd said, back in the 80s, there wasn’t much information out there. It was a time of discovery.
I liked the fact that everyone’s trying to figure things out and, you know, old school practical effects, they were in their infancy, and people just didn’t know how to do things. So that inventive quality pulled me in, and I completely fell in love with that whole process.
You can tell from my accent I’m not from here. In Britain, effects were a whole different situation; it was different from the US. We were still in the shadows of the US, and we were always finding things out second-hand. So I think as breakthroughs and discoveries were being made over here in the States, people in the UK were struggling to find any magazine or call, any little “making of” that might have been on TV.
People kept notebooks, and we were trying to fill in the gaps and on top of this, we didn’t have the materials they had in the US. So most of the things we made were out of sticks and mud, bits of paper. No, I’m kidding about that, but it was a little different for us.
BS: What’s the process like for designing and creating a character?
TT: Here at Illusion Industries, we receive a script, read it, and then Martin and I will sit down and do a breakdown of the potential makeup effects in the script. Then we’ll meet with the director, get his vision and make sure we understand what is required and what he is looking for.
Whether it’s a makeup effect, a full creeper, a puppet, then after we find out what he’s looking for, we will start doing designs. It could be either a sculpture of a character or a two-dimensional Photoshop. It could be a ZBrush. There are a lot of different ways to do it for presentation and then we’ll put it in front of the director and usually a producer or two.
Once they decide what they like, we will start building it. We do everything from start to finish, we’ll bring in the actor to do the head cast. We’ll design it and sculpt it here internally, and then mold it, run it in silicone or latex, whatever it ends up being and then go on set and apply it. Both Martin and I head up shows.
When we have multiple shows, Martin will take one and I’ll take the other. We go on set and oversee it and apply the makeup or puppeteer character if that’s what it is. Then take the whole process from start to finish.
MA: Actually to answer your question about design, one thing I would say is that we’ve tried to keep things a little old school here. In the old days, you used to design things internally in our studio, and as Todd said, we see the whole process through, but years have gone by, and it’s changed.
We’re more at the mercy of getting designs from art departments or external 2D designers, which is cool, and don’t get me wrong, the stuff is impressive. Still, our constant struggle is to turn those 2D designs into 3D realities or makeups, and that can often be a bit of a tricky process because sometimes you get a superb design, which looks great. Still, it can be a bit of a challenge.
TT: It doesn’t translate practically.
MA: Yeah, so the design process has changed a lot over the years. Often if we did a drawing or some kind of design, you could pretty much guarantee you’ll get 90 percent of what is on screen. But nowadays, it seems like we’re trying to explain to many productions that we can’t give them that pretty picture.
TT: A lot of times, productions, especially when they have a lot of visuals on a project. They’ll put together a design lookbook before they even get the movie funded to get it funded. So they’ll have all this pre-designed stuff before they even talk to a makeup effects company.
Then they’ll put it in front of us, and then we have to try to translate that into something that will work like Martin is saying. It’s tricky when they bring designs to us rather than having us make it ourselves because usually if we make it ourselves, we’re cautious of creating something we know we can translate and make work practically.
MA: You know we fight hard to make sure we can deliver what we say we can deliver. It’s no sleight whatsoever on external design works. As Todd said it has to be done for specific reasons at times, but with makeup, there are certain parameters that it has to follow, right? I mean, you can’t necessarily do anything you want.
But we try different designs like stuff drawn in pencil or old-school maquettes or miniatures to show the production before they sign off on something. I’ll be honest with you, we’ve had pretty good success with it. Almost every show we’ve worked on has responded well to the old-school approach to design. We’ve had excellent success with it.
In fact, to be honest with you, I kind of sometimes feel a little bit bad that we do things a little bit old school but it’s really worked to our advantage on a lot of occasions.
BS: Tell me about creating Leatherface.
TT: We were approached by a producer we worked with in the past, working with Legendary Films. His name is Herb Gaines, and we had worked with him on the films GI Joe: Retaliation and Jack Reacher 2 and had a great relationship with him. He called us and said, “Hey, we’re doing this new movie. And I want to talk to you about creating the character.”
I was like, “Yeah, that sounds great. Let’s talk about it.” Then when Herb said it was Leatherface we were like, “Okay, so you’re talking about THE character, not A character.” That was cool. We started moving it forward.
Within two weeks after that conversation, we had the COVID shutdown. I was like, “Oh my gosh, we got this great character, and now it’s going away.” Herb called us and said, “Look, we’re moving this forward. If you guys are on board, let’s do it,” and we were like, “110 percent, let’s do it.” So we started the design process.
The first thing that happened was Martin took a head and began sculpting the Leatherface face on it. That was the first incarnation we put in front of them, and they loved it.
MA: We did it as a sculpture, not as a 2D thing. As a caveat to what I was saying, we wanted to create something they could physically look at.
Because, in 2D, there’s a specific impact I think you lose with a drawing or ZBrush or whatever, but we wanted to go in there with more of a traditional approach to designing Leatherface. Fortunately for myself, it worked to our advantage and was good too, because —
TT: The directors and their producer, were here in town down the street from our studio, so we could physically bring the sculpture in front of them. You do get the best reaction and the best input when they can see it physically.
We started with the sculpture; they loved it. We then started creating the design look for the entire body head to toe. We brought in a couple of additional illustrators to do 2D versions with the photo shoot with a picture of Martin’s sculpture incorporated into the design because we already kind of locked that off and they were happy with that. So then it was coming up with his size, hair look, wardrobe and all that.
MA: We went through some incarnations of that, there were parts where he was going to wear a dress, and there were quite a lot of wardrobe changes that he went through as I recall. He was wearing earrings. So there was a ton of stuff that we were going much more down the route of looking like —
TT: The old lady.
MA: But we changed direction on that. There was a lot of “left and right,” as I recall.
TT: We had two guys Miles Teves and John Donahue who helped to do a lot of the 2D designs, and then Martin and I would just keep going back and forth with the directors and the producer. Finally, we locked off on the design that everyone loved. Then we carefully, because it was COVID shutdown, brought a crew into the studio and started making Leatherface.
MA: I’ll say this, though, Zoom sucks.
TT: Well, everything was a Zoom call, and that was when you first started Zoom calls.
MA: That was a nightmare.
TT: But we did have two meetings with the guys personally at the beginning, so that was helpful to get the ball rolling. After that, every time, we had to Zoom.
MA: The directors at the time were on islands. We were in LA, and everyone was in a separate court at that time, and coming up with something like that was tricky. I don’t know what it is about being in front of somebody; it’s way easier to talk and process designs and concepts through. When you’re talking remotely, it’s weird. You gotta be on the same page visually.
TT: So that was when it first started, The first time anyone started using Zoom, I didn’t even know what Zoom was before those meetings. That was the process, in a nutshell.
BS: Are either of you fans of the horror genre? Are you fans of The Texas Chainsaw franchise?
TT: I’ll say this. I am a huge horror fan, but I have to give props. Martin is not just a horror fan, he’s a knowledgeable book on Texas Chainsaw itself, which he won’t credit himself a lot of times, but there were a lot of times on set where he would be a go-to person for things about Leatherface and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
We both come from a background of loving horror movies. I love Michael Myers and Freddie and all the iconic ones that we saw in the 80s that curved our world of horror, but Martin was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre nerd. He is the authority on Leatherface, for sure.
BS: Barring Leatherface, what is your favorite character you have worked on?
MA: I can say to me it was Pinhead, those films. One of the first characters I worked on was a title character. At that time, for my age, that was a huge thing for me. So that was the first big thing I worked on.
MA: I think, if you’re into horror, that’s the real big breakthrough. When you’re starting to work on these characters, you realize there’s a future in this business. It’s huge, also an ego boost. I was always on the fence about having a career in horror or effects in general because it’s not a regular job.
It’s not like you’re guaranteed work every month, and then when you get the opportunity to work on a big title character, you realize you can make this work. That was a breakthrough moment.
BS: Not only do you all work on characters, but Illusion Industries are responsible for a whole movie of its own: The Terror of Hallows Eve. Tell me about how that came to be.
TT: A few years back, we started doing in-house productions. I got in the DGA and started directing second unit for many that we were working on where we were creating the creatures and they needed help because directors didn’t feel comfortable filming them. So they would bring me in, and we would jump on board as producers.
Then we did our first film, which was a kid’s film called Monster Night, and then years later, we did The Terror of Hallows Eve, which was a little bit of a self biography on something that happened to me when I was a kid being bullied and we turned it into this dark fantasy film. It did very well and I got to tour the world a little bit at different festivals, Fright Fest in London and Sitges in Spain. I got a great response and we had a great time.
BS: What led you to start Illusion Industries?
TT: I wanted to be rich, no waiting, hahaha. I had worked with Martin for 20 years, and I dragged him along with me this whole adventure. I had worked for a couple of other companies as the creative guy doing sculpting, painting, going on set applying and got to do all the fun stuff. Then I headed a company where I was an owner and ended up switching out, getting new partners, and starting Illusion. Mainly so I could have the freedom to take on projects.
MA: It was bad for me. Begging on the street, panhandling. Hahaha. He took pity on me.
TT: He’s kidding, but you know, when we started Illusion Industries, we did it because we wanted to get the right group of creatives in the room and do it positively and have a good time because we’d all been doing this for a long time and you know, it can be very damaging, and you can deal with a lot of people making it complicated. We want freedom for our in-house family and the people we hire to make all this stuff; you need to have a good time making this. Inspiring creativity is a positive thing, not a negative.
So I needed to do that and not have any issues with anyone in-house. Martin and I run the creative here.
It’s great because when I go off and direct a film or produce a film, we’ll build everything for all the effects and we take care of all the visuals and a lot of times while I’m directing, Martin will come on set and oversee the visual stuff for us, all the practical. We have a perfect balance here. Then we bring in the crew as needed for the projects. I try to keep it small with a very small team of people and bring in the right people for a project.
BS: Todd, you’re an actor as well. What’s your favorite character you’ve ever played?
TT: I had a lot of fun playing characters on Charmed back in the day. I played a dozen different characters on there. That was a lot of fun. I got to play three characters in The Passion of the Christ for Mel Gibson. We did all the makeup effects and visual effects for that one. Playing the characters in The Passion of the Christ and being directed by Mel was a cool experience. So I’ll say that Passion of the Christ was pretty fun.
BS: You cosplay as well, correct?
TT: I do. Usually for charities. I do it for Instagram because it’s fun, and I got too much time on my hands, apparently. For charities, I play the Grinch and do charity stuff during the holidays, and it’s my weird way of doing good things. I like to play characters because it’s easy to let loose and say things I would never normally say. I love improv; it’s fun to improv.
BS: As a fellow cosplayer, I have to ask, what’s your favorite character to cosplay?
TT: Probably the Grinch because of the responses I get when I do the charity stuff and go to downtown LA and meet with a bunch of underprivileged kids, you can tell you’re making a difference. So it’s probably the Grinch because people love that character.
BS: Do you have anything specific you want to be included? About working on Texas Chainsaw or Illusion Industries?
MA: As I said to Todd earlier, there are not many films I’ve worked on where there was such a hive mind experience in making that film. Everybody always says about movies, “Oh, that was the best experience I’ve ever had,” but I think this was!
Because obviously, we shot the thing in Bulgaria, it was a big international crew and cast. I mean, it was people worldwide working on that film, and everybody was giving it their all. Normally, there are a couple of jerks on every film. There wasn’t one on this film. Everybody was trying to make something as best as they could. That made the entire experience different.
There’s always somebody I’m trying to avoid or duck onset. Not because they’re bad people or you might not see eye-to-eye creatively with them, but this film wasn’t like that. Everybody knew what the film was. Everybody knew who the characters were and wanted to make something that would please the fans. There was no part of that film that I didn’t feel 100 percent confident about.
TT: I’ll say as far as Illusion [Industries] goes and working on Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as the owner of the company, it’s a great opportunity because it’s a title character people love. We get to recreate that character. We worked with the producer Herb Gains, before but not since he started working with Legendary, so it was a great opportunity to work with Legendary.
Also, Bad Hombre came on board, and they were making the film with Legendary, and we got to make great relationships with those guys, and they were fantastic. As a businessman going into this project, it was a great opportunity to work with professional people and build great relationships.
MA: Fede Alvarez and Shintaro Shimosawa were critical players in the process for us.
TT: And the director.
MA: David Garcia was awesome. David joined the project later on, but he was a sweetheart on the film, and he folded into the process immediately. We haven’t seen the finished product, but the tiny pieces I have seen of the film are beautiful. David knows his stuff.
TT: It looks like a big studio.
MA: It’s a much larger, richer, action-packed film than previous incarnations.
TT: I think even people who aren’t necessarily fans of Texas Chainsaw Massacre are gonna gravitate to this because it’s a well-made movie.
MA: Yeah, I agree.
BS: I’m looking forward to watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Thank you both so much for your time.
MA: I want to focus on one thing. Rick Diaz, the DP, I don’t normally mention DPs, but some of these shots in this film look like a painting. Rick’s DP work was top-notch. I think it was Rick’s first horror film too, but his stuff on this film is beautiful.
TT: The finished look of the film is big. It feels like you’re watching —
MA: A painting in sequences.
TT: I think the general public will dig it.
A big thanks to Todd and Martin for taking the time to talk with me! Check out the trailer for Texas Chainsaw Massacre below and head over to Netflix to watch the film.
Let us know what you think about Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the comments!
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