Interviews with Industry

Robert Kurtzman, special makeup effects artist for Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and much more

Robert Kurtzman is a veteran in the special effects world. In particular his notable makeup work seen in ScreamNightmare on Elm Street 3 and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. He also made the move into screenwriting (From Dusk till Dawn) and directing (Wishmaster). In 2003 he founded the award-winning effects company, Creature Corps.

When did you first decide that you wanted to pursue a career in special effects makeup and what were the first steps you took in making it a reality?

At an early age I loved monsters and monster movies. I realized that I wanted to make them and that there was actually a way that I could be part of that industry. I went to LA when I was just 19 and worked in every shop that would let me; doing whatever they needed. I also attended a makeup course at Joe Blasco’s school on the basics of correction beauty techniques and some simple makeup effects.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Working with creative people. I also have to think on my feet during many aspects of a production and I actually like that.

You’re most well-known for your work on horror movies. What is it about that genre that’s so appealing to you as a creative?

Horror, fantasy and SyFy give you the opportunity to create characters that have never existed before. The options are endless.

How does it feel knowing that you’ve probably crafted the faces that kids have seen in their nightmares?

It’s cool! lol I grew up following artists that created monsters from my nightmares so to carry that on is pretty cool.

As someone who works on visual effects, special effects and makeup, what kind of working relationship do you normally have with the production designer and AD on set?

Working with the production designer is necessary to figuring out how to achieve a particular look so that floors/ceilings can move and puppeteers or rigging works. You also need to get the idea of the overall aesthetic, the look/feel of the production so that we know how the set and the characters interact.

With the AD’s, you’re constantly working around issues with scheduling and how to work through a day and achieve all that’s needed from me to get the days effects in. Both are very important relationships and communication is really important with both.

How important do you think it is for someone, in the industry, to build and cultivate their working (and personal) relationships with other filmmakers?

It’s an absolute necessity. You form a bond and a connection and a shorthand with these people so that you can go back again and again to work together and collaborate on projects.

You’ve made the jump to screenwriting a couple times and directing, more than a few. How did you prepare for first taking on those roles?

Working for years doing makeup effects prepares you to work with all other departments and understanding how all departments work. It’s helped me to be a more effective and efficient director. Working in MUFX, you’re helping to work on things like transformation sequences which starts with concept and storyboarding to the actual production. Directing from there was a natural progression. As I was doing this for other people, I knew that I wanted to do it for myself.

What has been the biggest hurdle you have faced on a production?

The biggest hurdles on any production is the schedule and budget. Your prep schedule is so important so that you have time to get things ready. The budget can be an issue as you want to always come up with the most creative look but it doesn’t always fall into the budget. Both those things are against you and you constantly have to work around them.

You’re currently working with Netflix. How much can you tell us about that and how are you finding making that switch from the typical film industry to a company that distributes online? I think a lot of young filmmakers are wondering where their efforts should be most targeted towards.

Well, I am here in Atlanta working on The Haunting of Hill House directed by Mike Flanagan of Hush, Occulous and Steven King’s (also Netlfix) Gerald’s Game. So I can give you that much. (hahaha) There’s ZERO difference. The production and the process of creating quality, is exactly the same.




If someone wants to pursue a career in special effects, how would you recommend they go about it?

Most importantly, they should really have always been preparing for this all their life by taking art classes, always drawing, sculpting and be honing their skills. I have always been into art. I have always done all of this all my life as the fx business requires all of those skills. Every show that I do, there are concept drawings, painting, sculpting, etc. and I have my hands on it all. Always keep honing your skills, always.

What would your top three tips for up and coming special effects artists be?

See above. Anyone the film industry needs to get a thick skin. You’re’ not going to get every job you go for and you need to accept rejection and keep moving forward.

 What is next for you?

As I said, I am currently working on The Haunting Of Hill House for Netflix. I am also working on a project with Kevin Smith, Killroy Was Here. Kevin has partnered with Ringling School of Art and Design on this production and we are having a great time mentoring and working with the great students there!

(Images: Courtesy of Creature Corps. Massive thanks to Marcia King for being awesome!)