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What's In Your Kit? Special FX artist Todd Debreceni

What's In Your Kit? Special FX artist Todd Debreceni

We've got so many of these What's In Your Kit interviews lined up I wanted to be sure we included some special fx makeup artists in the mix as well. 

Frends: Tell the readers a bit about yourself.

Ha! A riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up. My original career path was medical school courtesy of the US Navy and getting my aviator wings, but I'll save that story for an evening when you and I can see who buys the drinks when we compare challenge coins.

I was born in Cleveland, OH, but I moved around a fair amount as a kid. I never went to the same school more than 3 years in a row. There was this TV show I used to watch in Cleveland when we'd visit my grandparents, called 'Shock Theatre'. The host was this cat who called himself Ghoulardi, and that's how I fell in love with the Hammer and Universal monster films, and others - Them!, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Manster, etc. But my interest in makeup and makeup effects didn't come until much, much later in my life. Then I wrote a book that seems to be doing pretty well. Right place, right time. 

Frends: How did you get into Special FX makeup?

I got my real start in the entertainment biz working for Ted Turner at TBS in Atlanta. When TBS was just beginning to air their first original programming I was hired as the DP of the TBS Show Unit, but immediately became the UPM. At that point prosthetic makeup was not even on radar, and wouldn't be for a number of years, which I look back on and find really interesting because I loved all those monster movies as a kid, and even dabbled in it, certainly at and around Halloween. That I could do this kind of creating as a career completely sneaked past me. I wanted to write and produce. And I still do, however...

When I finally realized that prosthetic makeup and makeup effects were where some degree of talent lay, I was already in my mid 40s. I was running a small VFX animation shop in Colorado called Paradigm Ranch, and also teaching acting, animation and visual effects at a college in Denver. A Special Topics class was added to the curriculum, and as long as the subject matter was industry related somehow, it could be anything we wanted. Well, I grew up in a home with a mother who is a painter and a sculptor, and a father who is a woodworker, and I was really missing being able to actually touch the projects I was working on, so I built a curriculum for a foam latex prosthetics class where we would lifecast, sculpt, etc. Go big or go home, right? Well, there's truth to the adage 'If you want to learn how to do something, teach it to someone else.' Turns out I didn't suck at it. 

Frends: With VFX technology getting better, and less expensive, what are your thoughts on SFX makeup in film and television over the next decade?

This is a topic I have had the pleasure of seeing from both sides. I'm sure you've heard many times that it's not a black and white issue - Practical Effects or CGI; either, or. While the price tag may be coming down for VFX, it's still more expensive than animatronics. To give you a frame of reference, our small 4-man shop in Denver, CO, in the mid-to-late 1990s, averaged a finished per-second cost of $650. A few of our higher profile projects grossed us in the neighborhood of $1,800 to $2,400 per finished second of animation, as late as 1998. We thought that was pretty good money.  

I think we're going to continue to see some camps on both sides continue to bicker and snipe at one another about who's better, but I also think there is going to be more and more collaboration between CGI and practical, because when it's all said and done, when used properly they create a synergy that is greater than the sum of their two parts. My students hear me frequently say, 'nothing says real like real.' But there are going to be times when going real is too dangerous, or too expensive, or just plain impossible. But to use CGI simply because you can is not the right answer. Ever. But that's me. Don't get me wrong, I love CGI. But, ask an actor if she'd prefer to react to a performer in a creature suit or a tennis ball on a C-Stand, and I think you know what the answer will be.  

I think we'll see more hybridization of shops, capable of handling CGI as well as practical work in house. Todd Masters is a great example of that kind of one-stop shopping. The left hand knows will know what the right hand is doing!

Frends: If you had to start from scratch today, what would you do to break into the industry?

Oh man, there are so many things people can do today to break into the industry that I couldn't do for the simple fact that so much just did not exist. The Internet, for example. Social media. Something I've always done and still do - though it's been ages since I've had time to go sit in a movie theatre - is WATCH THE CREDITS. Most of the folks whose names you see scroll by are on Facebook, or LinkedIn, or Twitter. They're accessible. I'm not advocating stalking, but if you're looking for advice...real advice, and a honest critique of your work, it's there for the asking.

Read everything, watch everything. I used to tell my students to watch as much television as possible - the new stuff - because that's where you're going to see who's killing it right now, so you can get to work learning how to kill it even better. There's a lot of fabulous work on television right now to emulate and learn from.

Some things never change, and I hope they won't. Hard work and determination are a hard combination to beat. You can be born with talent, but it's hard work and determination that will turn that talent into a gift. I like sayings, in case you hadn't noticed, and there's this one: It takes twenty years to become an overnight success.

 Frends: Thank you, that's great advice. Last, let's have a look inside your kit!

Kits. I have quite a few, including a terrific Stilazzi case I got from you guys a few years ago, and I probably use it more than anything else I have. I am a notorious over-packer when I go on a gig; I'd rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. It's not too bad when I am driving, but if I have to fly it's a bitch, though I had Anvil build me some flight-worthy road cases for a few of my bigger kits if I'm going to be in one locale for an extended stay.  But, as for basics that I almost always have with me...

AA palettes & 99% IPA
Pros-Aide & remover (I make my own)
Large modeling pickups (tweezers)
Suture scissors
Safety pins of various sizes
Friendly Plastic
Mic tape
Opsite tape
Petroleum jelly
Makeup Brushes
African porcupine quill for lifting and rolling prosthetic edges
Talc-ohol
Creme foundations
Cakes
Craft sticks
244
Stipple sponges, beauty blenders, red sponges, disposable lip brushes, and wands
Q-tips
Blood
Wrinkle stipple
Matte powder & gel
Quick set silicone & thickener - you never know when you're going to need to do an on-skin buildup, or a quick mold of some object...

These are 3 of the five wooden chests I have in the shop; the largest of them is an oak Gerstner, and is a real prize!

kits

I have a variety of other cases and bags of various sizes...probably close to two dozen or so. I'll be using these on a shoot this week.

kits2   kits3

You can never have too many brushes!  Here are several of the ones I use A LOT.

brushes

These things are invaluable!

brushes2

Foamy shaving cream is great for getting out blood stains. Fake blood, duh.

barbasol

This is my own formula of adhesive and PAX remover. I don't leave home without it.

paxremover

I make my own brush and cup holders that come in very handy.  I also use a lot of small cups, and this holder takes them all.

cups   thingwtf

I can't remember who told me about these porcupine quills, but DAYAM!!! These are great for rolling or lifting delicate edges. African porcupines, not North American. There's a big difference.

stabbythings

Powder - talc or any other - in an alcohol solution can be used for a variety of purposes, from anti-shine, to 'dirt.'

talcohol

I LOVE Sian Richards' London Brush Company cleaner!  Love, love love!

sian

Robert Smith's blood is amazing stuff. Maybe the best I've ever used. Not sure if it's available in the States, but you can get it from the UK.

squirtythings

This little Swiss gem is a must have. I fixed the 4-wheel drive on my Jeep with it.

swiss

Opsite Flexifix tape is a game changer for blood gags.  Holy crap!

tapeystuff

I love PPI's Skin Illustrator palettes, but I also like Reel Creations and European Body Art, but Mike Dargan's 'Mr. Dashbo' is fantastic stuff.

palettes

Marly Skin is a great barrier layer prior to adhesive application.

skinguard

Lunatick Cosmetic Labs has am amazing matte powder. Wow!

ouija

Go to your local hobby/model shop and get one of these jobs - it's for holding tiny screws, but it's awesome for holding bits of sponge for stippling.

screwthings

Tom McLaughlin's silicone finishing powder is perfect for removing the shine from silicone and making it look (and feel) like real skin.

finishingpowder

Blue Bird age stipple is expensive, but worth it!

bluebird

I could go on about this stuff all day, but I may have already gone into over the top mode. Hopefully this paints a clear enough picture!

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