of the very first films I ever worked on was George Romero’s “Day
of the Dead”. I was a huge fan of Romero’s “Dawn of
the Dead” so when I heard that he was planning another sequel,
I was determined to get involved. I managed to get a job with Tom Savini
on “Friday the 13th: Part 4” and expressed my interest in
working on “Day of the Dead”. Tom seemed to be impressed
by my work and when production began on the film, he hired me on as
part of his crew. Later, when Tom made his feature film debut on the
remake of “Night of the Living Dead”, he and George chose
me, and my former partner Everett Burrell, to create the make-up effects
for that project.
I guess that with the current resurgence in Zombie films and feeling
a strong affinity with the subject matter, based upon my previous experiences
working on the Romero films, that I probably would have felt left out
if I couldn’t somehow get involved … that, and I’m
just plain a big fan of the genre myself.
I: You’ve created a variety of looks for
so many projects, how do you keep them looking different and unique?
J: It all starts with the script. Each film has a different tone and
personality. One of the first things I do, when reading a script, is
to try and pay close attention and get a good sense of what design aesthetic
would properly suite the film. It’s also important, in my opinion,
to try to stay original, keep away from copying the work of others and
avoid clichés of the genre. I also don’t like to repeat
myself so I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve or change
For instance, with the remake of “Night of the Living Dead”,
we felt that what made the original film so frightening was the believability
of the make-up. They looked like they were the next door neighbor, come
back to life after some dreadful accident, not some creature from beyond
the grave. We felt certain that this was one of the vital factors to
the scariness of the original film. So we took a “less is more
approach” and went for a very forensic style of design. Some of
our crew even went so far as to so attend an autopsy for research…
I opted out.
For “Return of the Living Dead: 4 & 5” it was pretty
apparent, early on, that the films were meant to be campy and lurid
so we went in almost the opposite direction. I also managed to amass
an extremely talented crew and oddly enough, they had all been so tired
of the “high tech” work that has been created over the last
few years, that we all decided it was far more exciting to approach
these films using “old school” techniques. This seemed to
be the perfect direction since these films were more of a retro throwback
to the style of the original film… and it was ultimately more
fun, that way, since it pretty much became a make-up “free for
I: How do you go about transforming ordinary actors into hideous zombies?
J: It depends on the character. Since we had to make-up hundreds of
Zombies we created a tremendous amount of foam latex facial appliances,
masks, gloves, wounds and complete body suits for this project. These
were created making plaster casts of various performers and sculpting
the desired features, on these casts, in clay. A mold is then made of
the sculpture and foam latex is injected into the molds and then baked.
If we were doing a featured Zombie we might glue a full face on him
and maybe apply a few separate wounds for variety since we recycled
a lot of the faces. This is generally a 2-3 hour process that starts
with gluing on the appliance, with surgical adhesives, and using various
paints and make-up for coloring. Often times we use hand made wigs if
the character warrants it. For final touches we sloppily “dress”
the wounds with blood made from corn syrup… my favorite part.
For background characters we might just glue on a few simple wounds
or perhaps use a mask since they aren’t meant to be seen very
Sometimes we would take a very “low tech” approach and used
various materials like gelatine, surgical grade silicone and liquid
latex to build up features and textures on the performers faces. There
was also a lot of experimentation that went on with mixing and matching
different materials and techniques. After doing a few hundred Zombies'
make-up this really helped us avoid any potential boredom.
I: What were the main challenges on this production?
J: Because of the short production schedule we really didn’t have
very much time to prepare for the film so time was always a precious
and elusive commodity. This of course put a lot of pressure on all of
us to get prepared and keep organized.
Working in Romania also presented certain challenges since the film
crews there have a different approach and methodology. Mike Measimer,
who was on my crew, and I had already worked in Romania on Bill Butler’s
“Madhouse” so we knew a bit of what to expect and prepared
accordingly. Apparently this sort of film was quite a new experience
for them and I got the impression that it was one of the bigger effects
oriented films ever produced there. Subsequently, we had to spend, what
little time we had, in training the performers and make-up crew in the
grammar (so to speak) of Zombie movies. Luckily there are many extremely
talented artists working there so it didn’t take too long to get
them used to the style of film that we were making.
I: Do have a particular favourite scene in either of the films?
J: Yeah… the Zombie Possum.