For 10 years, Illusion Industries has serviced Hollywood films, television shows, music videos, and commercials with all manner of unique props, special makeup effects, full-blown creatures, and articulated puppets. Todd Tucker, the Founder of Illusion Industries, has 30 years of experience in the industry, having originally traveled from NorCal down to SoCal to chase his Hollywood dreams.
Tucker’s latest showbiz challenge at Illusion Industries was to design and realize a new take on Leatherface, the iconic, misunderstood murderer from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre who carved a place in horror history over the last 50 years. Though the franchise has migrated from the big screen to Netflix, the character still looms large among slashers, and this new chapter is fashioned — like David Gordon Green‘s Halloween before it — as a de facto sequel to the original film, which terrified audiences back in 1974.
As Illusion Industries’ head character designer, Martin Astles — who would later apply the makeup on sets in Bulgaria — initiated the process by creating a clay sculpture of a wholly new Leatherface concept on a generic human head. That approach convinced the film’s producers of the viability of a reimagined lead character. Soon after, longtime effects artist Miles Teves came to Illusion Industries to provide additional designs in two dimensions for Leatherface’s face and head, while 2D artist John Donahue created conceptual illustrations for the rest of the character’s body, including wardrobe.
Once the character’s design was approved, Illusion Industries did a head cast on the actor playing Leatherface, Mark Burnham. “Martin re-sculpted the design onto Mark’s head cast,” said Tucker, noting that the eventual makeup was a one-piece silicon face. “Rather than gluing the silicon appliance to Mark’s face, we created a vacuform face/head skull cap that Mark would wear. The cap had Velcro tabs attached to it and we were able to imbed Velcro into the face appliance. Martin was then able to put the face on Mark and the stuntmen in seconds.”
Crucially, Burnham was going to be wearing the appliance for long hours every day he was shooting. “We knew that Mark would want to take the face off in between camera setups, so coming up with the Velcro cap method was pretty important and made everything simpler and faster for Martin on set,” Tucker divulged. “This was an experimental approach that worked out amazingly.”
Depending on how the silicone appliance was positioned on the vacuform cap, Astles was able to give the face subtle changes in expression. Tucker explained that “this gave us the ability to slightly change Leatherface’s emotion, based on what’s going on in the story. Mark had a makeup look underneath the face appliance that included aging, scars, dirt, and fake teeth. You don’t see this look for very long, although you do see parts of his face glaring out from under the face appliance — just enough skin to remind you that there is a madman under the severed face.”
Of note, Leatherface’s aforementioned face is based on one of the other actors in the film. “Leatherface cuts off and wears the face of his mother like character who has been killed by outsiders,” Tucker said. “There was only one sculpted version of the face that looks very different by the end of the film. The face goes through multiple levels of blood and destruction based on what happens in the movie.”
In Bulgaria, Astles would apply the makeup and severed face daily. There were many faces to pick from, depending on what stage of bleeding Leatherface endured in the scene previous to the one being photographed. “One of the challenges on this show was the blood continuity,” detailed Tucker. “We had over 25 different severed face appliances with different levels of blood on them. The film was not shot in exact sequence, so Martin created a photo reference book so he knew exactly which bloody face was needed each day. It became a bit of a science.”
At one point in time, producers Herb Gains and Fede Alvarez asked Illusion Industries to show them a design of Leatherface wearing the dress of the woman whose face he is wearing. “After seeing the design, they veered away from that and went with a more traditional look,” noted Tucker. “They wanted us to find a unique balance of the old and new. This was an opportunity to evolve the Leatherface look to current day and age.”
Ultimately, Tucker and Astles spearheaded the Leatherface character, with other artists following their lead at Illusion Industries. “Once we locked in the design of the face, hair, and body, it was time to find a crew that was willing to come in and work at my studio at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown,” Tucker stated. “Luckily, I was able to convince a handful of amazing artists to come to work.”
In being the proprietor of Illusion Industries, Tucker has certain advantages in being able to understand how makeup effects are produced. Significantly, Tucker related that having been a multi-faceted effects artist for 30 years has given him certain advantages in spearheading his company. “It makes it easier because you understand how long things take to make; you understand the materials and the process,” he said. “I am hands-on and very passionate about designing and staying creatively involved. Running the business aspects of Illusion Industries does take a chunk of my time, but I’ve been able to find a good balance between being an artist and a company owner.”
Many of the practical makeup and effects shops in Los Angeles now have giant 3D printers to instantly fabricate properties and appliances with new technologies, but Illusion Industries tries to achieve as much as possible by implementing ‘old-school’ methodologies. “I believe you can feel the difference organically,” Tucker commented. “I still like to design and create things by hand. My studio looks similar to how FX studios were set up when I first started [in the early 1990s]. I’m definitely old school, but it is important to stay current with materials, tools, and methods. I try to keep a positive vibe at the studio—a place where you can be inspired and creative. I feel like I get better work out of my artists if I keep the environment fun.”
Of note, Illusion Industries can create any type of appliances in a variety of materials, including foam latex, gelatin, silicone, and various combinations; however, silicone was selected to create Leatherface for the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “Silicone has been around for a long time now,” explained Tucker. “The choice of what material we use when creating something is dependent on what the final look and function need to be. For Texas Chainsaw, we use silicone because we wanted the severed face to look like fresh translucent skin. It is possible to paint foam latex to look translucent. Silicone is great for old age and character appliances but is much heavier than foam, so there are times when it’s better to use foam, simply because it is a lighter material.”
In terms of buying effects supplies for projects which are realized in the Illusion Industries shop, Tucker utilized two companies. Both Motion Picture Effects and Friends Beauty supplies have almost everything needed for special effects makeup. “They both carry materials for head and body casts, sculpting, molding, silicone, foam latex, blood, and makeup, pretty much everything we use at my studio,” Tucker revealed. “Both companies are also really good about shipping your needed materials to movie locations. There’s a number of different vendors, but I tend to use these two because they’ve been so good to me.”
Certainly, Leatherface falls in the pantheon of the great horror slashers; obviously, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface is an icon along with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Chucky. As such, Illusion Industries faced definite pressures as far as adding to these indelible screen characters. “When asked to recreate something that is as iconic as Leatherface, there’s a certain level of fear,” Tucker unveiled. “When the character is so adored by horror fans, it comes down to figuring out a way to make it new, without losing the essence of what the fans love about that character. That’s really the challenge: more than anything, designing the character to work as a contemporary version of that character but also with the spirit of what made him great.
“For us,” Tucker continued, “I think this version of him might be the most organic. It looks very real; everything we did is very anatomically-correct — the level of what the face looks like when it’s cut off is based on actual research of what skin would do, and we tried to make it anatomically correct and disturbing. This Leatherface is faster and more agile. You also get a glimpse of the human underneath, and maybe even feel a small bit of sympathy for him.”
Naturally, everyone at Illusion Industries saw the possibility of creating a new Leatherface as a momentous opportunity. “We were so honored to have the opportunity to re-create this character,” Tucker remarked, “and we hope that we created a Leatherface that the fans will really like.”
After completing Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Illusion Industries created 26 different creatures for an original film for Netflix. For that project, Tucker went to Atlanta to supervise things and play two of the characters, which he found to be a considerable amount of fun. “It will be coming out this Halloween on Netflix,” said Tucker, noting several other projects in which he was integrally involved on set. “We also did a commercial, where we created six different puppets for the Florida lottery Christmas commercial, and I flew to Florida and got to puppeteer and be the voices of all those characters.”
Lastly, in addition to providing practical effects for films, Illusion Industries also produces original film projects under a separate company. Previously, they produced The Terror of Hallow’s Eve, a fantastical horror film based on a true story from Tucker’s childhood. Next, Tucker is directing another in-house film for which Illusion Industries will create a number of character makeups.
“We’ve got a lot of amazing things happening in 2022,” promised Tucker. “Stay tuned!”