By Scott Essman
Without question, the myriad digital creatures and effects in Universal’s Van Helsing are getting their due. Supervised by Industrial Light+Magic with contributions by other effects houses, characters such as Mr. Hyde, the Wolf Man, and Dracula’s flying brides have come to life through largely digital means. That this type of work excels in a Stephen Sommers film is no surprise; the director employed a host of digital characters in his previous two films, Universal’s The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.
However, what may come as a shock to many is the degree of special makeup effects utilized in Van Helsing, its digital creations notwithstanding.
Two years ago this spring, Sommers’ Santa Monica production office was adorned with a wide variety of detailed ILM renderings of Van Helsing’s characters, many of them conceived to be digital. Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon (later cut from the script), and Dracula’s brides were among the many colorful and wildly imaginative illustrations on the walls. In the intervening months, Sommers and his production team would eliminate characters, make some into composites, and determine which would be achieved practically versus those that would become digital creations.
When budgetary and strategic determinations meant that some characters would be totally digital (among them: those who would defy gravity in a majority of shots), the rest fell into the collective laps of the makeup effects department. After several studios bid on the job, Van Helsing’s special makeup effects became the responsibility of Keith Vanderlaan’s Captive Audience Productions in Burbank. A key member of Captive’s production team is Greg Cannom, a veteran of over 25 years of monster makeup jobs, including vampire and werewolf makeup in films such as The Howling, The Lost Boys, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which Cannom won an Academy Award.
With Cannom leading the way, Captive embarked on a journey that would culminate in the special makeup for many of Van Helsing’s characters, including Dracula’s non-flying brides (the bride faces were also blended to the digital flying versions via CGI), Igor (a complete prosthetic makeup), and several of Dracula’s minions.
Foremost among the makeup tasks at Captive during this period was the creation of an all-new Frankenstein monster. Played by Shuler Hensley, the monster would be featured in many of Van Helsing’s scenes throughout the story.
Given that early illustrations indicated the direction that the monster’s makeup would take, Cannom and his key art department illustrators and sculptors fashioned a complete head-to-toe makeup and costume for Hensley. Captive artists including Miles Teves, Glen Hanz, Ray “Spooky” Santoleri, Todd Tucker (see related story) and Nathan Franson collaborated to devise a full prosthetic head and body suit that Hensley would wear. The trademark flattop head and electrodes for his neck were in place, and Captive designed a set of leg extensions and boots for Hensley. Several parts of the body suit and head also were designed so that, in concert with other effects, the monster would give off a green electrical glow.
In total, the Captive team worked for over a year and employed over 80 people to produce the many prosthetic pieces, costume appliances, and hair work required for Van Helsing. Though the movie might get cited for its digital character work, it would be difficult to overlook its special makeup effects, which Captive brought to life.
By Scott Essman