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HomeInterviewsWhat We Do In The Shadows Prosthetics and Animatronics Designer Paul Jones...

What We Do In The Shadows Prosthetics and Animatronics Designer Paul Jones Created a Masterpiece, The Nadja Doll

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What We Do in the Shadows
Paul Jones (Credit: Russ Martin/FX)

When we last left the vampiric tribe of Staten Island in season four of What We Do In The Shadows, they were sinking their teeth into paternal or eternal desires. Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry) was content looking after energy vampire Baby Colin (Mark Proksch), while familiar Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillen) was on a quest to achieve the vampire gift, stealing wads of cash from Nadja’s (Natasia Demetriou) nightclub to bribe his way into immortality. 

Returning to wreak havoc on the undead are the creepy creatures of the night, featuring the Sire Gojlrm, werewolves, hellhounds, and of course the beloved Nadja Doll, plus a few supernatural surprises. The man behind these magical creations is prosthetics designer Paul Jones, who has been with the series for what feels like a century but is actually four human television years. 

Paul Jones began his career in the late ’80s working at the prestigious Pinewood Studios in England on such films as Nightbreed, Highlander II:The Quickening, and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. His claim to fame was redesigning and applying the iconic “Pinhead” make-up. Crossing over to Toronto, Canada, in 1993 to forge his own path, he created Paul Jones Effects Studio, which provided effects for such features as Ginger Snaps, Bride of Chucky, and Silent Hill. For streaming series, Jones was makeup effects designer on Orphan Black and Man Seeking Woman, as well as creating all prosthetic effects for season one of Amazon’s The Boys.

Branching out on his own led to his move from the U.K. to Canada, where he has amassed several Canadian Screen Awards nominations for Achievement in Make-Up, winning in 2014 for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Besides designing prosthetics, Jones is a self-taught animatronics artist with multi-hyphenate experience in make-up, sculpting, painting, and puppetry, excelling in the sci-fi horror realm. So when creator Jemaine Clement called upon Jones for What We Do In The Shadows, he was up to the challenge.

Over a Zoom call, Paul discussed designing the creatures, which have always walked a fine line, balancing comedy with vampiric folklore. He reveals the design behind the fan-favorite Nadja Doll, and teases that this season is Guillermo’s turn to get the full makeup effects treatment. 

[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length]

Below The Line: You’ve been in this industry for over 30 years. What do you remember about your humble beginnings?

Paul Jones: I did a terrible little movie called Devil Dolls with Russ Tamblyn, who was in West Side Story. That’s how long ago that was; it was this awful little robotic demon movie. Then we did a movie with Meat Loaf called To Catch A Yeti, and then we did this terrible TV show called The Mighty Jungle, which was these talking animals in a biodome. It was a sitcom with talking animals. Thankfully, my career’s gotten better since then, but it got me here, and I never would’ve considered Toronto a home. I’m actually very happy I moved. 

BTL: So you’ve come a long way. What began your love affair with creature design? 

Jones: I was just talking to my kids about this the other day. From the minute I could pick up a pen, I was into art. And of course, I gravitated, for some reason, towards the more horror, sci-fi, and fantasy-type movies. So art is one side, and movies are the other. They were totally separate things. I’d occasionally draw pictures of what inspired me in the movies, but I never thought of it actually being a job. So around the age of 13, I was living with my grandparents for a year, and I had a high school friend, and I did this little sculpture of a werewolf wound in plasticine. It was like a light bulb moment.

There was all the making-of coming out in the late seventies and early eighties, so I was seeing people sculpting aliens and sculpting werewolves, and I was like, “They do this for a living?” Then next thing you know, I was buying latex and plaster of Paris and experimenting on myself, and it led to me just dressing all my friends up for Halloween, which isn’t a big deal in England. There were only eight of us dressed up in the pub. Everyone else was dressed as normal people, you know? I just got to a point where I had enough photographs amassed, and I sent them off to a company in London that did the Hellraiser movies, and they were like, “Yeah, we’ve got a job. Come on down.” Then that was it. 

What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows cast (Credit: Russ Martin/FX)

BTL: What was your most famous design for that company Image Animation?

Jones: I think doing Pinhead for Hellraiser 3 was kind of a big deal. The gentleman who originally did the first two movies, he was in charge of creating the makeup and applying it. I was on the second one, but I was just painting the pieces. So, the third movie came along, and I was maybe 22 or 23. They just gave me the makeup to do, and it’s horror icon makeup. So, that was a big deal for me. I didn’t really think about how important it was at the time. I was just having fun, and the guy I was doing the makeup on, Doug Bradley, was great.

BTL: How did that opportunity blossom into your own company?

Jones: Now I think, who the hell gives a 23-year-old a key role in a horror movie that has a nine-movie franchise? You know, it’s like, “Are you crazy?” I just kind of ran with it, and it was good grounding because a couple of years later, I moved to Toronto. I just had to go pitch myself to producers and set up my own company, which I’d never done before. I’d always worked for somebody else, but because of my background in animatronics, makeup, sculpting, painting, and puppetry, I could kind of bid on any job and not have to worry about what specialist I could bring in.

BTL: Do you have a similar autonomy on What We Do In The Shadows?

Jones: That’s kind of how it’s been, regardless of what (writers/executive producers) Paul (Simms) or Sarah (Naftalis) come up with, I’m able to go, “Oh yeah, that’s just a puppet. That’s makeup. Oh, it’s just a dead body.” It’s a series that has everything that you could possibly want to do as a prosthetic makeup artist. I’ve been lucky to have had a hand in pretty much everything that comes through the shop because of my skillset. 

BTL: What is the fine line you have to walk between balancing comedy and vampiric folklore when designing these creatures?

Jones:  I’ve had a few conversations with Paul and (co-executive producer/writer) Sam Johnson, especially because they say, “Yes, we’ve got to find the funny.” The first thing I learned on the show was that you have to find the funny; it doesn’t matter what the effect is, but at the same time, we’re doing a show about vampires. Vampire lore can get a bit muddy. If you go to Eastern Europe, vampires are one thing. If you go to China, they’re another thing. Go to Australia; it’s a whole different thing. They each have their own version of a vampire, and the rules surrounding those vampires are all kind of different.

We kept the kind of Eastern European, the classic Dracula rules, but there are some really obscure rules. Like if you throw rice on the ground, a vampire has to stop and count every grain. That’s this weird little thing that vampires have to do, and nobody knows that. But I think we have a scene in season three where they push over a bunch of soccer balls in a department store, and the vampires have to stop and count them. It’s a little homage to that particular vampire rule. I mean, we’ve been pretty loyal to the vampire rule. We’re not winging it too badly.

BTL: How did you bring the Nadja Doll to life?

Jones: When they came to me and said we needed to bring a doll to life, I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s simple. If we put a few servos in the body, we’ll get a head twist and a turn. We’ll do the eyes.” The mouth’s really tricky because we want it to look like it’s plastic, and making that move would be kind of tricky. The visual effects were just like, “Oh, we’ll just do the mouth digitally, but you do everything else,” like the arm movements. The funny thing about the doll was that it was built for one episode. That was it. So, we had a couple of weeks to build it.

We had some pieces already in the shop. We sculpted the head, and we created the body. It was done just for that one episode, and then Disney got the footage and just went, “This doll’s great. Can we see more of the doll, please?” [laughs] Paul and Sam just started writing more scenes with the doll. Now, she’s a cast member. Whenever there’s a family portrait, she’s in it. Every week, it’s like, “Where’s it going to break today?” Luckily, it’s  held up, but it’s been amazing how much actual track we’ve gotten out of this thing.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
What We Do in the Shadows (Credit: Russ Martin/FX)

BTL: Do your kids want one because I want one!

Jones: My kids have only seen a few of the episodes. I have older teens now. The show’s funny, but it’s not topical for them. It’s not really their genre. They’re more into contemporary stuff. So they are so blase when it comes to what I do now because I’ve always had a workshop, and they’ve always hung out in my workshop their entire lives. I have a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old, both girls. I have photographs of my four-year-old daughter sitting on a dead body, sticking her finger in bullet holes. So to them, it’s just like dad’s monster stuff, you know? So occasionally I’ll bring ’em in the shop and say, “Hey, check these out. I did some really cool animatronic wings for Guillermo, or I did this really cool kind of creature that turns inside out,” and they’re like, “Yeah. Cool. Thanks. Dad. Can we go for ice cream now?” They’re so used to it. 

BTL: I know Colin is all grown up now, but please, tell me about designing Baby Colin.

Jones: That was at the end of season three, when we did an infant, Colin. It was a newborn infant, so we did a whole fake baby’s body with a 3D-scanned head of Colin reduced down to baby size, and then that was kind of put on the dummy. We built a puppet, so that was just him kind of crying in the corner. Then on season four, there were a lot of visual effects, like putting his face over Mark’s (Proksch) face over a child’s face. Then we had some masks and other things as well. By the end of season four, he has fully grown back into an adult Colin again. So in season five, he’s back to his normal annoying self.

What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows (Credit: Russ Martin/FX)

BTL: Creating the Night Market creatures must have been a heavy duty task as well, right? 

Jones: The Night Market was very busy because everywhere you looked, you saw something. We had a large crew on that. I think one day on set, we had about 12 prosthetic people just doing all the crowd stuff. We had gargoyles, we had witches, and we had Pinocchio. We had this goblin that looked like a green mouse. There was the classic red demon with the horns.

The makeups themselves were kept relatively simple so we could do them, and we knew we wouldn’t be seeing them in closeup, but at the same time, we would have elaborate little puppets, like the little flying fairies that came out of the dumpster. They were little animatronic puppets that had visual effects on their lips, but they were entirely practical apart from the mouth.

BTL: What were some of your initial sketches? How would you describe them? 

Jones: I do a lot of very initial sketches. I read the script, have a chat with the guys, and then it’s a case of a couple of quick pencil sketches just to kind of get some rough ideas down, and then that goes into photoshop and it gets refined. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve been on the show for so long or because I’m really in sync with the style of the show, but it’s rare that I have to do more than two designs now for any creation.

Like for the Sire, I literally sent Paul one drawing face-on and one profile of what I thought it could look like. That was it, and I just started building. I was expecting another week of drawing, and he was like, “No, that’s exactly what I wanted, a kind of abused puppy that can also kill you. You’ve got the sympathy; you’ve got the horror. Plus, it looks kind of goofy too, so we can get some comedy elements.” I’ve been really lucky with being given the right jobs and knowing exactly what’s needed for the script.

What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows (Credit: Russ Martin/FX)

BTL: Can you talk about the new characters in season five? 

Jones: We really pushed the boat out for season five. I’ve been on it since episode two of season one, and season five has definitely been the busiest I’ve ever been on the show. There’s a great plot point where Guillermo has been wanting to be a vampire for five seasons, so he finally gets the chance to be turned, and it doesn’t really work. It does, but it doesn’t. Of course, Laszlo, being the scientist, has decided, “Well, I’m going to investigate this and find out why.”

There are multiple characters that have been created for the show, which are a mixture of puppets and makeup that all appear in the same scene. In one scene, we have three performers in full body suits with full makeup and two complete animatronic puppets, plus we have all our actors in one scene. It was amazingly elaborate. We’ve done stuff with Kayvan Novak (Nandor) in previous seasons. We’ve done stuff with Mark Proksch (Colin) in previous seasons. We’ve done stuff on Natasia Demetriou (Najda). We’ve done a little bit on Matt Berry (Laszlo). We did make them all old in one season, but we haven’t really done that much for Guillermo, so this is Guillermo’s makeup effects season. This is where we get to have fun with Harvey (Guillen), and we really did have fun. He was definitely game. I mean, they’re all troopers because they love the show and have fun with everything. When I come on set, they’re like, “What have you got today, Paul!?”

What We do in the Shadows returns on FX on July 13th. 

Robin Milling
Robin Milling
Robin Milling is an Entertainment Reporter and Producer based in New York. Robin has a wealth of experience as an Entertainment Reporter covering film, theater, television, and music. Her style is conversational and candid, discussing personal issues as well as professional topics with celebrities. She is a writer/producer and host of the podcast Milling About™ with Robin Milling, which can be heard on Amazon Music, Apple podcasts, and seen on YouTube, featuring her provocative conversations with the hottest names in Hollywood.
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