Monster Masks & Severed Heads: What It’s Like to Be a Special Effects Guru

Monster Masks & Severed Heads: What It’s Like to Be a Special Effects Guru


– I got tired of having bad make-up because I wasn’t that good an actor and I needed something. (upbeat music) I don’t know, I’ve never made
a severed head, but I’ll try. – Tell me about the first
time you blew up a head. – It didn’t go well. ‘Cause I don’t know
anything about shotguns. (laughing) – No head shots! Hey everybody, welcome to the show. This is a show about tenacity,
about getting back up when you get knocked down. This is what we do in
order to become successful. Anybody that has succeeded in anything has screwed up in a lotta things and that’s what we’re gonna
be talking about today. My guest is Christina Kortum. She runs Ravenous Studios. She is a make-up and effects artist. She’s done masks and special effects for some shows that you
have definitely seen. I’m super, super excited
to talk to her about it. (upbeat music) Hey everybody, welcome to the show. On tonight’s show, we
have Christina Kortum of Ravenous Studios. It’s make-up, masks, special effects, all sorts of cool things. Welcome to the show. – Thank you, thanks for having me. – Yeah, 100%. I’m really excited to, I don’t wanna, I was gonna
say nerd out on this stuff, but maybe that’s a stereotype. – No, it’s fun. What are you talking about? Monsters are the best. (laughing) – Perfect! Tell me a little bit about the studio, what you’re doing now. – I make prosthetics for
film, for TV and film. I also make props. That’s a side business that’s popped up and taken over in some ways. – You make masks that people wear. – Masks, yes. Somebody needs to, let’s say
they’re taking a character and they want them to be 80. They’re only 40. That sort of thing. I make the pieces to do that. – To make that happen.
– Yes. – If I wanted a mask to look like I was 80 or just to make me good looking. (Christina laughs)
Just give me one of those. I want a Brad Pitt mask. Would you put it on, you
capture my face, and then? – Yeah, first thing we always start with is usually a life cast ’cause we want it to fit perfectly ’cause that’s how it’s
gonna fool the camera. We do a life cast and we use silicone now. Used to be we used alginate, which was a natural product.
– What’s that? – It’s made out of
seaweed, believe it or not. Silicone’s way better. Now we’ve advanced and we use
two-part medical silicone, which is really great. Basically, you mix the
two components together and it’s a little bit like frosting, and then it firms up after
anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, and you have an exact copy of your face. The awesome part about
that is then I can make multiple copies of your face to do the different
parts of the prosthetic that we need to do. So just the nose maybe or just the ears or just the cheeks. I can break you down into
all the pieces that I need. – Have you made masks for yourself? – Oh, all the time. That’s how I started. That’s how I started was
doing my own make-up. – Doing your own masks, as well? – I started in haunted houses. I started as an actor and I got tired of having bad make-up because I wasn’t that good an actor and I needed something. I realized that I wasn’t
cutting it as an actor and I needed something really,
really scary to help push it. – Then I don’t need to say anything. You can just be that actor. – Exactly.
– You just stand there and look.
– Exactly. It’s true, I fell back on that ’cause I wasn’t that great an actor. But I started making me own make-ups and coming in make-up
to the haunted house. After a while, they’re like, “Wow, you’re getting pretty good. “Do you wanna join the make-up team?” So that’s my path within the stretch.
– You would show up in make-up to the haunted house. – Funny story. Because of my schedule,
’cause I worked in, I was actually at the
time a network engineer and I didn’t have time. I’d get off work, slap on the make-up, rush in rush hour traffic in the Bay Area to the haunted house. There was just no time for
me to not come in make-up, and then I’d leave. And nobody actually knew what I look like. (laughing) So they just started
calling me Evil Clown Girl ’cause they just had no idea
what I actually look like. They just knew I showed up
as an evil clown every day. It actually really helped me later because a lot of make-up artists, they go to make-up school or whatever, but they haven’t really worn the make-up. It’s one thing to wear
make-up for 10 minutes, another thing to wear it
for an eight hour shift. It really helped me when I
was on shows like “Grimm” and stuff like that that I knew what the stunt
guys were going through. I knew what it felt like to
wear a prosthetic that long. What it felt like to take it off. Just sensitive areas of the
face, things that are tough. I was so grateful later that
I did all that work earlier to have empathy. – Tell me about Ravenous. What does a day look like for
you with your own business? – It’s a little nuts. I’ll wake up and the
first thing I do is answer a ton of emails ’cause
any business owner knows the hell of paperwork. All the emails, all the requests. For things six, eight months out. Just trying to juggle all that, that’s I think one of the toughest things I found about owning a business is while you’re working
on the current job, you’re working also on the next five jobs.
– Find the next five jobs. – Then I go out to the shop and I usually have anywhere
from a 12 to 18 hour day. Just depending on what’s
due, when it’s due. – You’ve got an actual
shop that you go into where you make everything. – That’s correct. Right next to my house, which is awesome. In that if I make a disaster or spill something all over myself I can just run in and take care of it. It also was ’cause I have a family. I had shops in warehouse
districts and all that stuff and it was very tough on the family in that I was just gone
for 18 hours a day. Now they can at least pop in and, “Oh, she’s still
alive” sort of thing. – We’re gonna talk a little
bit more about your past. You ready for a drink? – I suppose so.
– Okay, okay, okay. Every time I get a little shaky, nervous. Jack makes amazing drinks. They always taste great and they’re always magical and different. Jack, are you ready to put
your concoction together? – The question is are you ready. – (laughs) No. – Tonight I’ve got for
you New Moon Rising. First thing we’re gonna
do is we’re gonna add 1.5 ounces of the Hotka vodka. Good healthy pour. A little bit of acid
phosphate, just three dashes, roughly a quarter ounce. Then we have our Imbue vermouth that’s been turned into an
apertino, half-ounce of that. Now time for a little bit of champagne. We’re going to drink the champagne today. Are you ready for that, Shawn? – [Shawn] No. (Jacks laughs)
Yes! – The bubbles.
– I appreciate it, maybe. – The bubbles just for you, buddy. And we’re gonna use three
ounces of champagne to start and three ounces of our guava soda. And now time to ice her down. (ice clinking) Now that we are ice cold and silky smooth, I’ll be adding a little bit of rose water. And there your have a New Moon Rising. (slow jazz music) – Wow.
– That’s all champagne. – [Christina] That’s impressive. – It’s like a Lifesaver. – It is, it’s so pretty. – It is pretty. I’m gonna pick mine up from the middle. Okay, all right. It’s heavy. – It is heavy. – We have to–
– Very cold. Carefully, there we go. – Proust, I don’t know what to, okay. Thank you, Jack. – [Christina] Thank you. – Thank you. – That’s guava. – It’s really good. This is really good. All right, that’s good. Are you good? – I think so. – I’m probably gonna. How ’bout if you lift it up again later, then I’ll lift mine up again later? – [Christina] Okay. – I’m so careful, okay it’s huge. Now, tell me.
– It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.
– After we’ve had some Hotka vodka, tell me about your childhood. (laughing) I get the feeling that you
liked this type of stuff when you were really young, as well. Movies or heavy metal.
– I’m gonna give away my age. – Yo at the devil.
– “Star Wars”. – “Star Wars”.
– “Star Wars”. – “Star Wars”, yeah. And my dad… See, I wasn’t allowed to
see any of this stuff, but my dad would, “Psst, come over.” I saw half of “Alien” through
a reflection in the window because I had to duck behind the couch every time my mom came in. – “Alien”‘s serious. How old were you when you saw “Alien”? – I was 12, I was 12. – That is some serious.
– I was like, “Wow.” I was a kid in the Bay Area. I didn’t think there was any chance of me getting involved in movies or any of that. The joke in the family was an artistic kid was their worst nightmare. They were like, “No, no please, please. “Can we swap? “Can we swap this kid with
somebody else that’s not?” – Then you grow up to create
everybody’s worst nightmare. – Yeah, it’s fun.
– Being able to put together prosthetics and masks. – It’s interesting, my
dad’s a mechanical engineer. He didn’t get what I was doing. I broke them in gently. I actually started in engineering. – How did you, oh.
– Then I switch to English. And then I switched to Creative Arts. It was a slow, slow
breaking of their hearts. – I think that that’s every parent. – They were like, “Oh boy.”
– We’re done. – Oh boy, she’s gonna be living at home forever.
– Clean out the basement. Here she comes. – It’s funny, my dad
actually early in my career, very early when I was screwing
everything up right and left, came to visit and he was
helping me with stuff. He was like, “You’re doing what I, “it’s just a different field.” But he’s realizing that
part of the reason I love special effects so much
is I was never happy if something was all
artistic or all technical. I wanted both and it’s the
first field that I found that I really got to have both. I got to have both. ‘Cause there’s definitely you
gotta know your chemicals. You gotta know about mold making. You gotta know about if
you’re doing animatronics, you gotta know a lotta mechanics. – Like the algae on your face. – (laughs) Algae get on your face.
– You have to know how that works. – You have to know all this works and then there’s also
the creative side of it. I get to sculpt monsters,
which is really super fun. – That’s awesome. (upbeat music) – When I started out,
I had a full-time job, and then I was basically
working on film for free. – What was your full-time job?
– Plus materials. I did database design. I was a database designer. – You’re DBA designer. – Yeah, dude, this designer. I did that during the day and then I did independent
film on nights and weekends and it was always the conversation of, “I don’t know, I’ve never
made a severed head, “but I’ll try if you wanna take a risk. “Buy me some materials
and I’ll try it out.” It’s crazy, Portland was my school. It was all these independent filmmakers were my teachers in a way
’cause they believed in me and they gave me materials and they let me try stuff out.
– What was your first severed head, do you remember? – Oh yes, yes. It was for David Walker. – I love that we’re having
this conversation right now. (Christina laughs) Tell me about your first severed head. – It was really my first fake
head is really what it was. – My first fake head. Wait, what’s the difference
between a fake head? Oh, ’cause the severed head would be weird and bloody.
– We were gonna blow up his head on camera. – That’s worse than a severed head. Tell me about the first
time you blew up a head. – It didn’t go well. – Tell me.
– It didn’t go well at all. ‘Cause I don’t know
anything about shotguns. (laughing) – No head shots. This keeps getting better. I’m picturing a cantaloupe and then you’re like, “Nah,
nah, it’s gonna be a shotgun “that blasted.” – Actually, I called the person that did the head explosion on “Scanners” and I asked them how they did it. And he said two shotguns rigged up. – That’s how they blew up the head? – Yes. – With two shotguns rigged up. – Sawed off shotguns. – Sawed off shotguns. Coming from different angles?
– Sawed off is very important part of the whole process. They’re illegal, by the way. Sawed off shotguns are illegal.
– Don’t forget about that. Did you find two sawed off shotguns? – No, I found one. (Shawn laughs) – It wasn’t sawed off and
I put a hole on the head. – That’s it.
– It just. – You have this engineering attitude to it because as you’re talking about, the whole time I’m like
you’re talking about blowing up a head. (Christina laughs) Is this a thing in Portland
where they like to make movies where they have to blow up heads? Is it this underground
scene I don’t know about? – There’s a ton of creatives. There’s a ton of creatives
doing stuff way outside the box. It was a great place for me. I landed there and fell in
with some indie filmmakers. It was a great hobby. It was really fun. – You worked on a show that
I’ve actually seen an awful lot. “Grimm” was the show. – Yes, yes, I worked in the
special effects make-up trailer with the special effects make-up team. Barney Burman from the Burman family. It’s a famous make-up family. He was the department
head and he was very nice. A local yokel.
– That’s like a dream come true for you, right?
– It was. When I got that call it was weird because here I am a database programmer and I get asked to join
the team and I’m like, “It’s a dream job.”
– Where has he seen your work? Where did he know about you? – The guy from “Scanners”
said, “Hey, you should call “this talented up and coming artist.” – That’s right. She knows about sawed off shotguns. Give her a phone call. – It was a recommendation. – This was your corporate
job, would be doing so, which is crazy ’cause you
wouldn’t wanna call that a corporate job. But that’s you working for a company. – Yes, I was working
for Universal Studios. – Before you, working
for Universale Studios. That’s awesome.
– NBC Universal. It was great. A dream job and the
best job I’ve ever had. I had a lotta pinch me moments because here he’s grown up
with this famous make-up family so of course he was a lotta
famous make-up friends. I turn around and it’s one of my idols. Every week it was that way. It was like, “Okay!” (sighs) Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out.
– Don’t freak out. – Don’t freak out.
– Only say smart things. Only say smart things. – But wow, what an opportunity to meet the people that I’d seen their work and admired their work so much and just meet them in the flesh and get to work side-by-side
with them and assist them. It was nuts. – You moved onto doing your own thing. What pushed you into that? Why not just stay doing
stuff for Universal? – It was a rare opportunity
that a show that large having all that creature work coming here and I realized that was a
once in a lifetime thing. Chances of another show with that heavy effects team needed was
probably not gonna happen. So I realized I had to start working on expanding my business and
preparing for the future. A lotta time, “Grimm”, we’d have a hiatus of about three months, and I tried to always make sure
I did a feature every time. I really worked hard. I never got any time off, really. I went straight from we’d wrap on “Grimm” and the next day I’d be on a plane or I’d be in the shop building stuff. I knew that I had to get my skillset up and I had to get my shop built up to the point that when “Grimm” left that there would be something. That I’d have something. – When you started doing
that, did you have Ravenous? Did it exist or were you
just doing business as you? – Oh, no.
– When you would do it? – I started Ravenous in 2009. – Oh, okay. – I started Ravenous in 2009. I had started doing film in 2006. That’s when I started
doing the little side gigs. Getting into it. Then I realized, 2009, I need
to make this a real business ’cause I started making prosthetics and nobody else in town
was making prosthetics. Everybody was purchasing them
either online or from friends and I was like, “No, I’m making stuff.” I need to actually have
a business to do this and I don’t know how to start a business. Nobody in my family had. – That’s what’s so interesting to me. Not only are you starting a business, but it’s not like a coffee
shop where you’re like, “Oh, I know.” – That’s something a lotta
people don’t appreciate. It wasn’t like I could call someone up and say, “How do I start
a business like this”. There’s no books how to start
a special effects business. I guarantee it, I’ve looked. There’s no such thing. Everyone’s like, “Don’t
do it, don’t do it.” – I love that you looked. – [Christina] I looked. – How to start a business
making monster masks for fun. – The problem was every gig
was heart-pounding terror. (laughing) Because I had no mentor. I went down to L.A. for the International Make-up Artist Trade Show and I parked myself in
front of the demo booth. – There’s an International
Make-up Artist Trade Show? – [Christina] Yes. – With prosthetics stuff that’s there and everything else?
– Yes, yes. – What’s it look like, Comic-Con when you’re wandering around?
– Kind of, yeah. It’s booths and people wandering around doing demos of crazy make-ups. That’s what I did. I parked myself in front of a demo booth and took a lotta notes and
paid a lot of attention and I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna
figure out how to do this.” And that’s how I did it. (upbeat music) – Did you ever get caught with, not arrested or something, but where you had a prosthetic
or you had something with you that was in a weird situation where you’ve got a head
in a bag or something? – Getting stopped by
Lithuanian security ’cause– – Lithuanian security! – In the airport, getting
stopped in the airport ’cause I’m covered in blood.
– Wait. – And my bag is covered in blood and it looks like I’m
fleeing a murder scene. – Okay, please. – And no one speaks English, by the way. – Wait, wait.
– No one speaks English. – You’re in Lithuania. – I’m in Lithuania. – What were you in Lithuania for? Was it for– – I was on a horror film out there and all the effects got
pushed onto the last day and it was insane. On top of it, there was a strike in the middle of the last day by the crew because they hadn’t gotten paid. We were shutdown for a good four hours. – You wanna avoid those
Lithuanian strikes. (Christina laughs) Those are bad news.
– That four hours missing means all my effects were compressed. I had 12 hours to do it, now
I got eight sort of thing. – Now you just got
spray bottles with blood that are coming out.
– Pretty much. I was putting the director
to work, the producer. I was like, “Hey, this is all
your fault, come over here. “Hold this syringe.” I was a little nuts. I was a little nuts by the end. Then I was gonna miss my flight. I scraped my stuff off the table. Literally scrape it into
my trunk, close it up, get in a taxi. The actors helped me pack up my room because I’m not gonna make my flight the way we were going. We rushed to the airport. Not one person on the entire crew told me I had blood sprayed all over my face. (Shawn laughs)
Not one person. And I get there and I get in line. I’m barely gonna make the flight. I get in line and of course I look like I’m fleeing a murder scene. It was bad. And no speaks English. So I got hauled out of the line and questioned.
– My name’s Dexter. Let me on the plane. – Got questioned about
it and nobody understood. I finally said, “Movie,
movie, we’re making a movie.” And they’re like, “Oh.” Then everyone knew about the movie. (upbeat music) – Now that you’ve had Ravenous Studio, you’ve had it for how long, 2009? – 10 years.
– 10 years now. – [Christina] It’s been open 10 years. – What are you thinking moving forward? What have you learned so
far in running a business? ‘Cause nobody knows how to
run a business like this. People are gonna come to you and say, “Hey, how do I start
this kind of a business?” – I’m so lucky in that
in the last five years I’ve found some mentors. People that own shops in other areas. So that was a huge, huge thing. Who have been kind
enough to give me advice and some business tips and stuff. ‘Cause it’s hard. I’ll get handed $100,000 by a production and I’m like, “Whoa, okay,
I have to budget exactly.” ‘Cause if you go over,
they’re not paying extra. – No. If you go over, that’s you. – That’s me and I’m gonna take the, and there’s been gigs where
I haven’t made any money because somebody poured a mold wrong. That’s the other thing. You start hiring people. Then you start introducing
other elements into the mix where people are doing things. Maybe somebody forgets
to close a bucket lid and then it dries out and the next day you’re going to use it and you’re like, “Oh, God.” It’s really stressful. It’s very, very stressful,
but I love the challenge. – That’s amazing. You’re looking to continue to grow, keep doing what you’re doing? What, what else? – I would like to expand,
I would like to expand. – What would you do if
you weren’t doing this? Anything else you can think of? – Writing. – You’d be writing. – I would be writing. That’s still a love of mine. I think where I’m headed now
is I’m writing a lotta scripts and I got a stack and I was like, “Maybe I’ll produce these.” Maybe I’ll make my own– – Do your own make-up for the shows. – My own stuff. We’ll see. I’m looking at my retirement years going maybe I don’t wanna sling blood anymore, but I wanna hire people
to sling blood for me. – Well listen, well wait. We have to eat this other thing. Are you okay eating the other thing that’s on there?
– Yeah. – Wait, there’s a– – [Christina] How do you eat it? – I don’t know. I don’t eat the leafy part on the top. – [Christina] How do you eat it? – You can eat the whole thing. Tastes better poached.
– Don’t listen to him. Just eat the parts that
look like you’re supposed to eat them.
– Just take a bit out of it. – Just take a bit out of it. I guess a weird cheers on it.
– Cheers. – Thank you for coming on the show. – Thank you for having me.
– I love everything about this. Of course, I’m a big theater guy. I love sci-fi, it’s huge. I’ve loved talking to
you about this stuff. – Cheers.
– Cheers. All right, here we go. Oh, wow. All right. – How do we do this? Oh, that’s really good. – That is good, it’s crunchy. Hey everybody, thanks
for watching the show. If you like what you see and
you wanna watch other people faceplant in the world, which I like, and recover, then subscribe
and ring the bell. If you ring the bell, then you’re gonna know
when we do other things and if you have a screw-up you think would be great on the
show, go to Effups.com. We’d love to have you on the show. (upbeat music)

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