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Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Interview with Makeup Effects Artist and Author, William Munns

Special Makeup Effects Artist William Munns has had a lifelong passion for movies, makeup, monsters, and the creatures that populate our world; and even those mysterious beings that may not. Following in the footsteps of his peers and colleagues, Munns made super 8 films before embarking on his profession of both teaching the art of makeup to budding FX artists (from 1973-1979, and again in 1987-1994), to creating cinematic creatures great and small. Having worked in the television medium, and on films of varying sizes and budgets, Munns was able to pull off impressive work when he often had little time and money to do so. His passion for nature and wildlife led to his association with, and studying under Ralph Helfer, founder of the renowned Gentle Jungle, Inc, an animal training facility that has dozens of films and TV credits to its name. Tiring of making monsters, by the late 1980s Munns concentrated on creating wildlife exhibits and prehistoric hominids and dinosaurs for museums and theme park; these included robotic attractions during his time working at Creative Presentations, Inc. Sasquatch fans will no doubt find interest in Munns' enthusiasm for Cryptozoology. His Bigfoot studies led to the epic, 500+ page book, 'When Roger Met Patty'; published in 2014, it's a meticulously compiled, serious look into the Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967. Munns embraced CGI technology in 1997--a technique which was an indispensable tool with research for the aforementioned, legendary Bigfoot film. In the field of special makeup effects, William Munns is a rare artist who has vast experience in not only making fantasy creatures, but working with real ones as well.

Recently Mr. Munns answered a number of questions about his career, primarily in film makeup effects. Below is the result of that interview, followed by links to his website with anecdotes about his work and where to purchase his book on the PG Bigfoot film. Munns likewise answered a number of questions solely about his time working on the 'killer lion' movie, SAVAGE HARVEST; and those questions and answers can be found HERE at the bottom of the review for the film.

VENOMS5: Where did your interest in makeup effects originate from? Was it a film, or your interest in wildlife and Cryptozoology? 

WILLIAM MUNNS: My interest in makeup and special effects originated with Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and the wonderful creature things in it. The single makeup I think inspired me most was the Morlocks from THE TIME MACHINE (1960). I can't think of a time when I wasn't loving wildlife and nature. Cryptozoology began to fascinate me when the Abominable Snowman was first described, before Bigfoot caught on.

V5: How did you working on BLACKENSTEIN (1973) come about?

WM: BLACKENSTEIN was one of my first pro jobs, definitely my first doing makeup prosthetics. A fellow makeup artist, Gordon Fried, got the job of doing the regular makeup and he came to me to do the monster prosthetics. 

V5: What's the story behind your involvement on QUEST FOR FIRE (1981)? I've read it was originally cancelled and restarted elsewhere.

WM: Ralph Helfer and I did bid on a concept to take live animals and make them into prehistoric ones (Indian Elephant to Wooly Mammoth, Black Rhino to Wooly Rhino, big Lioness to Sabretooth Cat, big horse [like a Shire] into a Megaloceros [giant Irish Elk]), but our bid wasn't accepted. So the film started with other people and other animal trainers in Europe. They filmed the movie and came to Canada to do post production and then felt some scenes were needed, and so they came to Ralph to put together some animals (like a pack of wolves) and trainers to fight with the animals; and I was brought in to make dental impressions of the trainers (so the Canadian makeup team could make dental prosthetics for the trainers) and Rae Dawn Chong needed a full belly mold so they could fit her for a pregnancy prosthetic. So I did some dental casts and the body mold of Rae's stomach. I wasn't paid for it, and I was in the middle of multiple projects (including SWAMP THING and SUPERSTITION) so my effort was minimal to the overall production.

Boone Narr gets a kiss from Clyde (Buddha) on the set of ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980). Photo Tuskaloosa News, July 2nd, 1980
V5: Going back to your lifelong interest in wildlife, you frequently worked with animals, and most famously with Ralph Helfer and Boone Narr of Gentle Jungle. Do you recall anything about this long standing rumor that the orangutan used in ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980) was beaten to death?

WM: I took my animal classes at Gentle Jungle in 1979. The orangutan used in that picture was originally named Buddha, and a fairly mature male. Boone Narr was his primary trainer, and a truly excellent man who never mistreated animals. The "girl" orang was actually also a male, from the Dallas Zoo, so they first named him Dallas; but once the movies became so popular, Buddha was called Clyde (like in the movie), and Dallas was renamed C.J. (for Clyde Junior). I remember the purchase of C.J. from the Dallas zoo for the film, because C.J. was a Borneo/Sumatran cross, and the zoos were in the process of taking crosses out of the zoo breeding system so orangs were mated only with the same type -- Borneo organgs to same, Sumatran orangs to same. CJ, being a cross/hybrid, was thus phased out of zoo prospects as a breeder and thus sold into the private sector to Ralph Helfer. Buddha (Clyde) did die after the movie was made, but the cause of death was never determined to be trainer mistreatment.

I was working with Boone Narr when he trained Buddha, because Buddha had a curious thing about men with beards and Boone had to break him of that fixation. I had a beard, so Boone used me as his distraction to train Buddha to ignore instead of grab. I also watched how Boone trained Buddha to flip the finger, by extending Buddha's second finger up, and then putting a donut on it for Buddha to eat. Finally, all Boone had to do was show Buddha a donut, and the orang would raise the finger to get it.


V5: The main source of Buddha's mistreatment and eventual death seems to stem from a 1985 National Enquirer article. Other sources that have propagated this rumor likewise use the same terminology, making errors in the process, even down to the films title as 'Every Which Way You Can'. There's a book out there from 1993 by Dale Peterson and Jane Goodall titled 'Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People'. In it, the authors suggest animal abuse by way of three observers, two of which are named Kenneth DeCroo and a Robert Porec who claim to have witnessed Narr beating Buddha/Clyde the orangutan. Did you know these men?

WM: I knew most of the trainers then, and those names don't ring any bells. Boone was the lead trainer. Other trainers I knew were Sled Reynolds, David MacMillian, John Gillespe, John Downy, David (something, he worked Misty the Elephant), Joe Camp, Tammi Maple, and a boy Tana Helfer knew, Bill (can't recall last name) started to learn training on the ANY WHICH WAY movie with Clyde Junior. Sled and David MacMilliam were Boone's most frequent trainer partners with the primates, Buddha, C.J., Doc and Eve (chimps). Boone was truly one of the best and kindest trainers I knew.

Unfortunately, Gentle Jungle had a series of real animal tragedies. Some animal rights fanatics blew it all out of proportion. Sultan, the best tiger, died two weeks after being tranquilized to be dyed black for THE BEASTMASTER ([1982]he was over-tranquilized, because the Vets over-estimated his weight). Then an elephant, Misty (who had a mean streak) killed the head zookeeper at Lion Country Safari, where Gentle Jungle had relocated their animals; but the zookeeper death was the man's fault, in that he wasn't qualified to handle Misty and she would get wild around foolish people. So between Buddha's death, Sultan's death, and the zookeeper's death, the Animal Rights fanatics went on the warpath against Ralph and Gentle jungle, and made a lot of false or wildly exaggerated claims, thus starting the rumor about Buddha.

These same fanatics heard about my work making chimps into Gorillas for Warner Brother's Dian Fossey bio. They claimed we were putting full overhead gorilla masks on the chimps, which could shift and block their breathing, when in reality we were putting nose appliances and head caps, and the chimps were never in any danger at all. So the animal rights fanatics just make things up and don't bother with the real facts.

Anyways, Gentle Jungle was damaged by the accident investigations and never recovered, even though trainer abuse was never proven. Ralph [Helfer] quit the business and his trainers went out on their own with new animal companies they set up.

But once the rumors take hold, it's almost impossible to clear up the story and put the rumors to rest. I worked with Boone when he was training Buddha for the second movie; I was on the hair color crew for Sultan, and I worked with Misty on a TV commercial a few weeks before the zookeeper incident, so I had first hand knowledge of the animals, the trainers, and the incidents. The malicious rumors usually come from people who weren't there.

V5: This has happened to you personally, while working on other films?

WM: We are all vulnerable to people's claims. Brian Peck, on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), was an actor (playing Scuz) and a friend of Kenny Myers, who replaced me. Brian was posting stories of me supposedly trying to put a bald cap on him and he decided to just shave his head, which is untrue; because I was hired with the promise that real punk kids would be cast and there was no punk makeup work I should bid on or plan, and when they cast regular looking kids, I only agreed to do wigs for Linnea [Quigley] and Jewel [Sheperd], and they took the guys to a punk hair salon. Never was a bald cap, never even talk of one. So why Brian invented his story, I don't know. I just know people invent things. Also, someone invented the story of Ray Wise on SWAMP THING (1982) breaking his leg or arm, so Dick Durock was moved up to double him as Swamp Thing. False. Dick was hired first, specifically to play Swamp Thing, and as an afterthought, they decided Ray Wise should have a facial mask and chest so he could do the Swamp Thing farwell dialogue scene. So the broken bone story was pure invention.

V5: For someone who supposedly beat an orangutan to death, Boone Narr has maintained a very prosperous, successful career as an animal trainer for over 30 years. What happened to him after these early 80s tragedies and what became of Clyde Jr.?

WM: Once Gentle Jungle was struggling business-wise, Boone and Sled Reynolds left to start their own company, Hollywood Animals, in Lebec, CA, north of Los Angeles and Valencia. By 1986, they were well established, because that was when Boone, Sled and I started the chimps as gorillas for Warner Brothers' Dian Fossey project "Heaven and Earth", which merged with Universal's GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988) while we were doing our prototype work, and Rick Baker was prototyping gorilla suits for universal. Once they merged productions, they put all the gorilla work under Rick, and Boone; Sled and I were phased out. Boone owned two of the four chimps we did as gorillas, AJ and Baby Stymie, while Hubert Wells supplied Big Karunga and Mouse.

Boone bought Clyde Jr. from Ralph [Helfer] when Ralph's business was going down the drain; but just before that, C.J. was used for a TV movie about a gorilla that does sign language and escapes its owners and finds a deaf boy who befriends him (A SUMMER TO REMEMBER [1985]). I was to make C.J. into a gorilla, and we demonstrated the concept to the producers at CBS Studio Center offices. But then the producer just arbitrarily cut my budget in half, so I arbitrarily suggested he find somebody else to do it cheaply. Somebody tried and failed, so they just re-wrote the story to say C.J. was a dark orang mistaken for a gorilla.

C.J. was retired while working on a movie. He had matured to his aggressive age, and grabbed trainer Bill (can't recall last name, Tana Helfer's friend) and tried to have sex with the trainer after pinning him to the ground. Thankfully the man's jeans were strong. Anyways, C.J. was deemed unsafe to work with after that, and sold to a breeder compound. 

V5: On THE BOOGENS (1981) you've stated the filmmakers weren't quite sure what a "Boogen" should look like. What was your experience on this picture?

WM: The Boogens people were very nice, but they just couldn't make up their minds on what they wanted the Boogens to look like. So we ended up with a body like a sheep's brain, tentacles, claw pinchers, and a turtle-like retractable head. I wasn't on set every day, so I missed the day when they accidentally set fire to their cave set (inside an abandoned supermarket) and the foam used to make the rockwork was highly flammable then, and the whole building went up in flames in two minutes. Thankfully, nobody died in that fire. 

V5: Which effects did you handle on DEAD AND BURIED (1981) and how was the experience working on that cult favorite?

WM: Mainly the guy with tubes put into his nose and acid pumped into his sinuses so his face dissolves and collapses. There were two animatronic heads of him for two takes of the scene. I think I did something with a slit throat, too, but my memory is vague about that one (it was a harpoon slashing;see insert). That experience was great for me, all the time, money, and crew to do it perfectly. It was funny that when Fangoria first ran an article about the film coming out with an article about Stan Winston's great work on the cover, it was my head they show with his cover line. Stan wasn't happy.

V5: You replaced a previous makeup artist on THE BEASTMASTER (1982) with an enormous amount of work to be done in a short amount of time. Was there anything you wanted to do on this picture but were unable to because of time?

WM: I replaced Michael McCracken, Jr. three weeks before shooting started. It was all I could do to simply finish the effects they needed. So I didn't go into it with any visions of what I wanted to do, but rather just took their list of things they needed finished and worked from that.

V5: What involvement did you have on SUPERSTITION (1982), and how did that job come about?

WM: I was originally the effects supervisor on SUPERSTITION while SWAMP THING (1982) was stalled because of complications in the production deal; so when SWAMP THING went active, I couldn't prep it and be on set for SUPERSTITION, so I turned that movie over to David Miller and Steve LaPorte, who were on my crew prepping. I can't remember how I got involved with that one. 

V5: SWAMP THING was another troubled production. What was it like being a suit actor when you had to step in for Ben Bates? Would you want to do it again?

WM: I understood the physical stress of working in a suit, and I grew up with a stuntman for my next door neighbor, so I knew the basics of stunt fights. I wouldn't do it now because I'm old and out of shape. But my philosophy was always to lend a hand and try to help get the movie done, even if something they need isn't in my original idea. 

V5: Would you say money and time is the biggest problem facing makeup effects artists on low budget movies?

WM: Always.

Munns' makeup for Doc the chimp on Brainstorm
V5: BRAINSTORM (1983) had its share of problems. How was your experience on this big budget movie versus smaller budget pictures?

WM: The people were wonderful. Doug Trumbull and his production designer John Vallone. We worked out a concept and they just trusted me to deliver, which I did. Natalie Wood's tragic death is what really damaged the production.

V5: I take it WHAT WAITS BELOW (1984) was a disappointment for you as per the alteration to your original creature designs (see insert below). Did you have a hand in the giant snake monster also?

Munns' less vicious, humanoid makeup
WM: Yes, I was disappointed they changed my original concept, but everything kept changing on that show. Tony Gardner did the snake/eel thing.

V5: It went through a few title changes. How was it working with director Don Sharp?

WM: I actually developed the story with Sandy Howard when it was called 'The Primitives'. We set up the basic story while in Brazil when we were doing SAVAGE HARVEST (1981). It took three years to get it made, and they were constantly changing the story, the creatures, the budget, everything. Don Sharp had his own ideas about the creatures, and he wanted things my makeup budget would not allow. That's when the project became a challenge.

Munns' Creature and Little Big Man FX recreations
V5: I've a fondness for monster suits, so I was curious how long it took you to build your CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON replica. Was this during your time as a teacher at Elegance Academy of Professional Makeup in Los Angeles?

WM: Yes, in my makeup school years, around 1975-1976. I guess I put about 300 hours into it.

V5: With your lifelong interest in Cryptozoology, did you ever build a Bigfoot suit?

WM: I built a 8' tall Bigfoot figure when I was director of the Makeup school, but I don't have photos of the full scale one. Just photos of my 1/6th scale design maquette which you can see in my book, 'When Roger Met Patty'

V5: Outside of the PG film, do you have a favorite movie about Bigfoot?

WM: No favorite.

V5: Is their anything on your resume you'd like to change if you could go back and do so?

WM: I never think about if I could change the past. I just like to learn from the problem jobs so the aggravation as a constructive result. 

V5: I notice a lot of the films you worked on, you were frequently given little time and money to pull off your makeup effects. Do you feel like you'd made a name for yourself by being able to work efficiently under such pressure, or was this a normal occurrence in the FX field?

WM: It's normal to some extent. One does not succeed at all if you can't handle the pressure and be inventive on short order.

V5: Is their a film or memory on or off a film set that you're particularly proud of?

WM: I did a commercial for AST Computers in 1987, a parody of the 2001 'Dawn of Man' segment with five ape suits, and the hero mask was a 12 function RC head. That was probably my happiest, most successful (and most financially profitable) project. One of these days I need to transfer the VHS tape of it to digital video so it can be shown.

V5: What are you up to these days?

WM: Still working on PGF (Patterson-Gimlin Film) things, and trying to get a lip sync software invention funded for development. 

V5: Last question. With CGI having taken over the FX realm, do you think practical effects will ever become the dominant form again? Such as in prosthetics, blood squibs, creatures, etc. I see some films going back to it, and others claiming they were going to utilize practical effects, but did not (THE THING prequel/remake for example).

WM: No, I don't see any filmmakers going back to practical effects, because CGI just keeps getting better and better, and easier, and more spectacular compared to what physical effects can do. There will always be injury makeups and facial prosthetics for character effects, but that's about it.

For even more background information (particularly about Munns' involvement on films like SWAMP THING and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and behind the scenes photos of his body of work both in and outside movies, check out his website at the link HERE.

To purchase his book on the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film at amazon, 'When Roger Met Patty', click HERE

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