Thursday, June 4, 2015

An Interview With Special Effects Make-up Artist, Matthew Mungle

Over the course of his near 40 years in the field of special effects make-up and prosthetics, the Oscar winning Matthew Mungle (Matthew W. Mungle) has run the gamut in the creation of creatures and characters spanning all genres in cinema. One of the busiest, and most in-demand FX artists working today, his incredible body of work stretches from early 80s slashers, to Hollywood blockbusters and popular television shows. To see the sheer depth of his resume, one wonders when he finds time to sleep! Currently working on the TV series SALEM (2014-present), Mr. Mungle was kind enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to answer some questions, mostly related to his early career.

Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, April 1973
VENOMS5: I've read you were fascinated with the Universal Horrors as a kid. Was there a particular film from that period that got you interested in makeup?

MATTHEW MUNGLE: All the classic Universal Horror films were my favorite. FRANKENSTEIN (1931) was the one that inspired me the most.

Famous Monsters July, 1973
V5: And you were a Famous Monsters fan as well.

MM: Definitely. I couldn't wait each month or so for the new issue. I also entered the Make-up contest they had in the early 70s and won a second prize for the make-up I had created.

V5: I've also read that you used to experiment with make-up on friends and family members. Did they ever try to dissuade you from pursuing a career in this field?

MM: My mom and dad thought it was a passing phase, a hobby if you will, but they soon realized after I was in college that it was my passion.

Blasco at the Joe Blasco Make-up Center.
V5: Who was the greatest influence on you, William Tuttle, John Chambers, Dick Smith, or someone else?

MM: Joe Blasco was my greatest influence when I started attending his school in 1978 but before I met him it was Dick Smith and John Chambers for their amazing body of work and dedication to the craft.

V5: What was the experience like during your time at Joe Blasco's Makeup Center?

MM: Amazing... I was like a sponge, absorbing everything I could about the Art of the Make-up Profession. Not only Prosthetics, but Beauty and Character work as well. I learned from the best--Joe, who instilled in me that to be a true "MAKE-UP ARTIST", you mst know all aspects of makeup. That's what I live by today and what has made me so successful. After graduating from his school in May of 1978, I made my living doing beauty makeup which introduced me to a whole world I didn't even consider when I started in my profession as a Make-up Artist.

V5: Was JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981) your first professional job?

MM: No, it was actually ROAR in the summer of 1978.

V5: How did you get involved on that one, and did you witness any of the craziness on set with the lions?

MM: Joe Blasco recommended me. It was quite crazy working around all those big cats. A huge male lion got away from his trainer, ran right up to me, sat down in front of me and placed his paw on my leg. I gently picked it up, placed it on the ground and turned away from the cat as his trainer was immediately on top of him. Scary...


V5: How did the JUST BEFORE DAWN job come about?

MM: I had interviewed for JBD thanks to Joe Blasco's recommendation and was awarded the job. It was very cool working on a slasher film. I actually worked on THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1981), or PRANKS before that.

V5: Were you satisfied with your work on JUST BEFORE DAWN, or were there things you wanted to do, but were unable due to time and money?

MM: I don't think as an artist I am ever totally satisfied with my work. I always think, "I could do it better next time". That's what keeps me interested in the art of make-up and always striving to be better and changing the way I create things on make-up jobs.

V5: Who came up with the idea for the snapping demonic breasts in MAUSOLEUM?

MM: I actually don't know. I was hired to create some makeup effects for additional pick up shots after the film had been completed.

V5: Was it a pleasant experience?

MM: It wasn't really a pleasant experience. It just gave me a chance to perfect bladder work and my prosthetic techniques. In fact, I don't think I got paid all the money they owed me.

V5: How did you melt Paul Wilson's face off in THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983)?

MM: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) had just come out and the producer/director wanted a similar effect. I researched as much as I could and made the first head out of wax, tested it and decided that wasn't the way to go. It was too watery looking as it melted. I eventually made it out of gelatin with about 4 layers of color (flesh, yellow-fat, pink and red). We under cranked the speed of the camera which made the final film/melting so much faster.

THE POWER (1984).
V5: You did three films with Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow (DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, THE POWER, THE KINDRED). How did you three meet?

MM: I was referred to them by the Joe Blasco Makeup Center. They were still film students at UCLA at the time and were shooting a promo film as a student project to get funding to fund a full length feature. I went in to create make-up effects for the short directly out of my kit with no pre-made appliances. They liked my work and that lead to a great working relationship with the two very talented filmmakers.

V5: THE POWER (1984) has some impressive effects in it. Do you recall the FX budget on this one?

MM: I think the make-up budget was about $5,000. That included my salary on set. Those were the days. You did what you could with what you were given. Creating, and being as creative as you possibly could. It was a great experience and a training ground to my future in this industry.

Mungle at left operating an FX sequence in THE KINDRED (1987)

V5: Of those three films with Carpenter and Obrow, THE KINDRED (1987) is the most ambitious, and you had more money to play with. Is there a particular special effect of yours you're fond of?

MM: All of them. I had such a great time with that film. It was "fly by the seat of your pants". Creating a Fish Lady and a goo-covered bladder creature. Some of the best times I've ever had in this profession were on that movie.

V5: Did you find yourself having to improvise a lot on low budget pictures?

MM: Oh yes, everyday... Thinking up more inexpensive ways of creating great make-up effects. It has served me extremely well in my professional career.

Mungle at work on the set of DEEP BLUE SEA (1999).

V5: Did you ever find yourself getting frustrated on film sets, or did the challenge make it all worthwhile?

MM: The challenge was the best. It forced me to come up with different ways to create an effect, while working with camera effects to help make my work look great. The pressure was heavier because CGI effects were very expensive and time consuming back then so you had to get the effect right.

V5: What was your experience working with werewolves on SILVER BULLET (1985)?

MM: Carlo Rambaldi created the main werewolf on the film. He was VERY complimentary about my work with Mike McCracken on that film. I was fortunate to work with the very talented McCracken on that picture creating the Make-up Prosthetic Effects.

V5: I've read you worked on THE ICE PIRATES (1984) and HOWARD THE DUCK (1986), neither of which are listed among your IMDb credits. What did you do on these two?

MM: On ICE PIRATES I was hired by Maurice Stein and created all the Prosthetic Make-up Effects in the lab for the film. That's where I met Mike McCracken and his son. I worked in Tom Burman's Studio creating Prosthetics for HOWARD THE DUCK. I didn't go on set for either film.

V5: PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE (1989). You came up with the look of the Phantom, I believe?

MM: Yes, I was in charge of all the make-up effects on that film. It was another "fly by the seat of your pants" efforts, trying new and different ways of creating prosthetic make-ups.

V5: You worked with William Friedkin on THE GUARDIAN (1990). I've read he liked to do things in one take if possible.Was this a tense shoot and what was your opinion of your work on it?

MM: Very intense but I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. He saw I was dedicated to my profession and we got along GREAT.

V5: Your career seems to have taken off in a big way in 1990. You worked on productions with some big names like Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone to name a few. Do any of these particularly stand out?

MM: WOW, yes, that was a great time. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990). Ve Neil hired me on that one and we got to apply Johnny Depp's prosthetic make-up each day he worked. It was such a fun project and I loved working on it.
V5: You won an Oscar for DRACULA (1992) along with Greg Cannom and Michele Burke. What was that moment like for you?

MM: Absolutely incredible. I didn't get into this business to go there, but it was EXCELLENT to be awarded with the golden boy!!!

V5: What did you do on this production, and how was it working on Coppola's version of Stoker's novel?

MM: It was great. Greg hired me on to apply the Makeup Prosthetics and Effects. He would come in each day and we would apply Gary Oldman's prosthetics. Greg would leave immediately after the application was finished and I would watch and upkeep the prosthetics on set all day. This is the hardest part of this business, if it doesn't look good all day that's a problem. Sometimes Greg wouldn't show up to help with the application and I'd have to apply the prosthetics all by myself which was great. It was an incredible experience for Stuart Artingstall, Gary's hairstylist and I. Working on a remake of a film that was one of my all-time favorite films was another memorable time in my life.

Mungle & Drew Barrymore on set of CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE; photo W.M. Creations, Inc.

V5: Having done seemingly every sort of FX trickery in your field, do you have a favorite effect you like out of them all?

MM: Old Age and Character Prosthetic Make-ups because they are so challenging to make look believable. It's extremely gratifying to create a beautiful aging makeup, or even a believable character makeup on an actor.

V5: You have done much more than horror over the years. Do you still have the same passion for those films like you did as a child growing up?

MM: Definitely. They still stir that primal creative urge inside me. I still love to think up other ways of creating FX to scare the audience.

V5: Thirty years later after doing THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983) you're working with witches again on the TV series SALEM (2014-present). What is the special effects makeup industry like today in comparison to the 1980s?

MM: Better. I'm on set with Lee Grimes on SALEM making prosthetics, etc, in our Make-up trailer. We're creating new make-ups and prosthetics with silicone's we never had available before and having a great time doing it.

Mungle applying make-up to Glenn Close on ALBERT NOBBS (2011), one of three films that brought him Oscar nominations--the others being SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993) and GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996).

V5: Aside from your Oscar, what work have you been most proud of?

MM: The projects I've created on my own for films such as SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993), THE GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996), BEDAZZLED (2000), BLAST FROM THE PAST (1999), and ALBERT NOBBS (2011).

V5: If you could go back and do anything different on a picture, what would it be?

MM: I have absolutely no regrets. I am very happy where I've come from and where I've landed. It's been a tremendous ride.

Matthew W. Mungle (middle) and crew on the SALEM set.

V5: Last question. What advice would you give to an aspiring artist wishing to get into the business?

MM: You must be dedicated to your craft. Enjoy it, every minute of it, because before you know it, it will be gone. Concentrate on the details but keep your eye on the bigger picture at the same time. When you're working with an actor they don't want to hear your problems or what happened to you last night, they want to see you know what you're doing and that you know your craft.

CAC would like to thank Matthew Mungle for committing his time for this interview.

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