Interview with Make Up/Special Effects Artist
By Christopher Gullo
The Peter Cushing Association is proud to interview make up/special effects artist Dave Elsey, who is a big fan of Peter Cushing as well as a collector (he is the proud owner of some of Cushing's Sherlock Holmes pipes, the false teeth used by Cushing in Tales from the Crypt, and some of his film wigs). Dave Elsey has worked on many films - including the upcoming Star Wars: Episode 3. You can now visit Dave Elsey's website - Image Creative Partnership - at http://www.imagecreative.net/
PCA: What films from your childhood influenced your decision to get into a career in make-up/special effects?
DE: I can trace my decision to get into special effects right back to the original Universal production of Frankenstein, which I thought was mind blowing. When I was growing up, they used to have horror movies on television on a Saturday night, it was always a double bill. Usually starting with one of the old Universal horror movies Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man etc. And then following that they would have a modern horror movie, which would be in colour and have way more blood and gore. In the seventies that usually meant Hammer horror films. At first I was only allowed to stay up and watch the black and white horror movies, but after a while, and with much pleading on my part, I was allowed to stay up and watch the colour horror movies and that meant, inevitably, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
As I said before, I was obsessed with Frankenstein, or more precisely, ĎTHE CREATUREí from the Universal horror movies, but it was Hammer and Cushing's emphasis on The Baron, that made me I realize I wanted nothing more to do in life than spend all my time making monsters.
Eventually my grandfather bought in a newspaper article on Ďthe Real Monster Makersí from those movies. I found out that it wasnít Peter Cushing after all, it was Roy Ashton, Phil Leakey or Jack Pierce and it was all makeup. Thatís when I decided makeup was what I wanted to do.So to answer your question, the movies that influenced me were first Frankenstein and Curse of Frankenstein. Then later Star Wars, The Howling and American Werewolf in London.
PCA: What made you a fan of Peter Cushing and how would you say he influenced your career?
DE: Again, Hammer and late night TV. I was very impressed by his performance and believability in everything he did. He was a true professional as an actor, and seems to possess the ability to elevate any material no matter how dire some of the movies were that he appeared in. Not that I thought that any of these movies were not up to scratch, actually as long as peter Cushing was in them I pretty much enjoyed them anyway. The truth is I still do. As I mentioned before, I was a fan of Frankenstein, but it was Peter's performance as the Baron that changed the perspective of the movies from being the creature to the creator. Luckily because Hammer werenít able to get the rights to make a straight re-make of Frankenstein, they were forced to come at it at a completely different angle, which was their saving grace as the creature creator was infinitely more interesting than the creatures.
How did he influence my career? Well aside from starting my interest in the unusual and the fantastic, it was also his professionalism. I've heard many times how Cushing always meticulously researched everything and very often the performances of other actors were elevated by the performances of Mr. Cushing and Mr. Lee in their films.
As a makeup artist and creature effects designer I have found that with the more fantastical stuff that I have done, I meet two types of actors. There are those that take the look of their characters very seriously, and see what I do as a tool to help and possibly even improve their characters and there are other actors that view the whole process as silly, and feel as though they are hiding behind a mask. The ones that come out of this process best are the ones that take it seriously, and the ones that come out of it worst are the other variety, who allow themselves to be swamped. I try to be as professional as possible in my dealings with the actors, and take everything as seriously as I hope they will. This I learned from Cushing.
PCA: What is your favourite Peter Cushing film and why?
DE: Thatís a very hard question, there are so many. Iím very fond of his Grimsdyke character from Tales from the Crypt; in fact, not only have I recreated this makeup for fun on our web-site, I also have the false teeth he wore for this role. Which were also used in another of my favorite Cushing roles, that of Sherlock Holmes. To this day I donít think anybody has so resembled the William Padget drawings, more than Peter Cushing. And I donít think anybody has captured the character from the books quite as accurately either. Right down to the costumes which Peter had copied exactly from the original illustrations.
I am also very fond of what Peter did in Star Wars as Grand Moff Tarkin. Who can forget Peter telling a subordinate off for suggesting that the rebels might be doing better with their attack on the Death Star than they had thought. ďEvacuate?? In our moment of Triumph! I think you overestimate their chances!Ē The more I think about it, itís impossible to have a favorite Peter Cushing film. Cushing was such a perfectionist that he made sure every one had a moment to remember.
But if I really have to choose one, Iíd say Curse of Frankenstein, no, DraculaÖ.Damn, Hound of the Baskervilles. Oh, I give up.
PCA: Which is your favourite special effect (creature or scene) from a Peter Cushing film?
DE: Easy. I know itís not a popular choice, but I love the outlandish creature from Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, and I love all of the interplay between Cushingís Frankenstein and Shane Briantís Doctor Helder. Especially the bit where the Baron, his hands scarred from the previous movie, has to hold the creatures wrist tendon between his teeth whilst doctor Hilder fixes it into place.
By the way, I have had the pleasure of working with Shane Briant recently and we have become good friends, and he has many wonderful tales to tell from this movie. He still refuses to help me in my experiments though!
PCA: How did you get into the make-up/special effects industry?
DE: From when I was about 10 years old, I new exactly what I wanted to do. And I made it my job to find out everything I could on the subject of makeup, prosthetics and animatronics. I read every book, studied every picture and generally worried my parents to death. Concentrating all my efforts on this tenuous career choice, instead of something sensible. Actually, Iím definitely with Peter Cushing on this one. I read that he felt that toys were wasted on children and were much better suited to adults. He very much kept the child in himself alive, all the way through adulthood. Did you know he was a fantastic model maker and artist? Of course you do! Actually, I think he would have been a very good makeup artist too.
When I was old enough I used to hang around film studios with my portfolio under my arm irritating my heroes until I was hired, as much to get me out of the way, as for my work. And I just kept working.
PCA: What is your favourite make-up/special effect that you created?
DE: I like the character of Scorpius from Farscape, (based a little on Peter's face by the way). But my real favorites are in things you havenít seen yet, in Star Wars Episode 3. Iím afraid I canít talk about them yet though. Although I can tell you that if all goes well, weíre going to make your hair stand on end. Iíve said enough.
PCA: How would you compare the make-up/special effects industry from when you started to today and how do you think it will be in the future?
DE: Iíd say the job is essentially the same, although as with anything, it has become more complicated and the materials have improved, it has become more refined. As far as how I think it will go in the future, a lot of people are becoming worried by all of the amazing digital cg work thatís being done today, I personally feel that although some of what we do will be replaced by cg. Actors will still want to go into prosthetics to create characters because when they look in the makeup mirror, they can see the character staring back at them, and they know exactly at that point how they are going to play the role, other actors can see that character in front of them too, and react correctly to what they see. I have heard that they are now working on cg makeups, but I really donít think if Frankensteinís monster had been played by Boris Karloff with a ping pong ball glued to his forehead, the results would have been the same.
PCA: Are there any helpful hints you would give people who wish to pursue a career in make-up/special effects?
DE: Yes. Donít be put off. Donít take no for an answer and work as hard as you can at it. Even if no-one seems to notice, because sometimes they do.
Above Photos: 1 - Peter Cushing in make up as the character Grimsdyke who has risen from the grave for his revenge in "Tales from the Crypt". 2 - Peter Cushing relaxing in his trailer still in make up from "Madhouse".
Dave Elsey Filmography
Special Effects - filmography
Star Wars: Episode III (2005) (post-production) (creature shop creative supervisor)
Little Shop of Horrors
(1986) (animatronics technician) (as David Elsey)
Miscellaneous Crew - filmography
"Farscape" (1999) TV Series (creative supervisor) ... aka "Far Horizon" (2000) (Australia)
Candyman (1992) (image animation crew) ... aka Clive Barker's Candyman (1992) (USA)
Alien≥ (1992) (alien creature effects)
Make-Up Department - filmography
Mission: Impossible II (2000) (special makeup effects artist)
B. Monkey (1998) (special makeup effects artist)
Incognito (1997) (special makeup effects artist)
Life of Stuff, The (1997) (special makeup effects artist) (uncredited)
"Silent Witness" (1996) TV Series (special makeup effects artist)
Mission: Impossible (1996) (special makeup effects artist)
Death Machine (1995) (special makeup effects artist)
Staggered (1994) (makeup effects)
Waxwork (1988) (senior makeup effects artist)
On the Black Hill (1987) (special makeup effects artist)
Hellraiser (1987) (special makeup effects artist)
Little Shop of Horrors (1986) (special makeup effects artist) (uncredited)
The Peter Cushing Association would like to sincerely thank Dave Elsey for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview. Please visit Dave Elsey's website to find out more about him and his past and upcoming creations at: http://www.imagecreative.net/