By ROCCO THOMPSON
A fixture of the Makeup Effects industry for the past 25 years, Justin Raleigh has had a hand in creating some of the most iconic horror characters of the 2010s, as well as contributing to a cavalcade of genre and non-genre efforts. We sat down with the Emmy-winner and Creative Director/Founder of the cutting-edge Fractured FX Inc. to discuss his relationship with Blumhouse, the biggest challenges in designing WESTWORLD Season 2, and the upcoming AQUAMAN movie.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the effects industry?
Watching movies like THE EXORCIST (1973), THE THING (1982), and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) was what initially got me into makeup and effects as a kid. It was always kind of a religious thing to sit around every year and watch every horror movie possible around Halloween. When I decided to make a career in this kind of work, I got my start with Stan Winston Studios and Steve Johnson FX and ADI, and some of the other effects houses that were out there at the time. I just kind of found the right people in the industry and never looked back! In 2010, I started my own company, Fractured FX Inc., and that’s kind of been my main focus for the last eight years now.
How does Fractured differ from other effects studios?
It’s all sort of tailored to the design and manufacturing approach that I wanted to see, and part of that was really looking at the future of this industry and how we relate with Visual Effects departments and how we can help make that pipeline more seamless. We do in-house scanning and printing, so a lot of our designs start in 3D and can be easily shared between multiple departments. We can send scans of an actor’s head to Visual Effects while we’re sculpting makeups. So, we sort of cut out the middle man in that process where you’d need a whole separate vendor to do a lot of those things, which I think makes us more efficient and production friendly! Also, I think we’ve just pushed the limits of what we can do with technology and advanced materials composites. We try to find friendlier, safer, innovative materials or discover different ways of using these materials so that they don’t look like standard silicone prosthetics. We always try to find unique, organic ways to approach our work.
You won your Emmy in Outstanding Makeup for AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW, would you say Horror and Sci-Fi are your sweet spot?
Yeah, I mean we definitely do a lot of that. It’s the bread and butter of the company! We do a lot of superhero stuff as well, like WATCHMEN (2009), and TRON LEGACY (2010). We just did a bunch of stuff for AQUAMAN (2018) which was specially costumed and included lots of makeup effects. But we probably have five, six, sometimes even more horror/thriller/sci-fi type projects that come through the shop on a regular basis.
Has AQUAMAN been Fractured’s most challenging undertaking?
It’s definitely one of the biggest. It’s just a beast! I can’t really get into what we did for it at this point, but it was a year-long endeavor for the company, really. Huge beast of a thing, but that project really came out of my relationship with James Wan who was a big advocate for me when it came to Warner Brothers.
How did you initially get involved with Wan and the INSIDIOUS/CONJURING movies?
So, we worked with Aaron Sims–a concept designer I’ve known since Stan Winston’s–and were brought in to figure out what the “Red-Faced Demon” was going to be. INSIDIOUS (2010) was like the first real Blumhouse production. It was super low-budget, but it seemed like a fun challenge, and I liked James, so we took it on! From there, we developed the whole look for the ghosts from “The Further,” and we’ve done the entire rest of the franchise up to this point. We also did THE CONJURING (2013) which presented its own unique challenges. It was a very different stylistic approach, and James wanted a fresh look, even though we were working with the same actor [composer Joseph Bishara] who plays both the demon and “Bathsheba.” It was very interesting taking this male form and trying to convert it into a female witch! Honestly, those films have been a really been a big name to attach to our long resume for both Fractured and myself, and I’m definitely proud of them. Those franchises have obviously been super successful and have really spawned some great relationships with Blumhouse, New Line, and Warner Brothers.
How did you become the Special Makeup Effects Designer and Department Head for WEST WORLD Season Two?
We had done all of the medical prosthetics for the Cinemax series THE KNICK, and I was the main department head on that. Some of the producers who were involved with there ended up stepping into WEST WORLD, and I guess from Season One they wanted to make some changes. I met with the co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy several months before filming, and within a couple weeks we had scripts in hand and were ready to take off and start designing!
How much were you able to chart your own course visually to set your work apart from the first season?
There were a few elements that they wanted to retain, but I think in comparison, Season Two has a hundred percent more visual-effects added to it. The only key, iconic things that you’d look at in the first season that are makeup-effects related would be the “Vitruvian Man,” which, you know, gives a certain aesthetic to what the “hosts” look like underneath their surface skin in terms of translucency and tonality. Then, there were a few gore elements that we had to repeat, but overall, we really had free reign to start designing, because this was so different and so much gorier. The level and intensity of makeup-effects was night and day different. This season was so big, it had two separate departments: there was regular makeup that did their handful of characters and standard beauty makeup, and then we had ours which handled all of the death, decay, blood, gore, prosthetics, all the “Drone Hosts,” specialty designs for “extraction,” all that stuff.
Did WEST WORLD present any challenges that you hadn’t faced before?
I would say yes and no. I mean, a lot of it was just designing an aesthetic for what the stages of decay would be. Which is stuff we’ve done, but we had to decide how this works for a host versus how that works for a human. The Drone Hosts were a challenge, for sure. We’ve built a ton of superhero and creature suits, but that was definitely an iconic sort of design that took months to develop. That was probably one of the biggest challenges on top of the decapitation for Shogun World.
Which effects are you most proud of in the second season?
I’m still thrilled with the Drones, just because they are so awesome and new. You know, I don’t think there’s really anything out there that’s like that. Also, having a head-to-toe character that’s one hundred percent practical/makeup-effects…a guy in a suit, when it could have easily become a computer-generated visual effect…I think that’s a big accomplishment. I think it took fourteen weeks to design and develop that suit that Alexander Ward wore, and a huge team to build all that stuff. I’d say that’s probably one of the highlights and the studio loved it so much that they took it to SXSW and all of their release parties, and that’s a big deal for them. So, that was a nice pat on the back!
What projects do you have coming down the pike?
Of course, we have AQUAMAN coming up out in December. We have another horror project called ELI, which we’re starting to do re-shoots on, that’s due out in 2019. We’re also slated to start working on the new SWAMP THING television series, another James Wan produced project! I can’t say anything much, but those are some of the endeavors we have coming down the line here, and we’ll see: beginning of next year, possibly WEST WORLD Season Three? Depending on what they’re doing! I have no idea!