Exclusive: Makeup Effects Wizard Todd Masters Talks Aliens to Zombies Convention


Todd Masters is one of the living, well, masters of makeup effects, having worked on everything from Tales from the Crypt to the upcoming fourth Underworld movie. Now he's giving back to the genre he loves so much, by co-organizing the first ever Aliens to Zombies Convention, taking place in Hollywood from October 21st and 22nd. I caught up with Masters last week to find out how the convention came to be, what fans can look forward to at it, and what's next from him in films and on television. Check out our conversation after the jump.

How did the Aliens to Zombies Convention begin, and how did you become involved with it? 

Well, my ol' buddy Bruce Haring phoned me one day, said... I got this idea, "Aliens to Zombies"...and before he even said it all, it was like, "DANG! I like this..." So we both just went rapidly into it... He having this great background in conventions, book festivals, story conferences... And me, with my history of these Halloween Bash's, monster-making and arts... We naturally jumped into making what this means to our unique association, into this event.

And it's been a lot of fun putting together. It's like a monster itself!!

Can you talk a little about the event's panels? Which ones are you most excited about?

The panels all are really exciting. My favorite – I know it may seem odd – is the Cinema's Simians, featuring Hollywood great ape-suited heroes... history, all the way up to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which ‘man in suit', takes on a whole new meaning. And, we have some amazing history and Bob Burns himself on this panel! History himself!!

Another panel, still in Hollywood's scheduling shambles, so some guest are still officially unconfirmed –  I can't quite completely announce everyone - but should knock your socks off when we do, is our werewolf panel. Everyone seems to really like werewolves, and for some reason, Hollywood has a hard time making good ones lately. So we're gonna talk about it. I have FX dudes from The Howling, American Werewolf in London (the good werewolf years) with folks from the new Underworld movie, which is coming out January.... as well as a few surprises.

But, seriously, each and every one of these panels is looking really amazing. The James Gunn/ Michael Rooker conversation, which ends this event will be really wild and the Aliens panel is really cool....We are really fortunate that so many of our friends are jumping in and showing us their art. Should be a really unique event.

What do aliens and zombies have in common?

They're MONSTERS!!!

[Laughs.] Yes, but is it primarily that they're both often associated with apocalypse?

Yes, that and that they are monsters. That's what really struck me with Bruce's pitch, when he first mentioned it to me. His approach was this apocalyptic, end-o the world focus... Mine, as I'm saturated in this content, see it as a really cool thing, and like to appreciate the monsters... Both in our real – and surreal – worlds. I liked the fact that we both saw with completely unique eyes and the discussion was what is between the two... Somewhere in the middle of our convention.

As one of Hollywood's top monster-makers, what do you see as the biggest challenge in creating effective screen creatures today?

Biggest challenge seems to be the through line, design to execution... many monsters seem to get challenged by too many cooks in the kitchen. As a lot of their creation has become more digital, the basics of design get easily lost. I've seen many directors and producers somewhat tangled trying to choose how it should be created, practically or digitally, without really understanding its character and best to use it for their project. MASTERSFX has really tried hard to make it easier for filmmakers to mix within the technologies; as we try and make it ALL available in our shop... It's a challenging time, and exciting time to be a monster maker in Hollywood.

Are there any recent alien or zombie shows or movies that have especially impressed you?

Yes, loving the work that KNB is doing on Walking Dead (Emmy winners!) I really like how the new Underworld is looking (as I've snuck a peak) and the new Thing looks cool too... As the FX guys, ADI always do amazing work too.

What are your all-time favorites?

Dang, always a tough question... But I still get giggly watching Harryhausen stuff. Also, the work of Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Little Big Man) is still amazing....

You've got a number of new and upcoming projects, including Underworld 4. What do you think will surprise fans the most about this installment of the saga?

It's ALL action, so that's really cool. Plus it was filmed in this freaky 3D tech that I swear you can read Kate's thoughts.

Another film you're working on is American Mary. How would you describe this movie?

Hey cool, glad to hear that you know this!! Working with the extra talented Twisted Twins... Their follow- up indie to Dead Hooker in a Trunk.... Just saw the ladies last night; we're moving into shooting (starts shooting Oct 31st!) The Twins will be at A/ZCon too!

Does the fact that it's based in reality more so than fantasy present a different set of challenges?

Absolutely! We actually don't want you to know there's any FX.... Shh.

You've done a great deal of television in addition to your film work. Are there any TV shows you're involved with on which we'll see your work this season?

Yeah: Fringe – we're shooting now; True Blood just ended, but back for season 5 soon... Also Eureka, and er... The new Battlestar Galacti...! (also sshhhhhh).

Even with your busy schedule, you've still found the time to work with Mike Dougherty on his Trick ‘r Treat shorts for FEARnet. What is it about these shorts that continues to grab you? 

Mike is so FREAKING talented. Love working with him and his amazing team. We make these for hardly any money, really a labor of love as we think Mike is really the best talent in Hollywood right now. We all love filmmaking, and these are our little love notes to the fans at FEARnet... How they like them! We're showing the art of these little episodes at A/Zcon as well, and Mike will be there too!

Do you have any plans for Halloween that you can share with us?

American Mary day 1! And then probably other madness... Never boring

In real life, what's your greatest fear?

The slipping away of time.... Life is so fleeting. I always feel so lucky to be able to do my passion as a career, and try and make a go at it every day... Just every day's a little short. Days are limited and I never can get enough of them... So I guess I fear my nearing eventuality... my ZOMBIE!