Cliff Wallace – Interview

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk at great lengths with our January artist, Cliff Wallace. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, I am sure you would be surprised to see how much you have seen it by taking a simple look at his CV – Seen Hellboy II? World War Z? Hellraiser? Quantum of Solace? Dr. Who? 28 Days Later,  Blood Diamond, Blackhawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven ……? There are dozens more, but feel free to browse our previous entry on him, or check out his website for more work by him.

And, if you are in the Oslo area (or not, flights are cheap this time of year!), stop by the gallery for his solo-show opening night hosted by Blank Space on January 24th.


1) As an artist who has worked in the film industry for over 30 years, what are some of the advantages or disadvantages in the evolution of the artistic process between when you started and now?

There have been huge changes in the way that films are made, the biggest of course has come about because of computers, which have impacted upon every department. Generally its led to a decline in the amount of time a film spends in pre production because there’s a feeling that everything can be fixed in post, and to a certain extent that’s true, but it lends itself to lazy film making. The demographic for movie audiences has shifted dramatically too. Most movies are made for twelve year old boys, which generally restricts the type of films that are made. When I started out I was generally working on horror movies, very few of those are made now and the R rated or 18 movie has virtually disappeared. The ancillaries to the movie, the tie ins, the toys, the computer games are actually more important and generate more revenue than the movies themselves. This has meant that there’s a whole other group of people looking for validation and influencing the way the movies look and are sold. It’s not just about the film and the movie makers anymore. Which is a little sad?

2) How has digital involvement and ‘post-production’ ethics changed how involved you are in the creative development of a piece? Can you explain your opinion of CG in the industry, and how it has affected your process, job availability, or attitudes in the film business?

When I first saw Jurassic Park, I thought the kind of work I do would probably be gone within ten years. It’s taking a little longer than that but…I actually think CG can be a great tool and I’m very interested in combining it with conventional makeup and creature design because I think it opens up a lot of possibilities for enhancing the work. The problem I have with CG is that it makes everything possible, and in doing so it makes special effects seem less ‘special’ somehow. It takes away the magic. Of course for many filmakers the first thought for any creature is that it is going to be best realised as CG. There has been a little backlash against that sort of thinking recently but it’s often a hard sell to say actually there is another way to do this. My heart often sinks when I see a green screen…especially when it’s replacing something that could be done physically ..

3) We’d love to hear how you got started, and what are some of the more exciting things that keep you going still today.
I’m self taught. I hadn’t really considered makeup effects as a career until I saw The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, both blew me away and from that point I was determined to learn all I could about special makeup effects. There were no makeup schools and no internet, so it was just what I could learn from the handful of books that were out there, and from writing to makeup artists for pointers. I spent about three years making things in my bedroom before anyone looked at my folio. Eventually I got invited onto a kids tv show because a researcher had seen some of my masks, from that I got a few weeks work on a movie. I didn’t expect to be still doing it all this time later I must confess.

4) How does your work differ between commercial work and personal work? Does your thought process, materials, motivation or mindset change?
It is different, that’s why I enjoy doing my personal work. In many ways it’s like being a hobbyist again, in that generally you are working for the love of it so the constraints of working in film aren’t there. I’m a commercial artist – in my professional life, I’m being paid a wage to deliver the goods. Personal works not like that. And I can’t experiment a little more. Most art in the film industry, and particularly in commercials work, where there is little time to develop a character, positively requires that the work fits into some sort of stereotype. It requires an audience connection with something that has gone before. There are certain preconceptions and expectations as to what say an alien, or a witch should look like… And, in most cases, unless you are dealing with a particularly visionary director like Guillermo Del Toro whom I worked with on Hellboy 2 , there isn’t much chance for subversion in design. In my personal work I don’t have to adhere to this, if I want to do a character with a head like a burnt out building, or a windmill on its head I can do it. There is a different mindset when I’m working on personal stuff definitely, because unless I’ve committed to delivering something for a specific show, there doesn’t have to be an end result. I don’t produce work with the intention of selling it, or exhibiting it -that’s very much a by product, and it is lovely if it happens, but mostly I’m doing it because I need to do it. Even after all this time, I need to sit down with a bag of mud and a sharp stick , or a pen and paper, and dream something into being.
5) As this is primarily an ‘inspiration’ blog for other artists, who are your top 5 largest influences in your work, dead or alive? Are there any artists today who you are excited to follow?

That’s a tough question and I don’t think I can answer it directly! Because I find the things that inspire me change quite often. Many times I think the reason artists like something is because they see elements of their own work in it.Or facets of it that they can use in some way. Many of us who work in film creature design have a similar set of influences, we all drink from the same myth pool so to speak, which is why I think a lot of us produce work that’s in a similar vein. The social media has meant we all have access to each other’s work too, which is a double edged sword, as whilst it’s great to see what everyone else is doing, style infection becomes something of an inevitability.
Its important to have a style aesthetic.. I know I have one in my personal work, I like things to be elegant, so I tend to elongate necks, I like to mess with the anatomy of the skull, I’m less concerned with details than many prosthetic sculptors, with sculpting every skin pore and wrinkle. Silhouette is probably the most important element in the things I do.Which is why I draw a lot of inspiration from fashion designers and architecture where those elements are also important.

If I was to make a list of influences! I’m sure they would all be linked in some way,which is how influence works, it’s like a network of filters which colours how you view the world. My biggest influence is David Bowie, who I have loved for over forty years. Many of the things I am interested in have been coloured indirectly or tangentially because of him, and not just in music, but across the whole spectrum of the arts. It’s impossible to imagine the sort of person I would be we’re it not for Bowie. Very different I would assume.


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