I never had a chance to meet Matt Rose in person, but we had become friends over the last few years via emails and a few phone calls, and he was somebody who you felt like you knew for a lifetime even after one conversation. For those who may not know, I started working on a series of books celebrating the lives of special effects artists in 2016, which is how I connected with Matt, and his story was (and still is) set to be a part of the next installment that should hopefully be out later this year. Tragically, though, Matt Rose passed away this weekend, and it breaks my heart that he won’t be here to enjoy seeing his career commemorated in print, because he deserved to get to enjoy that moment. So, I thought I would take this moment to pay tribute to Matt here and let the world know just what kind of guy he truly was.
If you’re unfamiliar with Matt Rose, that doesn’t surprise me. Not that his name doesn’t belong in the conversation among the great special effects artists of his or any generation, because it very much does. But Matt was a humble and very gracious artist, so much so that upon our first phone conversation, he tried to convince me that he didn’t really think he should be included in the book (he then offered up several names of other artists I should reach out to as well). Of course, I knew he belonged just as much as anyone else did, and the very next week, we spent nearly four hours on the phone chatting about his career, the highs and the lows, and how much he loved making monsters. He had been a part of the effects industry for over 30 years at the point that we did our interview, and the one thing I remember most about that discussion was how passionately he talked about his friends and peers, and how lucky he felt to have worked alongside so many other great talents during one of the greatest eras of special effects.
For Matt, he fell in love with movies at a very early age because of his father, and when he was a small child, he spent hours sculpting monsters out of clay (his grandmother encouraged him to sculpt religious figures at the same time, which he still found humor in after decades had passed). He grew up in San Jose, and after seeing Planet of the Apes and becoming obsessed with the makeups in the film, he began to learn how to make masks, and even began selling them while he was still in high school. One fateful day, he met fellow artist Steve Wang at a convention, and found in Steve a kindred spirit, as they both had a deeply-rooted love for mask-making. They teamed up and started a business together before they graduated high school, and it ultimately led to a lifelong friendship.
Matt’s brilliance in the creative arts was recognized early by some of his teachers, and he was even encouraged to send examples of his work to Phil Tippett at ILM. One day, he got a call at home and it turned out to be none other than Chris Walas, who had seen Matt’s work courtesy of Phil, and Chris had wanted the burgeoning artist to come join him on a film he was starting to put a crew together for. Because he was still in school, Matt couldn’t accept the offer, and as it turns out, that film ended up being Gremlins. Matt ended up getting his break in the industry soon enough, though, when he was hired by Denny and Bob Skotak at L.A. Effects Group to work on the miniatures for James Cameron’s Aliens. From there, Matt went on to work on Aliens for Stan Winston as well, which led to him being a part of several more films at Stan’s over the next few years, including Predator, The Monster Squad (he and Wang teamed up to take on the Gillman), and Invaders from Mars.
Matt also worked for another effects titan, Rick Baker, on films such as Harry and the Hendersons, Gorillas in the Mist, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch—a project that ultimately led to him staying at Cinovation Studios for the next 15 years, where he had the opportunity to lend his talents to an array of films like The Rocketeer, Wolf, The Nutty Professor, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Men in Black, and Ed Wood. For Ed Wood, Matt assisted Rick Baker in transforming Martin Landau into Bela Lugosi, which he called a career highlight and an experience unlike anything he’d ever had before. Another highlight for Matt was being a part of Rick’s team for the 2001 Planet of the Apes remake, bringing his love for POTA full circle, and he was the one in the orangutan makeup test that Baker presented to director Tim Burton before they moved forward with creating the incredible apes for the film (fun side story: Matt was nervous about wearing contact lenses, and had to wear two pairs for the makeup test, so he recalled how that day was filled with a lot of “diva moments” for him).
Matt called his involvement on Hellboy yet another watershed moment in his career, as he had been a fan of the comics for years, and wanted to make sure he was able to work on the film. He and Chad Waters had worked for some time on several maquettes of the Hellboy character in order to give Guillermo del Toro something he could use as a proof of concept to get the first film rolling, and as it turned out, when they were dreaming up which actor might be the one behind the makeup, they immediately thought of Ron Perlman, and utilized his likeness for their sculptures even before Perlman was cast in the role. Once Hellboy was greenlit, Matt and Chad spent six months in Prague, working on Ron nearly every single day, and when it comes to the characters and creatures he had created throughout his entire career, Hellboy was one of his very favorites.
Over the last few years, Matt worked on a few more films, including Star Trek Beyond, Bright, The Predator, and last time we were in contact (right before the holidays), he had been busy on some other stuff, but I never had the chance to find out exactly what he had been up to. We were supposed to talk the first week of December, but our schedules got away from us, and that conversation sadly never happened.
If nothing else, I’m grateful that there is still some Matt Rose work out there for the world to get to enjoy in the future. It’s not much of a consolation to those who knew and loved him, because nothing can ever replace him, but the fact that Matt’s art will continue to live on is something of a positive in this otherwise horrible situation. Truth be told, I’m struggling to find a way to bring this to a conclusion, so I thought that perhaps it would be best to end this tribute with some words from Matt himself.
“I love this industry. I love the craft. I love everything about it, but the best thing out of my career is knowing all of my colleagues. I really mean that. Even if you have arguments, there is still this sense of comradery that we all share. We have all been in the same battles together, and we understand the importance of being supportive for each other, even if we don’t always agree 100 percent on everything.”
“There is really something special about being a part of this industry, and I’ve been so fortunate to not have only met so many wonderful people, but I’ve been able to work with so many amazing and talented artists throughout my career. How wonderful is that?”
R.I.P., my friend. You will be missed.