On Tuesday, May 24th, Robert Green Hall passed away very unexpectedly in Los Angeles, California. One of the premier special effects talents of his generation, Hall was so much more than just another guy who worked in rubber and latex—he was a writer, a director, a musician and music lover, a friend, a mentor, and a creative partner to many. By all accounts, Rob could be a good guy to have in your corner, and he was deeply passionate about the work that he did, both in front of and behind the camera. But like many people, Hall also had his own share of issues that he often struggled with, which was a shame. But as someone who got to know the real Rob over the course of several years, only focusing on those negative aspects of his life and career is a huge disservice to everything that he was able to achieve throughout his career, and his contributions to the world of practical effects in horror still stand out amongst some of the best work to come out of the 2000s and 2010s.
When this writer first moved out to Los Angeles in 2009, Rob Hall was one of the first people in the industry that I became friendly with, to the point where I ended up working for him for several years at Almost Human FX, running his shop and working as his assistant, amongst many other duties that helped keep things rolling at AHFX. It all began at a special screening of Laid to Rest in early April 2009, where I first met Rob as he stood outside nervously puffing away on a cigarette waiting for the screening to start. He had this “rock star” aura to him, complete with a mohawk, black nail polish, and an ensemble that just screamed, “Yeah, I’m a badass,” and I just remember thinking that he was like the coolest dude in the horror circles. This was right as I was beginning this new journey in my career out here, so I was still terribly nervous around everyone, but when I met Rob that night, he could not have been more gracious and welcoming, and I very much appreciated that.
In fact, just a few weeks later, Rob invited me to come and hang out on set for a day while he was shooting his Fear Clinic web series that he created for FEARnet, which starred the iconic Robert Englund. And not only did I get to hang out and get a sense of what being on a set was like, but Hall also encouraged me to go off and chat with Robert Englund, and on that day, I spent nearly an hour just sitting around and speaking with someone who I grew up idolizing, which still blows my mind to this day. That’s just one of the things I will forever be indebted to Rob for.
But as I got to know Rob here and there, I decided I wanted to do something more to talk about his life beyond the usual press and publicity rigamarole, and little did I know that the interview we conducted that day would lead me on the path that I’ve been on with the books I’ve been writing for the last few years. In that interview, though, that’s when I realized that Rob and I had a lot of things in common. We both grew up economically challenged, we both used horror as an escape, and we both spent years dreaming of finally making it to Los Angeles. He may have had this rock star facade, but underneath, he was just a horror geek like the rest of us.
Growing up, Rob lived in Alabama, so his path to Hollywood wasn’t exactly a direct one, but when he heard that the legendary Tom Burman was making a movie some 350 miles away from where he was living (that film was Body Snatchers), Hall was determined to meet with the effects legend by any means necessary. Rob’s gamble paid off, as he ended up not only impressing Tom Burman, but he managed to land his first gig in the world of special effects in the early 1990s, which got him one step closer to eventually becoming a part of the effects industry. When Rob did have the opportunity to move to the West Coast, he did so with $80 in his pocket, no safety net, and knowing that going back to Alabama was not an option.
And somehow, through his hard work and determination he persevered, so much so that Rob was able to open his own effects house in the late 1990s, which was no small feat in itself. Over time, Almost Human FX was able to establish itself as one of the go-to effects houses for photo-realistic gags, innovative creatures, and more. When I came on board at AHFX in 2009, I was in absolute heaven, and even though Rob could be a pretty tough boss to work for at times, he was also good to us and we all became something of a family (dysfunctional, for sure, but we all had each other’s backs). Beyond that, Rob and I became really good friends, which is something weird to say about your boss, but he was going through a divorce at the time, and I had recently gone through one as well, so we had a lot of long discussions about life and relationships where I got to know him even better, and that’s when I realized that there was a lot more to him than what you saw on the outside.
I won’t try and sugarcoat my time at Almost Human, because while it was a dream job for me, there were days that were extremely challenging and there were days when the stress of running a shop and trying to move forward as a filmmaker would catch up with Rob, and he wasn’t exactly someone you wanted to be around in those moments (which I think is something that could be said for any boss, really). But the good days working with Rob and at AHFX far outnumbered the bad, and not only did Hall give me the opportunity to learn a lot about an industry and a craft that I had spent nearly my entire life absolutely enamored by, he also provided me with other opportunities to shine, including having me be the Almost Human representative that helped organize a special immersive media event celebrating the release of The Crazies in 2010, which is still one of my best memories from my entire career (and anyone who attended that night knows just how much fun it was from beginning to end).
I also had the opportunity to take things to various sets where I saw all kinds of cool stuff (another highlight of my time at AHFX was being given a special tour of the set of Fringe when I had to drop off some appliances one day), I helped create bids and budget breakdowns, I ran the office throughout the production of Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 (the apartment that Thomas Dekker lives in in the movie is actually my old apartment!), I learned how to make basic appliances and various types of blood (my favorite was gelatin, just because it looked so cool), and I also got to meet a ton of cool artists, actors, and other notable folks over the years, too. And that was all due to Rob.
As an artist, Rob built quite a reputation for creating some of the most utterly brilliant gore gags in modern effects (if you need confirmation as to the kind of jaw-dropping work he was capable of, go back and watch what he does on both Laid to Rest films, and you’ll see what I mean), and he spent a lot of time creating memorable characters that fans still continue to enjoy to this very day (especially in the Buffy and Angel circles). He also created one of the most cringe-inducing broken leg gags I’ve ever seen in a horror movie in Quarantine, and the work that he and his team did on The Sarah Connor Chronicles was absolutely top-notch to boot. Rob’s talents in the world of special effects were boundless, there’s no doubt about that.
But anyone who knew Rob knows that he had his fair share of struggles. It’s not my place to discuss those publicly, but there were things that were happening with Rob that, as his friend, made me incredibly sad to see. In 2011, I ended up being let go from AHFX unceremoniously after getting hit with a horrendous bout of shingles that laid me out for several months, and honestly, that was probably the most heartbreaking professional experience I’ve ever had for a variety of reasons. And even though I ran into Rob at several different events after that, we never really spoke again, and now in retrospect, that makes me incredibly sad.
The thing that Rob probably never knew was that the initial conversation that we had about his life would end up inspiring me to set out to write about the lives of special effects artists, because it made me realize that very rarely did anyone take the time to talk to these artists about anything beyond the “how-to” type of stuff. And as Rob had been getting things back on track over the last few years with his career (subsequently reopening his shop under the banner PostHuman FX), my hope was that one day, I’d be able to reach out to him, put the past behind us, and include him in one of the books in the future. And now, that will never happen.
Regret is a funny thing, though. There’s a huge part of me that now wishes I had reached out sooner for obvious reasons. But at the same time, there has been this part of me that is still heartbroken over what happened a decade ago, and maybe in the long run what happened didn’t really matter to him, and that’s something I’ll be left to ponder for a long time. But even despite everything that went awry in those final weeks with Rob at AHFX, I still cannot put into words how grateful I was and still am for everything that opportunity afforded me, both personally and professionally. My life was forever changed by knowing Rob Hall, and I can’t help but admire his tenacity, his creativity, and his passion for the horror genre that continued to motivate him as a special effects artist and as a visual storyteller as well.
There’s an adage out there that says something to the effect of: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” And when I think of that saying, it reminds me of Rob. To everyone else, he was this larger-than-life personality that was full of swagger and bravado, but at the same time, there were so many things that Rob had to overcome through his life that I think if people had the chance to get to know that real Rob Hall that I got to know all those years ago, they would be surprised by just who exactly he really was deep down.
I’ll forever be bummed out over how things broke down at the end of our friendship and working relationship, but in the meantime, I choose to remember all the good things about Rob Hall—the pride and elation he felt when Chromeskull made the cover of Fangoria, how giddy he was about being interviewed by Carson Daly, the way he would geek out over being part of the Terminator universe, and the gleam in his eye that would hit when one of his special effects gags would go off without a hitch. And the only thing in this world that Rob loved more than creating special effects was directing, and it’s really a shame he didn’t get to do that more.
Also, for those who maybe want to continue to celebrate Rob’s life and his legacy, I’d highly recommend checking out his directorial debut Lightning Bug, which is a semi-autobiographical look at his life growing up in the South, and it’s a darn good first feature from him as well.
Rob’s brother Jason also set up a GoFundMe page to help cover the final costs for Rob, and if you’d like to donate or pay your respects, you can visit the site HERE.