Hello, readers! Welcome back for another installment of one of our featured columns here at Daily Dead, Deadly Dialogue: A Conversation on Cinema, in which we catch up with notable talent who have worked in the horror and sci-fi genres—both in front of and behind the camera—to discuss the films that inspired them to become the artists they are today.

For this month’s discussion, Daily Dead spoke with Tony Gardner, legendary special effects artist and president of Alterian, Inc. With an already prolific career that began in the early 1980s, Gardner has consistently established himself as one of the premier talents in the industry, contributing to films like The Return of the Living Dead, Cocoon, Evil Dead II, Harry and the Hendersons, The Lost Boys, Gorillas in the Mist, Nightbreed, The Blob, Darkman, Army of Darkness, Hocus Pocus, Seed of Chucky (in which he has a pretty sweet cameo and death), 127 Hours, and over 200 other credits to boot.

When asked about the films that influenced his decision to pursue a career in the creative arts, Gardner said:

“I had two experiences that were that extreme for me. When I was a kid, I went and saw Alien in the theater. I was just dumbfounded by how different everything was, how creative, how genuinely scary it was, how little you saw of it, and how effective it all was, too. It turned me on to the whole concept of storytelling as well as really amazing effects. All the payoffs were mind-blowing things we hadn't seen before, and that pushed me in a direction where I started copying things that I had seen in movies. I built a Chestburster. I built a Facehugger. And when I went and saw An American Werewolf in London, I built a werewolf, too. It was just being inspired by those films that really got me going at first.”

“Then, when I came out to California, I started as a student and through an opportunity at USC, I had a paper I had to write. I used it as an opportunity to meet a bunch of people, and I managed to meet Rick Baker while doing that. He offered me a four-week job as a runner on a music video he was going to do. It turned out that it was Michael Jackson's Thriller. I was 18, and I knew very little. I was literally off the boat from Ohio and I stepped into that experience knowing nothing. Within a couple weeks, I had someone else become the runner because I was making molds, then I was building bladders, and then I was building zombies. I was even able to build a zombie on myself, so I got to be in the Thriller video and go on set everyday.”

“When we wrapped, John Landis invited me to come watch them edit. He knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker, and he was really trying to explain everything to me as we went along. That was the other moment where I went, ‘This is just the greatest thing in the world, and I really want to do this for the rest of my life.’ It was a very defining experience for me.”