Throughout his career, special effects artist Todd Masters has always embraced any challenges that have come his way, whether it was bringing the Borg to life in Star Trek: First Contact, giving life to Billy Zane’s demonic spawn in Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, or severely dismembering ne’er-do-wells for the Soska Sisters' American Mary, Masters has always found a way to make the impossible possible in the world of special effects.
And while those aforementioned films would be enough to establish him as something of a legend in the world of practical effects, he was the madman behind the hundreds of killer slugs and ambitious transformations we see in James Gunn’s Slither, which in itself was a miraculous feat. So, for this installment of Practical-ly Perfect, I thought it was time to pay tribute to Masters’ astonishing achievements on Slither (which also got a nifty Blu-ray release last year courtesy of Scream Factory).
According to Masters, “Gold Circle wanted something to show off at AFM [American Film Market] before we started shooting Slither, and they asked me if I had any makeup tests or anything that I could give to them to help sell James’ vision. And while we did have some stuff, I always thought about what John Lasseter would do in these instances. He was a smart guy, because instead of just shooting tests, he'd shoot a little story with it. And so I said, ‘Well, I don’t really just want to shoot a test. I want to shoot something with more of a story to it that we can present to give people a real idea of what to expect.’ And that’s when James and I sat down and did our own rip-o-matic.”
“A rip-o-matic is basically where you go out and you rip off other people’s exterior shots from movies, but since we're just showing it as a demo of the type of movie and not selling it, it's not really copyright infringement. We took a couple of exterior shots, James wrote the voiceovers that went over all the footage, and then we shot the rest of the pieces in our shop. We shot a test with the Grant character in the third-stage makeup, we got some friends and actresses to shoot some other creepy scenes, and we put this thing together. It turned out very cool, and I did pretty much all the visual effects myself. When people saw it, they loved it, and that helped sell the movie.”
“I worked heavily on Slither with Dan Rebert, who was our supervisor in our LA shop. We had a lot of weird material knowledge that we had developed for a couple of other shows, and we were really starting to get into the translucent membranes and bladders, too. What was interesting about Dan’s involvement was that he brought a lot of his knowledge in from the sex toy businesses that he used to work at.”
“As it turned out, the material used for sex toys was what we needed to create these slugs, so we bought up every single possible sex toy we could, just so we could repurpose them for Slither. In fact, because we were making this during one of the Iraq wars, and because it was a petroleum-based product, there was a brief shortage in petroleum because of the war, so that meant these toys weren’t being manufactured at all. We tried calling up one distributor who was out, and we asked them, ‘Well, if you don’t have any more, do you know where we can get them?’ And they said, ‘No, no, no, you don’t understand, none of us have any more—period. Everyone is out.’ And that was all because of Slither.”
“I also remember there was one day when I was giving a new client a tour of the shop right after we had just bought a whole bucket-load of sex toys. There was this table that had a mountain of vaginas and penises on it that were being cut up so they could be melted down. And so, here I am, just trying to casually walk our client through all of that and still trying to convince them we’re a professional studio.”
Masters also experienced another surprising development on Slither when he realized that a reluctant co-star had no idea of the fate of her character in the film, and didn’t know why she had to meet with the effects team. “One day, they send us Brenda [James], who also happens to play a character named Brenda, to be molded for this giant fat suit that was set to explode in Slither’s third act. When she shows up, she says to us, ‘Well, what am I doing here? Why am I being cast?’ And we were like, ‘We are guessing you didn't read the extra stuff at the end of the movie?’ She had not and had no idea, so when she found out, you can imagine that Brenda was not a fan.”
“Also, that suit has got to go on the record books for the world’s biggest prosthetic. I don't know of many prosthetics where you had to crawl into the ass of it and then make your way into this 12-foot-diameter ball of silicone fat. It was pretty amazing.”Next: Practical-ly Perfect: Celebrating the Work of Special Effects Legend Gary Tunnicliffe for TRICK