Over the weekend, Creature Features in Burbank, California played host to an amazing panel called Creating Pennywise, which featured Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis from studioADI, as well as fellow legendary effects artist Bart Mixon, who was responsible for bringing the Tim Curry iteration of Pennywise to life for the 1990 IT miniseries.
And even though we have already celebrated Bart Mixon’s iconic design and his ambitious efforts from over 27 years ago just a few months back (which you can read about HERE), the discussion held during the Creating Pennywise panel was just too good not to share as part of Daily Dead’s "Practical-ly Perfect" series.
Read on for highlights from the panel, and be sure to check out some of the photos below, which feature an amazing Pennywise bust as well as some of his various sets of teeth and more.
Tom and Alec, what role did you guys play in the new IT?
Tom Woodruff, Jr.: Well, we designed and created the makeup for Pennywise. We designed and created some dead kids that appeared in the corridors, and some wounds, like an H that was carved into somebody's stomach, and some broken arms, and some severed heads. We also did some different gashes and slashes—a lot of bloody, scary stuff.
Alec Gillis: So Bart, just by way of explanation, has been in the biz for about as long as we have, although, our first time working together was on a movie called Bright, which we did last year, and it's a Netflix movie that's coming out soon. It's so funny because we've known each other forever, and I was thinking, “Yeah, we've worked together,” but we haven't.
While we were in London doing Alien 3, Bart was doing the original effects for IT, the miniseries, so we're kind of the bookends here, but we've been around forever. We just thought it was kind of cool, but these old guys are still here.
What was the design process for you guys on IT, for both the new movie and back when you worked on the miniseries, too?
Bart Mixon: I did a lot of research on clowns, did a lot of sketching and whatnot. Actually, the design we ended up using is loosely based on Lon Cheney from Phantom of the Opera. It was kind of the stylized version of that. Once we cast Tim Curry, I did three clay sketches that the director looked at and evaluated, and we picked one that turned into a makeup.
Then, we did a makeup test where we tested it. Tim wanted to do as little makeup as possible, so we tested just the cranium piece, which isn't too different from what they have out there, only it ends not quite to the brow, and had a nose, and we also had cheeks and a chin that was in the second cast, and they were decided... they weren't necessary, but those had already been sculpted into the battery acid look, so that's why the foam structure is a little different on that one because that was meant to reflect an earlier design that was later dropped.
Tom Woodruff, Jr.: Well, we basically had one stage short of all the big transformations that happened at the end of the movie, and our stage was consistent from the beginning to the end, along with the certain changes like the types of teeth that Pennywise had, or the color of contact lenses.
It's amazing, because with our history of making these dental veneers for actors, the smallest amount of material you can put on a plastic clip that goes onto their teeth, the better, because it gets in the way, their mouths dry out, their lips drag along the acrylic teeth. Bill Skarsgård... you look at these things, and they're jagged. They look like a sea urchin, and he jammed these things in his mouth, and his lip just went right over the top of them, and I was literally expecting them to start poking through.
He was able to do his dialogue, and he opened his lips and smiled, and they were completely clean. No blood. He didn't cut himself. He was just so gung-ho for all of this stuff. He's a perfect actor because he saw all of these things not as impediments for his character, but as enhancements, as tools that he could use.
From what I understand, Andy Muschietti was heavily involved in the design process. Is that correct?
Alec Gillis: You know, he's an excellent sketch artist. I think, of other directors we've worked with, like James Cameron, Ridley Scott, or Neill Blomkamp, those are some pretty good names to be in a company with. And Andy is really a good sketch artist. If you look him up on Instagram, he does a drawing of Pennywise, so I think this was a design that must have been in his head for a while, because most of what we did was take his line drawing and interpret it in the real world, which is where the makeup design comes in.
That is where you have to interpret a 2D drawing, you have to turn it into an actual sculpture, and beyond being a sculpture, it then has to become foam, rubber pieces that allow an actor to emote. We actually took a couple of runs of that and we had a couple of chances to do a test, rework it, do a clay sculpt of it, so they can duplicate the sculpture and change the eyebrows a little bit, work on the thicknesses, and then change that around. In fact, if I could take a moment to give a shout out to Mike O'Brien, he's the guy that sculpted that Pennywise.
How much did the script inform your design of Pennywise?
Tom Woodruff, Jr.: We didn't have a script. We didn't have script pages. We basically got some drawings, including Andy's original work, and once we saw that, we said, “Yeah, we're in,” no matter what happened in the script.
Alec Gillis: For us, it's about working with the director and the actor, and making sure you're supporting the director's vision, and you don't want to get too precious with source material that had been previously done, because then you're kind of boxed in. You're not necessarily thinking in that new direction. Well, I think everybody wanted it to arc back to clowns, just not specifically to the Tim Curry version, because our feeling was, we should let that stand as its own iconic thing.
We've gone through this with the Alien movies and Predator, too, where you have to figure out how to you redesign these characters so that you're not outraging the fans by throwing something away, but you still have to serve the script and make the director happy.
How did the designs evolve while working on the character of Pennywise for all three of you? Were there a lot of changes?
Tom Woodruff, Jr.: Yeah, there were quite a few changes. We started off with the initial look, and that was in clay over a lifecast of the actor, and Mike O'Brien, you'll remember, [there were] several times where we came back and said, we need a new brow.
At one point, the eyebrows stuck out, and then we came back and said, now the eyebrows have to be carved in. But then, now they have to be carved in, but not so long, or now they have to look not so mean, and we did a lot of variations. I think at one point, we were putting paper up on the sculpture and doing tracings on it, trying to send those pictures back to Andy, so we could get out of having to put the entire day into a sculpture that we weren't sure if it was the right direction.
And part of it was making sure that we were understanding, but that is not unusual. That is part of the design process, of going back and forth with the director, and making sure that now that we have an actor's face, that we work into the design concept. We always want to find a way to fix it all together so it's exactly what they want.
Bart Mixon: My original notion on It was that when the kids saw It, it's just all an illusion. When the kids saw him, it would be the stylized happy-looking clown, like we got in the movie that Tim Curry played. And then when the adults saw him, since they know now he's not a clown, but a monster, then it was going to be like a horrific caricature of a clown, more like a corpse or just disfigured and weird.
And so, in the sequence in the script where the kid [Eddie Kaspbrak] has the respirator and he believes it's battery acid, so it injures Pennywise, that became what we called the “battery acid look,” and I used parts of that horrific version when I was designing that. Originally, anytime the adults saw him, I wanted that, but the director thought, "Well, what if we wanted to shoot the kid version and the adult version on the same day?" And I was like, "Well, I just looked at the schedule and you're not." But anyway, that's what became the basis for that.
Also, just in that sequence where they hit him in the head with a rock, I think in the original script you were going to see spider hairs sticking out, but I thought that was too literal, and the spider was never meant to be his final form anyway. So it was my idea to have the dead lights shine out.
In reference to the spider finale, we shot that over two days, and after spending eight weeks building this thing, we did the first take or two, and the director's like, “I don't know if we should print that one.” Then, I was like, “Well, why don't we print everything?” [Laughs] It was like, it's only going to work two days, so why not? There are some weird takes in there, too, where it's like they shot it at 90 frames a second, which is super slow motion, so it looks like it's not doing anything. I don’t know why they didn’t use the takes where it's moving the mandibles and making the fangs drip.
It could do a lot more than what you saw. If I delivered a spider that did as little as that thing did, they would've kicked my ass. It now resides in the Mixon’s Memories Museum in South Houston, Texas, open from 2:00–6:00pm every Sunday. I've got the big, dead alien from Men in Black II, and Tom Hester gave us the dead alien from Cocoon, too—there’s all kinds of stuff there. But enough about that [laughs].
What role did digital play in bringing Pennywise to life for you guys?
Alec Gillis: The transformations. The extra wide mouth, the gigantic teeth. It's all just very well done. We're big practical effects people up here, and we believe wherever you can establish something in camera for real, do it that way, and then enhance with digital. Especially in horror films, because you don't want to be knocked out of the moment.
There is a fantasy element to Pennywise—his personality and what he is because he kind of controls your mind. He responds, feeds off your fear, all that stuff. I think it just works really well, and things that people think are digital are actually real. That lazy eye of Skarsgård's is actually a practical effect that God made [laughs].
So, I was blown away by some of the digital stuff. We discussed him getting out of the refrigerator, like maybe it should be a rod puppet conjointed in weird ways, and you have puppeteers, but it was digital and practical, with a real performance that was enhanced, and it worked great.
Writer’s Note: During the panel, Gillis read off a list of names of the artists who unfortunately didn’t make it into the final credits on IT (2017). I thought it would be nice to honor their efforts here, and share his list with everyone:
IT Toronto Crew:
Sean Sansom - Prosthetic Makeup Designer/Supervisor
Shane Zander - Prosthetic Makeup On-Set Supervisor
Neil Morrill - Prosthetic Makeup Key
Ryan Reed - Prosthetic Makeup Hair Stylist
Jasmine Ruiz - Contact Lens Technician
Additional Prosthetic Makeup Artists: