Interview with Tom Woodruff Jr.

Tom Woodruff Jr. is one of the founding members of Amalgamated Dynamics along with Alec Gillis. He is an Academy Award Winner for Best Visual Effects in 1992’s “Death Becomes Her”. He has worked films ranging from “Aliens” to “The Santa Clause” to “Spider-Man” and pretty much every other movie made in the last 25 years. Movie Mikes has the chance to talk to Tom to discuss his career and what is in store for the future.

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Mike Gencarelli: Your first movie was with Charles Band’s Full Moon, called Metalstorm 3D? Tell me about that experience?
Tom Woodruff Jr.: Yes that is right.  Everything about it was great for me because it was my first film.  I was finally able to do what I set out to do since I was a kid.  I moved across country from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles.  It was a lot of hard work but it was so cool, finally being able to work in an effects shop.  Back then everything we did in this field was all encompassing.   There wasn’t the degree of specialization that we have today for example.  I went in and by the end of “Metalstorm”, I was able to do mold work, sculpting, apply prosthetic makeup, foam work, on set color application work and puppetry.  In that short period of time, I was turned on to so many different aspects of what we do in this field.  It was an incredible working experience packed into a very short period of time.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you actually get involved with SFX and makeup?
Tom Woodruff Jr.: When I moved to Los Angeles, I had a small portfolio of things I had done on my own like some masks, models, and sculptures.  When I got out to Los Angeles, I knew a couple of people.  I had corresponded quite a bit with John Chambers back when I was a kid.  I was such a “Planet of the Apes” fan.  During High School, in the summer I would travel out to Los Angeles and meet people.  John Chambers would take me around to meet people like Stan Winston and Tom Burman and a bunch of other established makeup artists.  I was at least armed with a few names and numbers who I could show my work and try and get work.  I just kept at it for a better part of six months.

Mike Gencarelli: You’ve worked on the Alien series, what was your favorite film to work on?
Tom Woodruff Jr.: I think my favorite was “Alien 3” for a combination of reasons.  That was an early film that Alec (Gillis) and I did on own.  On “Aliens”, the Cameron movie, we were part of Stan Winston’s team.  Stan was amazing and inspiring to work with but with “Alien 3” it was our own show.  It was also the first time I wore the Alien costume.  We really had a chance to work on screen a lot and work quite a bit with Sigourney (Weaver) in the scenes.  Just being around David Fincher was a huge experience just to see that level of filmmaking from a guy that young.  It was also a bit intimidating because David was way ahead of the curve and if anyone was going to find something that wasn’t working it would be him.

MG: What do you enjoy more working in the film or on the film?
TW: I honestly do not separate it too much because to me it is one continuous process.  Alex and I really take pride in that we design and build these characters.  We also follow them through to the very end in which we are on set, either me inside of the creature and Alex outside puppeteering or both of us outside.  It becomes a very personal statement in these characters that we build that we hold on so much of them until the very end.

MG: You played some of the most memorable creatures, The Gilman in “The Monster Squad”, “Pumpkinhead” to name a few, what has been your favorite?
TW: I go back and forth, I love the Alien but it really wasn’t my character.  Pumpkinhead was great because that was a whole new thing.  We got to design and create “Pumpkinhead” and Stan was directing.  We were on set and it was on the best experiences I’ve ever had.  We were so integrated with the project.  I still think though my favorite is the Gilman from “The Monster Squad”.  As a kid, I was always such a fan of the old Universal creature movies.  Even the lousy ones like “The Creature Walks Among Us”, it is still cool.  The only thing that would have made it better was if we did a 1:1 copy of what the original creature looked like in the 50’s for “The Monster Squad”.  The creature we had was so cool though.  It was such a great character to play.  The scenes of me coming out of the water and the ones in the middle of town were great.

MGi: How do you feel with all the CGI taking over?  Do you think creatures will be around forever?
TW: That is a question that has been going on since the early 90’s, mostly around the time of the first “Jurassic Park”.  I feel like the question has been answered many times over the years.  The birth of the CG realm had the effect of bringing us more work for quite a few years.  It was making possible the idea of being able to do movies like “Jurassic Park” or “Starship Troopers”.  Not that it couldn’t be done without CGI but the advent of CGI (and good CGI) made it more of a good consideration for studios to embark on big projects like these.  But ironically, I am not slamming CG in any way I am trying to restore balance.  So many people think that, “Oh CGI, that is what made “Jurassic Park” come to life”.  That is not entirely true, if you look at the screen time between digital dinosaurs and Stan Winston’s animatronic dinosaurs.  The animatronic dinosaurs have more screen time.  They also have as much of an impact as the CGI.  The CGI was new, sweet and sexy.  It shows up on the cover of Newsweek and became the buzz word.  Hollywood functions as an industry on very short term descriptive phrases for what people do in movies.  We have to make sure that people do not forget how important practical effects are.  What we have seen most recently is a much wider embrace and return to old school effects or some people say organic effects.

MG: Tell me about the upcoming remake of “The Thing” and your involvement?
TW: The only thing I can tell you is, YES we are involved.  We get to do some great creature still and it is a huge challenge.  John Carpenter’s movie was such a groundbreaking film in the world of creature effects.  At the time practical creature effects was really all there was.  It is a huge act to follow and it is a really challenging.  It is further magnified that we have so precious little time to be able to design and create what needs to get done for the screen.  We looked it up and Rob (Bottin) from the original had a year and a half to conceive and create the effects.  We have about four and a half months in comparison.  It has been non-stop, going crazy in the shop.

MG: What else do you have planned for the future?
TW: “The Thing” is our main priority right now but like I said it has been non-stop since we started.  We are concentrating all of our energy in this project.  It is keeping us hustling.

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