Part of what makes the horror genre so much fun is all the creatures lurking in the shadows. One man who knows that in particular is special effects creator Jeff Farley, whose work has recently been featured in “Camera Obscura”, a new web series by Drew Daywalt that is currently being featured on Daily Motion as well as right here on Dread Central.
Farley, who grew up in Southern California, has made a name for himself over the last 25 years in the industry, working on such classics like The Serpent & The Rainbow, Shocker and Freddy’s Dead as well as modern cult faves like Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, Evil Bong, and Parasomnia. We recently had a chance to catch up with Farley to chat about how he got his start working in special effects and his collaboration with Daywalt on “Camera Obscura”.
Dread Central: Can you talk about how you got interested in FX work and your start in the industry? Did you have industry heroes when you were starting out?
Jeff: Being born and growing up in Glendale during the 60’s and ’70’s, I happened to be in the hub of the effects industry. By the time I was a teenager, I was hanging out every weekend at Forrest J. Ackerman’s and meeting all of these incredible people like Ray Harryhausen and John Landis. It was through Forry that I met Douglas Barrett Jones, who had worked for the Burmans, and he brought me onto my first film, Kingdom of the Spiders. It was a lowly job of making background spiders, but my two friends, Skip Torvinen and Mike Schulte, and I dove in and helped for a couple of weeks.
One of my neighbors was a guy named Richard Chew, and it turned out the he was one of the editors of Star Wars and Wolfen, and I’ll never forget holding his Oscar.
I also spent a lot of time bugging guys like David Allen, Jim Danforth, Dennis Muren and Mark McGee because of their involvement in Equinox. It turns out that they had shot that film around the area where I lived, and I realized then that it was possible for me to work in this field as a career. They were incredibly generous and helped me develop my interest into a skill. I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
It seems strange to me now that I realize I had a very privileged childhood. Looking back to the time that I was given the opportunity to play with an original Mighty Joe Young armature is a very surrealistic yet satisfying experience considering what I ended up doing. I try now to pass on to others what was passed on to me from those before by way of encouragement.
DC: How did you get involved with Drew Daywalt originally?
Jeff: I had answered an ad he put out looking for a monster for one of his films. It turns out it was for these guys called Fewdio. I had no idea who they were, but I knew when I saw the samples they brought that this was something special so I agreed to do a puppet for what ended up as Breach. Over the next few months he would contact me for projects that I wasn’t available for, but he would continue to call. Working with Drew has wound up being the best move I’ve made in my career as he has not only been absolutely the best person I’ve worked with, he, his family and friends have become good friends also. I can never thank him enough for including me.
DC: When you’re coming up with new creature designs, where does the inspiration come from?
Jeff: That’s a real tough answer as I seem to get inspired from different sources. Sometimes Drew will throw something at me in the way of a description or rough sketch which then I refine. Or it’s from an outside source like John U. Abrahamson and the Mama’s Baby creature. Or I’ll throw on a movie and dig through reference materials to get some ideas. I’ll also do a few pencil and Photoshop sketches and maybe a maquette or two. The weirdest thing is that I don’t really have nightmares and I spend most of my time watching Spaghetti Westerns these days.
DC: Let’s talk about the monsters in “Camera Obscura” – can you walk me through your process in coming up with the concept designs for the monsters to fabricating them (and working with the actors inside of them) up until they make it on screen?
Jeff: With the exception of Corpulence, Drew had made some cut and paste designs which had a very unnerving effect in that though all of these images were taken from different sources, when they were combined, they made a new image of a demonic vision. My job then became how to translate these images into three dimensions while still retaining a distorted effect. That was accomplished by sculpting the characters in a different way than was expected by Drew.
For example, Drew thought Magoria would just be accomplished with white contact lenses, a bald cap and white makeup. My concept included a prosthetic covering the top half of Azure Parson’s face, which I sculpted using Michaelangelo’s “Dawn” as a reference because I thought that the eyes should reflect a cold, impassionate feeling in the character and let Azure’s expressions and body language do the rest. As a matter of fact, all of the creature performers were incredibly professional and a joy to work with.
While most of the characters were sculpted, molded and run in foam latex, Splinter was constructed out of various different foam appliances to give a “patchwork” effect. His mask was then turned into a hand-puppet for the scenes with the tongue. Corpulence had no preliminary deign phase, just a vague concept. I went right into the sculpt on him and nailed down the look almost immediately. “Corp” was the most elaborate character in the show as he not only had a full-body suit, I also included some mechanics in the face for the bird-beak-eyes and other points of movement.
Even though I wasn’t “re-inventing the wheel” on this one, I had to use just about every technique I knew. I also had a great crew headed up by Dirk von Besser. Without all of them, I never could have done the project and I thank them all.
DC: I know you work a lot with Drew; can you talk a bit about your collaboration with him on “Camera Obscura”?
Jeff: When Drew first told me about “Camera Obscura”, he wasn’t offering me the show, but when he showed me the designs that he had worked up, I instantly knew I had to be involved. He turned out to be the most meticulous and detail-oriented director I had worked with for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for him for that. He knows exactly what he wants to shoot and cuts right “to-the-bone” when on set. It saves us so much time. It doesn’t hurt that he is also the nicest guy you would ever want to know. Since “Camera Obscura” we have been working together as co-producers on his films.
DC: With “Camera Obscura” out for the fans to enjoy now, what’s next for you guys?
Jeff: We have so many films in various stages of pre-production, production and post-production. We are always busy doing what we love. Upcoming films include Mama’s Baby, The Kindred, Polydeus, Bad Cookie, The Old Chair, My Name Is Chris Kringle, Room 19, Naked and I think a few more. This is all through January so this is going to be a very busy holiday season for us!
Big thanks to Jeff for hanging with us. Check out some cool behind-the-scenes stills below and make sure to dig on Daily Motion’s “Camera Obscura” page to watch this bone-chilling new web series!
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