Arts & EntertainmentThe EnvelopeCompany Town

Todd Tucker is master of Illusion Industries, a movie makeup firm

PetsPiracyThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (movie)Steven SpielbergSony Pictures Entertainment Inc.Brad Pitt

The gig: Todd Tucker, 38, is co-founder and president of Illusion Industries Inc., a special effects makeup company in Los Angeles. He helped create the Brad Pitt baby in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and the pirates in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. Upcoming films that feature Illusion Industries work include Paramount Pictures' "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and Sony Pictures Animation's "The Smurfs 2."

First break: Steven Spielberg was a huge inspiration for Tucker, who grew up loving movies. He started learning makeup techniques in high school and learned to sculpt and create his own unique creatures as a hobby. He spent four years building his portfolio before getting his first major film work as a key artist on the 1991 film "Hook" with Robin Williams. "I did not take it for granted," he said. "I knew I had to work hard to keep working on major films."

Behind the business: Tucker co-founded Illusion Industries 2 1/2 years ago. His company has about a dozen full-time employees in offices in Burbank, Moscow and the New Orleans area. When his company gets a call to work on a film, the artists look at the script and see what kind of makeup and creations are involved. The company gives producers an estimated budget and then meets with the director to discuss the vision behind the idea. Then the artists sculpt and create the characters along with makeup applications. Makeup artists are the first to arrive on set and the last to leave, Tucker said. Depending on the movie, a budget for special effects makeup can run from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars.

An evolving industry: Tucker has seen the special effects makeup industry change since he got his start. With better cameras, close-up shots show more details than before. Turnaround times are faster, and sometimes key makeup artists don't get a makeup test to see if their vision or what they created works before shooting. "We don't get as much time as we used to get," Tucker said. "There doesn't seem to be the time or the money for development. The biggest challenge is staying competitive and keeping designs creative and original." Most recently, Tucker did work for "The Smurfs 2." The special effects makeup had to be clearer than ever before because of the cameras, he said.

Challenging project: Tucker was a key artist on "White Chicks," a 2004 comedy starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans. The two black actors play FBI agents who impersonate two white women targeted by kidnappers. Tucker helped create the makeup that turned the Wayans brothers into white women. "I think it turned out well, but it was a tough one," he said.

Funny moment: A few years ago, Tucker directed and did makeup on "Monster Mutt," a family film about a dog that gets kidnapped to be used as a test subject. The dog escapes, but the tests have turned him into Monster Mutt. To make the giant dog come to life, a puppeteer donned a large dog suit with an animatronic head. Tucker provided directions to the puppeteer in the suit through a walkie-talkie. In a scene in which the large dog was walking in the dark next to a 15-foot drop-off, Tucker was telling the puppeteer to go left but the puppeteer went right instead and fell over the edge. The puppeteer wasn't injured in the fall. "It was funny to see my giant dog monster roll into the dark," Tucker said.

Advice: Getting into the special effects makeup business took hard work and dedication for Tucker. More than two decades later, he still loves his job and enjoys the people he works with. "It is fun what we do," he said. "I try to motivate my crew to have fun and be helpful." His advice to those aspiring to get into the business is simple: work hard. "Learn as much as you can and create that portfolio."

Getting personal: Tucker was raised in San Jose and moved to Los Angeles to work. He is married and has two daughters and two dogs. Tucker's wife, Valerie, works with autistic children as a teaching assistant. They live in Santa Clarita.

business@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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PetsPiracyThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (movie)Steven SpielbergSony Pictures Entertainment Inc.Brad Pitt
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