Burb's Eye View: Monster mavens meet at the Marriott

Judging by his oozing head wound, the gray, plastic Hazmat suit Ken Mclaughlin was wearing didn’t help stave off the zombie attack.

I met him in a small conference room at the Burbank Marriott Saturday. Just outside the door, demons walked freely, but here in the side room, Mclaughlin shuffled off the suit for a quick breather.

“I’m just swimming in this,” he said. More “blood” and “tissue” washed away with his sweat.

It looked infected and revolting, which, of course, is the point at Monsterpalooza. Since 2008, the horror and makeup-effects convention has offered a who’s who of classic movie villains and the masters behind the monsters.

Everything you’d need to make your own monster creation is for sale at Monsterpalooza: prosthetics, molds and masks fill the booths. There’s also plenty of room for the do-it-yourself crowd like Mclaughlin — the viscera coating Mclaughlin’s head was a mixture of tapioca, coconut oil and gelatin.

“I’m an eco-friendly zombie,” he said.

The makeup-effects industry is alive and thriving at Monsterpalooza. Industry veterans say there’s plenty of work to be had despite the rise and evolution of computer technology.

“It’s like a marriage — CGI and practical effects get their best value by being used together,” said Erick Rodriguez, owner of Imaginerick, a design and effects studio.

There would be more work, one industry veteran said, if studios could lock down creative details early in the production process. Bruce D. Mitchell, a designer on films including “Pacific Rim” and “John Carter,” has seen designs change or be scrapped and fixed digitally later, usually because of money.

“The biggest special effects in Hollywood are the financiers,” Mitchell said. “It’s not the creative people making movies. It’s the bean counters and lawyers.”

Not all of the effects-industry work gets put in front of the cameras, however. Larry Bones (yes, that’s his name) and his company, Boneyard Effects, have created the creatures that inhabit Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios since 2006.

Though the company also sells prosthetics and does some film work, it’s the five-month stretch leading to Halloween that keeps Bones’ skeleton crew busy.

On Saturday afternoon, they put together a demonstration on how rubber, glue and some paint become a fierce skeleton.

“How can we make it bigger? How can we make it better? That’s what makes (working with Universal) so special,” Bones said.

Beyond a showcase of effects work, Monsterpalooza is a networking event for up-and-comers eager to learn the blood-and-guts business. It’s also a way for younger fans to connect with the artists and actors who blazed Hollywood’s horror trails — or perhaps see something totally new.

“I loved the monster that was caught in a bear trap so its leg was cut off,” said 9-year-old Avielle Ferrari of San Diego. Sporting Wednesday Addams’ trademark braids and black dress, she was perhaps the youngest horror fan attending Saturday.

“She’s seen the classic stuff and we’re easing her into it,” said her dad, Ethan Hull.

The pair then scanned the crowd outside the Marriott, watching new attendees enter.

“Look at that guy — he’s really creepy,” Hull said to his daughter, who responded with a wide-eyed smile.

Only here can one purchase Sarah Palin’s zombified head right next to vials of patented fake blood. This is where busts of the three original Ghostbusters are at home next to villains and demons from 1980s slasher flicks. This is where a little girl whose favorite movie is “Shaun of the Dead” can meet Lon Chaney’s family, talk with Rutger Hauer about “Blade Runner,” and buy her own vat of molding clay to begin making her own creations.

“We’re a brotherhood of sculptors,” Rodriguez said. “This is where the monsters live, man.”


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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