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Interview:Glenn Hetrick

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On May 23, 2009, RyanGibsonStewart conducted an interview via email with Glenn Hetrick (also known as Glen Strange), a special effects makeup artist for Heroes.

Ryan Stewart: Of the many, many makeup effects you have done for Heroes, which is your favorite? Why?

Glenn Hetrick: Ahh, tough question. At any particular point in time I might be inclined to answer this differently, but right now I would have to say that my favorite was the multi-stage burn make-up on Adrian. I have always had a predilection for multi-stage make-ups, whether it’s a creature transformation or a healing/wounding process. They facilitate a more complete exposition of the make-up artist’s concept for the effect. Further, Adrian was such an absolute joy to work with… I couldn’t wait to get to set and spend more time with him.

Nathans proactiv solution before shot.jpg

When you made up Nathan's burnt face, about how long was the process to put that together?

That was a make-up that we started conceptualizing in advance. I like to produce maquettes or rough sculpts to get design approval… the three dimensional nature of this approach is, in my opinion, conducive to a faster decision making process. It allows the creative team to see the effect “in the round” so to speak, leaving less open to interpretation. We probably did the rough one-ups of the sculptures about five weeks prior to shooting. The build took about three weeks to complete once approved… we used some really cool silicone fabricating tricks layered on top of foam latex to harness the benefits of both materials simultaneously.

The application took me about 3 ½ - 4 hours the first time and after that it went down to about 2 ½ - 3 hours for subsequent shooting days.

Was there any one effect that was more costly than average?

We built a number of full body cocoons for the episodes in which Suresh was abducting victims, some of them even had duplicates for specific shots of a hand tearing through or a face articulating, that was probably the biggest build so far.

What would you say are some of the most time-intensive/intricate makeup designs you have done?

The old age makeup on Kensei was complex; it was a nine piece silicone break down. Ken Niederbaumer and I tackled that while… at that same time… we had Chris Burgoyne (assisted by Mark Viniello) applying a more decayed version on his double which was a four piece make-up, so that was a huge day. The entirety of the make-up was to illustrate a rapid decay of his character and it only lasted for a few seconds on screen. A CG morph by Stargate made the transition, so you never really get to see either make-up very clearly, but that is exactly what it was intended to be.

Subsequent to that we had the “elephant man” make-up which was even more elaborate. We also had Suresh in his four piece “scale” prosthetics on the same day, both camera ready at the same time. I love the challenges that television provides, it’s always interesting to watch a make-up team work through obstacles when it’s being pushed beyond its accepted paradigm.

How did you go about designing your Elephant Man character? What was the thought process behind him? What kind of design aspects did you have to throw out to arrive at the final product?

We started with the concise input from the writer/directing/producing team… it was important that the character emoted through the make-up and successfully evoked a sympathetic reaction. They didn’t want him to be horrific in a “scary” sort of way. He was a victim… they saw him as someone who had been abducted off of the street in the middle of the night by Suresh for experimentation. We compiled a lot of research on dermatological ailments and such and then reviewed that with preliminary sketches in hand. Once we had an idea pinned down, we did some quarter-scale maquettes and submitted photos of each to zero in on the design. Next, we created rough full scale versions of the sculpture and, once approved, started the breakdown process. Each piece had to be molded separately and the next piece sculpted on a positive containing the edges of the piece before it in order to ensure the seamless blending of the appliances. The whole process took about six weeks of lab work to complete… some of that time we had split shift crews working around the clock to make the deadline.


How long did it take for you to transform into the Elephant Man, and then back into Glenn? How much did it weigh?

Oh, that was a big make-up. There were two awesome prosthetic make-up artists working on me (Dave Snyder and Richard Redlefsen) and it took about four hours to complete the process. We only managed to get it down to that time because everything was pre-painted to match my skin by Rich Mayberry at the studio.

It wasn’t very heavy at all--mostly thin silicone and the arm had a fiberglass under-shell. So, although it may look rather cumbersome, it really wasn’t. We have designed so many effects with similar logistics involved…after a while you just know going into it that you want to cut the weight in order to avoid problems on the day. The removal and clean up process took about an hour and a half, then a shower, then some celebratory drinks after work with the team at our favorite pub.

During the Elephant Man scenes, the computer behind Mohinder barely shows a photograph of what looks like the Elephant Man “before”. Just curious, is this you?

(Laughing) You don’t miss a thing do you? You must have quite a big screen on your television? Yes, it is indeed.

What was the most taxing work you’ve done for Heroes? Which was the most disturbing for you to do?

I wouldn’t necessarily call any effect that I have done “taxing” due to its negative connotation. The truth is that I always feel so fortunate to be doing what I do for a living that it is never a burden, not even the hundred-hour weeks of which I have seen no small number of. I grew up in Pennsylvania where my father was a steel worker for the Bethlehem Steel… let us just say that it offers one a perspective and a work ethic. I am very aware of how many people out there would give anything to be working on these shows… getting paid to create monsters and prosthetic effects… and I never take it for granted. This is all I have ever wanted to do.

Even as a small child I was myopically focused on becoming an actor, which is something I still pursue passionately, and a special effects make-up artist. I grew up watching the Hammer Horror films (which are still my favorites) on a Philadelphia station… Sunday afternoons it was. At that point I don’t suppose that I was aware of the fact that someone else applied Christopher Lee’s make-up, I just thought that the performer did it themselves… like Chaney… and so my nearly obsessive desire to imitate these celluloid heroes birthed the impetus for my career.

I started acting in stage productions in high school and fell in love with grease paint during those shows. Small successes during high school and college as an actor always seemed to serendipitously create opportunities to explore effects make up… and it was during college that I started landing roles in independent films in New York. I did a ton of low budget effects based on knowledge that I had gleaned from building resin kits, studying film making and dissecting shot selection in regards to make-up effects. I also read everything I could get my hands on that had anything to do with the subject matter. I sought to emulate the work of very specific effects artists… mainly Steve Johnson, Rob Bottin, and John Vulich.

After graduating from college I moved to New Jersey to be closer to the city and made ends meet with bartending jobs and work at talent agencies… work that afforded me access to the breakdowns which I perused for potential FX gigs. Eventually my tenacity allowed me to land a couple of bigger jobs among which were some of my favorites. I also worked with a few horror-themed bands, like the Misfits and Type-O-Negative, creating FX make-ups for their stage shows… a lot of my fondest memories in the business are from that period. I grew up totally submerged in the 80s punk movement and skateboarding scene, so I was thrilled to be working with some of my favorite bands!!

When I felt that I couldn’t really further myself in New York, I finally moved to LA and started all over again… from the bottom. You think you know what you are doing and then you get out here and are immersed in this talent pool which is bubbling over with some of the most talented artists in the world… it is quite humbling. After years of jumping from show to show and honing my skills I settled at Optic Nerve, which has always kind of been my home. Eventually I ended up owning the business that I have loved so much for so many years. But, I digress…

Now then, where were we? Ah, yes… in terms of disturbing, I would have to say that Heroes hasn’t really touched on that realm for me… its tone is conducive to family viewing on a lot of levels and we strive to make it accessible to a wide age range. My forensic shows, like CSI:NY and years of Crossing Jordan, have provided me with a lot more builds that I would categorize as “disturbing”. When recreating specific cause of death for onscreen victims we have to do an inordinate amount of forensic research… that means countless hours poring over photos and books of real deceased human bodies. That can be a bit arduous at times… particularly the dermatological books (yeeeessh!!!), but for the most part you develop a level of clinical detachment from the subject matter.

Your company's website notes you also specialize in animatronics. How long does it take on average to put together such a puppet. Have you used any animatronics on Heroes? And if so, can you give us any examples of the animatronics you developed?

It’s hard to answer that question as it is a bit broad in its scope, everything in our business depends on details. The details determine the budget, the schedule, and often the reality of making it happen. When we are apprised of the specifics of a shot… for instance whether or not one side of the animatronic will always be off screen… it allows us to design an effect in the most efficacious manner. You can put some really cool stuff together in a week if you know the details, especially if you have Mechanical Maestro Larry Odean working with you, or you can spend months of research and development to accomplish an extremely elaborate mechanical effect.

On other shows it is all too often the case that those essential, fundamental details are like nothing so much as they are shifting sand beneath your feet… often due to larger production issues that haven’t been worked out yet and that are bigger than your problem. That’s the hardest part about it all. On Heroes we are fortunate enough to have an extremely seasoned group of professionals steering the ship… if it wasn’t for the fact that their level of expertise eliminates that x-factor for us, we could never accomplish the effects we do for that show. It is always a pleasure to design an effect for the producers of Heroes… they always know what they want and are aware of our needs. The decisions made on that show are always about the good of the show and not personal egos… it is a great way to work! They let me know well in advance when a big effect is on the horizon and we start conceptual discussions that accommodate the effects build as far out as possible. We have done a few mechanical gags on Heroes, Claire’s hand being put in the mangle by the trash disposal in the sink was a fully mechanized arm… there were three of us crammed under the sink puppeteering it! We also did an animatronic head to assist the CG effect of Claire’s face reconstructing itself after being thrown into the wall in the locker room. Also, the Elephant Man mutated arm was an extension with mechanized fingers.


Let's talk about dead bodies. I noticed that the dead body for Isaac (seen when Hiro visits the future) is the same as the dead body Noah shows Eden in a photograph. Fans love catching this kind of stuff—and you wouldn’t believe the wild theories it sparks! Are there any other incidents you can think of when a certain prop, prosthetic, or dead body was reused somewhere?

Yes, the nuclear radiation burn body that Matt and Clea [Audrey] examine [as Robert Fresco, see here] has seen some action… he is also in the Irish pub [as Ricky, see here], Nightmare Apocalypse New York (Nathan’s Nightmare Landscape), and in feudal Japan wearing armor [as Kensei, see here].

How many dead bodies do you think you have you created for Heroes?

Not too many, really. Five, if you count the halved body of Milos.

If you’re able, can you tell us something about the special effects from episodes that haven't aired yet? Maybe a glimpse of the future episodes that would make us think? Thanks!

I could tell you, but I would have to kill you.

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