Interview With Award Winning Weta VFX Director/Texture Supervisor Gino Acevedo
Ryan T. Cusick: Hey Gino, how are you doing?
Gino Acevedo: Doing good, how are you?
RTC: Good, good. Thanks for taking my call. I noticed that your resume included A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 5.
RTC: That’s Awesome! Back in the day.
GA: I got to work with Dave Miller, Dave did the original one.
RTC: Did you work on Englund’s makeup on that film?
GA: On that one, it was designed by Dave. I helped him apply it and painted the appliances. There were some other characters that we had done as well. The main thing was Robert’s makeup but also the Freddy baby.
RTC: Yeah, that’s right. Freddy Baby!!
GA: It was hysterical [Laughs} Those were the days…those were the days! It’s funny because I just saw Robert [Englund] not that long ago. I was over in Pasadena at Monsterpalooza, have you been there?
RTC: Monsterpalooza was great, I was there!
GA: Alright! It was just amazing. I had been trying to get out to that ever since it came out and I could never get away, but I finally went out. I really went out there for kind of a reunion because I am originally from Phoenix, Arizona and I started with a Halloween company there called Imagineering. Larry had invented vampire blood and those plastic evil teeth, and that is how I got my start, I started with him when I was eighteen designing and making Halloween masks. So it was a reunion for Larry and stuff, we all kind of just got together at Monsterpalooza. But anyways, I saw Robert there, and I hadn’t seen him, God it had been like twenty-five or thirty years, and we had a fun catch-up.
RTC: Yeah, he was the most popular guest there.
GA: Yeah the line to get his autograph was just insane.
RTC: One of the days people were placed on standby for the following day..pretty crazy!
GA: I also saw Heather [Langenkamp], Heather was there as well. I am really good friends with her husband Dave Anderson who is a makeup effects guy; we had worked together on Alien 3. It was just an amazing reunion to see all my old buddies, I take two steps, and it’s like “Gino!”
RTC: I think that is what it’s all about. Even for me when I go I see many people that I know but haven’t seen in awhile. It is one big reunion every year. When did you get your start with WETA?
GA: When I got started with Weta it was for the beginning of Lord of The Rings. Just a little bit of history on the way that it started I was working in LA I had been there for about fifteen years working in the business. I was working with my friend Howard Berger at the guys at KNB Effects. Howard had mentioned to me that he had friends coming down from New Zealand, and they own a company out there called Weta, and they do all the special effects on Hercules and Xena. They are looking to recruit people to go back and work on the remake of King Kong. I had asked who was directing? And they said to me, Peter Jackson. I was like “who?” [Laughs] They told me he was the guy that did Meet The Feebles and BrainDead. I had seen Braindead. So Richard came out, and we met, and Richard had known about my work that I had done on other films my main specialty has always been airbrushing and designing paint schemes for the makeup for creatures and all that kind of stuff. They wanted to recruit people and wanted to see if I was interested in coming out to not only design all the paint schemes for Kong and all the Dinosaurs and also to train up some of the people out here. I agreed and then I went on to work with Patrick Tatopolous on Godzilla. It was about that time that Richard had told me that they didn’t want to do another giant creature movie since we had been doing Godzilla, so King Kong was going to be put on the back burner. Richard and Pete had another project that they wanted to bring me on for, and of course, that was Lord of The Rings. So I went out for three months to try it out, and I think I was actually still working on Godzilla at the time. I think the guys out here had already spent a lot of time on designing the creatures and the characters and stuff. The designs were so incredible and fresh because they are just so far away from the Hollywood scene. Usually, when I go to a movie, I can tell what shop did the creatures, each shop kind of puts their own stamp on it. But in this case it was so fresh and different which made it even more exciting for me to design the paint schemes for these creatures and characters, it was just unbelievable. After going back and forth three times I had decided that I don’t have any ties, I decided to take the chance, pack everything up and move to New Zealand for a while and I have been here almost twenty years.
RTC: On each of the Planet of The Apes films did your role change or did you utilize the same skill set on each of the films?
GA: It was pretty much the same. At the time I was looking after the textures department. In that department, we worked closely with the model’s department, so they would present us with a gray shaded model of let’s say, Cesar’s Face, or his head rather. The stuff that it wouldn’t include would be the coloration, the pores, wrinkles, and even what we refer to as the medium frequency wrinkles would all be done by the texture artists. Some of that stuff could be hand painted, and some of it could be done from our skin scans. I would also do a lot of paint over on renders and make suggestions that we would show to the director. After about eight years of looking after the textures department I needed to be a bit artsier, and so I had moved into the Weta digital art department, where I am at now. I have been working with a small team; there is about eight of us. In some ways, I am working with the artists a lot because I am supplying them with a lot of reference of different characters for whatever they are working on. I am doing more concept stuff, more paint overs, things like that. So, my job has changed a bit. [Sarcastically Laughs] One thing I like about it the most is that I do not have to go to so many meetings. I get to spend more time doing what I really love, and that is drawing.
RTC: It sounds like from A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 5 until now you have gone on this wild journey, you probably have one of the best jobs in the world.
GA: I do feel very blessed to jump back and forth. You know I still do makeup stuff, more so during The Hobbit. I had done ten weeks worth of pickups, and I had done Thorin’s makeup. Just recently, they are still doing filming right now; Peter Jackson is doing Mortal Engines, it is based on a series of books, so that is what he is filming now, it is going to be pretty cool. There is a character in the film that has a scar; I designed the scar for her. The way I designed it is pretty cool because I had been learning ZBrush. Have you heard of it?
RTC: Yes, I actually have.
GA: It is really an amazing tool. I designed the scars in ZBrush, I just sculpted all of these different scars and rendered it and took it into photoshop, and put it on the portrait shot of the actress and did all of these different concepts. It was cool mixing the two technologies together. Another thing that really helped a lot too was I could have just a gray shaded render of the scar itself. Once one was approved, I gave it to the guys at WETA workshop they were going to sculpt the scars for me, so they used that as reference. If I would have had more time I would have loved to have taken it to the next step and printed it out, something to make an appliance; I would love to try something like that.
RTC: Endless possibilities.
GA: Even just with materials, a lot is changing; we are using a lot more silicones, which is just unbelievable. The makeup these days just looks so much better than what we could do before. I would love to do Robert’s [Englund] makeup again, but do it with silicone appliances, it would look so much fleshier, and so much more realistic.
RTC: Yeah, that would be creepy [Laughs] Have you ever done something digitally and thought afterward that maybe it would have been done better practically?
GA: Yeah, there has been quite a few times, and it is always the battle. When CG was first coming around it was like the new toy to use, and everyone wanted to use it in their films, and it was just overused, and to this day it still is overused too much. I am always trying to find new ways where we can use both, to even enhance makeup effects with digital effects, there are amazing things to do. A good friend of mine, Todd Masters who owns a company called Masters Effects, is doing some incredible groundbreaking stuff. There was an alien in which he did; the alien was a guy in a suit that had full makeup. Over the face, they had stitched his eyes and some other parts to him where it is so realistic that there is no way that some of the best animatronics could have achieved that good of a look. It was a great way of marrying the two technologies together.
GA: I had also looked after the makeup effects on 30 Days Of Night. Did you ever see that one?
RTC: Yes, I did.
GA: It was about vampires. On that one what they did was spread the eyes a little bit, shrunk them about 15-20% and also gave them a little bit of tilt. So it was a very subtle thing, but when you look at it a finger can’t really be placed on to what is wrong with it because it’s obviously a real person, they just look a little odd, and it is that much more frightening.
RTC: Definitely creepy and that was a good one!
GA: It was a terrific show. David Slade who was the director and he was just brilliant to work with he just had some great ideas
RTC: Are you working on anything else right now? Are you going to be involved with any of the future installments of Avatar?
GA: Yes we are. It is kind of the tip of the iceberg they are getting stuff set up and everything now. They will be shooting some stuff here in New Zealand like they did last time and also some stuff back in Los Angeles. The stuff that we did on Avatar recently did the ride Avatar over in Florida.
RTC: Really? I did not even know there was a ride out there.
GA: Oh yeah! You gotta go check it out. Go on youtube, it is amazing; basically you are sitting on the back of a banshee, and you are flying, and of course, the screen is in front of you, it is in 3D. I don’t know if I will be able to handle it because I get motion sickness. The ride is six minutes long, that’s a long time. It looks really beautiful, really amazing. The place in Florida, they have built Pandora. They have floating mountains there.
RTC: Out of everything that you have done do you have something that was your absolute most favorite?
GA: Going back to Lord of The Rings again. It was such an amazing experience because it was so fresh and different and it was for so long. It was like seven years of my life dedicated to those films. But what I loved about it was just being so involved from all sorts of different standpoints from the makeup to the computer side of stuff and going and being on all of these amazing locations, here in New Zealand. It was really an incredible experience. I have never worked on another show like that where there has been such great comradery and passion for a show. All of the other shows that we have been doing – they have been fantastic, I think the thing that made this one so different was because it was so new and fresh and no one had done anything like it before, and it made it really special. I was just telling someone the other day that one of my most favorite scenes and I just think is incredibly powerful is when Boromir gets shot by Lurtz and Lurtz was the Uruk-hai captain, and he is the one that shoots and kills him. That was one of my makeups I did on Lawrence Makoare, and that is my handprint that is on his face. He is the only Uruk-hai that has the upside-down handprint like that because Pete [Jackson] wanted him to stand out, a lot different from the other Uruk-hai. That was such an incredible scene, I was behind the cameras when they were shooting, and it was such fantastic acting between the two. Everyone was behind the camera just weeping. Pete showed us a rough cut of it at our cinema here, and he played Braveheart music to it [Laughs]. Out of all the shows that [LOTR] is the most amazing one because I was so involved in it from every standpoint. I have been here for almost twenty-years, and it has been non-stop with work. Each show that we do has its unique challenges and stuff which makes it fun but also can be very difficult because you need to top what you have done from the last one. It’s a challenge, but a fun challenge to have.
RTC: Very rewarding too! Well thank you so much for talking with me, this has been great!
GA: Thanks. Take care.
-About The Author-
Ryan T. Cusick is a writer for ihorror.com and very much enjoys conversation and writing about anything within the horror genre. Horror first sparked his interest after watching the original, The Amityville Horror when he was the tender age of three. Ryan lives in California with his wife and twelve-year-old daughter, who is also expressing interest in the horror genre. Ryan recently received his Master’s Degree in Psychology and has aspirations to write a novel. Ryan can be followed on Twitter @Nytmare112