Friday, 1 August 2014

interview: Tristan Versluis (2005)

My first contact with Tristan Versluis was when I was working for the old East Midlands Arts Board in the late 1990s and the Film Officer showed me an article from the Derby Evening Telegraph about a local young man who was making a name for himself in the field of special effects and make-up. I finally got round to interviewing Tris in October 2005 about his work on Evil Aliens, which was done when he was half of an FX company called Life Creations. (Tris subsequently moved into directing his own short films starting with Plastic Reality. I interviewed him again in 2008.)

How did your company Life Creations get the job to work on Evil Aliens?
“Life Creations got the job of working on Evil Aliens from myself being in contact with Jake West from an early stage. We were originally discussing Razor Blade Smile 2 and how he wanted proper effects guys on board for that to do some cool stuff. Then a treatment ends up in my inbox and it’s this Evil Aliens film. I read the treatment and was like: “Hell... that sounds wicked... and full of effects work!” Straightaway we started discussing gore effects for the film; Jake wanted us to give ideas on gags etc. We then did an exploding head for Jake which was enhanced with CGI (for Shock Movie Massacre) which worked quite well. I sculpted a small maquette for Evil Aliens and that kind of bought the deal, along with being there from the start.”

What sort of brief were you given for the film, in terms of realism, level of gore etc.?
“Jake’s brief for the film, with regards to the gore was: over the top and as full on as we could afford with the budget we had. Jake just wanted us to ram as many tubes and sprays of blood that we had, at each shot. It got to a point where any spare hands on set were handed a pango (device for blood splats). We really did spend every cent we had on putting maximum carnage on camera.”

What was the most difficult and/or most complicated effect in the film?
“The most difficult effect and most risky effect on the film for us was Cat (Jennifer Evans), when she turns into an alien. We decided to go real old school for that effect. Jake wanted the alien’s head to literally burst out of Cat’s own head. So we made this hollow silicone head of Cat, pre-burst, with veins etc. We then took a painted-up head of the alien look, on the end of a pole. Inside the chest and neck area of the prop body we mounted a bag of blood and guts. We pre-cut sections of the outer silicone skin and then just pushed the alien head up, which pushed guts etc. out the mouth and nose and tore open to reveal the alien head. It worked great. It was totally untested due to money and time, but I am so proud of that effect, and with Jake’s fab editing it works a treat.”

What sort of things did the cast have to cope with in terms of make-up, and how did they bear up?
“The cast that had prosthetic make-up on were all so patient and loved the experience. Our key alien - whenever you see an alien get his helmet ripped off, it was him - was a star, considering he couldn't see hardly anything through the oval shaped lenses he wore. I remember one day we were doing a scene when the alien gets smacked in the head by a cricket bat... well, he did get smacked by a cricket bat! Everyone froze, thinking: ‘Oh god, that's our lead alien actor quitting.’ But no, he got up and just kept going. That was the general attitude on set.”

I understand that the mutilated cow which you created was extremely realistic. Can you tell me a bit about how you made that and what it looked/smelled like?
“The mutilated cow we made was so funny. It was made from soft foam, gelatin, fake fur and loads of syrup based blood. The day we were setting up the cow scene was classic. We were given this field to set up the cow and it already had three real cows which were in there. Fine, I thought, what could they do? When we opened the gate holding a (to them) dead cow, they raised their heads and focused very quickly on what was going on. As we walked in carrying the cow, we got about half way to where it needed to be set up and suddenly they started running full steam at us. Not being a expert on cow behaviour, I took this as bad and dropped my rubber cow and ran! The cow was staying in the spot I dropped it for all I cared! What was funny is: the cows at first seemed really saddened and kept walking round it, not touching, really silent but flinching as it moved in the wind. They were so freaked out. But two hours later I came back and they were licking the syrup off it!”

What have you been doing since Evil Aliens?
“Since Evil Aliens, Life Creations has sadly ended, so I have been off freelancing, which has been going really well. Such things as Queen Elizabeth - Virgin Queen, Doctor Who series 1 and 2, Titty Bang Bang, Celebrity Swap, Hex series 2, a feature film called Isolation and various commercials for Barclays, broadband and Guinness.”


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