Gremlins in the Garage!

Interview with Jeff Brower
by Ed Martinez
Conducted in 1993
Part 2

EM: Let's start with your background.
JB: Basically I don't have any formal training in what I do other than a few courses in scene design that I took in college. Everything I've learned how to do has been pretty much on the job, by getting myself in a position that was a little bit beyond me and then just strugglinq to catch up. For the first couple years after I got out of college I was doing theatre work, prop work, for a children' s theatre company. I made big strange things like Alice in Wonderland puppets, and things like that. In materials I was working in styrofoam and rubber, yarn and garbage, anything I could get my hands on. I just specialized in that and I went from there, to the point where I started to do this freelance.

EM: Is this how you were making your living at the time?
JB: Yes, I had a period where I worked part time working with the developmentally disabled, and I did that for five years, but other than that it's always been artwork one way or another.

EM: When were you born?
JB: 1955. I'm 37.

EM: What state were you born in?
JB: I was born right in this area (Albany, NY). I've lived here all my life. Born in Troy, grew up in Latham, moved to Albany, so I've been all over the place. After doing the prop work for a while, I started to lose my interest in the theatre: I guess part of it was just the difficulty of it. There can be an awful lot of killer deadlines and very little money and so on and so forth. And eventually, I began to feel that the things I was making were good enough to stand on their own. I've done stints of things like working for the New York State Museum, I spent seven months making squash plants. There's a number of nightclubs in the area that have my artwork on display.

EM: Such as what sort of things?
JB: Oh, scary stuff, like vampires, and vampire bats and just a pool of blood with hands and skulls coming out of it, that's on the ceiling of this nightclub called QE2. Machine parts sculptures.

EM: Great! I love that kind of stuff, I've done quite a few nightclub installations myself.
JB: Oh, it's great work when you can get it! But it's like, again, the money always sucks and they always want more than they're ready to pay for. But the nice thing about it is that if you happen to go into the nightclub to hang out and somebody will be standing next to you with no idea that you're the person who made that thing they're staring at. And you get to hear all of these unsolicited comments. A lot of which are "God! What sort of sick mother made that thing?"

Eventually I started to focus specifically on that sort of thing, to try to be a sculptor. What I was trying to do were these very elaborate fantasy candles and trying to sell them in craft shows. I started calling myself "Mystic Visions," as a DBA ("doing business as") and I've been sort of stuck with that name ever since. And that became the longest job I've ever had, that's still what I'm doing, carrying on from that point. And it was during this period where I taught myself how to cast in wax, and that's more or less what got me going with Screamin'.

EM: Explain a little bit about how you first heard about Screamin'?
JB: There was a guy out on the West Coast doing special effects for movies named Bruce Fuller and he was one of these people that I'd heard about. He lived here in Schenectady and he did prop work for some of the local theatre Companies. He did the same sorts of things that I was doing but I had never met him; and it was one of these deals where people kept saying to me, "You should meet this guy!" Finally, we ended up at the same horror convention here in Albany and were introduced to each other. And very shortly thereafter he got his big break and went out to California to work on Dick Tracy. And right before he left he had some projects that he was already in the middle of. He hired me to finish those projects for him. Somewhere in that process he passed my name on to Daniel Fay of Screamin'.

EM: Can you mention which projects those were?
JB: They weren't film projects or anything. He was doing toy prototypes. He was sculpting like a bulldog, that was supposed to stick onto the bumper of someone's car, as if your car's been bit by a bulldog. This was like five years ago or something like that. They were car novelties, essentially. So he hired me to finish the sculptures and do the molds; and he took off to California.

At that point I guess he might have sculpted something for Screamin. I don't know that for absolute fact but I think he either sculpted or re-sculpted Jason for them and was doing some molding. So a that point, I believe the reference could have gotten passed on to Daniel. Now we've had a long, like four-year relationship, I would say. I'd do mold work as they needed it and other sort of touch-up jobs.

EM: Could you mention which kits those were?
JB: Oh boy!

EM: To the best of your memory?
JB: I did moldwork for Leatherface, Pinhead, the Mutants, the Vampyre, the Werewolf: of course I also sculpted the Female Cenobite, Betty Page (I did not mold Betty Page, though). I sculpted and molded Butterball. I molded Yoda and the Red Dragon. I did some resculpting work on Darth Vader, also molded it, and on the Rocketeer I just cast the waxes -- I didn't mold that. I had something to do with almost all of them except a few, starting with the Werewolf. A good portion of what's in their catalog now. Nothing to do with the Chatterer at all. I didn't have too much to do with the Rocketeer. I had nothing to do with Elvira or Freddy, but just about everybody else.

EM: Okay, how did you segue from a moldmaker into a sculptor?
JB: Well, Daniel and I obviously developed a good working relationship over a period of time and almost every sculpture would require some sort of revision and correction. So we began to get some sort of idea of what could do through my doing those revisions and anytime would be finishing a project for somebody else I made sure that Daniel got a look at it. But for a long time he just did not want to hire me as a sculptor. I mean, I had not done any likenesses of any kind. I hadn't proved that I could sculpt a likeness of anything.

EM: Those other Projects that you showed him, were they props or masks or...?
JB: Monster masks and props and things like that. Then eventually, I got to the point where I could do a few garage kit figurines. I did a limited edition of Betty Page for Screamin'. I wasn't terribly happy with it. And I never felt I got the likeness quite right. It's still a nice sculpture, but I don't know if it looks all that much like Betty Page.

EM: Did you silicone mold it?
JB: No, though my dad works for a silicone factory. And I started molding things out of silicone quite a few years ago, mainly for my own purposes at first. And then eventually Bruce Fuller of course recommended me to Daniel. But they got other manufactures to do that for me (mold work.) They went through two: they had some problems but I didn't have to do it this time. Everybody bought them and they sold out the whole edition of 1500. And then from Betty we went on to Butterball and the Female Cenobite, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker. And now I'm doing Han Solo, and that brings us up to date on that.

EM: Okay, could you go into the Butterball first, and tell us the whole process. from the day you got the go-ahead and signed your contract, to reference and how you approached it. Just a basic overview. Did you use Sculpey or resin Putty? What kind of armature?
JB: Basically it was a joint contract for the two figures, so I got all the reference materials together for the two of them. I had some fairly good pictures for Butterball. I had some pictures of the actor, Simon Bamford, in his costume without the makeup on. They were really helpful in terms of figuring out what the torture tools in his apron were.

Daniel had decided what he wanted in terms of a pose. He said, "I want to have them see into his belly." Fingers in the gash, so that's pretty much what I did. I started doing the figure. I tried to put myself into the mind of the figure, get in front of the mirror and take the pose myself. When I did that, I sort of did this "flasher" type of feeling. That's essentially what I tried to do, jut out the head a little bit, roll the shoulders down, to set sort of a vaguely obscene feel without getting to the point where they wouldn't be able to sell the product. Daniel and I talked about that. "If you do that, it's got to be subtle." That's kind of why he's got his belly stuck out like that. As far as the armature and the sculpture, there wasn't much to it. I do use Sculpey, sometimes I use Super-Sculpey - although it's definitely harder. you lose one of the major advantages to Sculpey. which is that Super-Sculpey shrinks, so it will crack on an armature, whereas the original Sculpey doesn't.

EM: You mean the original polyform formula, the white stuff?
JB: Yes, the white stuff definitely shrinks less than Super-Sculpey, plus it's half the price.

EM: Yeah, and you had to build up a large block of it for Butterball!
JB: Well. I needed to make like chunks of aluminum foil, for Butterball, basically. In terms of the overall look, he's just a big, blocky thing! There were essentially two big blocks of aluminum foil on top of each other with a layer of Sculpey in between them. And I didn't separate it until it was all done and baked.

EM: No armature wire or anything?
JB: Nope!

EM: Just aluminum foil?
JB: That has it's pros and cons. You can get bubbles trapped in the aluminum foil, that want to work their way out, but it makes for very lightweight and economical sculptures. Because you can build up enormous masses and then just have a thin layer of Sculpey material.

EM: And it doesn't crack or break when you're sawing through it or anything?
JB: Well, I didn't have to saw through the aluminum foil; it's just two pieces. No, it doesn't seem to create any additional problems. I suppose it could if you have thin enough places flaking off the aluminum foil when you cut through it.

EM: Was the reference provided by Image Animation and Bob Keen?
JB: Yes, it was. There were some pictures which were sent from Image Animation. For Butterball, it wasn't too bad. It wasn't very extensive for any of the characters, I must say. For the female, my reference was awful. They sent a number of fairly nice pictures of Barbie Wilde, who was not the one I was doing. I mean, the only pictures I had of the Female Cenobite, was the little tiny one in the beginning of The Hellraiser Chronicles, and one group shot that Steve Goodrich provided (all four of them with Clive Barker in front of them). Essentially most of the reference came from just sitting in front of the movies with the remote, and freeze-framing over and over again.

EM: Continue about your techniques. How did you approach the sculpting?
JB: I can tell you about some conversations as things transpired on the two different figures. With Butterball, Daniel's main concerns were: first, he's pretty good at giving me a lot of leeway. He's come to trust me over time. We do sometimes disagree and we will argue over whether this or that is right, but it tends to be civil and if either one of us feels strongly, the other one will usually give in. so it's a pretty good working relationship

Two of the major things he said to me was when I was working on Butterball was that he wanted the wound to be difficult to look at. That's an exact quote; he said, "I want this to be difficult to look at." I did my best to do that! And the other thing was, he wanted grommets and laces as good as the ones Randy Bowen did on the Rocketeer. So I put a lot of effort into that.

EM: How about some basics on the sculptural techniques: do you make your own tools? Do you use store bought-tools? Do you use your fingers?
JB: I don't think there's any better tool to use than your fingers. I use a mixture of a few wooden tools that I have become very fond of, that are almost an extension of my hand because I've used them for so long. I also use a variety of found objects. Like knitting needles, cuticle tools. I use alcohol to thin out the tool marks. It tends to be an ongoing thing to sculpt with brushes. It doesn't make it very mushy for long; alcohol evaporates quickly. If you bake it too soon after you do that, you get bubbles and cracks. I let it dry out before I bake it. It's best to let it sit for a few days after the last time I douse it with alcohol.

I don't have any specialized tools for making grommets and laces. For the most part I just don't feel that there is much of a substitute for a good eye and a good hand. If you have that you can pretty much just do what you need to do without gimmicks. In fact, we have these elaborate conversations between Daniel and I about how I want to do the grommets. He made a point of saying, "I don't want you to roll out little snakes and put them on. That's not what I want. They never come out evenly and they never look right. I want you to either use some sort of injection technique or use wires." I experimented with that and did like he asked me to do. Eventually I wound up rolling out little snakes and just putting them on, like he asked me not to do! There was a very specific reason why I did that. It was the only way I could get the tension and the distortions in the leather that a lace makes. If you just put two snakes over each other, or two wires over each other, it's just not that simple. You have to sculpt in the tension.

So ultimately, that seemed to be the way to do it. It came out just fine. With Butterball, there was not a lot of specifics. With both of these characters, to tell the honest-to-god truth Dan was very enthusiastic about Pinhead and the Chatterer but he didn't really have that much interest in the remaining characters.

EM: So the rest of the characters were basically just to complete the set?
JB: Yes. We got a lot of requests for other Cenobites so we went ahead and did Butterball, and next the Female Cenobite.

EM: Let's talk a little bit about the Female Cenobite.
JB: Actually, the female had almost no armature. That's because of the big v-shape in her middle. I just didn't want to try to saw through anything at the point of that V. So what I did was take two pieces of curtain rod, and installed one piece inside the other. But, I'll tell you that it was almost an unbelievable disaster: because there wasn't enough support. I had never tried this before and I thought that a good solid block of Sculpey all the way through ought to be good. But it softened in the baking process and started sagging. I had major distortions and major cracks when I took it out of the oven. I didn't carve it out of a block, but there was almost no armature. I managed to repair it, obviously. But if it had been much worse, it would have been practically unrepairable. It was so bad, it took a good solid day of work to repair it. It had tons of airbubbles. I had to grind it, dremel it, carve it, re-bend it and rebuild it. I had to putty it up, glue it back together, fill in cracks, all this sort of stuff, and duplicate textures.

EM: Do you use texture pads for your leather texture?
JB: No, I use whatever is at hand. Sometimes I just sculpt it in. I use the technique where you put cellophane on the clay and sculpt through it.

EM: How many pieces did you saw her up into?
JB: The female is three pieces: the skirt, the torso, the upper arm. I also did the molding on the kit. We kind of went back and forth over whether or not she should be sexy. I wanted her to be sexy.

EM: Meaning more hips, more accentuation on the curves, cleavage, etc.?
JB: Yeah, less of that "pregnant belly" look: a sexy pose, give her some cleavage, things like that. There was something seductive about this character. So the way you see the final sculpture is a compromise. It's a little sexier than Screamin' would have liked it and a little less sexy than I would have made it. But, I'm very pleased now, maybe I was wrong. It's better this way, she looks more like a Cenobite than if I would have given her more of a figure. Other than that, I had free reign. I was the one that suggested the pose. I did the sculpture, the molds. I painted the one that's on the cover of the box. It was my suggestion as to what the cover of the box should look like.

EM: Well, I think it looks great. I especially like the box on her back detail. You took a little artistic license with it, especially since you had no definitive reference on what her back really looked like. I look forward to seeing other examples of your sculpting for Screamin' in the future. Good luck and thank you.
JB: You're welcome.

Part 2

Originally published in Coenobium. Reprinted here with permission. Thanks, Coenobium!


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