Justin Raleigh is a Make-up and Special Effects Make-up Artist who has worked on films as diverse as Jarhead, The Conjuring and 300: Rise Of An Empire. His latest film is The Last Witch Hunter and he took some time to talk to us about covering Lili Taylor’s face in prosthetics and not going to the cinema with his wife.
Starburst: How did you get started in your industry?
Justin Raleigh: I was always wanted to be an artist as a kid and was always into film, and particularly fascinated by horror and sci-fi. I was interested in the idea of creating a living, breathing artistic rendition of something, and all those early horror films such as The Exorcist and American Werewolf In London inspired me. Eventually I met someone who needed an intern at a small FX studio and that’s how I got my start.
A lot of your early work appears to have been in mold design.
I kind of came in like that but then was working in sculpting and other things. I started in a mold department but I got a feel for lots of different areas, more like a lab technician, and from there I started doing more artistic work. When you prove yourself, then you start getting hired and I got work in Stan Winston’s studio as a key artist. In 2005 I started my first company and that lead to starting Fractured in 2010.
When you’re approaching a film, do you submit designs along with other effects artists, like the audition process an actor would go through, or do you get the work, but within certain constraints?
It depends. Sometimes you’ll come in and the director has a vision that he just wants you to design. Sometimes you’re asked to put together a budget and if it’s approved then you start designing from there.
Some collaborative, some not then?
To a certain degree they expect you’re going to come up with the design when they hire you, but a lot of the time you’re working from designs. Ultimately it’s down to what’s in the script.
With The Last Witch Hunter, where did those designs come from? Is it increasingly difficult to come up with something new and original?
Absolutely. Audiences are so savvy these days that it’s difficult to surprise them. With Witch Hunter we had a wall of what we didn’t want; a wall of every witch you’ve ever seen! With The Queen, the design came from the environment in which she existed, and how she grew from those surroundings.
You’ve worked on many reality based projects such as Jarhead and we presume that’s a very different concept?
With any of our medical based projects such as Jarhead and The Knick, we use a lot of medical books to make sure we get it right. If we’re recreating something like an old man, we have to use a true reference. With fantasy there’s room to explore and be more whimsical. Everyone knows what an old person looks like!
Do you enjoy the more creative side then?
Honestly, if I had my choice I would want to do something where someone starts young and ends up old, as I think that’s much more challenging.
That’s interesting, as some recent films such as Ant-Man have used CGI to make people younger or older. What are your thoughts on that?
I think what you’re finding more and more is a hybrid between the two. Practical effects take it so far and then visual effects take it on. I think what a lot of people are realising is we can get them 90% there and then they just need an extra 10% push from visual effects. When you put the two together you get a better finish.
So films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are champions of this happy medium?
I think Star Wars is a perfect example, where J.J. Abrams pushed to get as much of a practical effect as possible. CGI can be beautiful but when next to real, organic characters and sets, it can be jarring.
Does it draw you out of a film sometimes, with the experience you have?
(laughs) Absolutely! My wife doesn’t even want to go to the movies with me anymore. I tend to point out the flaws!
On The Conjuring, Lili Taylor described you as a joy to work with, but we wonder how difficult it can be tailoring specific designs and prosthetics to an actor, who perhaps isn’t quite into it?
That’s always troublesome. If an actor is going to wear prosthetics, it can take a while to get used to it. For example, Lili Taylor at one point had her entire face covered but she worked through it. Some actors have trouble with having it on their face but it really depends on the person. A lot of time, actors are more willing to accept it, if they see and understand why it makes their character better and stronger.
Has there been a particular effect that’s either been the most challenging, or the most satisfying?
The hardest project was probably Tron: Legacy. We built 116 fully illuminated suits, with custom electronics and custom lights that had never been used before. Everything was a prototype. On top of that all the sets were troublesome, as they were all made out of glass and the sets were full of static electricity. We did over 100 hours per week just to get things done. It was gruelling.
Was that the most satisfying to complete then?
I think there was a lot of hatred for it for a long time but eventually I came to accept there were a lot of achievements on that film. Talk of a sequel slowly began to inspire me too. Mentally challenging but made me step up my game.