You may not know the name, but Waldo Mason is one of the UK’s busiest prosthetic and creature FX specialists. Mason’s work includes fantastical effects for movies like the Harry Potter series and The Wolfman, as well as gruesomely realistic bodies and injuries for TV series Waking The Dead.
In late 2010 Waldo was asked to join the Prometheus FX team as a creature sculptor and designer, and his work can be seen in some of the movie’s most striking moments.
Waldo is now busy on a new project, but he took some time out to talk to us about his career and his work on Prometheus.
Q: First of all, can you tell us a little about how you started out in the industry?
A: I was basically a huge horror fan with an A level in art and sculpted creatures at home, sending photos out to FX companies. Through sheer persistence I eventually landed some sculpting work on a commercial, and one job led to another until eventually I became an industry regular.
Q: Do you have a piece of work or a project that you are particularly proud of?
A: I am very proud to have been a part of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN because it set a new standard in the way that war movies are shot, even to this day, and really bought home what the soldiers in the D-day landings must have gone through.
Q: Is there a film or TV project – from any time – that you wish you had worked on?
A: Loads! There have been so many inspirational films over the years, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE THING, etc, but I’m really enjoying THE WALKING DEAD and seeing how the makeup FX crew outdo themselves from one episode to the next!
Q: How have you noticed the physical FX industry changing now that CGI is being used more for ‘prosthetics’
A: The real impact has been on the creature effects that would traditionally have been done with animatronics, because digital creatures are not restricted by the laws of physics, so literally anything is possible. With that said, the digital creatures in the HARRY POTTER movies, for example, were created from 3D scans of sculpted, painted silicone models produced specifically for this purpose so that visually they were grounded in reality, and similarly the CG versions of the Prometheus creatures were generated from scans of the finished items produced by the creature FX department, achieving a visual continuity between the practical and CG elements. So the physical aspect is still there but it’s role within the film making process has just changed, although with recent developments in materials and technology animatronics have become a lot more sophisticated, and the most believable effects now seem to be those that blend the best of both, making it harder for the audience to spot how an effect is achieved.
Q: Can you explain how you became involved in Prometheus?
A: My role on the movie was Creature Sculptor/Design and I was invited to join the project in November 2010 by Neal Scanlan, who handled the creature and makeup effects for the movie. As Neal’s background is in designing animatronics and practical creature FX, the focus was on creating as much of a physical creature presence on the set as possible.
Q: What area did you work cover (i.e. human or creature FX)?
A: My initial involvement was sculpting the Hammerpede creature for the Fifield/Millburn sequence and creating a full silicone body of Noomi Rapace for a scene later in the film, but as with all our crew, I basically jumped in on whatever needed doing!
Q: How does it feel to have a director of Scott’s stature, with all the CGI technology he could possibly want at his disposal, still choose to rely so heavily on physical sets and FX?
A: Because Ridley is a very visual director I think he likes to have something tangible in front of him to direct, whilst being able to see how the finished creature looks and integrates with its surroundings and having a practical creature on the set also creates opportunities to improvise and explore different ways of shooting a scene as well as being beneficial for the actors to have something real to interact with. Inevitably there will be certain shots where a digital version of the creature is needed, and footage of the physical creature on the set gives the CG department the necessary visual information for the transition to be seamless, but ultimately it’s down the director’s judgement as to where to use practical or digital elements. Having watched Prometheus I’m really happy with the results!
Q: Did you meet with Ridley Scott, and, coming from an art background, how heavily involved was he with the design process?
A: Yes, Ridley visited our workshop several times. With the Hammerpede for example, as the script was fleshed out with set designs and storyboards he would add specific visual elements to work into the various creature concepts already put forward, such as the surface finish of the skin, translucent layers, etc. It’s great to have that level of involvement from the director and know that we’re all on the same page, visually.
Q: Have you seen any of the film (other than the trailers), and if so what are your thoughts on it, and how your work is represented?
A: I have seen the film and I thought it looked amazing visually, the production design and VFX were beautifully done and I was really pleased with how much of our work made it into the film, considering how graphic some of it was!
You can check out more of Waldo’s work on his website, including an image gallery that is not for the squeamish!
Many thanks to Waldo for taking the time to talk to us, and to Samara at Fox for helping arrange things!
Prometheus is directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts. The film stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Logan Marshall-Green, Patrick Wilson and Kate Dickie, and is now on release around the world.