I had the honor of sitting down with special effects master and Primetime Emmy Award winner Todd Masters who has been in the special effects industry for forty years and has worked on a horde of projects including Tales from the Crypt, Slither, Skyscraper starring Dwayne Johnson, and most recently Lars Kleveberg‘s new Child’s Play movie. Todd walked me through how Chucky was brought to life and so much more.
In the film, Aubrey Plaza plays the role of a mother who gives her son (Gabriel Bateman) a Buddi doll for his birthday, unaware of its sinister nature.
Beatrice Kitsos (“The Exorcist”), Brian Tyree Henry (“Atlanta”), Ty Consiglio, and Carlease Burke (Shameless) also star in the film written by Tyler Burton Smith (Kung Fury). Mark Hamill voices the killer doll.
Horror Fuel: “I have to confess, dolls freak me out. I was exposed to Chucky a little too young.”
Todd Masters: “Oh, really? Where are you on the whole Chucky debate? It’s all over the internet, ‘You can’t do Chucky!’
Horror Fuel: “I’m pretty good at being able to keep things separate. There have already been different versions of Chucky before. There was the original and then the Bride of Chucky version. To me, the new Chucky is just another version. He creeps me out in all his forms. After all, it’s not how Chucky’s looks that matters, it’s his attitude, in my opinion.”
Todd Masters: “Making this film, it was meant with all respect. Because of the narrative, it had to change. People couldn’t redo that one any better.”
Horror Fuel: “Right. And everything has to evolve.”
Todd Masters: “Yeah, that’s kind of one of the angles of the script. It’s A.I. While we were working on it, a couple of toys came out that were very much like living A.I. kinds of creatures. It was creepy while we were making a sci-fi-fantasy-horror film. Kind of like a warning.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s a fear of mine too, the whole A.I. coming alive. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the Chucky movies.”
Todd Masters: “Well (laughter). Those movies are like comfort food.”
Horror Fuel: “They are. And sometimes, it’s great to be creeped out or scared.”
Todd Masters: “Yeah, you know to a certain level how much you’re in for, it’s Chucky, not the dark abyss or torture porn. You know what you’re going to get.”
Horror Fuel: “I saw the featurette that went behind the scenes of Child’s Play, but could you tell us how the doll was designed?”
Todd Masters: “We’ve added digital output. The designer, who came up with Bride of Chucky, he actually did a lot of his art in 3D. So we were able to get his base model. We took it and cleaned up and outputted it into digital print. We had learned on another project, The Boy, we decided we weren’t ready just yet, which sucked because the studio kept making changes.
With Chucky, we could output a copy into a variety of different sizes for shots. We wanted to make sure there was the right size for the young cast. So, we printed four different sizes. Once Lars decided on the size we were able to move into a more traditional process where we were able to add some details and take some out. Then it went more into a traditional puppet build. It was a very intense build.”
Horror Fuel: “What does it take to operate something like Chucky?”
Todd Masters: “There’s a whole arsenal that we used. There were six main Chuckys. There was Hero Chucky for close-ups, there was a bunch that would be in boxes. There were the six main Chuckys that you could take apart. One of them was called Robo Chucky, an entirely self-contained robot. There were two others that we just called Hero, they had fully animatronic heads and mostly a rod puppet body. We could switch out heads. I lost count of how many arms we had, mainly they had different uses. One would be able to point, one set was fully articulated. It took four puppeteers.”
Horror Fuel: “Wow. It’s amazing how all of that could be accomplished.
I have to ask because I’ve always wondered, what happens to the puppets once filming is completed?
Todd Masters: “I think they are in Florida. They go to the studio where they are saved in case there is a future sequel. Sometimes collectors buy them. Sometimes they just rot away on a shelf.”
Horror Fuel: “I had to ask, I was picturing four Chuckys running around somewhere out there (laughter).”
Todd Masters: “(laughter) Exactly. Robo Chucky was actually pretty alive. So yeah, that one would probably scare the bejesus out of you. ”
Horror Fuel: I’m sure. So, in the trailer, the mother was pretty messed up and bloody.”
Todd Masters: “Yeah, she goes through it. There was quite a lot of blood. It’s rated “R”. We’re pretty proud of it. It’s definitely not going light. This isn’t a soft and gentle movie. It does have a really good story. The script is great. I’m expecting it to be great.”
Horror Fuel: “I’m sure it will be.”
Todd Masters: “It’s coming out against Toy Story four. Which is hilarious. There’s kind of an online conversation about – I don’t want to spoil anything – but there may be a little cross over between them. ”
Horror Fuel: “I saw the poster.”
Todd Masters: “I’m a little surprised that Disney let them get away with that.”
Horror Fuel: “It’s funny. I think we’ve all seen those crossover memes. I can’t wait to see the movie!
What was the most challenging aspect of the special effects for Child’s Play?”
Todd Masters: “Most likely, the schedule. It was a tight schedule. The last couple of weeks we had night-shift and swing-shift, we were 24/7. It was a lot. Trying to make it on that schedule was the toughest part.”
Horror Fuel: “I imagine. You had so much to create and makeup to do.”
Todd Masters: “At the end of the day, it’s still a doll. But to make something that looks like a manufactured piece – Lars and I really wanted to make it a Pinocchio story where he started off at the toy manufacturer and his personality evolves. It’s a really fun piece to play. I think that’s going to be a cool thing.”
Horror Fuel: “You have worked on so many projects.”
Todd Masters: “Yeah, I’ve been around. It’s actually my fortieth year.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s fantastic! Congratulations!”
Todd Masters: “I actually started doing this when I was twelve. I can’t believe it’s been that long.”
Horror Fuel: “How did you get into the industry?”
Todd Masters: “I was a kid artist. I loved monsters as a kid. I always wanted to know how they moved and how they built them, like Rudolf. I was excited by filmmaking. I first made movies with my neighbors with a Super 8 or 8mm camera. The problem was my neighbors wanted to go play. I decided it would be easier if I made my actors. I was a kid animator, I made my little movies. I found an animation house in my home town (I grew up in Seattle). I was a big kid and I had a deep voice. I called and I somehow got a meeting with these guys. They were in the basement of a house and making these little cell animated movies for educational purposes. They hired me the first day I visited. I started as their cell painter at 12, by 13 I was the head of the department, not that there was a whole lot of department. I made a couple of movies with them. Then I worked at a film lab in downtown Seattle. I actually worked on Empire Strikes Back while I was there. We were a processing lab called Alpha Cine and did 35mm and 16mm film. For whatever reason, all these amazing artists were coming out of Alpha Cine, I think there were 12 people who came out of there – it’s gone now – and went right into Hollywood, probably because they all knew each other. I was there as a kid working on the printer and I already had some animation experience, which was good. This film came through the printer and I looked at it and it was going sideways. It was a speeder on blue screen and they were like, ‘Oh, that’s Star Wars 2.’ I was working on Star Wars 2! Lucas was frustrated with the local lab down there. They put their film on an airplane to get it processed in Seattle. Every so often, something would have to go to the optical department.
I got more and more interested and my parents gave me some basement space, I made my monsters there as a teenager. When I graduated high school, I put out all these applications to the art schools and they all kind of responded with ‘You do what? You’re how old?’ They didn’t think it was a good idea. I was frustrated. I was already working in the film industry professionally but I couldn’t get into school, so I packed my Volkswagen bus and drove to LA. I got hired day one on Big Trouble in Little China. I don’t think I’ve stopped working since then. I worked on a bunch of the 80s stuff and started my own company.”
Horror Fuel: “Wow! That’s quite a journey. Star Wars? That’s crazy!
Three days ago I rewatched Slither. Can I ask, how did you make the exploding woman?”
Todd Masters: “Brenda? Brenda is still in my storage room (laughter). We shot that in Vancouver, British Columbia, but we made half the stuff in our LA studio. We decided we’d make her in LA, our Vancouver studio was just starting out. Bernie Eichholz made most of her body. We wanted to make it as big as possible, and I think it’s still the world’s biggest prosthetic. Somehow, we had trucker knowledge. The height of all the overpasses up the I5, we got the lowest limit and got a truck called lowboy, that would get the freight as low as possible, and that’s how big we made Brenda. It was based on how much space we had on a truck. It was like ‘make it that big.’ It’s almost like a little clubhouse inside Brenda (laughter), she’s that big. It breathes, it has veins and hands that wiggle. The actress, who was actually named Brenda, flew to LA to get a life cast – we had this gigantic cutout of how big Brenda was going to be. It was almost like those carnival things you stick your head out of – she gets there and confesses that she only read the first few pages of the script. And she’s like ‘Why do you guys need a lifecast?’ We were like, ‘You don’t know what you’re here for?’ We take her down to where this massive form is getting started. We point to it and said, ‘that’s you.’ She almost lost her lunch (laughter). It was funny. Long story short, she did great in it, but it was not a very fun experience. Hey, Brenda, we’re going to cram you into this thing. We’re also going to put this big fat prosthetic on you. And your face is going to be covered (laughter). It was a challenge. I wondered there for a few seconds if she was going to make it through.”
Horror Fuel: “I like that scene. She is so freaking big. Slither is a great movie. It’s so funny.”
Todd Masters: “It’s amusing. It’s got that James Gunn touch.”
Horror Fuel: “Definitely. I’m also a big fan of A Haunting in Connecticut. It’s one of my favorites. How did you pull off that scene where he’s in the hospital and has all of those things carved in him?”
Todd Masters: “Those inscriptions drove us nuts for a while. We had to do tons and tons of those inscriptions in the studio and on the set. It’s the real deal. Those are real freaking curses on him. If you look carefully, they are all written in reverse. We wanted it to be written like the soul of this guy is carving it from the inside. We started noticing all kinds of weird shit going on around the time that we were writing all that stuff. We had a studio of artists not just writing it but carving it into flesh. Horrible rituals, who knows what we drummed up. We all noticed weird shit. I apologize if we cracked the earth and let a demon out.”
Horror Fuel: “That is insane! Your work paid off. It looks great on screen.”
Todd Masters: “The job is pretty nuts.”
Horror Fuel: “It must be entertaining though. You are always working on something different, something creative.”
Todd Masters: “Yeah, it could be a fetus or a corpse. It’s great for people who don’t like routine, like yourself. I don’t even like to go into work the same way every day. Artistic type people aren’t going to be tightening the same nut for forty years. To be working on something fresh every day, that’s pretty wild. If you think about it, not many jobs offer that.”
Horror Fuel: “You are absolutely right. I’d lose my mind doing the same thing over and over. What is your favorite part of the creative process?”
Todd Masters: “Working with great artists, people that constantly surprise you. We are really fortunate to have a great group. We had a really rough couple of years while I was out sick and everything should have just collapsed. The team rallied. I still sculpt and I still design as much as I can, but I run a business. I’ve got multiple studios. I had to figure out a place for me to go. I’m still there on the floor every day. Hopefully, it allows for a really great creative environment. To see everyone’s creativity come together to make something really fucking weird is amazing. They hit it out of the ballpark every single day.”
Horror Fuel: “You can’t beat a good team.”
Todd Masters: “It’s everything.”
Horror Fuel: “One of my very favorite movies is Fido.”
Todd Masters: “Oh, really?”
Horror Fuel” I love that movie. It’s very charming.”
Todd Masters: “Oh, okay. It was a total labor of love. I don’t think we made any money on it. It was shot out in British Columbia out in this wine region. This is how low budget this movie was, we had a very small shop in Vancouver and we moved pretty much everyone out there into an old dormitory which was empty because all the kids were on break for summer. So we lived there, we used the ovens to run foam every day. We had a little lab set up. I remember Brad would wake up and run the foam and go back to bed (laughter). Every day it was all destroyed so we had to keep pumping it out. We had to do a lot of work ourselves. Things were kind of generic, a forehead from there and a mouth from that. We had a lot of fun. It was really kind of a love note to zombie movies, so we didn’t really want it to have a polish. We wanted it to have a little bit of a break in the fourth wall and you knew that the audience was in on the joke. We were kind of poking fun at zombies. That was a fun film. That’s a wild one to mention.”
Horror Fuel: “That sounds tough, but the film is so interesting and unique.”
Todd Masters: “I’m glad to hear. We put a lot of love and care in that movie, from the art department to costumes. It has real quality to it. I think we called it a zomedy. It was fun for you to bring that up. I think I had to do Turistas and Snakes on a Plane right in the middle of that production.”
Horror Fuel: “I love Snakes on a Plane! It has one of the best Samuel L. Jackson lines ever, you know the one.”
Todd Masters: “It was hilarious. I haven’t watched it in a while. The CGI snakes were bad then, I’m sure they are ridiculous now.”
Horror Fuel: “They are a little ridiculous (laughter). And Skyscraper. That was awesome.”
Todd Masters: “That was kind of when I was sick. The team did a lot of that. That first shot of him putting on his prosthetic leg wasn’t done in one shot. They nailed it. The special effects team was really open to suggestions and it really came out nicely.”
Horror Fuel: “It was.”
Todd Masters: “That’s good. Dwayne is a sensitive person, he’s a real dude. He really does care about people and details like that and how people perceive his characters.”
Horror Fuel: “So, do you have a favorite creation?”
Todd Masters: “I have a toy, it’s our mascot. It’s a pumpkin named Jack. I made him when I was like 18. We sold them for a couple of years. He was a hit. That’s a favorite of mine. You mentioned Slither. It’s fun to have forty plus years to look back on. Demon Knight is a huge favorite of mine. It’s like every movie is coming up on its 30th anniversary. Tales from the Crypt is 30, Look Who’s Talking is 30. I’ve done so many things. It’s hard to narrow it down to a small list.”
Horror Fuel: “It must have been amazing to work on Tales from the Crypt.”
Todd Masters: “I worked on the Crypt set. I worked in the art department sculpting bricks and weird ghouls. The Crypt Keeper had Chucky’s eyes. I started in the art department sculpting set pieces. I kept going to the producers saying ‘I’m not a foam carver. I make monsters and shit.’ Eventually, they gave me work on different stuff on season two. Season three they switched producers and I really got in there. I did demon Night and Bordello of Blood.”
Horror Fuel: “You have a thing for exploding women don’t you (laughter)?