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On Set with... Craig Reardon

by Natalie Wright
On Set with... Craig Reardon
Craig Reardon is very well known as the nice guy of makeup. I was honoured to have attended Craigs talk at IMATS this year and was blown away by the amount of amazing stories, knowledge and insight he had to give. 
Craig is one of the most passionate makeup artists I have ever met, he emits knowledge and an unflinching love for the industry, he is not only full of words of wisdom but is insanely humble and generous with his time.
Working on some of the biggest blockbusters and most influential practical effects films of all time including: Poltergeist, An American Werewolf in London, The Funhouse and The Incredible Shrinking Woman. He is truly one of a kind and it was privilege to be able to interview him. 
If you have any questions you would like to ask Craig, send em our way! 

When did you know you wanted to become a makeup artist?

When time was running out on deciding what the hell I would do for a living! I finally became convinced my makeup hobby might just float my boat. That’s the truth.

During your talk you spoke about Dick Smith being extremely generous with this knowledge, he wanted to innovate, share and teach. Do you think this attitude is reflected in the makeup industry today?

I couldn’t say. I doubt it. I never encountered anyone remotely like Dick Smith. Well, maybe remotely! He was positively messianic about sharing and also mentoring. It even extended to students who later went into other fields. For instance, do the names J. J. Abrams, or Guillermo del Toro, ring a bell? They were once students of his correspondence course. Abrams was even invited to his home. That was Dick Smith, and there will never to my mind be another like him.

Craig Reardon The Makeup Armoury Dick Smith

Obvious and impossible - "Get to know somebody, anyone who’s already in it. It doesn’t hurt and if you can show them your work and if you can make an impression, any impression If they see possibilities, that’s might mean a job for you. Do a good job, in everything that your asked to do and you know what, you’re very likely to get asked to do the job again. Do you have any other pieces of advice for the younger generation trying to make it in the industry?

Well, perhaps. Makeup, as a profession, is I imagine no different from any other. In other words, it’s like competing in a log rolling competition! Are you going to stay up on that spinning log? Or, are you in for a dunking? I say, you’re apt to get dunked, and often. The analogy is, get out of the water, dry off, and write it off. Enter the very next log rolling contest you can get yourself into, and WIN it! Hold yourself to the highest standard you, personally, can imagine and maintain. Have faith in that. Someone will notice. Someone will agree with you. Even if your colleagues don’t appear to, some producer may!page1image3685824

Craig Reardon The Makeup Armoury

You also mentioned that Rick Baker was speaking about his idea for a werewolf design in 1969, that he wanted to create something ultimately tortured and pained. If you were to design a werewolf what attributes would you give it?

Well, Rick being Rick, he’s had the opportunity since “American Werewolf in London” to at least two other werewolf films I’m aware of, namely “Wolf”, and “The Wolfman”. In each, he explored a different approach. The first was of course shocking and innovative when he and John Landis were finally able to bring it to market, and Rick probably saw no need to repeat that kind of virtuoso performance. Me, I would personally be more drawn to the kind of idea as expressed in “Wolf”; or much earlier, Jack Pierce’s marvelous design for “Werewolf of London” in 1935, yet! To me, an enraged beast is scary, absolutely, and I’d hate to deal with an angry real wolf. But, in the context of a horror movie, the element of a werewolf I find the most frightening, and I say this seriously, is the human element. I would be enthused to attempt to create the sense of madness and ‘just wrong’ quality of a man (or a woman!) who believes they’re a werewolf. But I would not want it to be strictly psychological, of course! And I would try, against the odds, to do something different. Not easy, with these impressive predecessors in the movies.


"Night Skies" which was originally designed as a alien heavy, scary movie was changed into the family friendly ET! How did this effect the design process of the creature?

It turned the design process upside down. A LOT of effort had been put into the mechanical and ‘cosmetic’ design of the original alien, again by Rick Baker. When Steven Spielberg apprised him that he’d rethought the movie while shooting “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and intended to make the alien a sympathetic and vulnerable creature, it was no doubt quite a bombshell, as the clock was ticking on his hopes to begin production.

Craig Reardon The Makeup Armoury E.T

How was it to work with Steven Spielberg after you witnessed his and Ricks fall out?

Personally? I found Steven Spielberg to be very enthusiastic, and very appreciative, as long as he felt you were in synch with him. I’m NOT commenting elliptically on whatever transpired between him and Rick at their fateful meeting which shut down “Night Skies”. Stuff happens. Rick later worked for Spielberg’s company Amblin’. But remember, I came at “E.T.” from an entirely different route. Tobe Hooper had brought me onto “Poltergeist”, and that film led to “E.T.”

Graig Reardon The Makeup Armoury Polthergeist

What’s your favourite film and why?

Well, let me be difficult (!) and make a distinction between my favorite film, and my favorite film-because-of-the-makeup. In the latter category, the one which always leaps to mind was a TV film I worked on in 1990 about the life of the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (its actual title), L. Frank Baum. It starred the late John Ritter and although it was shot in a great hurry like most TV movies, I managed to stay up on the log—my log rolling analogy!—and I was very pleased with the work I was able to do, even under those circumstances. Most of my own projects in the business were fraught with disappointment due to a number of circumstances, and I’m grateful that many people seem to have enjoyed them and don’t view them through the prism I do. My favorite film, as an experience, was “Hidalgo”, which I did working with Mike Mills, which took us around the U.S., and even to Morocco. Plus, a great cast including Viggo Mortensen, my favorite actor ever to work with.

One of my all time favourite programs is X-files, the monster and creature design is one of the reason that made me want to get into makeup. How was working on that production? 

“The X-Files” was one of several TV shows which helped sustain those of us who specialized in prosthetic makeup through the ‘90s. The late John Vulich had a company called Optic Nerve which supplied the beautifully-made prosthetics for the show, many or most of which were designed and sculpted by the criminally unsung John Wheaton, who currently works at KNB Effects. The set prosthetic/FX makeup supervisor was Greg Funk, another great talent and great guy. I was always comfortable and happy when working over on “The X-Files”, on account of this environment. It makes a big difference.

Craig Reardon The Makeup Armoury

Being a 4 time Emmy award winner is quite an accomplishment, is there is there any relation between the enjoyment of working on the production and winning awards? Did you ever expect those productions to win anything when you were working on them?

I’d say, yes, there is a relationship, as hinted at in my remarks about “The X-Files”, which was the source of one of the Emmys I received. Other than that I would personally say, do the work, and if you feel it’s good work, by all means put it up for contention. I never did. I was merely the beneficiary of awards the supervisors on those shows had entered into contention. One out of four of my Emmys was for something I did myself, for a daytime program for children, and therefore that’s the only one I feel any real personal connection to.

The Makeup Armoury Craig Reardon

Which 5 items could you not live without in your makeup kit?

Well, again, I’m not going to answer this in such a way as to endorse it for anyone else. I think every makeup artist is entitled to work the way they feel most comfortable and I think all department heads should, if they’re smart, hire according to the work the person they’re hiring is known for, and to refrain from micromanagement. That said, I love to work with “old fashioned” materials, but I have a rationale for that. It isn’t for the sake of them being older, much as that fact doesn’t sink in for some of my colleagues who’ve seen me work with them. It’s all—all —due to performance, always. I worked on the first film which used silicone adhesive, “Altered States”, an innovation of Dick Smith. But I like to use spirit gum! I really do. I think for many reasons it works better. I also utilize it differently. I like Pros Aide (something else Dick discovered, however based on something I’d shown him that I in turn had learned about from Mike McCracken, a brilliant guy I miss very much. Some things aren’t as cut and dried as people assume, as far as innovations and ideas.) However, I often apply Pros Aide to the appliance, only, and then place it, like fly paper, right on the performer. No ‘wet’ stuff if I can help it hits their skin. The adhesion is great and the clean up is FAR easier. For color, I am a life long admirer of Kryolan products. For thirty or more years I’ve used Kryolan Aqua Color as the sole agent for making up foam latex and later silicone based prosthetics. I’m the only person I know of who’s ever done this. Like I said—don’t do as I do. Do as YOU do! Think out of the box, or IN it. Think for yourself, and believe in yourself. Not for its own sake. Strive for good work, but by your own lights.

Craig has kindly agreed to answer questions from our readers, so if you want to ask this makeup LEGEND any questions please send them to