Top 5 Vampire Designs
Since the very birth of cinema, the varied and ambiguous folklore surrounding vampires has made them a makeup artist's dream; a chance to start with the slightest of briefs and get truly inventive. Primal and demonic? Feral and animalistic? Man-bat-wolf... thing? You do you. The world... vampire is your oyster.
So, in the wake of the attractive neck-nibblers that have saturated the screen in the past few years, we thought we'd take a moment to celebrate some of the most creative - and terrifying - vampire designs in history.
Bram Stoker's Dracula
Gary Oldman's Dracula is the Beyonce of the undead; just one fabulous look was never going to be enough. Oldman's frequent shape-shifting throughout Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 classic ranges in form from mythic vampirical forms; wizened old man, through suave Victorian gent, to giant bat-creature (with brief stints as a humanoid wolf and a heap of rats along the way).
Coppola shunned any kind of elaborate special effects or computer trickery when making the movie, instead relying on tried and tested practical effects, such as mirrors and miniatures, and makeups.
"Old man" Dracula proved the most labor-intensive to apply, taking four hours to glue and paint around ten individual foam pieces to Oldman's face and neck.
The Ancients - The Strain
Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain broke new in terms of vampire mythology when it first aired in 2014. An attempt to put a realistic, spin on an old tale, The Strain portrays vampirism as a virus, spread by VFX worms which enter and take over the body like a parasite, until the victim is suckling up the blood of strangers with a long, tentacle-like "stinger". (Gross.)
At the top of the vampire table in The Strain sit The Ancients; the origins of the virus and all-round unpleasant creatures. Although much of the parasitic blood-slurping is done with CGI, The Ancients are brought to un-life with practical effects. Responsible for these were co-supervisors Steve Newburn and Sean Sansom. Newburn and Sansom also created a number of special props, and a range of sculpted pieces for use on set as stand-ins, as well as models of the creatures to be scanned and digitised for VFX purposes.
The Ancients sit somewhere between a vampire bat and an impossibly old man in a hot bath, The Ancient's mottled, wrinkled skin hangs gracelessly from lean, twitching muscles, portraying their age - but also their power. The pointed ears and lack of nose (created with the assistance of a green screen) not only invokes the image of a bat, but also a human skull.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That's certainly for old Nosferatu. An enduring and classic design, Count Orlok's severe, startling features have been referenced for almost a century. The bald, buck-toothed vampire has become template for artists and filmmakers looking to pay homage to the big screen's very first bloodsucker. Most recently seen in cupboard-dwelling Petyr from Taika Waititi's mockumentary comedy What We Do in the Shadows, the Nosferatu-style vampire was arguably given its most memorable airing in the 1979 mini-series Salem's Lot.
In Stephen King's novel, master vampire Kurt Barlow is a suavely-dressed, well-spoken Austrian gentleman, however when it came to filming the series, producer Richard Kobritz opted for more visceral, classic design.
"We went back to the old German Nosferatu concept where he is the essence of evil," Kobritz said of the design, "and not anything romantic or smarmy, or, you know, the rouge-cheeked, widow-peaked Dracula. I wanted nothing suave or sexual, because I just didn't think it'd work; we've seen too much of it."
The end result was a petrifying, feral being with unwieldy teeth and piercing eyes. Although it was a departure from King's original notion, a good artist understands what works on film and what doesn't. And anyone who still has doubts about the decision should go watch the 2004 version of Salem's Lot, in which Rutger Hauer's Barlow sports a soul patch. A. Soul. Patch.
30 Days of Night
The nightmarish creatures in 30 Days of Night were a breed that we haven’t seen again in the decade since its release; the scary vampire.
The past ten years have been a challenging one for the vampire's image. Teen romances, spoofs and a glutton of supernatural TV programmes have all but taken the bite out of vampires recently.
There were no neat little fangs here; instead these suckers bared a mouthful of misshapen, yellowed razorblades, made not for puncturing, but for tearing apart. Paired with their smooth features and black eyes, the rows of cramped teeth gave these vamps a shark-like appearance, which fit perfectly with their ruthless, savage characters. Think Jaws. A big gang of Jaws. But on land. In the dark. *shudders*
Let The Right One In
Sometimes less is more, especially when you've got a creepy child-vampire to work with. Stark Swedish horror Let The Right One In went with a cinematographically bare tone that suited its location and the grim, yet credible nature of its story.
The design of its vampire, who appears as a young girl named Eli, equally cold and uncomplicated. We see no sharp teeth, no glowing eyes, no animalistic features; the absence of which makes for any of the few scenes in which Eli kills all the more visually striking.
No more effective is this contrast evident than when Eli crosses a threshold uninvited; blood begins to seep from her eyes, ears, and body. As crimson red blood bubbles through the surface of her skin and trickles down her face, we are afforded with one of the most arresting and unsettling visuals in the film. And not a glue-on fang in sight.
Emmy Award-winning makeup artist, monster maker, mad scientist and now author, Steve Johnson is renowned for his contribution to the SFX industry throughout the years. His recent book, Rubberhead: Sex, Drugs, and Special FX was published in 2017 and chronicles his legendary career in film and TV. Johnson’s company, XFX, did make-up effects for more than 200 films, countless TV shows, commercials and music videos. His film credits include The Abyss, Ghostbusters, Bicentennial Man, Species and Spider-Man 2. Steve was kind enough to answer a few burning questions we had for him about the upcoming release of the second instalment of the Rubberhead Books.
If you haven’t already seen the robotic beauty that Birmingham based collective, Father Phantom Studios debuted at IMATs London, where have you been?!
Made up of the super talented Ben and Laura, who specialise in creating SFX makeup and collectables from their studio, in the trendy Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. We were lucky enough to be joined by them and Titanic FX to demo their newest creation. As we are always intrigued to find out more about design and the creation process behind the makeups, we dropped them a few questions. Read all about this stunning creation below!