Creatives is a new recurring column about creative people in L.A. following their passions.
Dan Rebert's job is the stuff of nightmares — literally. As the makeup effects producer for Masters FX studio, he and his team have created ghosts and goblins and creatures mutated larger-than-life for television shows, such as True Blood and Six Feet Under, and films, including Slither and the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The company's Arleta production studio, while not large, is crammed full of bodies. Not all of them are human. Or real.
“It's all just rubber and plastic,” Rebert says with a laugh, leading the way into a holding cell of deformed creatures and mutilated skulls.
“This was used for a movie called The New Daughter,” he says, striding nonchalantly up to a dummy of a naked woman with her stomach half-torn out. He pauses, shrugs and says, “Mole people.” Naturally.
Rebert, who sports a hoodie and a long ponytail, says he fell into this line of work “because I didn't want to get a real job.” Despite his chosen profession, Rebert never wanted to experience actual blood and guts — as a teen, he even declined an offer from his district attorney father to witness an autopsy. (He ended up watching a video of the procedure instead.)
“You look at horribly gory things like this,” Rebert says, referring to the female dummy. “This is a magic trick to me. It's interesting to try to simulate flesh and try to fool somebody. In real life, I have a hard time looking at this stuff. I'm actually squeamish when it comes to real stuff.”
As a kid growing up in southern Pennsylvania, Rebert took red latex from his junior high art teacher's supply closet, built creatures out of pie dough and constructed a haunted house in his grandparents' basement for the neighborhood kids. He taught himself everything he could from behind-the-scenes shows and good old-fashioned trial and error. Finally, after sending out photos of his work, he was asked to “basically work for nothing” on a film called Woodshop in Florida (a movie, by the way, that he's still never seen). Six months after it wrapped, he moved to Los Angeles.
There have been changes along the way, especially since Rebert's industry — like so many others — is running up against the increased capabilities and lower price tags of digital technology. While Masters FX used to get more requests for creature suits or animatronics, he says, “These days, we do a lot more prosthetic makeups and dummy bodies.”
His solution: compromise. “We try to take makeup as far as it will go,” Rebert says. Then the other team can add in digital effects.
But will his art form ever completely go away? Rebert is doubtful. After all, he points out, you'll probably get a better reaction out of an actor looking at one of his nightmarish dummies than at a green ball on a screen.
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