You’ve seen this man’s makeup effects handiwork in dozens of TV shows and movies, everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files to Heroes and all four Hunger Games flicks, including Mockingjay Part 2, which opens Friday.
Been to a Lady Gaga concert? Glenn Hetrick has crafted outrageous costumes and props for her stage shows too. In front of the camera, he’s played monsters and aliens, unrecognizable under layers of latex and prosthetics. And as his heavily tattooed self, Hetrick is a judge on the prosthetic makeup competition series Face Off, which returns to Syfy in January.
He also recently launched Alchemy Studios to produce original projects and design SFX makeup and prosthetics, creatures, costumes and props using state of the art techniques like 3D printing. So we just had to ask how he turned a childhood obsession into a Hollywood career.
“We’re pioneering how to integrate 3D printed pieces into makeup. The 3D printed elements are designed in the computer, printed out, painted and they go right onto the performer. We have some of the Dead Sea Scrolls written on the horns of this demon character we created, and to do that physically would take months. With 3D printing it took a few hours.”
What got you into creatures and monster makeup?
I’ve been obsessed with it since I was a very, very young child. I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, watching Hammer horror movies every Sunday—Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and the Universal classics—and superheroes like Adam West’s Batman, wanting desperately to be an actor, a bad guy, and wanting to do the makeup effects and turn myself into creatures. I had a book called How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way from the school library, which I checked out over and over for the entire run of school. The first thing I sculpted was an ape face on a piece of paper when I was in first grade, and two years later I did my first play. By high school, I was doing musicals and community theater. I played Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist and I did my own makeup. And of course I experimented on Halloween. From seventh grade through graduating college, every Halloween I would plan some elaborate prosthetic makeup and try it on myself.
How did you turn that into a career?
My parents didn’t think you could make any money doing creepy makeup effects, so I ended up majoring in public relations and promotions and took theater electives in college—radio production, film production, stagecraft. I learned to paint and sculpt from resin model kits and by the time I was out of college I was doing makeups. I worked a lot in the burgeoning New York indie horror film scene. Any time I would get a job as an actor I would try doing the makeup effects that were in it, and if I got a job doing the makeup effects I’d try to get a little acting role. That eventually led to working with some of the big horror bands on the east coast like The Misfits and Type O Negative on stage shows and doing makeups for them. I wasn’t a member of the union in New York, and all the work was in L.A. I packed my car and moved cross-country with five hundred bucks. It took a few months but my first real job was with Optic Nerve Studios, where I swept the floors, ran out for supplies and learned to make molds. I probably learned more in that 24-month period than I had in my life up to that point.
What shows did you work on there?
Buffy, Angel, X-Files, Roswell, and Crossing Jordan. As a supervisor on that I’d build these extraordinarily complex replicas of the actor in the episode that died for the autopsy. Eventually I took over the shop. We went from Crossing Jordan into Heroes, then CSI: New York, which was a lot of bodies and prosthetics. We made a prosthetic for January Jones on Mad Men for a story arc when she had a weight issue. We did a lot of robotic components on Extant, effects with the little boy.
You’ve done all the Hunger Games movies. What’s new in Mockingjay Part 2?
Lots of prosthetics, tattoos, piercings. For the war in the Capitol we built over 150 burned bodies for the explosion sequence. We put over 350 people in burns and wounds every day for the battle scene. It was massive.
What did you do for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D?
There’s a species called the Inhumans, alien hybrids, and I was brought on board to create the first Inhuman, Raina [see above]. We transformed Kyle MacLachlan into Hyde, and did makeup for the villain Lash, played by Matthew Willigm who’s almost seven feet tall, 300 pounds. Doing his makeup takes three artists almost four hours. I’m a Marvel kid, I’ve been reading and drawing the comics since I was a child, so to get the call to work on the show was beyond exciting. Working with Kyle MacLachlan was a dream for me because of his work on Twin Peaks and Dune.
You’ve also worked with Lady Gaga. How did that come about?
At the very beginning of her career I was the first one to build stuff for her. She hadn’t hit yet but they knew she was about to and her people reached out. We made some Japanese anime-looking armor for the first tour and then some instruments, and a frosted glass coffin for her to be transported in at the VMAs. It’s off and on, it depends on what designers she’s working with. But I hope to work with her again in the future. The call kind of just comes in sporadically with some awesome idea and we build it.
Face Off is going into its tenth season. What’s the secret to its success?
It’s genuine. There’s no manufactured reality. Nobody tells us or the contestants what to say. Kids love watching the show to see the monsters, and parents are addicted to the competition.
What are you working on at your new Alchemy Studios?
We’re pioneering how to integrate 3D printed pieces into makeup. We did this project where we created the demon character [see below], and some of it is silicone, the rest of it is 3D printed. Instead of lifecasting someone, sculpting it, molding it, creating pieces and painting them, the 3D printed elements are designed in the computer, printed out, painted and they go right onto the performer. We have some of the Dead Sea Scrolls written on the horns of this demon and to do that physically would take months. With 3D printing it took a few hours. We’re embracing integration with CG to create things on screen in these incredibly short turnaround times that production demands today.
What projects are on the horizon?
Neuroscape, based on a book series by Brian Lumley—we’re developing it and hoping to move it forward. Vault of Horror is from the DC Comics family and that’s in development too. On the live entertainment front, there’s Escape Games. It’s sort of like playing a video game in real life, like a series of rooms with very complex, challenging puzzles. It’s fun and it encourages the fostering of a group dynamic, so a lot of major corporations are sending their teams out to do escapes as a team building exercise. I had an idea for a series of escape games that we hope to open next year. We hope to do a haunt experience in Bethlehem next Halloween, with really high production values, like you’re walking through a movie.
How much time do you spend at the gym? You look like you work out a lot.
I do, constantly. At the studio we have a beautiful custom-built gym and sauna room. In between phone calls and meetings I’ll be lifting. We play horror movies and horror soundtracks while we lift. I also have a membership to a gym which is closer to my house, so I can do my cardio in the pool.
You’ve acted in TV shows and movies, mostly playing villains. Do you mind being typecast?
No, I love it. It’s what I always wanted to do, and I want to do a lot more moving ahead. I’m getting to a point where I’m trying to get more into that stuff as we bring some new supervisors in at the studio to help take on the responsibilities of the shows.
What’s your favorite role?
When I got to play a creature on Heroes. I got buried in this really cool makeup and I got to die on screen. I’d mutated into this sort of Elephant Man-esque creature.
What are your favorite classic and recent horror movies?
I’m loving gothic horrors. Crimson Peak is the one I’ve seen most recently that I absolutely adored. I thought it was genius. It reminds me of the old Hammer films. The art is absolutely gorgeous. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is always at the top of my list. Gary Oldman is my favorite actor, and I think it’s one of the greatest horror films that’s ever been made in terms of the cinematography and the makeup. Greg Cannon’s makeups in Lost Boys and Dracula are some of the most influential on my style.
Do you ever get grossed out by horror films or gore?
No, not after twenty seasons of forensics shows. But the books that we use for dermatological reference show really abhorrent, extremely advanced cases of specific skin diseases, and it’s hard to look at. That stuff bothers me even more than the corpses.
How many tattoos do you have right now?
At this point, just one. I laid it out probably 15 years ago and we’ve been working diligently little by little on finishing it. I’m pretty close now. I have well over 200, maybe close to 300 hours on it so far.
You’re like the chick on Blindspot.
Yeah. They should have hired me!