The IllusionistErik Porn, Film Makeup Special FX Artist

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Film makeup and special fx have a long history of holding us in fear, awe and delight on the Silver Screen, and the industry is much more than brushes and cosmetics. Even the smallest effect requires a team of artists with expertise in sculpting, drawing, molds, silicone, latex, etc. The amount of talent and artistry involved is staggering. My City Magazine caught up with Flushing native and makeup special fx artist, Erik Porn, to learn more about his road to career success.

Erik Porn transforms actor Ryan Kelley into a hellhound on “Teen Wolf.”

1. Tell us about growing up in Greater Flint and how it shaped you as a person.

I grew up in Flushing and Flint was a different place when I was young. It’s changed quite a bit from the city it was in the 80s when the auto industry had just laid off a tremendous amount of the workforce. I remember so many people being depressed. Growing up in the Flint area was hard for me. It was hard to pursue the arts back then, because most of my friends’ parents had worked for GM. I had supportive people, yes, but most I talked to didn’t see (my profession) as a viable way to make a living. A friend’s dad told me to stop dreaming and come work for his shop. That conversation inspired me to try harder and go for it. I like that I see so many young artists and filmmakers coming out of Flint now. I think people are more open-minded to my kind of work after the film industry had about five solid years in Michigan. I will say that when I was growing up, Flint was also home to some of the hardest working people I have ever known. If I retained anything from Flint of the 80s and early 90s, it was the work ethic.

Erik Porn transforms an actor for the MTV series “Teen Wolf.”

2. How did you get started in makeup and special fx?

I’ve always loved movies since I was a kid, and I remember watching “Thriller” on MTV. After the music video, they ran a 90-minute “making of” featurette that showcased all of the people involved and one person, Rick Baker, stood out to me. I saw then that there were people doing makeup and special fx for a job and getting paid well to do it! That inspired me. I started sculpting and drawing monsters. I remember relatives saying to my mother, “Don’t worry, it’s a phase – he will grow out of it!” I never did.

I went to the Art Institute in Pittsburgh after graduating from Flushing High School in 1996 and studied the art of makeup fx for film and television. It blew my mind! There was an actual job that encompassed every art form, from sketching to sculpting and shop work, even welding and mechanics! After I moved back to Michigan, I met people with similar interests who were frustrated that Flint had no real film community. We bonded, and I did a lot of fx work for friends’ films. My parents were both from Flint and had worked hard their whole lives to support their family. When this group of people came together to make these films and projects, my parents and family were very supportive. They all agreed, though, that Michigan wasn’t the place. When I was 27, I moved to Los Angeles and called every fx shop in town to find work. One called me back because they thought my last name was hilarious. I hired in and worked as hard as I could to make an impression and learn as much as possible. Fourteen years later, I’m still here and it was the best choice I ever made.

(L-R) Chris Gallaher, Kenny Myers and Erik Porn with actor Tyler Posey as Scott McCall in “Teen Wolf”

3. Did you get any other training?

After attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, I began taking a home course taught by legendary fx artist, Dick Smith. I think trial and error taught me best, though. Failure is an amazing teacher – when you spend your own money on materials and it doesn’t work the first time, you make very sure the next time that you have fixed your approach.

4. What aspects of your career are the most exciting?

For me, the exciting part is the collaboration with so many different people from so many areas of the industry. Everyone supports everyone else, because we need a team effort to get things done. Also, being in a dark theater and watching a packed audience react to something you created is quite fun. But I would also have to say the very best part is being in the theater and realizing that nobody noticed the effect, that’s when you know the job was a success – when people forget that it’s an illusion and just believe it. That’s exciting to me.

5. What career achievement or project are you most proud of?

Being on the team to transform Christian Bale into Dick Cheney for the film “VICE” this past year was the crowning achievement, thus far. I got to work with my business partner, Christopher Gallaher, who is also from Flint. He applied prosthetics to Christian every single day with assistance from me or Kenny Myers, who was also one of my idols growing up. The makeup fx in that film went on to win an Oscar and our boss, Greg, who designed all of the work on the film, gave us a great mention at the Academy Awards. That was pretty fun.

(L-R) Chris Gallaher, Karen Myers, Christian Bale (as Dick Cheney), Kenny Myers, Erik Porn and Jessica Nelson on the set of “Vice.”

6. What project are you working on right now?

I mostly do freelance work now and bounce around from show to show. I can’t really say what my current project is, but it’s a sequel to a very popular horror film that was released last year. What kept me busy most this year was working on “This Is Us” and “Fear the Walking Dead.” I was on the team of artists who worked on the new “Star Trek” series coming out for CBS and that was incredibly exciting. Our company, Bitemares Inc., finished a film shot in Traverse City called “The Wretched” and it’s a throwback to old-school horror with practical effects. It’s a Michigan film, takes place in Michigan, written and directed by Michigan people.

Porn works on a “terminator” for “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

7. Are there any special people who influenced you?

Obviously, I always had an appreciation for my parents, but the people in my life who I think were very influential were my high school art teacher, Richard Wolfgang, and guidance counselor, Archie Bailey. They helped guide me down my path. Professionally, I always looked up to Dick Smith, who basically re-created this career. He figured out how to do most of this stuff in his basement, then began to mentor others who all went on to win Oscars. Dick was an amazing person because he would figure out a new technique or material, then immediately send letters about it to everyone he had mentored. Those who inspire me most now are people I call my peers. I watch them, ask questions and continually learn from them. There is something about walking into a trailer and being the least talented person in the room and thinking, “Okay I have to step up my game – the big guys are watching.”

Doing test makeup for “Paranormal activity 4”

8. What do you wish for the future of your career?

I hope that the profession just continues to grow. It’s a lot of fun and if you do it right, you can make a great living, complete with healthcare and benefits courtesy of the Union! Everyone was terrified that computer-generated imagery would shut down our careers, but I think there is a strong following for this work – it’s tactile, you can see it, you can touch it, it performs. I’d like to see the two mediums finding a happy marriage in the future that creates flawless onscreen illusions.

9. What do you hope for the future of Flint?

I hope to see the city thrive. So many setbacks have really taken their toll on Flint and the people have come together quite a bit. I’m always in awe of the change I see every time I come back to Flint.

Putting the finishing touches on a character in “Teen wolf”

10. Give us your Top 5 makeup special FX scenes of all time.

  1. “American Werewolf in London” – that transformation scene is just incredible and it’s all filmed in broad light, no way to hide anything.
  2. I loved all of the alien transformations from John Carpenter’s “The Thing” in 1982. This stuff still impresses me as an adult and I have even more appreciation for it now.
  3. The Sasquatch from “Harry and the Hendersons” was incredible! It’s not so much makeup, but a mechanical mask that incorporates the eyes of the actor, so technically, it falls under the makeup category.
  4. I love the werewolf transformation in “The Howling.”
  5. Any time Eddie Murphy wore prosthetics to play a completely different character in a movie – I’d have to say he was the king.

Photos Provided by Erik Porn

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