The Magic Of Special Effects Make-Up Comes to Life in the Hands of Arjen Tuiten
In this exclusive two-part MME interview, meet the next generation of Hollywood special effects artists, Arjen Tuiten (“Maleficent”, “Unbroken”, “Thor”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”). His own career was inspired and created by the industry’s most iconic and Oscar-winning visual effects/ make-up artists, including the late Dick Smith (“The Godfather”, “The Exorcist”, “Taxi Driver”, “Amadeus”) & Stan Winston (“Jurassic Park”, “Aliens”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day“), plus recently-retired special effects and creature creator Rick Baker (“Maleficent”, “The Ring”, “Men in Black”, “An American Werewolf in London”). Discover how Tuiten’s lifelong fascination with the world of special effects and — more importantly — belief in himself, led him from the Netherlands to Hollywood. He arrived stateside at a very early age and through a series of bold moves: reached out blindly to those he admired and aspired to be, built a new life for himself as in immigrant in America, and ultimately realized a childhood dream, when he went from this…
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT BELOW (Arjen Tuiten):
Part 1: Transcript
When I was ten years-old, I was a big fan of The Terminator movie. I wasn’t familiar with Stan Winston at the time, but I built my own Terminator out of (laughs) plastic tubes and a shoe-box and an old styrofoam head I had…and then covering it with, you know, aluminum foil, and it had an LED light in it. I was able to make the fingers move with some strings. And then ten years later, I was 21…20–21, I worked for Stan Winston and we started on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and I was able to help on the real endo-skeleton, so it’s cool to run those two pictures next to each other.
Coming from Friesland, which is very um, very northern part of the Netherlands, there isn’t much you can connect with, especially on film and entertainment. I think me growing up with a single mother and two sisters and having no money, it was probably a very healthy, knowing that it was very valuable if I would spend that dollar on some clay to make a sculpture, then you know I better do something great with it. Because I already knew I wanted to do this stuff. I think my mom and my elementary school teacher at the time looked for a make up school, a make up effects school.
I was 16…I finished high school, moved to Amsterdam…did this make up school. Within that year and a half, I was like a sponge, I was absorbing so much stuff and I learned about Dick Smith. I started corresponding with him and he lived in New York and he did The Exorcist, Amadeus and old movies like that, The Godfather. I started working for little movies and TV in the Netherlands, and I was happy, I was 18, you know, I was making a little money, and studying with Dick Smith, correesponding with him. But mind you though, this doesn’t come with just like a uh–I was working every single weekend, every night, every, you know…I was sending him photos. Within a year, he was basically, “You gotta come to Los Angeles.” I was 19 at the time.
I interned for Kevin Yagher; I interned for ADI [AMALGAMATED DYNAMICS, INC]; which is another effect studio; and then for Stan Winston’s. That studio was filled with a lot of amazing people, and you feed off from that. Eventually, I would get the key to Stan Winston’s studios. I would be there at night…I mean, I remember sleeping there a lot. And at night, I would sculpt or paint, or build make ups with friends of mine or life-cast my neighbors…wake up in the morning (laughs) with people coming into the studio. So, it was tough but at the same time, it was very good because it gives you a good healthy perspective. You gotta earn every penny.
Stan was sponsoring me at the time, and my visa was running out, and I still had to wait for my green card, so I had to move back to Europe against my will. I wasn’t really looking forward to that, and uh–‘cus you’re at Stan Winston studio, why would you move back to Europe? (laughs) I had the time of my life there, and Stan calls me and he says, “I met this Spanish fi– crew there, they were doing back up masks,” and they heard about my story. “We’re doing this small story called El Laberinto del Fauno — Pan’s Labyrinth — and um, would you like to come to Barcelona with us?” I didn’t think too much of it and nor did they. Started working and they said, “Well, umm, we’re doing the Pan, the character with the horns, and we’re doing the big frog that spits out the key. Would you like to do — there’s a monster in there — we’re not quite sure yet at this time what he’s gonna look like, but he’s called the Pale Man.”
I remember it first had like eyes and stuff but then Guillermo [Del Toro] said, “Well, I want his eyes in his hands,” and at the time, I hated it. And me and Guillermo ’til this day still joke about it (laughs). So, I did the Pale Man. I did a couple of different concept sculptures for that, but he was right, because it was a character that came from a child’s imagination and it could be anything. People still come up to me today about that character that it gave them nightmares.
I live, breathe, and eat this stuff. You will recognize moments where you go like, “Okay, if I hadn’t worked hard that weekend, I wouldn’t have had this–or met this person or gotten this compliment.” I remember moments where I had literally like $4 dollars in my bank account…$4 dollars.
After a while, Stan Winston was kind enough to help sponsor me for my immigration papers and my working visas and eventually my green card. And… that changed my life.