Interview with Hollywood FX Artist Sven Granlund

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I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Sven for over 10 years now.   Watching him progress from an incredibly talented indie “go to” FX guy to an even more talented FX guy who’s worked on some actual blockbusters like Deadpool, Blade Runner 2049, Kong: Skull Island, and even The Disaster Artist.

Q; Where did your love of movies start?

A; I used to watch Creature Feature on Tv when I was about 5 yrs old.  My mom loved horror movies and she would let me stay up, or try and stay up, and watch the movies..I loved the classic Universal horror movies, my favorite being the Wolfman.

I was drawn to the Special Effects and Jack Pierce’s Makeups. After that, I knew I wanted to do that.  I was also impressed with Lon Cheney Jr.  Both were instrumental in making all those classic monster movies.

My Favorite movie, however; is Gone with the Wind, I saw the re-release with my mom in the early 70s and I was blown away by the drama, story, and the scope of the film.  also I thought Vivien Leigh was so beautiful.

Q; Were you always drawn to the FX side?

A; I have always been drawn to fx specifically Makeup Fx.  I saw the 1968 movie Little Big Man starring Dustin Hoffman and was amazed when I was told Dustin was only 26 when he made the movie.  Makeup artist Dick Smith had transformed 26 yr old Dustin Hoffman into a very believable 104 yr old Man  I was hooked.  I read everything I could about makeup fx, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria.  I also bought every book I could find on Makeup.  I still highly recommend Richard Corson’s” Stage Makeup”, my first book on makeup.  When I was 8 yrs old I snuck (repeatedly) into the Theater to see The Exorcist.  It was 1973 so it was easy to sneak into movies.  I had read about Dick Smiths Makeup and had to see it.  I was amazed.  The movie scared the hell out of me so I watched with my hands over my ears because the sounds scared me more than the images.  After The Exorcist, I knew I had to become a Makeup Artist.  I had written to Dick Smith and to my surprise he wrote back, with very good advice and stories about his movies.

Q; What do you miss most about not working on the indie low/no budget horror films?

A; I miss the freedom to express myself creatively that working on Low budget movies allows.  Low Budget movies allow us to experiment and have fun as we make things from next to nothing.  Problem-solving how to pull off an effect or gag with little or no time and no money. That is fun, I miss those things

Q; What did you HATE the most working on the indie low/no budget horror films?
Is there any way of working on a low/no budget horror film is better than a “Hollywood” production?

A; what I hated about working on Low budget movies was the lack of understanding what goes into making these effects look good and the time and expense to make them look good. There is a big difference between Halloween style makeup and actual makeup fx.  That is like saying Comedies and Dramas are the same because they are both movies.  Just because a movie is Low or even No budget, real makeup artists will pour their heart into doing the best possible makeup they can with what they have, always striving for realism and quality art, not just settling on an “ok”  makeup.  I think this has been the secret to my success.  I approach every job, Money or not as if my entire career depended on it. It is my personal Art and any artist wants to make good art not mediocre or acceptable art.  Acceptable is not acceptable. Out here in Hollywood,  I have noticed this same outlook and work ethic in other professional makeup artists.  By the way, it is amazing how many other Professional makeup artists have the same childhood story as I do, or incredibly similar.  We are like some weird group of people linked by some cosmic force.

Its hard to say if Low/no budget movies are better than the Hollywood Studio shows, they are just different.  On a low budget, everyone works together to make the art happen, in Hollywood, everyone has their job and it all just works no one even cares what the person next to them is doing, we just work.  Every aspect of a makeup is drawn out, revised many times, made, tested, tested again, then eventually after months of pre-production and tens of thousands of dollars, the makeup is done on set, only to probably be touched up with another $100,000. In VFX  People really wouldn’t believe what Studio Makeupfx cost.  For example, An average fake decapitated head is anywhere from $12,000 to $25,000 just for the 1 head. My boss has turned doesn’t easy jobs because they were only going to pay $18,000. And I would think I used to do that for $200. Lol   Truth is they are so different it is hard to compare.  I do like the organization of Studio movies, and everything is approved and knows exactly what to expect on set for a makeup.  Ironically both low and studio movies still say that the fx shot will be around 11 am and then keep the poor talent in makeup all day until Midnight, and I still hate that.  I also think that Studio movies know more, on average, what their market is.  I have found that low budget Horror movies specifically, seem to care more about the dialog than the Fx, the truth is if you go look at the low budget movies we all love, it’s the lack of professionalism we love, the boobs and blood.  We all are waiting for the actress to trip in her high heels in the middle of the forest.  I wish low budget filmmakers would realize what makes their movies fun it’s Not the dialog haha.  Troma is a great example of what I’m talking about.

Q; Where are you teaching FX and tell us what you do there?

A; Currently when I’m not in the shop or doing set gigs, I teach at Cinema Makeup School.  They had been after me for a few years and after working on Deadpool 2, I was tired…I am old lol.  The thought of teaching 9-5 every day sounded good.  Turns out I absolutely Love it.  From day 1 I thought of Dick Smith helping me when I was young and the thought of being able to teach young people with the desire to become better artists drives me to work even harder.  I like being able to help others achieve their dreams.  No one except Dick as there for me so I’m trying to pay that forward.  Also having worked with graduated from all the main makeup schools, I realized that there was a much-needed improvement in what these kids were learning.  I wanted to stir things up and put out groups of young people that were able to go right to set and do Studio quality professional makeup fx that were as high or higher than the current older makeup artists working.  I figured this would force the “industry” to up its game else they would be outdone by students with very little experience.  Truth is there is an unwritten rule not to give away all your secrets.  Save a little something that helps you stand out from the pack.  Dick Smith was always free giving of his ideas, methods, and techniques.  I try to be like Dick.  I have been fortunate to be able to work for Dick Smith before he passed away, and I still work for Dick Smith Enterprises today.  I help with the Dick Smith Makeup fx Courses working closely with Andrew Clement and Oscar winner Kevin Haney.

Q; What are some of the bigger named films you’ve worked on and what did you do for them?

A: I have been very fortunate to be able to work on some great shows.  My most popular being Deadpool 1 and 2.  While working at the fx shop Andrew Clement’s Creative Character Engineering, I have been able to work closely with Oscar-winning makeup artist Bill Corso who was the Department head and makeup designer. I was introduced to Bill through my boss Andrew Clement Bill and I hit it off and I have been able to work with him on several movies over the last few years.  Namely Foxcatcher, Kong Skull Island, Bladerunner 2049 and a few more, I’ll have to go look at my IMDB to see haha I forget them.  The short of it is that Bill and Andy are amazing artists and I learned so much so fast just being able to work with them.

On Deadpool, I and another artist assisted the lifecasts, and we made all of the molds for the appliances.  There were a lot, over 40 molds.  Bill
Corso, Andy, and Ritchie Alonzo sculpted most of the pieces that we made into appliances.  Bill handled sculpting all of Ryan’s face appliances himself.  Me and artist Britany Fontaine proceeded to make all of the silicone appliances you see in the movie.  On Deadpool 2 it was almost the same team but there were others brought in to make the molds while Brittany and I made the silicone appliances for all the mutants, which only got mere seconds of screentime, then, of course, the amazing easter egg makeup on Matt Damon.  We, of course, made all of the silicone appliances for Both Deadpool and Cable.  It was a long stressful but fun movie.

Q; What’s your favorite recipe for making FX blood?

A; My favorite blood recipe is by the fantastic makeup artist Gary J Tunnicliffe.  I am not at liberty to say Gary’s recipe, however; my recipe I share in the next question is based loosely on Gary’s recipe.  Gary is a good friend and mentor and I can’t give away his secret formula.

Q; What’s a good recipe for the low/no budget filmmaker to use for blood?

A; in the Spirit of Dick Smith I am sharing my SvenFx Blood recipe.  I just ask that when my recipe is used, I get a shoutout.  I am planning on selling, my blood with almost this exact recipe.  Here it is  it is affordable so great for all low budget filmmakers; please use at your own risk,** I am sharing in good faith and make no claims and accept no responsibility for others making or using this blood recipe**

SvenFx Blood

160z Sorbitol

160z Dark Karo Syrup

4 oz of Liquid ivory Dish soap

6.5 oz of red food color

2 ml yellow food color

8 ml green food color

3 ml Caramel Food color (easy to get here in LA)

This recipe makes ¼ gallon so adjust as necessary.

IMPORTANT Safety Note;  this is Not a mouth safe blood.  The Ivory Dish. soap makes it taste ….Soapy, however, it keeps the blood Flowing and not beading up on the skin or prosthetic.  As an added benefit, the Soap keeps the blood from staining most materials

,** I am sharing in good faith and make no claims and accept no responsibility for others making or using this blood recipe**  please take care and be aware of possible health concerns or allergies. Use at your own risk.  Please use common sense and be safe.  In the words of Father Lloyd Kaufman, Safety First Art Second.  Do no harm to person or property with your art.  Words to live by.

Q; What are you the proudest of so far in your career?

A;  I would say I am most proud of my work on the Deadpool movies.  I was thrown into an incredibly tough job.  Deadpool had a relatively low budget. It was a lot of work and my work had to be fast, efficient, and perfect.  I learned a lot very fast.  A Close second would be the movie The Disaster Artist starring James Franco.  It was a low budget (for Hollywood) and James’ Directorial Debut.  Andrew Clement sculpted the appliances and I made everything.  Office manager Lesley Beccera came in and helped me when she could, but it was just us making it all.  It was a great experience, and the makeup was stunning.

Q; What’s the biggest heartbreak career wise you’ve had to deal with and how did you overcome it?

A; I would say the biggest heartbreak was not winning the Oscar for Deadpool.  I know its nice just to be nominated, but I really thought we had that.  Sadly in Hollywood, Makeup and hair is the ONLY category in the Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences that has only 3 eligible Selections to be able to win the Oscar.  There are 7 nominations of which We were 1 of the 7.  We, however, were not selected from the “Bakeoff” (the selections process to pick the eligible 3).  Also not winning the Emmy the same year for the HBO show All The Way (about LBJ).  You deal with it by keep going.  Move forward and keep making art.  Just keep Swimming

Please watch the upcoming DC Universe show Titans.  I was lucky enough to work extensively on this show