An Industry Interview with: Chad Atkinson

chad atkinson

Chad M. Atkinson is a Special FX Artist and has honed his craft for more than 20 years, much of it in the United States. He worked alongside many greats at K.N.B EFX Group and is known for his work on films such as Sin City, The Chronicles of Narnia (2005) and Hostel, to name a few. He was also part of the team who took home an Emmy award for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup on HBO war series The Pacific (2010). After moving to Australia, he spent some time as a trainer at The Academy of Cinemagraphic Makeup. Chad has now branched out to establish his own workshops and short courses for keen learners and his ‘no bullshit’ approach to teaching skips the politics of makeup school and teaches aspiring artists what they -need- to know.

The paper means nothing. Your attitude, talent and drive is what gets you jobs. If you need a diploma, try a makeup school. If you want to learn skills, come to me.

What inspired you to pursue a career in FX?

An American Werewolf in London was the pinnacle. It frightened the hell out of me. My dad also unknowingly created this bug in me. He would sit and watch horror movies by himself in the family room. The tv would be on and I would creep up and watch the films from behind his chair. I wanted to watch movies with him but they were so scary I couldn’t watch or listen. He asked, “What’s scaring you?” and I said “All the blood”.  He responded, “The blood is fake, it’s ketchup or something.”  I took a closer look. The penny dropped, I saw the magic trick.  I sat and watched every scene with a different perspective from that moment onwards, but still had to cover my ears from the screaming teenagers being massacred.

How did you get started and get your foot in the door?

I went to art school directly after high school. While I was there I learned a lot but mostly commercial art stuff.  I discovered an article for a monster/creature making school in Pittsburgh in the back of Fangoria magazine. I dropped out and enrolled at Pittsburgh to learn the basics. My friend and I decided to move to California immediately following graduation. We packed everything into my small truck and headed west with no jobs or backup plans. We mailed hundreds of resumes and CVs all over Los Angeles. We cold called shops, popped in, hand delivered, anything to get our faces seen. My friend landed the first gig one month in on Batman and Robin. I got lucky a month later on Starship Troopers. I did everything a starving actor does. Worked at places for a week only to be fired. It was persistence and timing that got me the first job.

What’s your holy grail product you have to have in your kit?

I don’t count myself as a makeup artist so much as an FX artist because I cross over into different departments. However, the thing I always carried was my Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool. Products can be improvised but that Multi-Tool saved me so many times. I used to worry about losing it like a mobile phone.  It was always with me.

Tell us about your experience being part of the KNB efx team?

Working at KNB was like being in a punk band. It’s a truly special place with a revolving door of outstanding artists coming and going.  I quit working for ADI and Howard Berger spoke to me on the phone and said “come by, let’s talk.” I joined forces with the most ragtag group of nerds, modelmakers, grease monkeys, metal heads, smokers and fanboy squids that I had ever seen. My position for many years was a mold maker where I got to see and hear everything. At KNB you got to see the work we did in magazines like Fangoria and CineFX, or see Hollywood B listers pop into the shop for life casts for the latest horror film. I saw amazing sculptures and animatronics being created right next to me with no time to waste. I got to go to set with the cool puppet that was freshly painted to be put on film forever. Many funny stories and folktales were talked about. Working for the KNB three was special. Robert Kurtzman is brash and scowly but truly a sweetheart and would do anything for you. Howard Berger (a big bear) is thankful and gives chances. Greg Nicotero is harder to win over but once he warms to you, he treats you well. I feel privileged to have been apart of the alumni there, and to see so many huge things happen over the years.

Tell us the most rewarding moment of your career so far?  

The most rewarding was definitely being Emmy nominated for our Prosthetics work on HBO Series The Pacific. I got an email from Howard Berger stating what had happened and was blown away. Gobsmacked. Actually winning the Emmy took it to the next level.  

What is your advice for artists entering the film industry?

Practice lots of different mediums. If you do makeup, do hair well too. If you want to apply prosthetics, learn how to make them too.  If you are serious and focused, you’ll get a job.  The most important rule is: don’t be a jerk.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to continue to be an educator in this field and eventually make my own film. I just want to do more art on my terms. I gave 20 years to Hollywood so I’m taking some ‘me’ time now. My Bloodlines, Bladders & Blowup Heads workshop is touring around Australia at the moment and I’d love to see it go overseas next year. I’m hoping to teach young kids how to make monster masks this year for a workshop as well.

Follow Chad on Facebook to keep updated with his projects and upcoming workshops.