An Industry Interview with: Jac Charlton

jac charlton

He sports a cheeky grin, but don’t let that fool you. Behind that grin is over 20 years of experience in Film and TV as a master dental technician and Makeup Effects artist. Working initially as a master dental technician, creative desires steered him towards the film industry where he excelled in a variety of additional skillsets including makeup effects, art direction and even props. His steadfast dedication to every craft he pursues shows clearly in the work he produces, which you can see in films such as Daybreakers, Peter Pan, The Dressmaker, Kong: Skull Island (2016) and most recently Thor: Ragnarok. Along with JMB FX, he was also part of the team who took home an Emmy award for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup on war series The Pacific (2010). Recently, he has been spending most of his time on his latest endeavour alongside wife Suyin, designing and launching Lux Concept Salon, which has just opened on the Gold Coast. We were fortunate enough to find out more about what makes Jac Charlton tick.

What inspired you to pursue a career in film and makeup effects?

Inspiration comes in many forms. I was always that kid, the one in the back of the class making the other kids laugh. The actors and comedians in England back in the 70’s were my inspiration. I wanted to be an actor from an early age, to be on the stage making people smile. As a child of about 8 or 9, one of my teachers, Mrs. Wood took a shine to me. She inspired me to explore and every Friday afternoon, my friends and I would rehearse weird little scenes from Frankenstein. I was always Igor; a witty, clever hunchback that always had the best lines and the last word.

Mrs. Wood then pushed me to do the school play as Mother Goose. Part of that acting deal was to make the Goose from chicken wire, paper mache and paint it. That was a turning point for me, the feeling of making something cool that put a smile on people’s faces. I remember waddling out on the stage for the first time with my skinny legs in orange tights making duck noises, and distinctly remember seeing the audience cracking up and shrieking with laughter. I was hooked.

jac charlton

(Above: Jac Charlton, aged 8, third from the left with his Mother Goose costume that was completely handcrafted.)

When you started how did you get your foot in the door?

I was doing an Actors class in about 1994 and one of the Actors I had made some short films with, knew that I wanted to make Dental prosthetics for film and TV. He introduced me to Jason Baird from JMB FX Studio in 1996, and I told Jason what I wanted to do. Soon after I was doing all of Jason’s Prosthetic Dental work, working both in the studio and also sometimes on-set.

I also had an interest in the Art Department, and got my first break on a Wiltshire Court production called ‘Chameleon’ (an American TV movie of the week). I did everything in their Art dept from set buying and dressing, to making props and stand-by props. This stood me in good stead for moving on to bigger feature films that I did this for several years. In between these jobs I worked closely with JMB FX picking up new skills along the way. My dental training proved very useful in the workshop.

How did you get into dental prosthetics specifically?

I come from a Dental background, pre-1984. I worked in Dental Laboratories for many years before operating my own laboratory for several years then making the leap into Film and TV. This was a bit daunting as I had a successful lab, and it was a job but not my dream. Here I was, diving into the film industry which was very competitive, feast or famine, and an uncertain future at the best of times.

What’s been your favourite film to work on?

There have been so many incredible experiences. Kong: Skull Island in 2016 was a stand out. Great work, a fantastic team and lots of cool experiences with wonderful people in incredible places. Looking back I also really enjoyed Daybreakers, because my brother Rob and I really wanted to make a Vampire Feature Film once we left the dental industry behind and got into FX makeup. We ran our own department and it ran seamlessly. The Directors Michael & Peter Spierig, Makeup HOD Kym Sainsbury and Makeup effects HOD Steve Boyle allowed us the freedom to create what we wanted (within reason). We also applied the new porcelain products of the day and created some very cool characters.

I am also very proud of the body of work JMBFX and the KNB FX team produced on HBO’s The Pacific. That team comprised of some incredibly talented people both offset in the workshop and on-set. Working with all those guys was a major highlight and despite sometimes extreme pressure and conditions, it was so rewarding.

Tell us about your experience being part of JMBFX Studio and other FX teams?

Being part of the JMBFX team over the years has been extraordinary. Being an integral part of that team has allowed me the opportunity to work on some of the biggest films in the world. As a freelance artist I’ve been so lucky to work with some brilliant artists and fantastic companies like Odd Studio and Meg FX group.  I have had the opportunity to travel all over Australia and some very cool parts of the world making magic happen on film forever.

jac charlton

What’s been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Thinking about that conjures up so many wonderful images. One time that was rewarding for the heart and soul was when we were saying goodbye to a Greek film crew on the island of Spetses. They downed their tools, stopped filming, and sang a beautiful greek song as Jason Baird and I climbed a steep cliff-face.

I also had a chance meeting with a Vietnamese woman on Kong: Skull Island whose daughter I had taken a picture of 17 years ago on another job. It was amazing to see her face light up with tears with that picture in her hand as she remembered me.

Opportunities to get into prosthetic makeup and create a character is also extremely rewarding. As a career highlight, being nominated for an Emmy was mind-blowing, however Winning that Emmy and standing on stage in front of Hollywood royalty with your best friends knowing we had produced amazing body of work was the ultimate.

Many Rewarding moments have been working with the best directors, best art departments, best special effects studios and makeup artists in the business. Also, having my own Specialist FX Studio where I can retreat to make cool stuff and test new ideas is the best. Watch this space for future creations.

Sometimes, the most rewarding moments are the simple things, like walking into a film studio or film set everyday and seeing those faces you have worked with, laughed with, cried with and shared with for so many crazy hours. The filmmaking is the art but the people are why I stay.

What’s your realistic advice for artists entering the film industry?

  • Have a clear vision in your head of where you want to go and what you want to do, then take all the necessary steps to accomplish this. Don’t let others dictate your path.
  • Keep a record or portfolio of your work (I wish I had!), and keep a bible of all your processes and procedures.
  • Learn to listen and listen to learn, because everyone can teach something.
  • Keep up up with the latest trends, materials and technology. The industry is fast paced.
  • When you do something, do it with joy and have fun! When it stops being fun, move on to something else!
  • Most importantly, be persistent, be humble, be kind-hearted and true.