AngelAngel Staff - Masters of Illusion
By Annabelle Villanueva
Monday 2 February 2004, by Webmaster
Not only has "Angel" provided audiences with 100 hours of supernatural entertainment, but also the series has helped bankroll the rubber industry — at least according to the show’s special makeup effects guru, Robert Hall, who — along with the staff at his shop Almost Human — creates the series’ demons, vamps, monsters and other creatures of the night.
"We’ve probably gone through 500,000 gallons of latex," Hall says. "While some episodes involve only very simple prosthetics for the vampires, others can have 20 demons walking around the room."
Of course, vampires and demons aren’t the only supernatural forces within "Angel": The behind-the-scenes magic of myriad effects, makeup and stunt experts has brought the show’s creatures alive for 100 episodes and counting. Their efforts help give the WB Network series a sleek, almost-cinematic look.
"I’ve been in the business a long time, and from time to time, you’ll hear people say they’re making a mini-feature a week — I’ve always thought that was a load of crap," producer Kelly Manners says. "But on this show, it’s true: We’ve got greenscreen, visual effects, makeup effects and stunts and night work and so on; we don’t miss an element."
Because of the show’s modern Los Angeles setting, its creatures are designed with an eye toward the organic and realistic. Some of "Angel’s" writers are specific about a look they have in mind, while others let Almost Human create its own designs. Although Hall does attempt to rein in the "ick" factor to adhere to standards and practices, he sometimes gets pleasantly surprised when producers ask him to make things gorier.
"It’s great when the show promo says: ’This week’s episode of "Angel" contains graphic images. Viewer discretion is advised,’" Hall says. "It brings a smile to my face when I think that I helped make those graphic images."
After the folks at Almost Human craft prosthetics, makeup supervisor Dayne Johnson and his crew step in with the application. Although the makeup artists have dealt with as many 40 demons a day, Johnson’s most regular customer is cast member Andy Hallett, who plays the green demon Lorne.
"We’re up to about 205 times that we’ve done his makeup," says Johnson, who also supervises beauty makeup on the series. "I’ve tweaked the glue and the color a bit through the years, but it’s pretty much a routine now. We schedule Andy for three hours in the chair, but I do try to get him out of the chair as quickly as possible to maintain his sanity."
Special effects coordinator Mike Gaspar has worked on "Angel" since its debut and can attest to the amount of work that goes into every episode. "The first season, we’d get these scripts and say, ’Holy mackerel, how can we do this?’" he says.
Today, the elaborate smoke and mirrors have become second nature, with the effects unit handling everything from pyrotechnics to levitation devices. "What’s great about this series is that there isn’t a particular effect that we do all the time," Gaspar says. "The writers can go anywhere with their scripts, so we can do anything."
Although Gaspar’s favorite effects can lean toward the spectacular, as on the night during Season 1 when he helped blow up Angel’s apartment, the toughest gags usually are on a smaller scale. One tricky project involved creating a wrist device that could shoot stakes. "It took us a couple of weeks to figure out how to do it so it could retract on command," Gaspar says.
The special effects department also assists the stunt personnel, including coordinator Mike Massa, who moonlights as star David Boreanaz’s stunt double. Unlike most other shows that must adhere to the normal laws of physics, "Angel" can stretch the barriers with its superhuman characters. In other words, Massa can really give — and take — a beating every week.
"(Angel) can grab somebody and throw them 20 feet," Massa says. "It’s fun since you don’t have to play by the normal rules."
One rule the crew must stick with, though, is working within a budget. After renewing "Angel" at the last minute last spring, the WB tightened the show’s purse strings. Manners commends his colleagues, noting that the writing staff has adapted to the new limitations.
"If we have a heavy visual-effects show, we try to stay away from heavy makeup effects, when in the past we used to do it all," he says. "Thanks to the creative writing, I don’t think the audience realizes we are operating with less money."