It was an offer Arjen Tuiten couldn’t refuse.
Plans were underway for Rings, a new installment of The Ring franchise that revolves around an ominous videotape that causes viewers to die seven days after watching it. Someone would be needed to create its cringe-worthy make-up effects—most importantly, Samara, the ghostly young girl whose tragic demise drives the carnage. The obvious choice was Rick Baker. He had done both the 2002 original and its 2005 sequel, The Ring Two. But Baker had just announced his retirement and was in the process of closing Cinovation Studios, his Glendale, Calif. shop. Remembering the great work Tuiten had done on Maleficent, Baker recommended him for the job.
“I’m a big fan of the franchise,” says Tuiten, explaining why he jumped at the chance to work on the film, released in February. “I couldn’t wait to bring back Samara and re-create some of the iconic twisted faces that we all think are so scary. I was eager to do my version of the famous girl in the closet that Rick did so well in the first one.”
But the timing couldn’t have been worse. Tuiten was in the process of establishing R-E-N, his own Glendale-based shop, when production started. “We were literally moving in when we began lifecasting and nothing was finished,” he remembers. “The make-up room wasn’t done. We were painting. At the same time, we were trying to deal with production and questions and schedules. It was mayhem.”
But the Dutch-born artist was up to the challenge. The focus was maintaining the level of quality. Bringing on Bart Mixon and Bill Sturgeon was a big help. Both were key crew members for Baker on the first two films. Rounding out the R-E-N team were Steve Koch, Danny Wagner, Jed Dornoff and Russell Don Sing. Gary Yee was the mold supervisor; Aimee Macabeo, the hair supervisor; and Jessica Nelson designed the lenses.
As expected, the trickiest task was creating Samara. The character, played by Bonnie Morgan, is seen sparingly throughout the film. But that didn’t make the look any less complicated. Eight prosthetic pieces were needed for the head and face alone. Pros-Aide transfers traveled up and down her arms and legs.
“Everything is covered,” explains Tuiten. “From the bottom of her feet, to her fingertips, to the inside of her hands. It was like one big puzzle.”
Before the transfers were applied, the make-up team did a thorough underpainting of Morgan’s skin. Tuiten describes it as a heavy theatrical application to create skin veins, dark spots and patches of decaying skin. Because the transfers were translucent, the make-up was visible when this layer was added.
“You could see through it like she has bathwater skin,” continues Tuiten. “As most fans know, it took Samara seven days to die in the well, so she has a water-soaked look to her appearance. That was something Rick Baker had come up with in the first Ring.”
To run the body transfers, Tuiten secured a majority of the original molds from Baker. Samara’s head, the bottom of her feet and the inside of her hands were created anew. Before the Pros-Aide was poured, Wagner sprayed Baldiez to coat the negative. This helped give the skin an extra wrinkly effect when Samara moved. It also made the skin make-up play stronger.
When Samara attacks her victims, she is also dripping wet. To make it look as if she had just stepped out of a well, the crew attached a water rig to the back of Morgan’s shoulder. It was fitted with a pump that would send H2O over her body as she moved. Vaseline was applied over the transfers to prevent the water from damaging them. Mixon blended food coloring into the Vaseline to give the skin a more decayed look.
The body make-up alone took almost three hours to apply. The head and face, including the lenses and wig, added another two-plus hours.
The same sequence culminates with one of Tuiten’s favorite effects—Julia pulling a long strand of black hair out of her mouth. Sturgeon constructed a dental piece containing a little spool that was inserted into the top of Lutz’s palate. Real hair culled from remnants of Samara’s wig was wound into the spool. When fully extended, the hair measured approximately 34 inches. Sing worked the gag on set, rewinding the hair between takes. “Gag” proved to be the operative word for the piece. “Matilda said it really helped get her in the mood because it made her gag slightly,” explains Tuiten.
Tuiten mentions that both he and Baker have cameos in the film. Baker’s role as a vendor who sells the videotape in the opening was cut down to just a mere glimpse. The youthful Tuiten appears in a crowd of college students.
Tuiten’s most memorable moment during production came when he brought the life-size dummy of Skye on set. Played by Aimee Teegarden, Skye is the film’s first victim. Julia encounters Skye’s corpse while investigating her murder.
“That was a fun moment. You could tell it lifted up the entire crew when we brought the dummy on set. We were looking at a scary prop making a horror movie,” says Tuiten. “They all got a little excited about this effect. ‘How can we shoot it?’ ‘How can we make the water drip?’ It goes to show what practical effects can do.”
Made of silicone, the figure was sculpted and molded by Tuiten and Koch from a lifecast of Teegarden. Sturgeon constructed an armature so that the body and neck could lurch at Julia at the right fright moment. “It could only move in one direction,” continues Tuiten. “We did that on purpose so it wouldn’t look like a dummy, but more like a dead person.”
One person was less than thrilled when the ersatz Skye made its appearance. Rings director F. Javier Gutierrez instructed Tuiten to keep the figure hidden from Lutz until it was time to shoot. The director wanted an unrehearsed reaction when Julia reached into Skye’s pocket to remove a set of keys. His ploy worked.
“Because the cables ran under the carpet, Matilda did not understand that it wasn’t just a puppet. He (Gutierrez) was messing with the controls at one point and when it moved slightly, she just freaked out,” says Tuiten. “She hated it. She could not look at it. That’s what you want in the end, isn’t it?”
Rings opened Feb. 3.