How much foam latex does it take to bring the creatures terrorizing Universal Studios during Halloween Horror Nights to life?
Larry Bones will have to get back to you on that one. His make-up effects house, Bone Yard Effects, hasn’t quite finished making all they’ll need for the 500 monsters—give or take a zombie—that will be unleashed during the theme park’s annual scarefest.
“They’re still running foam back at the studio right now,” said Bones in early September when the media got a sneak peek at the upcoming mischief. “Over 4,000 prosthetics had to be made this year.”
Though Universal declines to release exact attendance figures, since its inception in 2007, Halloween Horror Nights has become one of the park’s most popular annual events. Bones, who has had a hand in the make-up from the start, estimates his team is creating more than 200 masks for 2012—more than double what they did last year.
Beginning Sept. 21 and culminating on—when else?—Halloween, few places will be safe at the Southern California locale, as Universal Studios is boasting nine unique bone-chilling adventures during the 19 nights the show will run.
“We do extreme horror,” says Halloween Horror Nights Creative Director John Murdy, adding that the sheer scope increases the challenge. “This isn’t like a film or a TV show, where you only have to get it right once. Whatever kind of effect we’re doing, we have to get it right thousands of times a night.” (continued below)
Leading the spine-tingling way are a series of scream-inducing mazes, including “Welcome to Silent Hill,” an amalgamation of the popular video game and motion picture franchise featuring the ominous Pyramid Head; “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Saw is the Law,” in which wary participants must traverse a gauntlet filled with mutilated body parts hanging from bloody meat hooks and the constant threat of Leatherface; and “La Llorona: Cazadora de Niños,” a recreation of the Mexican legend.
For the second year in a row, there’ll be a maze inspired by rock-horror virtuoso Alice Cooper. Featuring music from the musician’s 1976 concept album, “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell 3D” promises everything from guillotine decapitations to electric chairs as it brings to life its interpretation of the Seven Deadly Sins.
There’s also “Universal Monsters Remix,” a maze celebrating the studio’s classic monsters, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man; the comedy/horror stage show “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure,” and four “Scare Zones” overrun with everything from witches to killer clowns.
It’s a daunting challenge for Bones, who estimates that about half his year is dedicated to this project alone. For 2012, his 40-member crew will spend about three-and-a-half hours each night transforming more than 500 actors into various demons. This includes applying the foam-latex masks, silicone overlays and an occasional prosthetic hand or foot, plus airbrushing. But Bones’ artists are seasoned professionals.
“They’ve all figured out how to put on a prosthetic in 20 minutes,” Bones said. “We come in with our prosthetics mostly pre-made. And we have a lot of tricks up our sleeves.”
Lunch time in the “Universal Monsters Remix” maze
What most excites the creative team—which includes art director/production designer Chris Williams and Patrick Magee, who oversees the special make-up effects—is the newest addition to the night. Two attractions will feature flesh-eating walkers from the hit AMC series The Walking Dead.
There’ll be a dedicated maze populated with America’s favorite zombies: “The Walking Dead: Dead Inside.” And the blood-drooling hordes are also taking over one of Universal Studios’ most popular attractions. “Terror Tram: Invaded by The Walking Dead,” promises a swarm of living corpses, guaranteed to give nightmares to anyone who dares travel into the back lot.
Universal has secured the services of KNB EFX Group partner Greg Nicotero, also the series’ co-executive producer. The Halloween Horror Nights zombies will come to life from the same molds as the series’ creatures.
“We’re always striving for that authenticity,” said Murdy. “Even though it’s live, we want it to look like what you see on the silver screen or at home on television. So that’s why it’s a huge benefit to work directly with Greg and his talent.”
Even with those advantages, Murdy said they had to put on their thinking caps to recreate some of the show’s more elaborate effects. One specific challenge is Bicycle Girl, a character that gets chopped completely in half. Through the miracle of digital effects, her legs can easily disappear—on television.
“I can’t do that,” explained Murdy. “I have to do it live, really, really close to you. I won’t reveal how we’re doing it, but this is where old- school make-up illusion gags come into play. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.”
Bones couldn’t think of a better way to spend his Halloween.
“I absolutely love this job. I grew up on Universal monsters and I feel like I’m home now,” he said.
The first thing the make-up artist usually does after the last ghoul goes out into the park is wander around and see the mayhem he has wrought. And if the mood strikes him, he’s not above putting on some make-up and stirring up some scares himself.
“I may have done that once or twice,” Bones admitted with a sly laugh. “Got to have a little fun.”
For details on the Halloween Horror Nights attractions in Hollywood and Orlando, visit halloweenhorrornights.com.