Steve Johnson (above) and Robert L. Lucas
Steve Johnson (above) and Robert L. Lucas

Is it crazy to open a make-up effects shop in this era of digital wizardry? Maybe, but Steve Johnson is doing it anyway. He’s partnering with documentary filmmaker Robert L. Lucas on a venture called Brick and Mortar Productions.

Lucas and Johnson—an Emmy-winning artist whose film credits include The Abyss, Ghostbusters, Bicentennial Man, Species and Spider-Man 2—have signed a three-year lease for a 6,000-square-foot facility in Burbank, Calif.; construction to customize the interior has begun, and Johnson says he anticipates it will be completed in September. Even still, the company already has three jobs lined up, involving what he describes as old-school animatronic puppetry effects. “If you build it, they will come,” he quips. While Johnson specializes in make-up design, Lucas will focus on the company’s finances and infrastructure.

Johnson cautions that the facility will not be modeled after the make-up shops of the 1980s, including his own former company, XFX. “We’re not building a shrine to decadence anymore,” he says. “It’s a workshop, not a nightclub.” Instead, he envisions a leaner, more versatile model that incorporates practical make-up effects with digital effects and post-production CG cleanup.

The shop will serve more than just movie studios: Johnson and Lucas have long-range plans to create toy lines, models, Halloween props and decorations, maybe even high-end make-up kits (“Better than the cheap, crappy ones,” Lucas says.) Eventually, Lucas adds, the pair is interested in doing its own make-up effects-heavy productions, akin to the Harbinger Down film that effects shop ADI recently created.

The time is right for this type of business, Johnson says, because, “There’s been a huge resurgence of directors who grew up on the films I made who are getting sick of being spoon-fed digital effects. People want something real again.” He adds that he’s excited to be working with some of the best sculptors and mold makers around; ultimately, he would like Brick and Mortar productions to be “a think tank, a consortium, a place where people can get their hands dirty making monsters.”

Lucas adds that the pair is considering offering space in the facility on a rental basis for artists who need room to finish a project.

At press time, a website for the shop was under construction.