The Teen Wolf team looks back as the show nears its finale
For six seasons, strange creatures have been lurking in the shadows around Beacon Hills, the fictional town where the TV series Teen Wolf is set. In addition to the show’s title character, there’s Hellhound, the Dread Doctors, Nagual, Darach, Nogitsune and Der Soldat, to name a few. Bringing them all to life kept the special effects make-up team at the top of their game.
“Our biggest challenge was coming up with designs that worked in a time frame that didn’t shirk on the quality. Time is money. If a make-up takes too long, chances are it will be written out,” says special effects make-up designer Chris Gallaher. His team included key Erik Porn, artists Kenny Myers and Robert Kato DeStefan and lab technician Dalton Kutsch, whom Gallaher dubs Teen Wolf’s “mad scientist.”
Developed by Jeff Davis, Teen Wolf is an edgier take on the popular 1985 comedy that starred Michael J. Fox. Gallaher, who has worked on such films as Thor and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, joined the show in the second season as a key for Almost Human Inc., alongside Porn. Gallaher liked that the series shot in Los Angeles and he could take a break from traveling. And as a child of the ’80s, and a fan of the original film, he jumped at the chance to head the effects design when Almost Human left during Season Three and he was offered the position.
Porn decided to stay on and has since left Almost Human to join Gallaher’s company, Bitemares Incorporated—a shop he established in 2009 with his wife Christine Mansfield. “Teen Wolf was actually the show that built Bitemares,” says Gallaher. “If it weren’t for the producers, Erik and I never would have gotten together.”
KNB EFX Group designed the make-up for the werewolf, played by Tyler Posey, for the pilot. Barney Burman took over during Season One. When Gallaher became the designer, he made minor tweaks to the character’s hairline at Davis’ urging. “Jeff didn’t really care for the initial widow’s peak,” Gallaher explains. “So we eliminated that and changed the hair a bit.”
Another issue was the wolf’s ears. Made out of silicone, they had a tendency to flop forward during filming and constantly had to be glued back into place. “The silicone ears are nice for catching light, but they are very heavy,” Gallaher says. “They never quite stayed where they needed to be.”
The solution came from a trick Gallaher learned from working with Steve Johnson. “Believe it or not, we ended up going with a hollow-cast, slush-latex ear,” he says. “If you make a slush cast your primary, you can actually get a really nice translucency and eliminate the weight problem.”
To create the Hellhound, one of Gallaher’s favorite characters, he went old school. The producers envisioned that this supernatural shapeshifter (played by Ryan Kelley and first appearing in Season Four) would literally have lava boiling under his skin. Wanting to keep the effect practical, they turned to Gallaher for inspiration.
“Luckily, I come from a generation that remembers the ’80s,” Gallaher says with a laugh. “Way back in the day there was an acrylic paint called Wildfire that glowed under a black light.”
With a little experimenting, Gallaher developed his own photoreactive mixture using PAX Paint. The team then created custom-made transfers that looked like stress cracks. These were applied to Kelley’s torso following his natural musculature. He was also fitted with silicone deltoid shoulder appliances to continue the lava cracks and bulk up the actor. The PAX mixture was painted in the cracks. During filming, a make-up artist would hold the black light off-camera and, on cue, shine it on the actor. When the light hit his skin, the paint makes the cracks glow.
“It was something that had been done years before, but nobody had seen recently,” explains Gallaher. “The producers were looking at us saying, ‘Oh my God! Thank you!’ And I’m thinking, ‘We didn’t invent it. We just brought it back.’”
“It’s really simple. It’s really fun,” adds Porn. “And everyone who’s seen the show thinks it is done with CG.”
One of Porn’s favorite creations was the Nagual, aka the werejaguar. Played by Jill Wagner, the creature sports purplish skin and jaguar-like spots. “We did undertones on her with Illustrator,” explains Porn. “Then we put custom vacuform templates over different parts of her body and airbrushed a black, deep blue color mix over them to form the jaguar patterns.” She also wore a prosthetic brow piece that extended from the tip of her nose to the top of her forehead and latex ears punched with human hair.
“Basically, we were told to keep the creatures sexy,” Porn explains. “Our job was to make something that looked horrific, but they had all these good-looking actors and actresses, so they wanted to show them off as much as they could within the creature designs.”
Introduced in Season Five, Der Soldat was one of the few characters worked on by the entire team. Gallaher is proud that his piece inspired the character.
“There was this glass tank in the back of the Dread Doctors’ laboratory with a body floating in it,” remembers Gallaher. “Originally, it was just eye candy. But the producers liked the body so much, when Season Six rolled around, they decided to do something with it. We had to create a make-up to mimic this dummy that we had built the season before.”
Suspended in the tank since WWII, Der Soldat came to life when the tank was knocked over and this creature crawled out.
A full-body make-up, the character was completely covered in sores. “If I remember right, all the pieces were like latex skins—Nurnies,” says Porn, who credits Myers for developing the make-up. “They were all out of the kit and glued on. There was a silicone face piece that was custom sculpted.”
“It was a gas mask that had been fused to his face,” continues Gallaher. “When he crawled out of the tank, he ripped the mask from his face and this slime and skin came off. He spits up green goo from being in this solution for so long. It’s a very colorful and disgusting scene. I love it when you’re on set and you hear all the crew go, ‘Ewww.’”
Production on Teen Wolf ended in February. MTV will air the final 10 episodes starting July 30. In the meantime, Gallaher is creating effects for the AMC series Preacher, as Porn readies future projects at their new shop. Each knows what a unique experience Teen Wolf was.
“Many times when you leave a show, you shed tears of relief for doing the job well,” says Gallaher. “This time it was actually tears of sadness. This was like a family for five years. It was really hard to leave.”