Justin Raleigh and Fractured FX take on the second season of Westworld
A flagship series for HBO, the sci-fi/adventure series Westworld went through a number of major personnel changes between seasons one and two. That included make-up effects veteran Justin Raleigh and his company Fractured FX, who had to jump aboard a virtual moving freight train without a lot of time to settle in.
As Raleigh explains, “I was actually a big fan of the series, so I knew there were some big things on the horizon for this season, including a lot more violence than season one. The amount of work that had to be done prosthetically was probably 75 to 90 percent more than what had been done before, so it was a bit of an undertaking right from the very beginning.”
One word describes the work of Fractured FX on Westworld. “Bodies, lots and lots of bodies,” Raleigh elaborates. “Our first couple of months was consumed with bodies; I think we built 40 utility bodies and a bunch of hero-specific bodies as well. I would say half of the 40 bodies were hyper-realistic silicone bodies, another 10 that were deep background and five that were mid-ground, which were still hero quality but not fully nude.
“We also had to develop the stages of decomposition, because we kick off with multiple timelines right away, so there was a seven-day timeframe, a 14-day timeframe and the present day, so we had to figure the various levels of decay.”
What turned out to be the Fractured FX’s most iconic creation was the laboratory Drone, which started off relatively simple but quickly evolved into a full-body head-to-toe prosthetic character. As Raleigh recalls, “It started off as a very brief description, of these faceless-looking drones that are programmed to do specific tasks, but production wanted something that could be shot in camera all the time, because it was going to play so much.
“[Showrunner] Jonathan Nolan really wanted something that had a bit of the Vitruvian Man feel that you saw in season one; that 3-D-printed, un-pigmented-looking flesh. It would have muscle structure and the same anatomy but also have a carapace cage that kept the muscles in place, so it has this hardened fleshy layer with that beautiful latticework over the entire body. He also wanted them to be completely faceless, because they’re just blanks, so there’s nothing there.
“And [co-showrunner] Lisa Joy’s idea was movement. She wanted them to move in a very elegant fashion, so we brought in a dance choreographer to work with our performer Alexander Ward and the background dancers.
“We had an upper/lower body suit that gets glued in down the center strip of the back, and the latticework actually helps hide the closures to make it look seamless. And then you had separate glove pieces glued around the wrists, and separate feet so if we had shot where they were walking on rough catwalks, we could put Alex in regular shoes; otherwise, it was a silicone shoe. The facial piece went in as part of the cowl, which ultimately tied in to the suit; and then a facial piece and a final face flap that goes over it to hide the eyes and nose.
“The face is actually removable. There’s a junction point under the chin and another on top of the head that would get glued and magnetized in place, so I had magnets embedded in the foam silicone suit and prosthetic, so it would click into the top of the head, and a magnet attachment under the jaw, so in-between every take we could lift it up, allowing air to breathe. There was another version that was clear in the center so Alex could see for longer walking shots, and visual effects would clean up just that little window.
“Depending on how much was needed to be glued down and if it was just Alex, we could get it all done in about 45 minutes, but dressing three people took longer. It was designed to be really modular and really quick. The way Westworld works, you don’t have time, so we had to make it as quick and easy to work with as possible.”
As the second season neared an end, each episode featured an endless stream of make-up effects. “We had a lot of exterior shots with hundreds of dead people, says Raleigh, “so there were hundreds of people coming through the regular make-up trailers run by Elisa Marsh and then our team. We would try to work in tandem as much as possible. It was constant through the entire process, you never felt you got a break. Every day had a different blood and gore effect, with people getting killed left and right, so it was just continuous.
That included the episode called “The Passenger,” which ended season two. “There were a lot of dead bodies, extras and principals in make-up, so there were some big cattle calls,” remembers Raleigh. “There’s a scene in which Dolores gets shot in the face, so we built a fake body for insert shots. The back of her head is completely blown out so you could actually reach inside, but they opted not to go for that extreme gore you’ve seen with some of the other dead bodies.
“We also had MIB’s hand with the gun backfiring and blowing his fingers off, which was a combination of a fake hand, a silicone appliance, and we painted out a few fingers as well.”
Now that season two has finally aired, Raleigh offers a quick recap of his personal highlights from the past several months. “Just the sheer amount of prosthetic work and gore was a task in itself,” he claims, “as well as the number of people that came through our trailers on a regular basis. Kevin Kirkpatrick was my assistant department head for the season, which allowed me to go to meetings, deal with design issues and jump between different units.
“I also had Thom Floutz on another unit most of the time, so we were spread thin between different teams of make-up artists on a regular basis, but the management side of things went very well.
“I think we did some really iconic designs in season two. With the drone, it’s very rare to see a big head-to-toe prosthetic on television anymore, but this one was used in multiple episodes and without a lot of digital augmentation, so I’m definitely proud of that.
“Thandie’s [Newton] surgical effect; again, was huge. These things are usually hidden with blood and only shot for a split second, but they lingered on it forever with lots of dialogue and emotion, so it’s horrible to look at, but you can really see the actor behind it.
“And of course we did some amazingly cool effects in Shogun World, including Sakura’s branded cherry blossom tattoo. It was a big, beautiful back prosthetic, so all the seams were in front and the entire back was silicone to hide any edges. I think every episode has some cool and unique effect that we built in a relatively short timeframe and put a lot of focus on.”
And while it’s a tad premature to look too far ahead at this point, Raleigh is definitely ready to come back for Westworld season three. “Right now, it’s nice to have a break,” he says, “because it’s a very long show to shoot and takes a lot out of everyone. That level of physical and mental demand really sucks the artistic life out of everyone, so it’s nice to relax for a bit, but I would definitely be ready to do it again.”