Four Questions with Dave Elsey....

Dave Elsey [he's the guy on the left] recently took time to visit with yours truly [AmyJ] for Four Questions. For those of you who may not know [shame on you], Mr. Elsey Creature Shop Creative Supervisor and Creature Designer. [How would you like to have that title on your business card?] Prior to working on Farscape, Dave did some of the creature effects on Alien³. [One of my fave movies, BTW] To learn more about the creative folks behind Farscape, visit the Enscapelopedia. Or check out the Behind the Scenes pages to see just that... the cool stuff that goes into the making of an episode. 

[Since this interview, Dave Elsey, Lou Elsey and Rebecca Hunt have opened the fantastic Creative Image Partnership]

Q1: Making Alien Life Forms 101" is a rare thing to find on a college curriculum. What schooling or job experience helped prepare you for the very unique position you play in the Farscape universe? In essence, how did you get to "where you are

Good question, how do you become a maker of alien life forms? The answer is, pop yourself in a time machine, and go back to being a kid. Basically, I was bought up watching endless TV shows and films with either a sci-fi or horror theme. Especially in the 70's, TV seemed to be full of this type of stuff, and my parents noticed that they could have some peace and quiet if they sat me in front of it. Eventually, I wanted to have a piece of what I was watching and the toys disappointed me. So I started to make my own stuff. I’ve said elsewhere that I wanted to be Baron Frankenstein, and I know that this seems to be a common theme running through other make-up effects people as well. Eventually you find out that the monsters are made by make-up people and not mad doctors or scientists. So I started to absorb everything I could about make-up and the rest is history. These days there are many books, magazines, videos and websites dedicated to making monsters. There are even college courses on the subject, although the only one I recommend is the Dick Smith make-up course.   

Q2: Could you please outline the step-by-step process involved with the creation of a new "creature" from concept to finish? When and how would the costuming department be a part of it? Who else plays a role?

The process is something like this: The producer/director will usually approach you with their ideas. In this case it was mostly David Kemper. David would say, “I haven’t written the script yet, but here’s what I think I am going to need for this episode.” This was called a ‘heads up’. From his description, we would determine, if it was going to be a puppet, a make-up, an animatronic, or a combination of these things. I would then do a design, and pitch the ideas to David and all the relevant parties. Hopefully this would be approved and we would then jump into the next phase. If the character was going to involve an actor we would push for the actor to [be] hired as soon as possible, for head casting and body casting purposes. If the design meant that we were also going to change the actor’s body shape, we usually felt that it was better for the creature shop to design and build the creature costumes, rather than the costume department. The creature costume designer was Lou Elsey. The reason we felt it better to do it this way round was that, given the short time span, (usually 10 days) it was impossible to build the undersuit in time to give the costume dept enough time to do their bit. Instead, Lou Elsey and her team would design and build the muscle undersuit and the creature costume in conjunction with each other. Plus, and this was the bonus, we could put creature building technology and materials into the creation of these costumes that would not necessarily be in a straight costume designer’s bag of skills, thus giving us the edge. [I] have to admit that I think the results were pretty cool, and on future projects I will suggest this is the way we always do it. I felt that the creature shop costumes had a nice alien feel to them, and that it was worth the effort. Don’t you?

Q3: Couldn’t agree more! Of all the Farscape aliens that you've designed to date, which represents the most challenge or difficulty in bringing to life and why?

The hardest characters on Farscape, and this is a tough one to answer, probably ended up being the Scarrans. As soon as we heard that these were the characters that spawned Scorpius we knew that these had to be some kick ass bad guys. Although at that point no one knew that they were going to be in more than one episode. So we pulled out the stops, and created something not unlike the Scarrans we all know and love to hate. Of course in those days we hadn’t yet secured the whole creature costume gig. So although the original design didn’t look a million miles away from the way we know and expect the Scarrans to look like, we were really just warming up, and they didn’t quite have the characteristic Scarran costume that I think later defined their race. The reason why I say these things were so difficult was because we subsequently kept bringing them back (‘cos they were so cool) and kept refining their look. In season 4, they are the best they have ever been, and you will understand how we artistically painted ourselves into a beautiful corner as season 4 plays out.   

Q4: What inspires you? 

  Literally everything I look at, read or watch has inspired me to a certain extent, but two things have inspired me more than anything else.  

1. The production team behind Farscape, who fearlessly allowed us to go where no other sci-fi show has gone before. And fully joined in, with our desire to populate the universe with aliens that were not just empty echoes of ourselves with slightly different foreheads. 

2. The Farscape creature team, without whom none of this would have been possible, or as much fun. And who worked tirelessly, because at the end of the day, they just got it! If we had been allowed to do season 5, I wouldn’t have changed one person in the creature shop crew. They were brilliant!! And I hope that someone will have the foresight to reunite us on another project.…

One last thing, "SAVE FARSCAPE"

Many thanks to Mr. Elsey for taking time out to visit with the crew of Karlsweb!  

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