Special Effects Makeup Artist Barry Anderson baffled a lot of people as a child when his reply to the common query: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was: “I’m going to be a Mad Scientist!” Yet, Anderson has done just that, working as an effects artist on major horror productions such as Jeepers Creepers and George Romero’s Day of the Dead, and participating in criminal investigations/recreations. He also owns Transmutation Designs in Central Florida, and operates Ghoul School – a studio where people with an interest in prosthetics and sculpting can learn in a dynamic atmosphere.
I met Anderson at Ghoul School this past Friday the 13th for a lesson from the man the industry fondly calls, “Monster Guy”. Anderson’s remarkable creativity is a direct reflection of his fascination with the folklore of creatures like Bigfoot and Loch Ness: “I love all mysterious creatures and legends but I do have a special interest in Bigfoot. Is it real? … I got interested in this subject as a kid and read about sightings, and saw Boggy Creek – As an adult I began looking into the subject more seriously after a chance meeting with a gentleman who told me of a close encounter sighting he and two other guys had while metal detecting in the forest of Virginia. These guys are very good witnesses who have government jobs in Washington, D.C.”
Entering the studio was everything the macabre lover in me imagined. Cadavers, zombies – and even alien heads – were lying about, and Anderson wasted no time teaching me some wound sculpting techniques. Barry Anderson explained, “With Ghoul School, I wanted to do something fun for me as well as for the students so I created ‘The Professor’ character as a nod to horror show hosts from my generation that I loved so much. The adult workshops are serious learning opportunities but I always like to make it a fun atmosphere. With my ‘Professor’ persona, I make appearances at schools, libraries, and science fairs in order to make special effects and science a fun experience for the kids. I expose them to topics like mummies, Neanderthals, monsters and aliens … I have been fortunate to do what I love as a career while inspiring young people to think creatively and outside the box!”
With a number of films to his credit, Anderson told me that often, artists put a lot of time in to concepts that never come to actualization. He described one instance: “A career in film is not easy – you get your hopes up and then movies or projects don’t pan out, usually because of funding problems. One such project I can recall was a television pilot that I thought might be a big break for me. This was during the time when I was living in South Florida and had an FX shop near a film studio. It was an action packed show with monsters galore. I received my first payment, which allowed me to purchase initial supplies so that I could begin casting the actors for prosthetics … I was gearing up to hire additional staff and called the production office to request my second payment. When I arrived, to my shock and dismay, I found locked doors and an empty lot. I was broken-hearted … [but, you] pick yourself up and keep striving to obtain better projects. Some of my best design work has been on films that were never produced.”
Transmutation Designs is Anderson’s new outlet for his spark to create. After having spent well over a decade at Ripley’s Entertainment designing some of the most well known museum sculpts in horror history, including the Jack Nicholson sculpt from The Shining, he is enjoying this new branch out: “I am pleased to say it has been going great. After working for a major entertainment company for over 17 years, I decided to become an entrepreneur. My business covers a wide variety of services mostly within the entertainment industry but also education and museum services. I create museum figures, conceptual design, illustrate, sculpt, prototype, create molds and continue to create and apply special effects makeup. This year I worked on film productions, designed for theme parks and created museum figures. I am very lucky that the calls keep coming in.”
A vast understanding of science along with his detailed artistry has also led Anderson to SEMETRI, Inc., where he has done top secret work in regards to training devices, life saving equipment and wound studies. Due to the nature of the work we were unable to go in to detail, but Anderson did say this: “Our concentration of material science research led us to focus on areas in forensic training and emergency preparedness for the Department of Defense as well as the private sector. My personal interest in merging my craft with science offered me several opportunities to get involved in crime scene training with police agencies. I have worked on several documentaries along side medical examiners and scientists creating crime scenes and historic reproductions. This work then led me to medical training for the military. Currently, I work with top professionals in the industry and we are always pushing the envelope.”
Working in the realm of the supernatural is where Anderson feels he is meant to be, using his talent and ‘sixth sense’ the way family members before him used theirs – most notably Anderson’s grandmother, a respected clairvoyant: “My grandmother Mildred Anderson had a truly amazing gift, only those who met her could truly understand how special she was. She was well known in the Western New York area and made many appearances on television and radio, as well as had syndicated newspaper columns … My grandmother’s gift was not weird to me, but there are some who disagree. Knowing she could meet someone and, tell them their past, present and future was pretty astonishing… She was the real thing, without having neon lights in the window or wearing gypsy garments. Many times she warned family members about dangers coming our way … I do not know if these things are a curse or a blessing but I have no doubt that they are real, and that’s good enough for me.”
Barry Anderson was awesome for allowing Diabolique’s live interview at Ghoul School, and was fully encouraging of me going photo crazy around the movie props. He told me, “Creating is what I live for. It has been part of me since my earliest memories. I need to always have something to make and create. I wanted to be a mad scientist when I was a kid so I could make monsters, and here I am still having fun doing what I loved since childhood.”