It’s Halloween, and time for all things Creepy to come to light, so I decided to sit down and chat with Lea James, the SFX makeup designer who created the Creeper for Jeepers Creepers: Reborn.
When did you first hear that you would be doing the Creeper for Jeepers Creepers: Reborn?
I found out about six months before the production began, that they were looking for a makeup person who would be tasked with recreating a famous monster for a horror film. I was of course interested, and when the script landed in my email account, I realized the film was actually Jeepers Creepers reboot, “Reborn”. I had watched two of the movies before, and I thought they
were a fun horror franchise, however, to be honest, at first, I was a bit wary to jump on board, as I was made aware of the franchise’s negative past history. What convinced me was that I knew the producers were looking for a new director and the script was a completely fresh idea.
How did the design progress begin?
First of all, I knew this was an existing IP and there were some guidelines I needed to follow – I couldn’t take the Creeper too far from the original, but at the same time, the new Creeper needed to reflect the script. I started off by going back to the original films and making-of -documentaries to get my head around how the Creeper was originally created. At the time, we didn’t have a new director involved yet, so I was working together with the producers Jake Seal and Terry Bird, thinking about which direction we wanted to take the Creeper.
After Director Timo Vuorensola joined the crew, the vision of the new Creeper was clarified, and we started to collaborate and sketch out what the monster would eventually be like. We wanted to make the Creeper more sickly and withered version of the creature, one that’s at the end of its life cycle. This was also taken into account when casting the actor to play the monster. Jarreau Benjamin was chosen among thousands of applicants due to his great physical presence and his amazing eyes – very important for the Creeper – he fits the bill perfectly!
Together with the producers and the director, we settled on the look, and after that, we needed to find a special effects studio that could produce the highly complex makeup. I approached one of the best FX studios in UK, KM Effects, who’ve worked on everything from Aquaman to Sandman, Mission Impossible, and many more. The head of the studio, Kristyan Mallett, took the project and we started the process at Watford Studios, at Warner Bros.’ lot.
First, they made a plastic cast of the actor Jarreau Benjamin. Then, the sculptor started meticulously building the features of the Creeper, producing many versions along the way, which was a real collaboration with myself, the director, and the studio until we were happy with the overall look. While we decided to employ Jarreau’s great eyes as part of the creature, we still needed to create the menacing Creeper teeth. For this, we chose to work with Fang FX. They produced many different versions of the teeth, until we found the ones we really loved.
How did you feel when you first saw the new Creeper all put together?
The whole team was very excited. We felt really proud for all the hard work that was put into creating it.
How long did it take to get Creeper ready every day?
It was a time taking making and needed precision and care, taking daily 4-7 hours depending on how many close-ups were expected, and another 3-4 hours to remove. My FX makeup supervisor Steven Harris looked after the application and the finish to perfection.
How was actor Jarreau Benjamin during this?
Jarreau was always absolutely amazing to work with. He kept the morale up and everyone laughing, we all gravitated towards his humour, and he never complained – a real inspiration to us all. Knowing he couldn’t really eat anything after the full makeup was on, he chose to fast the days when he was on screen, being able to only drink with a straw. On the set, we had agreed
a set of signals on how he could communicate with us so that he was constantly safeguarded and looked after.
There was also an easier application – a snap mask, as we called it – which we could put on and take off in just a few minutes whenever the Creeper wasn’t really visible on the camera, or when a stunt double was working through the
more dangerous scenes.
In addition to the main Creeper, there were two other phases, which were very different – could you talk a little about them?
The idea to connect the film with the earlier movies through the “barn” sequence came up later after we had finished the second shooting block and broke off for Christmas vacation. The producers wanted to add scenes where we see how the Creeper came out from the barn, where he was last seen at the end of Jeepers Creepers 2, so together with Steven Harris, we started to create this “Chrysalis” paint we could apply on the original mask, something that would resemble the dried-out corpse that was hanging on the wall of the barn but could be broken without damaging the mask underneath.
The other alternative version of the Creeper was the Slimy Creeper or the “Rebirth” makeup. Here, we wanted to take the Creeper back to almost a fetal state, after it had been killed and eaten by the crows. We wanted it to look like a newborn calf, with translucent, slimy skin – we created this goo – we called it Creeper Juice – and covered Jarreau completely with it. I think working on the “Rebirth” Creeper makeup was the most fun for the whole team – it was a huge job, but we were really excited how it turned out.
What about the Creeper wings? They were an instrumental part of the creature, but were however created digitally, why so?
In the beginning, we were planning to do also the wings manually, but the director really insisted we do the wings digitally, so instead, together we sketched out in detail what we wanted for the wings, and followed closely the process as our VFX supervisor Jason Rayment’s team created the wings. In the end, we were very impressed with how well they sat on the creature, having the right kind of skin texture and great animation.
Who’s your favorite movie creature of all time?
It must be the Frankenstein’s Monster. I’ve always been fascinated by Mary Shelley and how Frankenstein’s story came together. I love creatures that can be scary, but at the same time, have a heart underneath it all.
Who are your favorite SFX artists?
I was very lucky to study SFX with Oscar Winner Neil Corbould. I took away many valuable lessons in movie magic.
Ray Harryhausen has always had a special place, I remember loving watching his stop motion creatures – the Medusa and the skeleton army – as a kid. And I want to of course mention Tom Savini and Rick Baker as well, I must have read all their books and any interviews I could find. Really instrumental in me finding my path in SFX.