MUD Celebrates Our 20th Anniversary with Paul Thompson

 

Starting his make-up career in 1987, Paul Thompson is MUD’s Director of Education and organizational leader behind the MUD Schools. Unlike our students, Thompson didn’t go to a traditional make-up school, instead he taught himself and took scattered classes under the guidance of an instructor at his community college. In the beginning he took jobs as a makeup assistant, learning from his experiences. As his career progressed he primarily worked in television and commercials, and ultimately opened his own FX shop. While working as a makeup artist, Thompson was also teaching extension courses at UCLA and doing master classes for multiple other cosmetic brands. Having fallen in love with the learning process itself, he went on to get a teaching credential and started teaching for MUD. Additionally, he authored the first edition of MUD’s character textbook Character Make-Up and co-wrote the second edition with Gil Romero.

Even with a firm belief in the power of education, Paul manages to keep things light and fun. whether he’s stealing his coworkers’ candy or face swapping photos of him and his wife, Francine, he keeps the MUD offices running with his goofy shenanigans. With his booming voice and high energy, Paul Thompson is the joyful lead behind the MUD education.

Q: What makes MUD different from our competitors?

A: From the beginning we fundamentally believe that the most important person in our organization is the student. We want them to have an exceptional experience at MUD learning makeup. To feel good about their choice of coming to MUD, and once they got in a class, we wanted to make it so meaningful and so outcome-based that they walked away getting everything they needed to start their career. In the beginning we really felt that we could make a makeup school that was better than anything that came before us. The other thing that continues to make us different is all the people that work here–all the different people that give voice to the education, whether it be the teachers, management, or the outside industry talking to us and working with us. It’s not a person, per se. It’s not Joe Shmoe’s make-up school, it is Make-Up Designory. So, it’s not based around me or Tate or any other single individual. It’s all about a company that does something of real value.

Q: Who is the MUD student?

A: I see students as so many different individuals. Our students are people that are just getting out of high school looking to start their career, but they can also be somebody that’s changing careers. I’m a make-up artist, and I’ve been a makeup artist my whole life. I see our student as me–as what I wanted and what I needed when I started. I learned as I went, and because of that I feel like I really relate to the students. I know what their needs are and, ultimately, what their dreams are regarding them wanting to be professional makeup artists. MUD is that company that really helps students to live those dreams.

Q: In the last 20 years, how have the MUD schools changed?

A: Originally, we said we were just going to do one school. But, we wanted to make the best school possible–one that had high-end, high quality education. I felt that we were doing a service that most schools couldn’t match because they just did not have the passion that we were pouring into it. Each one of the owners of the company were in the classrooms, doing everything we could to make the school the best it could be. The big switch came when we opened our NY campus and we expanded into Studios and Partner schools. Instead of just one campus, there are now 92 campuses offering some form of MUD education.

Q: Did you envision a cosmetic line back in 1997?

A: No, not so much. I know Tate initially was kind of like “oh maybe we should do products” but we didn’t have the wear-with-all to do that. It grew from Francine, really. She was the guru in product development and the rest of us would give her our opinions. She knew manufacturing and how to acquire things, she was the one who really got us started.

Q: Did you ever think MUD would reach the size it has now?

A: It’s hard to look back and go “oh, yeah, I knew we would be huge,” but I really didn’t. I knew we would be the size of some of the schools here in Los Angeles and have two or three classrooms, maybe four, tops. But, we grew to five classrooms and had extra teachers and people in the first year! I thought that all we would have is this cool little business and we would be set–and what I mean by “set” is that we would have jobs, we would do what we loved, we would be happy, and we would be able to make a good living. It’s crazy where it’s gone.

Q: Is there a most memorable moment from the last 20 years? Or maybe a funniest moment?

A: There’s a whole slew of funny events and things that have happened over the years. Time has absolutely flown by. My youngest daughter was born right after we started MUD, and seeing her in college now and knowing that’s how long the company has been around is cool, you know?

Q: Where do you see MUD in the next 20 years?

A: I think we’re going to see a lot more growth, on the education side we will be adding more campuses. For us, we are investing in the US and helping students live that dream of working as a makeup artist. It’s interesting how other cosmetic companies are moving to sell in China, even though to sell in China you have to test on animals. Companies are looking to China for that big untapped market. I really think the sky is the limit for the cosmetics side of things, however we will never test on animals.

Q: Is there anything else you want to include?

A: I love my job! We try very hard to help students find this level of happiness, to help them live their dreams. For me, I am so happy with the choices that I’ve made in my life and the great bunch of people that I work with. I couldn’t be luckier.

MUD Talks: An Interview with Vincent Van Dyke

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Vincent Van Dyke is an industry leader in special make-up effects. Getting his first job at just 14 years old, Vincent Van Dyke has gone on to work on TV shows and movies like I Tonya, Darkest Hour, Code Black, and Dexter. Acting as the owner and creative director of Vincent Van Dyke Effects at only 28 years old, Vincent Van Dyke has now moved to the Burman studio space where he learned the tools of the trade.

Despite being so much younger than his peers, Vincent Van Dyke says his career has always progressed in “gradual baby steps.” From experimenting with a make-up kit at six years old, to introducing himself to Barney Burman at an FX supply store, to working with Kazu on Darkest Hour, Vincent Van Dyke’s career has blossomed in a way many young make-up artists can only dream of. We spoke with him about approaching your make-up artist idols, living your passion, and knowing when to take your next big career step.

MUD: What was the defining moment when you knew you wanted to be a make-up artist?

VINCENT: That’s such a hard question for me because it goes back so far. My step-dad was a huge film aficionado, so he was really big into old black and white silent movies and all that stuff. I remember one night in particular I was going to bed and he had the original Hunchback playing and I was mesmerized by it. I could barely go to sleep because I was like ‘oh my god I want to do that!’ When I woke up in the morning I got my little makeup kit out and I duplicated that makeup on myself. I don’t remember when I first got this little kit or how I put it together, but I had it already. That was one of those moments where I got silly putty and I got a pillow and I shoved it in my back and I made this little face. It was really a fun make-up to do. There’s a picture of it somewhere that my mom has I’m sure.

MUD: How old were you?

VINCENT: I was probably six when I did that–that’s what’s weird. I had no idea what I was doing; I just knew it was fun. My mom would always be so encouraging and so supportive. I would say “how does this person look like this?” And she would go “oh well it’s makeup and I don’t really know how to answer that question, honey.” My association with makeup was what my mom put on her face so I was like “well that doesn’t make any sense!”

MUD: I read online that you were reading a lot of books and watching a lot of videos about special make-up effects early on. Which ones in particular?

VINCENT: I was reading a lot of Vincent Kehoe’s Special Make-Up Effects. It’s funny because I found it recently and it has all these little highlighted notes and post-its. It looks like a textbook, you know? The internet was in its absolute infancy, so I was literally going through books and getting VHS tapes. Michael Burnett had a line of VHS tapes that were huge for me. I watched those over and over and over again.

MUD: You met Barney Burman at an FX supply store, correct?

VINCENT: He was there shopping and I showed him my portfolio, and maybe six months after that he gave me a job. It was my first internship, which was amazing. Then later on, maybe one and a half or two years after that, I went over to Tom and Bari Burman’s shop. That was when my career took off. You know, you have your job and then you have like your career. It was really like they honed me in and guided my eye. I can’t imagine any other company ever doing that for me. I was so, so lucky to have fell into that position at that time in that month and the universe–just everything aligned and it just worked amazingly.

 

MUD: What was it like working that young?

VINCENT: Oh it’s ridiculous! It’s weird to be paid for something that you absolutely love. I think that’s honestly still hard for me to grasp, because so many people have to work to live but when you live to work and you really just have this amazing passion that you get paid for–that’s so rare. It was hard for me to fathom like ‘oh I’m getting a paycheck for playing with the stuff that I played with already for so many years as a little kid.’

MUD: I bet that a lot of people reading this will wonder how you were able to just strike up a conversation with a potential employer. Do you have any tips for approaching a big make-up artist?

VINCENT: I always had my portfolio with me. So no matter where I went, especially if I was going to a make-up store, I always had a little portfolio. You never know who you’re going to run into. I would just go up to them and say ‘hey, I know who you are, and I would love to show you my portfolio. I hate to interrupt you.’ I can’t imagine anybody in this business going ‘I don’t have time for this like get out of my face.’ Everyone’s going to take a minute to look at your portfolio, especially if you’re coming up to them, and you’re polite, and you’re just asking for them to look at your stuff, not asking for a job. I wasn’t really thinking about having a job.

MUD: When did you know that you wanted to have your own studio?

VINCENT: It’s funny because I think a lot of people maybe discover that they want their own studio after working for people, but I knew from when I was little. I really loved this stuff, and I knew that one day (I just thought it was going to be when I was 50), I want to be able to have the stuff produced under my roof be something I’m really proud of. When it happened I had no idea that I was ready for it. I don’t think you ever know that you’re ready for a move like that. But the way that everything had aligned–I had been working at the Burman’s for around 8 years, and I eventually became their shop supervisor and creative director, and they had really groomed me to be in a position like that. Bari Burman pushed me and my eye so much- really giving me a totally different perspective on the way I approached sculpture and paint. She and Tom are brilliant artists. And Tom Burman had such an ease about everything he did- always thinking outside the box and pushing the boundaries for the “standard” approach. Orchestrating teams, and working with extreme deadlines, I could go on and on but they really made it possible for me to have my own shop. It was a good time for me to be able to get a space and see what happens.

MUD: You’ve said it can be difficult to relinquish creative control once you start expanding. Do you have any advice for delegating tasks or collaborating?

VINCENT: I’ve been really fortunate that all the artists that I hire are all very collaborative. I never feel like somebody’s taking the bull by the horns and just saying like ‘this is how we’re doing it.’ It’s always a conversation of like ‘what’s the best way to get here?’ That was something that was instilled in me from Bari and Tom when I was working with them–like having these discussions and having open ideas of like ‘let’s take ego out of it and look at this situation and figure out the best way to do it.’ That to me is always the answer. Most of the time the answer for me is ‘that guy is way better at this than I am, so he’s going to do this.’ Sometimes it’s ‘I would love to sculpt this right now, but I’ve got my lead Daniele Tirinnanzi.’ He’s been my lead sculptor and painter now for a while, and he’s brilliant, so I always know that he’s going to do these things better than I am and it’s easy for me to relinquish that creative direction.

MUD: What is your favorite thing about your job?

VINCENT: I think that actually is my favorite thing about my job–that collaborative deal–because it’s so nice to be able to work with other artists that I learn from every day. For me the coolest thing is when I get to hire people that I think are so amazing at their job. Because I don’t shop hop around, I’m actually bringing people in that I get to look over their shoulder and learn from.
It’s cool to me when I can go ‘oh, I get to bring in Mitch Devane, who I think is the best sculptor in the business, to sculpt for me and he’s across from my office and I can just look in there and be like ‘wow Mitch Devane is sculpting the most amazing thing right now!’ That to me is kind of the coolest thing.

Thanks for talking with us, Vince!

Scott Essman and Mark Viniello Discuss Dick Smith’s Legacy for MUD Talks

You might recognize Dick Smith’s name for his work on Little Big Man, Amadeus, or Taxi Driver. Though he won an Oscar in 1985 for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work on Amadeus, his peers and proteges guess he would have won many more had the make-up award category even existed before 1981. For this reason, he also won an Academy Honorary Award for his career’s work in 2012.

Photo courtesy of IMATS

Nicknamed “The Godfather of Make-up” throughout the industry, Dick Smith pioneered many of the special make-up effects techniques we use today. The make-up for Little Big Man wasn’t just an old-age make-up, it was an old-age make-up that evolved to show the progression of over 100 years. He didn’t just do static bullet holes for The Godfather, but ones that bled and burst on screen. His make-up on Linda Blair for The Exorcist scared the audience so much, digital experts on movie remakes have attempted to recreate it. And, perhaps most memorably of all, David Bowie was so overwhelmed at the sight of his old age makeup for The Hunger that he left set for a full two days.

Photo courtesy of MonsterMovieKid.com

Writer, producer, and motion picture craftsmanship expert, Scott Essman, and special make-up effects artist, Mark Viniello, both came into contact with Dick Smith in very different ways. Taking up an interest in professional make-up artistry, Scott Essman was led to pursue Smith after hearing his name in interview after interview with other successful make-up artists. Viniello, on the other hand, pursued Smith as an aspiring make-up artist, mailing Smith copies of his work for months before Smith took him on as a student. Both talk about how they had to wear him down before he would take them seriously, contacting him repeatedly for information and advice. However, after years of collaboration, both came to consider Dick Smith a friend. Here are some of the most interesting things we learned:

  1. He’s responsible for multi-piece prosthetics. Back when make-up artists were using foam prosthetics in the 50s, these masks would have to be tugged and stretched to fit the actor’s face because the foam would shrink. This was very difficult and very uncomfortable for the actor because it was so hard to be expressive and move under the prosthetic. “Dick said there’s got to be a better way” says Viniello, “so what Dick reasoned is if there were little sections that overlapped, he could glue it on piece by piece and have a better glue down so the actor would be more comfortable and have more movability.” Now, years later, even though make-up artists all use silicone, Smith’s multi-piece prosthetic technique is still used.

    Photo courtesy of Lucy Amelia Thomas
  2. He was blatantly honest. When Viniello first approached Dick Smith for make-up advice, Smith told him he didn’t have “the skills you need to be a make-up artist.” After wearing him down by sending him continuous letters and photos, Smith eventually acknowledged his “drive” and and agreed to teach him. But, as Viniello says, “he didn’t sugar-coat anything,” and he developed a reputation for refusing to teach people he didn’t think would be worth the time. According to our host, he turned down Guillermo Del Toro as well.

    Photo courtesy of Dick Smith’s Special FX Training
  3. His attention to detail made him successful. When asked what set Dick Smith apart, both Viniello and Essman said it was his attention to detail. “Every wrinkle was based from a wrinkle in a photograph that he had up above his area where he was sculpting” says Essman. Viniello added that “he was never satisfied…not only artistically but also technically. He changed things to suit what he needed.” This attention to detail and perfectionism is likely why all his make-ups looked so real.

    Photo courtesy of Beauty and the Geek

 

 

 

Thanks for all your stories Scott and Mark!