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Comic Book Men Q&A – Special Effects Artist Robert Kurtzman

Robert Kurtzman, the special effects makeup designer behind Kevin Smith‘s Tusk and Yoga Hosers, stops by the Stash in the latest episode of Comic Book Men, “Wurst Episode Ever.” Here, he talks about his favorite creature creation and working with The Walking Dead‘s Greg Nicotero.

Q: You’ve worked on Kevin’s film, Tusk and now Yoga Hosers. How did you two start working together?
A: One of the producers I had done effects for called me up and asked if I was interested in doing this. And I said, “Oh, it’s a Kevin Smith movie? I’d love to work with Kevin.” Tusk was a pretty quick schedule once they were up and running, so we only had about five weeks to get everything, so that was a bit of a challenge. Right away, we kind of hit it off, me and Kevin, so that was really fun to work on.

Q: Is there something in particular that draws you to a project?
A: Well, with that project, it’s a lot like another movie I worked on, Bubba Ho-Tep, which was another script that was just so ridiculously outrageous that you had to be involved with it because there would never be anything else like it ever made again. So for Tusk, I thought, “You’re the only person ever to do a walrus movie, so yes.” It’s an iconic character you get to make — an original, not a werewolf or a vampire like everybody does — so that’s what intrigued me.

Q: How did you work together with Kevin to design the look of the creatures in Tusk and Yoga Hosers?
A: With Tusk, Kevin gave a few descriptive lines to me, like “Think Frankenstein and think Texas Chainsaw [Massacre] — think someone put together with human skin, like a Frankenstein Walrus,” so that was a really easy thing for me to zero in on and come up with some designs that Kevin liked right away with few adjustments. We went from there, then did a 3D model and started sculpting.

With Yoga Hosers, it was a little different because the Bratzis were originally described as little Hitlers, and then Kevin later on came up with this idea that they were really from somewhere else, with infused DNA from the wood from the Black Forest or different things. We did a brainstorming session and I mentioned, “What if they were made out of Bratwurst and had sauerkraut guts?” And he just looked down, and the next day he wrote it in the script. It was just a jam session of talking through ideas.

Q: Have you been frightened by any of your own creations, or are you too close to their origins to find them creepy?
A: I’m too close to it, I guess. I respond to it through the way fans respond to it. When I see fans at a show and they’re bringing up Tusk stuff and Tusk posters and photos, you realize how many people really enjoy it and really responded to it. It’s a movie where you can’t count the dollars it makes, but it really finds its legs once more people come to it.

Q: How did you first get interested in special effects makeup and prosthetics?
A: I’ve been interested in it since I was really little, watching horror films. This was before cable, so I’d watch them on VHS, or put the little antennae on top of the TV and move it around to catch the local horror film shows that could come in. I would try to stay up every Friday night and watch those movies, and I was just glued to those monsters. I started collecting Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria magazine, and I started following the guys who made these things. I thought, “Wow, you can actually do this?” I was always artistically inclined, so I just gravitated toward that, and started doing this when I was 19.

Q: You’ve worked with Greg Nicotero, the Special Effects Designer and Executive Producer of The Walking Dead. How far do you two go back?
A: We actually started out together in the business. I got started in the business in ‘84 and I met Greg shortly after that. Our partner at the time, Howard Berger, was leaving his position at a shop, and I was trying to get a position at that shop, and he needed someone to fill in for him while he left to go work with Greg and [Tom] Savini on Day of the Dead. So after that, he met Greg, and Greg and him came back, and we all got a house together and lived together for years and years. Greg and I were roommates even after we got rid of the house and got our own places. And then we started KNB EFX Group together, I think in like ‘88, and built that company from the ground up, from a little 800-square-foot shop to what it is now — a 12,000- or so square-foot workshop. We were lucky to come up in the ’80s and work on a lot of genre movies that are considered classics now. It was a good time to get into the business because it was the heyday of prosthetic effects.

Q: Are there any creatures or effects you’ve made in your career that were particularly rewarding to see come to life?
A: I can think of my favorite thing, still, is when Tom Savini turns into a giant rat in From Dusk Till Dawn and fights George Clooney in the bar. That was one thing I wanted to do for the longest time and it almost didn’t make it in the film — it kind of got cut in principal because they didn’t have the time, but then it made it back in and it turned out awesome.

The Comic Book Men Mid-Season Finale airs Sunday at 12:50/11:50c.

Watch full episodes online now, then sign up for the AMC Weekly to stay up to date on the latest news from the Stash.

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