Leatherface is back in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

Leatherface is back in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE just premiered its newest incarnation on Netflix on Friday, February 18. It’s directed by David Blue Garcia from a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, from a story by Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues, based on characters created by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper.

This TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a direct sequel to the 1974 original, directed by Tobe Hooper. It takes place in a very small, mostly empty town in Texas, where young entrepreneurs bring in a busload of investors to revitalize the place. They are unaware of one very significant remaining resident – Leatherface.

Within the story, Leatherface wears a mask made of human skin. In reality, the mask is constructed by the special effects makeup department. For the new TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Leatherface’s mask was designed and built by Todd Tucker and his Illusion Industries company, which Tucker founded in 2010. Illusion is based in Los Angeles, but has hubs in Louisiana and Moscow, Russia.

Tucker is a man of many talents. Not only is he a special effects makeup artist, with credits including BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, THE MIDDLEMAN, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD, Tucker is also an actor, puppeteer and filmmaker, having written and directed the features MONSTER MUTT and THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE.

Speaking by phone before the film’s release (hence his reluctance to comment on potential spoilers), Tucker discusses the making of the new Leatherface.

Martin Astles Key Designer, Sculptor and Applicator for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | photo courtesy Todd Tucker

Martin Astles
Key Designer, Sculptor and Applicator
for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | photo courtesy Todd Tucker

ASSIGNMENT X: How did you become involved with the new TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE?

TODD TUCKER: Well, I had worked with a producer named Herb Gains on the films WATCHMEN and G.I. JOE: RETALIATION and JACK REACHER: NEVER LOOK BACK. And when I worked with him on those films, we had a studio in Louisiana, and he was stationed in Louisiana. So, we did all those films in Louisiana. Then he moved back out here to L.A., and started working for Legendary, and I hadn’t worked with him for a year or so, and I gave him a call, and said, “Hey, I’d really like to work with you again,” and he goes, “Oh, you’ve got perfect timing. I need your help on this little low-budget movie that we’re making at Legendary. I need you to make the title character for me.” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure, what do you want me to make?” And he goes, “I need you to make the new Leatherface.” And I started laughing, because I thought he was pulling my leg. And he goes, “What are you laughing at?” And I go, “You’re serious?” And he goes, “Yeah.”

So, we were totally excited, and then two weeks after we started the project, everything shut down for COVID. I went, “Oh, no. This is going to go away right when I got it.” Then Herb called me and said, “Hey, we’re going to work right through this. If you’re up for it, let’s do it.” And I’m like, “Hell, yes.” It was hard to find a crew, because that was right when COVID hit, everyone was scared to death – we finally found people, and then we started doing all these meetings on something called Zoom [laughs], which I had never used before. But that was how we did all of our design meetings, so it became a challenge to do it all over the computer, but we got it done, and then we shot the film over in Bulgaria.

The director was amazing, the d.p. [Ricardo Diaz] was amazing, and the film looks like a giant studio film. It has more action in it, and in my opinion, it’s one of the best-made versions of Leatherface, other than the first one. Of course, you can’t even compete with the first one, because the first one did what it did, and was at a time when there was nothing like it. But this one is going to impress. I think the fans will dig it. It’s not as independent-looking, but the kills and the action in this are going to make everybody very excited.

AX: Do you remember your reaction to the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE?

TUCKER: Yeah. I remember seeing that movie as a kid in a drive-in. My mom and dad took me to go see a documentary called IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK. And I was so bored – I might have only been seven, maybe six, but I went to the concession stand, and then I saw it playing on another screen, and I sat on the slide, and watched the whole movie from the slide [laughs]. I didn’t know what I was watching, because it was so real-looking. It felt like I was watching another documentary. But it scared the hell out of me, and it definitely made its mark. And pretty soon after that, when HALLOWEEN came out, I was like, “Okay, I get it. These are the new wave of kickass killer monsters.” [laughs] And sure enough, that’s when all of them started coming out. But Leatherface, in my opinion, kicked all that off.

AX: With your version of Leatherface, how much inspiration are you taking from the original? I mean, is this the first mask fifty years on, or has he made a new one, and what kind of allowances are you making for the fact that the character is now supposed to be sixty years old?

Leatherface minus mask in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | photo courtesy Todd Tucker

Leatherface minus mask in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | photo courtesy Todd Tucker

TUCKER: His look is based on what happens in the story leading up to it. So, for us, it was pretty much mapped out what we needed to do. We literally had to follow the direction of the script as to why he is the way he looks in this film. But, at the same time, we understood that, with recreating an iconic character like this, you want to find a really nice balance of the spirit of what everybody knows the character for, and then something to make it your own, without it being too much that it turns everybody off.

So, we just took the elements of what the script told us it was going to be, and then we got to design his whole body shape, and his wardrobe, and what his hair looked like, and what he looked like underneath the mask for just a brief second or two in the movie. So, we really got to kind of do everything.

At one point in time, they were talking about him possibly wearing the clothes of a woman who is killed in the film, and we did a few designs with that, but the studio didn’t like it. They thought it was a little too comical, I guess. So, we figured out a little bit more traditional look that I think is so iconic with him, which is the face, the [leather] apron, and the chainsaw. We have all of those elements in there. They’re just tweaked a little bit to make them specific to this film.

AX: Did you cast actor Mark Burnham to fit the effects, or was he cast, and then you worked the effects makeup and mask around him?

TUCKER: When we first met with the directors – there were originally two directors on the film that were replaced by [Garcia] – the idea was that this was taking place after the first movie. Every other [TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE] movie after that doesn’t exist. They wanted to just follow the story from that first movie, continuing [on to the] current day.

We had originally done designs of the face. One of my head designers, Martin Astles, sculpted the face on a head cast that we had in the shop, the guys signed off on it, and then they brought in Mark Burnham, who plays Leatherface, and we did a full head cast on him, and then resculpted the signed-off design on Mark’s face.

Leatherface in the movie is extremely agile, and can move very quickly, as opposed to being a big lumbering oaf, like he was in some of the other films. He’s pretty fast-moving and pretty aggressive. Mark actually watched the 1974 original film, and was really paying attention to Gunnar Hansen, who played the original Leatherface, and picked up a lot of characteristics from him, and was able to mimic that in his performance, which I think is going to make a nice connection. And he did a great job on set.

Leatherface is back in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

Leatherface is back in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

AX: Did you go to Bulgaria for the shoot?

TUCKER: No. Martin Astles went over to Bulgaria, where they shot [TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE]. They would only allow us to take one person from our studio over there to do the film, because they were quarantining, so Martin applied all the makeup and [mask] onto Mark. And then there were local effects companies that they hired there to come in and help do all the gore effects. But Martin really oversaw everything on set, including the gore effects, and, I would say, art-directed the makeup effects for the entire film over in Bulgaria for the two-and-a-half, three months that they were over there filming at the height of COVID.

Martin knows so much about everything on CHAINSAW, more than anyone I’ve ever met in my life. He knows everything. He actually became one of the key people that they would talk to for reference or questions about everything Leatherface/TEXAS CHAINSAW, the information source on set for the director, which I thought was really cool. He got to have input on a lot of stuff. It was a dream come true for him. So, it made sense to send him over there. And for something like this, it would either be him or myself, and man, he just knows this brand so well, and he just nailed it with the sculpture.

And no one got sick at our studio, no one got sick on set. Everyone managed to do it very safely. But it was very different to have to build the stuff and then go to Bulgaria, because shipping was all messed up because of COVID also. So, it had a lot of challenges that we hadn’t dealt with before technically.

AX: What is Leatherface’s mask actually made of?

TUCKER: The mask is made out of silicone, because we wanted it to have skin translucency. When we came up with the way of putting it on, we would glue these little vacuform pads onto Mark’s face, and then there were matching vacuforms on the [inside of the] silicone [mask], so that we could put the whole thing on, and not even have to glue it on his face.

That way, he could take [the mask] off in between shots, at lunch, breaks, all that kind of stuff, very easily, whereas otherwise, he’d be glued into it all day long. The advantage to doing this also was that when we would put the face on the vacuform pads, if you lowered the face just a little tiny bit in the brows, you could actually get some different expressions out of the face. So, depending on what scene they were shooting, we could actually make it so that he looked a little bit more angry, or a little bit more solemn, little things that we could do that the audience will probably never see, but it was cool that we were able to do that, and I don’t think it’s been done before for anything like this. It also gave Mark the opportunity to not have the face on for any longer than he wanted, really. So, it was silicone and vacuform pads, and then we also did his makeup underneath to make him look all haggard and gnarled up and wrinkly and scarred.

Leatherface is back in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

Leatherface is back in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

AX: Would you have to make him up for sequences where he’s wearing the mask, or only for sequences where he removes it?

TUCKER: Well, he only removes it for a short time in the film. You just get a brief glimpse. But for the rest of the time, basically it would be the makeup anywhere that you can see it through the [mask]. You can see in through the mouth area of the face, and through the eyes, and other little areas. So, anywhere where we could see his skin, we went in and did effects on it, and made sure it looked nice and crusty.

AX: How many copies did you make of the mask?

TUCKER: I’m pretty sure we made at least twenty of them. It became a little bit of a continuity nightmare on set – as the movie progresses, the face gets more and more damaged. Leatherface gets more and more damaged in general. He’s getting the crap beat out of him, too. So, the face continues to get more chewed up, and more bloody, and more messed up as the movie goes on.

That being said, we had I think ten different mask versions, going from least extreme to most extreme, and then every time they would go back to a scene that was from Page 50 in the script, Martin had to go in and make sure that we were using the correct face that we already shot with [for the scene immediately preceding it].

The shooting schedule changed on a daily basis, so you really had to be on top of it and be organized, so that you knew which face was going to shoot that day, or even in that scene. It might switch out for the scene, depending on which scene they were shooting, so that was a little bit tricky. But there were quite a few faces. There were some stuntmen, also, that were wearing these faces. There was I believe at least one, if not two, stuntmen that did a lot of the dangerous stuff that Mark didn’t have to do, and we had faces for them also, because, of course, with COVID, nobody can wear the same mask. Every actor had to have their own.

AX: Did you have to do any other kinds of big makeup effects for anyone else on TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE?

TUCKER: For the most part, at Illusion Industries, we designed everything Leatherface, but they had hired some local effects companies in Bulgaria to do some of the blood and gore stuff under Martin’s supervision. We made some stuff that we sent over with Martin that was just like blood and guts stuff to help out, but there were some severed heads and stuff that were made by the local guys there. tTe majority of the stuff that we sent, Martin took with him on the plane. Shipping was such a big problem that we really couldn’t build the rest of the stuff, because there was a good chance it wouldn’t get there.

So, Martin, while he was there, was overseeing not only Leatherface, he was also overseeing everything else, and having to make a lot of stuff there on the fly. There are some digital gore effects also, so there was a lot of interaction between the digital effects company and our company and the gore effects. So, we had quite a lot of involvement with the different elements, between digital and practical, and the other local effects guys. It was a bit of a wrangling job on set, but it ended up working out, and at the end of the day, from everything I’ve seen, it looks amazing. I’m surprised how well Bulgaria looks like Texas [laughs].

Martin got to see dailies while he was there. I’ve seen a little tiny bit, I’ve seen a few clips, but Martin doesn’t like anything [laughs]. Martin hates everything. And I can tell by the way he’s talking about the stuff that I haven’t seen, just based on what I have seen, he’s actually pretty excited about it. And I don’t know that Martin’s ever been really excited in over twenty-four years.

Painted design for Leatherface in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | photo courtesy Todd Tucker

Painted design for Leatherface in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE | photo courtesy Todd Tucker

AX: What else are you working on now?

TUCKER: Things got a little slow during COVID, obviously, when everything shut down, but after we did TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, this year, we did a movie for Netflix, BOO!, where we created twenty-seven different creature characters. I was in Atlanta all through November, shooting that film, and I ended up playing two of the characters, and then supervising and doing all the other characters while I was there. Again, they would only let us send one person. But I went on that one and oversaw that one, with Marlon Wayans. It’s got a lot of cool stuff in it.

And then we did a couple of thriller films, we did a lottery commercial for the Florida lottery, where we made six puppets, and I went to Florida, and puppeteered and did the voices of all those characters. And we’ve got a number of projects right now that we are doing designs for, and I am also about to direct and produce our next in-house film, which is going to shoot in April, and we’re prepping for that. We have some makeup effects in that, we have two old age makeups and a demon character. I can’t give you the name yet, but I can tell you it is a rock ‘n’ roll comedy, kind of in the vein of SCHOOL OF ROCK meets SPINAL TAP. And I’ve already got a number of ’80s rock stars in the movie, and I’m locking in some of my celebrity friends to come in and do stuff, and it’s a feel-good comedy with some characters and creatures in it. It should be a lot of fun.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about your work in the new version of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE?

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE poster | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE poster | ©2022 Legendary/Netflix

TUCKER: This definitely is, in my opinion, going to be the best-looking and best-photographed version of a TEXAS CHAINSAW ever made. It just looks big. It looks amazing. The shots, the camera moves, any of the digital stuff, everything that we did just looks really high end, but it still has that really creepy, dingy vibe and feel to it. I think everyone is going to really dig it. I think this is going to attract people that maybe aren’t necessarily TEXAS CHAINSAW fans.

It’s great for us, because the last lead character from a movie that we did was, we created Gargamel for Sony’s SMURF movies. Which was fun, because that was Hank Azaria. But doing something like Leatherface is a whole other world of responsibility.

I can’t wait to interact with the fans, and just see what they thought, and what questions they have. And if anybody wants to check out Illusion Industries, they can check out Illusion Industries.com, which is our website. We have a bunch of pictures from all the different films we’ve worked on, and as soon as TEXAS CHAINSAW comes out, we’re going to put pictures of Leatherface on there also. They can also check out my Todd Tucker official Instagram, and I’ve got all kinds of cool stuff on there, and we’re promoting TEXAS CHAINSAW on there, and as soon as that movie comes out, I’m going to have photos of Leatherface everywhere. So, we’re getting all prepped and really excited.

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Article: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: Exclusive interview with make-up effects artist Todd Tucker on bringing the new Leatherface to life


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