Hollywood Special Effects Make-up Icon Talks Shop at Walker-Stalker Con 2015

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How many times have we all watched a film and wondered, how did they do that?

I had the opportunity recently while attending Walker/Stalker Con 2015 in Secaucus NJ to try to answer that question for my readers. Mark Garbarino, was there doing promotional work for The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials.

TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT had this to say about its latest release, “The Maze was just the beginning. After the harrowing adventure of escaping the maze, the Gladers’ find themselves right in the center of an epic mystery in MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS.”

Garbarino has had an illustrious 30-year career as a creator of sculptures, creature suits, puppets and prosthetic make-up work. Garbarino, a Pennsylvania native, moved to New York City in the early 80’s. Early creative endeavors included performance art and sculptural displays at famous NYC club, AREA.

It wasn’t until Garbarino moved to Los Angeles in 1987, that he began specializing in special make-up effects, contributing puppets for such films as The Abyss, Nightmare on Elm Streets, Hot Shots 2, Virus, Hellraiser 4, and Bicentennial Man.

He has done make-up work for Madonna and Busta Rhymes in music videos, and Jim Carrey in print work. In the 1990s, as special make-up effects coordinator, the team won Emmy Awards for the television series Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His film make-up credits include, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, JJ Abraham’s Star Trek 1 (Corporate Head Quarters) and Startrek 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 1&5, The Nutty Professor 2, Pearl Harbor, Artificial Intelligence, and Ali. China films include Kung Fu Killer, Jackie Chan’s age make-up in Forbidden Kingdom, Home Sweet Home, Fearless, The Mad Detective, Warlords, Three Kingdoms Bodyguards and Assassins, Special ID, and The Monkey King staring Donnie Yen.

Mark Garbarino: I’m not from New York. I grew up the suburbs of Philadelphia. I got started on my career here, though and thank god New York accepted me. I took a look at L.A. when I first got out of college and I wasn’t ready – there was too much culture. So I came to NY and worked at AREA, the famous night club on 157 Hudson Street.

RD: How did you parlay your night club work into the beginnings of the career you have now?

MG: A lot of work I did at AREA was designed to appeal to the film industry and to scratch their need at the time. Also, I wanted to have something I could show later on.

Mark Garbarino hard at work doing promotional Make ups for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials at Walker Stalker Con NY/NJ 2015.
Mark Garbarino hard at work doing promotional Makeups for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials at Walker-Stalker Con NY/NJ 2015.

RD: You worked with another make-up artist at AREA that helped you break into the business in Los Angeles, didn’t you?

MG: So I met ‘Screaming Mad George,’ a make-up artist from Japan at AREA, he also wanted to move out to L.A. George made the jump first and he held a contest called ‘Screaming Mad George 1st Annual Monster Makers Contest.’ That is what brought me out there and I at least got to rub elbows with all these famous judges. I got a lot of confidence from the experience and a year later I moved out to LA.

RD: What did you submit to the contest?

MG: I worked on this rickety frog and its eyes blinked and did all this stuff. Based on that, I landed a job with Lance on that show.

RD: What was your first project?

MG: The first thing I hooked up on was Serpent and the Rainbow in 1988. I wasn’t on set or anything, I was a lab person. I worked on a scene were a snake came out of a corpse and I had to rig the mechanics on it. After that I worked on this comical horror film called Return of the Living Dead.

RD: That’s a great film. I interviewed Russ Streiner (Johnny from Night of the Living Dead) the original writer of the script who sold it to Dan O’Bannon, I believe.

MG: Dan O’Bannon, right. I worked on that one, again in the shop. I wasn’t doing make-up. I did a lot of the behind the scenes stuff for them.

RD: How did you get involved with shows like Babylon 5?

MG: I got real fortunate on Babylon 5 because at that time there was a lot of work in LA. That was when all the Nightmare on Elm Streets and movies like Troll were made. So the bar was set real high and low at the time, there was Rick Baker and Stan Winston and there were lesser shops with lesser talent. I went in and I interviewed with Optic Nerve with 2 years of experience and they hired me and I jumped right in. It was an incredible learning experience for me because back then we were not union so everyone in the shop got to go on set and do something. I got to learn this style of creature painting mostly from John Wheaton. That was incredible. Most of the people that came out of that shop all went on to have incredible careers in special effects, about seven people from Babylon 5.

RD: What was it like to work on the movie 300?

MG: I did a lot of work on 300 but didn’t get much kudos for it. It was a different experience, instead of a big name or a studio it was more a gathering of a bunch of talent, which saved them a bunch of money and we got to do some great stuff on it. I supervised the creation of the big giant guy that had the blade arms. I also helped in one of the brothel scenes, there was a little lady boy Philippino with deformed limbs sitting in a chair.

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Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

RD: how did you get involved with Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials?

MG: I got the job through Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. (ADI) a very famous shop. They did all the Predator vs. Aliens and their first big movie was Tremors. I knew Alec and Tom from working together with Stan Winston on Alien Nation and Leviathan. Now we have a very good working relationship where if they get a gig they call me in.

RD: So what kind of work did you do on this film?

MG: As a make-up artist, veins seem to be very popular. Like in vampires going back to Tom Cruise, in Interview with a Vampire. So they are always looking for a new take on veins. Jason Collins is a nice guy who I worked with and he had his own studio, Autonomous Effects. He was bought in on the first Maze Runner and laid out the foundation of what things should look like, but they only showed it in a photograph at the end of the first Maze Runner, the director wanted something a little different like a rattlesnake bite coming from the source of the infection.

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Mark Garbarino while he was doing promotional Makeups for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials at Walker-Stalker Con New York/New Jersey 2015

RD: How do you feel about awards for your work? I understand some of the projects you worked on were nominated for Emmys?

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Mark Garbarino hard at work on the veins he talked about in the News Blaze interview for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials at WalkerStalker Con NY/NJ 2015

MG: I don’t know. I have a lot of respect for those things, but I don’t have the need for one. I guess getting an Oscar for something would be great! I received consideration for something I did with Jackie Chan on Forbidden Kingdom, he played this old man in a pawn shop who got shot in the head, then started another life, but from what I was told it didn’t get enough screen time.

RD: What work have you done on a film that you are most proud of?

MG: That one I guess … the work I did on Jackie Chan. I also did two make-ups on David Anderson on Star Trek 2.

RD: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I am sure all my readers will go out and see your latest work in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.

MG: Thanks Russ, nice meeting you.

Russell W. Dickson, lives in upstate NY, and is a Freelance journalist. He has written for both print and online news/opinion pages.Russell holds a B.A. in English, minor Journalism from The University at Albany, Albany, NY. His writing experience spans more than a decade and his work has graced the pages of newspapers, magazines, online news orgs, and political websites in both the U.S. and abroad.