This is an interview conducted with Shannon Shea over one phonecall; on August 31, 2011. You can listen to the raw audio recording of the interview below, or read the edited & formatted transcription further down. Please note, the audio quality is a little rough in places due to technical issues during the recording.
As well as working on a long list of Hollywood films; including Predator, Jurassic Park, Land of the Dead, Drag Me to Hell, and most recently Men in Black III, Shannon worked for Mark Shostrom on the Evil Dead II special makeup effects crew, creating among other things, the character of Evil Ed.
Shannon Shea with Rick Francis (aka Richard Domeier) in his Evil Ed make-up for Evil Dead II (1986)
So to start, can you tell us a little bit about your background prior to Evil Dead II?
Well, I grew up in New Orleans Louisiana. I was what they call a monster kid, it was really stop motion animation that got me interested in creatures. I saw the original King Kong on television back in the 60s and that really had an impact on me.
Then when Star Wars came out a decade later my fate was sealed, I knew I wanted to be in special effects in some way. I attended the California Institute of the arts, because I thought I was going to become a stop motion animator. I soon realised I didn't have any patience for it, so I turned my attention to practical creature construction while I was still at college, making masks and puppets. While I was there, I met Mark Shostrom and James Cummins. Mark you know, and James went on to do the special effects make-up for House and Strange Invaders and worked with Rob Bottin on The Thing. Mark first hired me on a low budget film called The Supernaturals, which kick started my career. From there I just started getting job after job. By the time Evil Dead II came up, I had already worked for Stan Winston, James Cummins, and Doug Beswick, so I had been around a little bit.
After I finished work on Star Trek IV, I found myself back in my little apartment in Eagle Rock, California, and it was only a day or two before Mark Shostrom called to tell me that he had just landed Evil Dead II. I'd seen the original film and loved it, I mean how could I not love it, it had stop motion in it for crying out loud! I watched the film on video in a dark room, by myself in the middle of the night, that was just a few month prior to Evil Dead II, and long after I had seen the likes of Friday the 13th and Halloween. I was shocked, because I heard it was about a bunch of people in a cabin in the woods, and my first thought was, "oh, this is going to be another Friday the 13th film", and it was anything but that! The bold camera moves and the imaginative effects really set it apart from what was being done in the mainstream at that time.
Shannon Shea's portrait photo
I really was elated to be asked to be part of Evil Dead II, to be working with Sam Raimi. My actual experience with him during my time on the film was very limited, but years later I worked on Drag Me To Hell, and he was every bit as wonderful as I had heard he had been on Evil Dead II
Amanda Bearse as Amy Peterson in her full vampire makeup, in Fright Night (1985)
How far along was the production, and how far along was Mark with the effects before you were brought on board?
When Mark called me, he mentioned that he'd also hired Greg Nicotero as his coordinator, as well as Howard Berger, Bob Kurtzman, Dave Kindlon, Aaron Sims and Mike Trcic; a sculptor from Pittsburgh that Greg and Howard had worked with on Day Of The Dead.
Shannon's 1985 Halloween make-up
I believe myself and Aaron Sims were the first to show up at Mark's studio, with Mike, Howard, and Greg showing up a day or so later, and we each established our own working area. Bob Kurtzman and Dave Kindlon were in Italy shooting From Beyond, so joined the team a few weeks later. Because of the nature of the effects in the film, Mark's plan was to parcel out the various tasks amongst the artists and have each artist take care of one of the major characters in the show. I do recall sitting with Mark discussing the various tasks; Mark would be handling Henrietta, Howard would do all the Ash make-ups, Linda would be sculpted by Mike, Aaron would work on Ash's evil hand as well as Henrietta's Pee Wee Neck, and that left the character of Evil Ed, and for me it was Evil Ed that really stood out. Sam wanted Ed's mouth to get really big, and of course in my head I thinking of Frightnight. When Amy turned into a vampire, that was so shocking and really well done too, because I hadn't seen an oversized mouth work that well before.
The Halloween of 1985, I had actually done that make-up on myself. I wanted to recreate that effect, but hide my mouth underneath, and that's where I came up with the idea of multiple layers of teeth like a shark or a lamprey, that would cover up my regular sized human mouth beneath it. It worked, and it allowed the shortening of the nose length to really exaggerate the size of the mouth. I showed Mark a Polaroid of that make-up, and he let me run with the idea.
Aaron, Mark and I, had all done illustrations working on different characters. I did a white Prisma-colour sketch black paper of Ed, which Mark went for. That tapped into something that had scared the hell out of me when I was a kid; the cover of one of my brother's books 'Tales To Tremble By'. I can't remember a single thing about this book, except its haunting cover. I'd also done other sketches, one was a lot more reminiscent of the CGI Mummy effect, where Ed's jaw just drops away making a big wide mouth, which looked good, but we were afraid it was going to be limited in what it could do. I did two colour pencil sketches; one of Henrietta that was too cartoony, and another variation on Evil Ed that showed a bit more than just his face.
Shannon's Prisma-colour concept sketch of Evil Ed
Tales To Tremble By published in 1966 by Whitman
Within a few days the actors began arriving for their life casts. First up was Ted Raimi, we needed as much time as we could as his make-up was to be the most complex, then Rick Francis, Denise Bixler, Bruce Campbell, and finally Kassie Wesley. Incidentally, we later realized that we needed a pair of leg casts for Bobbie Jo. Calling her back would have been a problem, so we called in my girlfriend Tracy, to come in and get her legs cast up to her hips. The sculpt-a-thon then began; Howard started on Ash's possession make ups, Mark started on his Henrietta sculpts, Mike Trcic began work on his Linda headless possessed Linda body, Aaron worked on Ash's possessed hand, and I began Evil Ed's appliances. Once Bob came back to the shop, he assisted Mark with the hands & feet sculptures of Henrietta, and Dave was 'farmed out' on a few other jobs.
Billie Hayes playing Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo in H.R. Pufnstuf, an US NBC children's TV show which ran from 1969 to 1971
During our prep time, I recall that Sam came in and looked at Howard Burger's possessed Ash make-up, and asked "do you have a stock Witchiepoo chin you can put on?", Just to explain there was a character in H.R. Pufnstuf, which was a children's television show, named Witchiepoo. She was a pretty classic witch with a long pointed chin.
When he asked for an even bigger chin on Bruce's already substantial jaw, and I remember Howard kind of going "oh, my god, we're going to make his chin even bigger?". But what we thought looked too much, for Sam was perfect! Howard also sculpted what we called the Mr Hyde make up. That was the make-up used when Ash's reflection jumps out at himself in the mirror, which was loosely based on Dick Smith's Jack Palance make up for Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, with those gargoyle style features; natural, but brutal too.
Mark put so much time & work into Henrietta. Up on screen it looks great, so it took as much time as it needed to take, but no one would ever do that now. That would be a water clay sculpture that someone would have banged out in a week. The minute you start using water clay, it dries out so you have to move fast. Mark knew that he was going to take his time with that sculpture, so he did it in oil clay. That was a hell of a lot of oil clay, just cases and cases! I was so impressed, he did a great job. After Mark had finished sculpting, Don Pennington was hired to make the fibreglass mould on the huge body. He did something that I've never seen someone before or since do when prepping the clay for moulding in fibreglass: He had Mark buy two cases of Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic spray and then sprayed all 12 cans on the sculpture allowing each coat to dry completely before going on to the next layer. I recall that it took him the better part of a day just to do that, but Don Pennington knows his craft where it comes to fibreglass, and the mould he made was outstanding.
The Linda stuff was mostly handled by Mark Trcic. It was the first time I had worked with Mike, and we became good friends after that. He was really very talented sculptor, he ended up sculpting the T-Rex on Jurassic Park, it's that sculpture that has pretty much defined the look of Tyrannosaurus Rex's in the 21st century. I think that Mark Shostrom had a couple of loose drawings that he showed Mike, but I think that the most part, Mike was given a lot of free rein to do what he wanted. We knew a lot of it was going to be stop motion, and then there would be the headless chainsaw wielding puppet too. One idea we had was that her face would be really smooth, very airbrushed like a doll, but her body would be just rotted, one of her breasts almost rotted off. Mike also sculpted the decapitated head appliance which Denise wore, that made it look like her neck had been chopped off. That worked along with a fake vice rig to make it look like her head was just chopped up and stuck in a vice, beautiful, great work.
As the moulds were completed, sculpting gave way to foam running. Generally Howard, Bob and I would do that first thing in the morning so the moulds could get loaded into Mark's oven early to cure. A few weeks before everyone left for North Carolina, Sam, Rob & Bruce came to the shop for a marathon make up test day. Howard made up Lou Hancock and Bruce, Bob and I made up Rick Francis. The only thing missing that day were the white lenses, but I was able to see that my 'big mouth' theory worked pretty well. I don't want to give the wrong impression here; there was still a lot of goofing off. I don't know how to say this because I sound like an old man, but things were different back in those days, we would work fourteen to sixteen hours and might goof off for maybe an hour throughout the day. I just remember we'd be goofing off and Howard Berger would be sitting there with his sculpture and shouting "some of us have work to do!". There was a short film we shot in the studio called The Death Of Gus. Gus was Mark's shop cat, and we made this elaborate crazy film where Aaron Sims takes the cat, puts it into a cardboard box, and tapes it up. Then you see us kicking the box and throwing it around, and then someone drills it and blood sprays in their face, but no animals were harmed, Gus was completely fine, he's the beloved shop cat.
Bruce in an early make-up prototype (1986)
Sam discussing Bruce's chin during the prep (1986)
Some of the possession applience variants (1986)
Bruce in his final possession make-up (1986)
How much free rein did you have over the own specific effects you were working on?
I would say that Mark was pretty loose with the leash. I had done that sketch, and shown him that Polaroid prototype, he knew what I was going to go for. Everything was quite rough for a long time, but Mark just trusted me that I would get it, and make it.
Shannon's Evil Ed applience sculpture; front view (1986)
Shannon's Evil Ed applience sculpture; side view (1986)
So first I sculpted Evil Ed's facial appliance which broke down into two parts; the face and the bottom lip. They both needed to be pre-painted so that the multitude of teeth could be glued in prior to the application. I also fashioned a set of dentures for Rick, giving him jagged, sharp teeth in his real mouth and I even included a set that protruded from the roof of his mouth. There were also latex finger extensions too. The white 'possession' lenses were handled by Larry Odien. Larry had researched soft lens-making techniques and had ventured out making his own lenses.
I then pulled a clay pour out of Rick Francis' head mould and began changing it to match the appliance sculpture, and I also replaced the clay ears with Flexacryl copies from Rick's cast. There were only a couple of things that I'd wished had been a bit different with the Evil Ed puppet. I think a lot of people watch it now and giggle because it's so outrageous. At the time we were really making an effort to make a cool puppet but we had budget limitations, which meant it had to do double duty; both as the version which had to spin around and swallow Bobby Jo's hair, as well as Chop-Top. I'm sure your readers know that originally Evil Ed was to be dismembered with the top of his head cut off. Sam wanted the expression on Chop-Top's face to be one of shock, but it also had to look ferocious and snarling when it rips swallows Bobby Joe's hair, so that's why the expression on that sculpture is kind of strange. The puppet ended up with an asymmetric expression, which meant that the Chop-Top head section would appear to have a different expression as the eyebrow moved up and down, so the remaining face looked shocked whereas the severed head chunk on the ground looked angry. I didn't mind it, I thought "well, it's okay, but it's not exactly what I'd wanted". There certainly wasn't the budget or the time for David Kindlon to do two fully mechanical versions of that puppet. We were only able to use Dave to mechanise the eyebrow movement on the Chop-Top piece that's was to lie on the ground via cables, and we just figured out everything else on our own.
After the mould was made, we produced two copies in foam latex. I seamed and painted the better of the two as the actual hero puppet, and the second one became Chop-Top. We carefully marked and cut the top of the head off, then made a fibreglass core to create the interior of the skull. We also hinged the jaw, just by cutting it loose and gluing it back in, so you could move the jaw from side to side and up and down. It was Mark who came up with the idea of there being this little shrivelled brain with cobwebs inside the skull.
I fabricated a brain by putting foam latex into a syringe and 'noodled it' around a small cut piece of upholstery foam. I used a plastic material called DuPont Elvacite, which they don't make any more, to fabricate all the webs. Using a hair drier and a chip brush I created the webs by stretching the Elvacite from the inner head cavity to the withered brain. It was really pretty quickly done, and towards the end of the schedule as I recall.
The completed Chop-Top Evil Ed puppet (1986)
The completed Chop-Top Evil Ed puppet (1986)
I was happy with everything, until the puppet came back from having the hair punched, and that was on the day it was to be packed away into it's shipping crate. It kills me to watch Evil Dead II and see my puppets with that horrible horrible hair. It literally showed up in the morning and we filmed as much test footage as we could there in the shop, while I did my best in to try and style that hair. Then once it went into a box and went away, it was like "oh well, that's it", and I couldn't touch it after that. Really, it just fell victim to time, and maybe I'm just too close to it, but seeing that just eats at my stomach because the make-up is so good, and Bob did a great job applying & colouring it. Then to cut from that to those terribly wigged heads, oh man, that will haunt me forever!
What was your take on delivering an 'R' rating, as opposed to an 'X' rating, and moving from the realistic effects of the first film, towards more fantastical effects?
I think that a lot of the toning down happened even prior to them filming. They were really concerned with the rating here domestically, they want to make sure that there was not as much red bloodletting as they had been in the first movie. There were a lot of realistic graphic effects on The Evil Dead, like the pencil in the ankle, but at the same time there were equally some fantasy elements too. There's a lot of stop motion animation & pixelation which really takes it into a fantasy area. When I first heard that Evil Ed was going to have green blood, I remember thinking "huh, really?", "well, it's a ratings issue, and people will get the idea when they see green fluid pumping out". I'm not saying it's thematically wrong to suddenly have Evil Ed with green blood, I just think that it's a reflection of that time. When the geysers of blood come blasting through the side of a cabin, some are black, some green, and red. I think that had it all been red, it would probably have been a tad more intense, but do people really have nightmares about the blood coming out of the elevators in The Shining. In fact, the only 'X' rated film I had seen up to that point was Dawn Of The Dead, which got a pretty hard 'X' rating when it first came out.
Micro-Phonies; 1945 Three Stooges short
The stooge upstaging italian baritone
Moe flicks a cherry into his mouth
Sam really dug in deep and used his imagination, doing other things that were just as horrifying but maybe not as graphically bloody. If you watch a Sam Raimi film, you can see he subconsciously makes Three Stooges films. The gags are so crazy and over the top; stomping on the cellar door and the eye-popping out and flying across the room and into Bobby Joe's mouth, if Curly Larry & Moe had done this same thing you'd be laughing! By today's standards Evil Dead II is so light, but I don't think it takes away from the impact of the film, because I think that story wise and situation-wise, it's so incredibly entertaining that it doesn't really matter. For it's lack of gore, the film makes up with it with a lot of imaginative set pieces. I loved Linda coming back from the dead, the stop motion dance, it's those moments that set this film apart from other genre pictures that were being done at the time.
He chokes, but continues singing
They retaliate; "Let's give him a salvo"
Ending his song in a coughing fit
After the 12 weeks preproduction time in California, you didn't go to the set in North Carolina with the rest of the effects team. Was your involvement with the film finished?
It was, and it wasn't. It was with Mark Shostrom, but then I went on to work for Ellis 'Sonny' Burman at Cosmekinetics in Northridge, California.
Sonny had been hired by the production to make some specific props; A giant Evil Tree puppet, three miniature Evil Tree hand puppets, the Evil Deer Trophy Head for 'the laughing room' scene, and the iconic chainsaw that Ash uses to replace his dismembered hand. While I was still with Mark, a make-up effects artist named Scott Wheeler showed up with a mould for the Evil Deer Trophy Head which he had sculpted at Sonny Burman's. I had worked with Scott on a previous film called Invaders From Mars. I don't remember how we got in touch, but we ran the foam for that mould at Mark's studio, and then Scott took it back to Sonny's so he could paint it, and hand-lay crepe wool for the fur. Once I had completed everything at Mark's and they all went to North Carolina, I was asked to move over to Sonny's to continue working on Evil Dead II. Incidentally, Scott went to work down in North Carolina too, while I remained in the shop with Sonny.
Ash's working 'hand' chainsaw, created by Ellis 'Sonny' Burman at Cosmekinetics in Northridge, California (1986)
The chainsaws were already done He'd made at least three versions of this saw for different purposes, all expertly aged and matching one another. There was the hero chainsaw without a chain, a light-weight smoking shell, and a soft stunt version too. There may have been more, but it's been a long time. I do remember him and starting up one of them in the shop.
Arriving to work my first Monday, I was greeted by the sight of a casting of the full-sized Evil Tree puppet. It was only 1/2 around and roughly about four feet in diameter. While there, I ran all of foam latex for the miniature puppets, and helped finish off some of the things that were shipped down to North Carolina later. There were four foam latex moulds, all made from pink Tool Stone. Three of them were the miniature Evil Tree puppets complete with hand positives in puppeteering poses, and the other was the Evil Deer Trophy Head. There was one effect which Sam requested that wouldn't get made until reshoots later that year; a practical over-sized Bruce Campbell head that would have a 'hollow eye' that could be filled and drained with white fluid to simulate the eye metamorphosis during possession. This was for an insert shot where Ash's eye turns from white to dark. Bob built that after they had completed principal photography and all returned from location. This wasn't a whole head, just a section of his eye, and part of his face. The features were foreshortened, kind of flattened, which had something to do with the depth of field of the camera lens.
I did think Sonny doing the Evil Tree puppet was a little strange, since Tony Gardner had been hired to do the giant rotten apple head and the big mechanical branch. I think Tony was working out of Doug Beswick's studio back then, I had worked with Tony and Doug on Aliens, prior to Evil Dead II.
A promo shot; Kassie Wesley DePaiva with the Evil Tree puppet (1986)
I actually suggested they go to Doug Beswick while Sam & Rob were talking with Mark about the stop motion sequences with Linda. I'll never forget Rob Tapert saying "Doug Beswick, that guy is going to be too expensive", but they did, and he did a great job. Doug Beswick, Tony Gardner, Sonny Burman, there was a lot of communication between shops back in those days, and so that's probably why it made sense that I moved over to Sonny's.
Rotten Apple Head (Left side)
Rotten Apple Head in the cabin set for Evil Dead II (1986)
Rotten Apple Head (Right side)
Why didn't you join the rest of the team in North Carolina, and did you ever regret it?
I didn't regret not going down to North Carolina. I was the only crew member that was living with their girlfriend if that means anything. I think it was better that Bob Kurtzman went rather than me. Bob is a much better make up artist that I ever was.
The Monster Squad US 1-Sheet poster (1987)
I knew that if he applied the Evil Ed make-up, it would look better and take far less time than if I was there sweating my butt off struggling to blend foam edges down. After Evil Dead II, I went back to work at Stan Winston's shop, and was there from Monster Squad all the way though to Jurassic Park, although I took a year off in the middle there somewhere to do some other pictures. Then I moved over to KNB, I was one of their project supervisors for about 10 years, until I left the company last year, to work for Rick Baker on Men In Black III. Working with Rick was a longstanding a dream of mine, and it's taken a long time, but I'm glad I've finally done it.
You know, back when I first started out, the make-up effects community at the beginning was rather small, then by the mid to late 80s it became huge, so many people, and now it's getting back to being small again. When I was first starting out there weren't really any make-up effects schools, just different camps of people you could go to, unofficial schools; John Buechler's, Make-up Effects Labs, or Mark Shostrom, and whole groups of people then filtered through into the larger studios like Rick Baker, Stan Winston, and Rob Bottin. I've got a 22-year-old daughter now and she's making $15 an hour. I was making $200 a week when I was 22 years old, and was happy to have it, because I was doing what I wanted to do, and still count myself very lucky. Sculpting creatures for Evil Dead II, and even Jurassic Park and Predator. I ran Predator for Stan Winston when I was 24 years old. It was that show which made me a lifer; gave me my permanent employee papers, which at the time was unheard of with the exception of Rick Baker, no one had permanent employment.
Did you have any involvement with Army Of Darkness?
Unfortunately while KNB were doing Army Of Darkness, I was on Jurassic Park, so no. I enjoyed a long friendship with KNB, and when they told me what they were doing on Army Of Darkness it blew my mind, I just couldn't imagine what they had planned. I was really excited to see what they were doing, and I did go by the shop and see them building all the Deadites and things. I finally got to see Army Of Darkness at the theatre, and was just blown away, I thought it was great. That film is one of the most watchable movies I have in my collection. I know there's some gory stuff and things that may not be appropriate for children, but that film is a classic, it's just way up there.
What are you views on The Evil Dead remake, will the creativity of the original's physical effects be replaced by CGI?
I am curious about The Evil Dead remake. If you look at The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army Of Darkness, they're all really effective entertaining films, but would say that the first is probably more unnerving than the second one, and the third even less so. I mean, they are entertaining as hell, don't get me wrong, I love them all, but I think that this next one will probably be even less unnerving than the three prior, because it'll probably be a lot of digital effects, who knows, but that's my guess.
When people talk about practical effects being replaced by CGI, and the difference between stop motion, miniatures and matte painting with CGI versus make-up effects. The difference is we were always pre-production and production, those other disciplines were always post-production. We will always live on set, and to say "well there's no difference", well there is a huge difference, doing something in front of the camera on set for 20 years, and suddenly not doing it, it's quite frustrating. Back in the good old-bad-old-days they would have a script with creatures, and they would go to the creature effects people about the same time they were hiring their DPs and art directors, they knew we needed the lead time.
When I worked in a film called The Eighteenth Angel in Italy, I met an old set painter who told me that when he was 19 years old, he had painted the giant bronze statues for Ben Hur, and he even had photos, and he really wasn't kidding! This 19-year-old scrawny Italian guy painted the whole thing with giant brushes. When the actors & crew see something physical on set, I think it transfers through the film.
The remake logo; slated for shooting in New Zealand, March 2012
That's maybe the reason why stop motion isn't dead. 15 years ago everyone predicted stop motion was dead, Jurassic Park was the pinnacle. Now stop motion has become a really great effect of storytelling tool, because when you see those miniature things running around it really translates. I think Sam is a really bold filmmaker, and when you let him do what he wants you end up with something that doesn't feel like everything else that's being done. He has a really great fingerprint which it defines his pictures, like Hitchcock, James Cameron, or Stephen Spielberg, I think that he's every bit as iconic. We would always attempt to do as much as we could practically because he liked to see it, he doesn't want to leave it to someone else to figure it out later on a computer, he wants it on set, and god bless him we did as much as we could! Few people know that for Spiderman III, he hired KNB to build a skeleton puppet for Venom's death, and we literally built, like an old Vincent Price House On Haunted Hill skeleton rod puppet, and he had us study movements of the actor; Topher Grace, we rehearsed and we did exactly what he did, but then the ending was changed and the whole thing was cut out, but Sam really wanted that skeleton puppet on set, and that's just the way he is, I really admire it
Rick Francis (aka Richard Domeier) in Shannon's full Evil Ed make-up for Evil Dead II (1986)
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Well thank you, it was a very defining show in my very long career. This September will be 28 years of me doing this, and I had no idea that it would follow me around as much as it has so it's been very rewarding and I was very happy to have the opportunity to do it.