The true path of the artist is to create your very own path. To push yourself…constantly opening yourself to new challenges and to make artistic expression the very front of your priorities. Express yourselves, enjoy your successes and learn from your falls. When you get to the end it will all have been worth it.
When Sean Genders talks about his work, it is with complete allegiance to his art and creativity. He is unapologetically bold but generous beyond belief to those with a good attitude. Having worked as a makeup effects artist for almost 20 years (much of it as partner in crime to Jason Baird at JMBFX Studio), you can be assured that he knows his stuff. Just a few of the credits on his resume include The Matrix sequels, Mad Max: Fury Road, Kong: Skull Island and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales. Most notably, he was part of the team who won an Emmy award in 2010 for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup on HBO war series The Pacific. Today, he talks to us about life as an artist and the importance of relationships.
What inspired you to pursue a career in makeup effects?
Lunacy. A fortunate event. I’ve always just made things. Puppets as a kid… model kits. We were always putting on shows. My grade 6 friends and I put on a kiss concert. One of the teachers bought us the ‘Kiss Make Up Kit’, which in 1979 was $15-$20… a lot back then. There was a ‘trick shop’ opposite a great hand made candy store in Launceston where we would always go and buy latex masks and bits and bobs…stink bombs, glow in the dark skeletons. That store was a wonder. It was what you saved your money up for… at least until Star Wars came along in 77. Martial Arts became another obsession as a teen, but films and film making were always still there for me… I had enough energy to have more than one passion… must be all my fire signs or something.
When I was 17 I started sculpting. It was always creatures. I made a 1/1 scale Tauntaun head… and a face hugger in leather with chicken leg bones siliconed into place as legs. I started looking into film make up and after a little while I met Jason Baird through Jan Hugget, a mutual friend and mentor to us both (she had the only make up effects shop in Brisbane!). Jason introduced me to sculpting and moulding and I got into making masks and face huggers and skulls to sell at the Brisbane Riverside market. I formed a friendship with Jason that was all about making monsters.
What was your first job? How did you get your foot in the door?
I had moved to Sydney when an ’emerging’ effects couple asked me to work on a tv pilot for the Coote-Hayes series The Lost World up on the Gold Coast. Things did not go well between the company and the producer and they were no longer allowed on set so it was tasked to me, under the tutelage of Tess Natoli, to look after the ape suits and assist with prosthetics. She gave me my first taste of on-set mayhem and I think I did well, but was under-prepared for what it was. I must have been okay because Tess and I are still great friends.
At the time I had other interests, and that experience I hadn’t really enjoyed so I put the brush down. I studied acting for a few years, and had a kind of ‘band’ that performed Rhythmic verse. Jason Baird and I stayed friends and he rang me in 2000 to ask if I wanted to do additional days on Star Wars Episode II. Who says no to that? From that moment onwards, I started doing more and more with him. I didn’t want to leave Sydney so I worked on a film or two a year with Jason, who had now long since formed JMB Fx Studio. The Matrix sequels landed and I worked on that too. I think that was where I realised that I liked to help look after the team and began co-ordinating on-set for him. I met my first wife Tina Gordon on those sequels who was a great make up artist.
I started doing more and more with Jason, and a little bit of independent stuff on my own around Sydney. I still didn’t really see myself as a make up artist… more as an artist that liked film things. However, after House of Wax, Anacondas and a few more jobs, Jason sent me to New Zealand to co-supervise a 2 part teleseries of Hercules. I was thrown in the deep end of the pool, but I managed to swim and form some lovely friendships. I became friends with Angela Conte way back then, and also realised I really like on-set supervising. I like to work close to the camera; the pressure, the timings..and I guess the confidence.
7 years later Jason offered me a job on The Pacific… some ‘war thing that Spielberg was doing’. At the time Tina was slowly recovering (we thought) from a very hard fight against secondary breast cancer so I said no, but he kept ringing me and eventually I said yes. It was a massive gig. We had dead bodies, burnt bodies, floating bodies, dismembered bodies and more. We had to create 15-30 prosthetics almost every day of the shoot, as well as other hero prosthetics. At one point we broke into 2 units and Jac Charlton had to help run a 2nd team of artists. On the Iwo Jima episode we were using 120 litres of blood a day. We won an Emmy Award for that. I started to feel like maybe I could be a make up effects artist.
How and where do you find your inspiration for creative projects?
Everywhere. In my dreams, my daydreams…. dark corners. Other art and artists inspire me. Quite often if something comes to me I’ll google it to see if its been done, and if so how I can do it different and make it uniquely mine. I draw, doodle, scribble more likely. I designed and directed some music videos when I was living in Melbourne. I’d just put the song on loop and sit there with a blank pad and some artline pens. I’d scribble pictures that would turn into storyboards while the track played over and over. Music feeds my visual brain. Lyrics. Words.
Tell us about your history and experience being part of the JMBFX team?
Jason and I connect on a very particular level of humour and creativity. We both appreciate a broken down or weathered look. We both like to have a nice day without drama. We like to make things. We like to do well. There is so much pride in what we do. We continue to push ourselves to grow and keep doing things and keep making things. In some ways I feel like we are just getting started, with many more great things to come. JMB has had so many shifts and flows. People coming, people going. It’s an ever evolving force, and I feel that right now there is a great team assembled there.
It’s also been about the fit. I found a sort of symbiotic relationship with Jason. We have very different skill sets that compliment each other. I feel that Jason knows he can trust me. That’s why I am doing this, and why I am still around. It’s a hard thing to run such a big company with big projects. He is very generous. He mentors and has supported so many artists over the years and many have gone on to good things…some not. Many do not realise the generosity and just fall away. I suppose you don’t want them around anyway.
What has been the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
Meeting my wife Traci Duxbury at the end of The Pacific. My first wife Tina died several months into the series. To come out the end of it a year later and fall in love…that’s what life is about. It’s about the people. You can meet really interesting, left of field, people on film sets and can form very, very good friendships. I also love what I do, so obviously The Pacific was a highlight. Being one of 3 Australians ever to win a special make up effects Emmy Award was damn cool too. Making Slit on Mad Max: Fury Road for Designer Lesley Vanderwalt and Damian Martin was a long but wild ride… Pirates 5, I made some great friendships and laughed a lot. Helping Jason to create the looks and the approach of the prosthetics for the tribe on Kong: Skull Island. Getting to work on the film here, in Vietnam, and then to work in LA with 24 of their finest artists. I hope it continues to escalate like this. I do my best to live life well. Traci and I try to eat well, be ethical, and be of benefit to the world in our short time here.
What is your advice for artists entering the film industry?
It’s not what you think it is. You need an ego but keep it in check. If you find yourself complaining about ‘everyone else’ or blaming other people for things, then it’s probably you, not them. Be cool. Don’t be a dick. Be good to work with, respect other people, look for humour and know when to shut up. Have great hygiene and always carry mints. I know some really talented artists but they are difficult to be around in the confines of a make up trailer.
Be generous. Share your knowledge and don’t ever claim to have done more than you did. Some of the bullshit I see from up and coming artists on social media…it will stop your up and coming. Listen, pay attention and take responsibility for your work and your actions. Don’t take any shit (well, you’ll probably have to take a little, but if you are respectful, expect it back). If you do get ‘into film’ don’t forget about life outside of film. Eat well, exercise, get a hobby and find love, or at least look for it. Those that will endure in this field will be from those that put the most in. That is the great unseen lesson I can give… a test of character, a push of your passion and a triumph of your artistry and attitude.
What are your own creative plans for the future?
More. I’m trying to direct film but its tough, as the business of film making is getting harder. I’m finishing a short film now, and hoping to shoot another one this year. I’d like to design more make up effects, more critters and travel more. I’d like to live a long life, have a long career and a lot of fun.
To keep updated, join Sean’s facebook page Monster Makers & Flesh Painters here. Images courtesy of Sean.