Essential Pittsburgh
7:05 pm
Thu October 31, 2013

Tom Savini Master of Special Effects Make-Up

Tom Savini sculpting "Fluffy," one of the grotesque monsters from the 1982 film Creepshow.
Tom Savini sculpting "Fluffy," one of the grotesque monsters from the 1982 film Creepshow.
Credit Tom Savini / Savini.com

Celebrated as the "King of Splatter" and "Wizard of Gore," Tom Savini is a legendary special effects makeup artist who has worked on dozens of films from Dawn of the Dead to Friday the 13th.

Now he passes along his passion with his Special Effects Make-up Program at Douglas Education Center in Monessen, PA.

The Bloomfield native recounts his early horror movie influences, his relationship and work with George Romero, and how his experiences in Vietnam shaped his work as an artist.

After watching Man of a Thousand Faces at the Plaza Theater as a child, Savini says he was hooked on Lon Chaney.

He remembers experimenting with special effects makeup in an attempt to emulate Chaney’s techniques. When George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was released, Savini was serving in Vietnam.

Because he was often witnessing death firsthand, the trip informed his work as a horror movie makeup artist and he says it taught him a lot about human anatomy.

He often uses these memories as a template for the looks of his characters.

“If the fake stuff didn’t give me the same feeling I got when I saw the real stuff, the fake stuff wasn’t real enough. And that’s how my reputation got started,” he explains.

Savini has watched the horror movie landscape change over time, both in Hollywood and in Pittsburgh productions. He welcomes newer elements of filmmaking like CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and says as long as there is a balance of CGI and actual storytelling, a film can be both visually compelling and emotionally effective.