A full body of work

Swansea’s Gordon Smith is renowned in the special effects industry

Ever see a movie and wonder how the heck they managed to do the makeup and special effects?

Just ask Swansea resident Gordon Smith. He knows how it’s done: he started it.

With his name attached to films like Platoon, Natural Born Killers and the first two films in the X-Men series, it’s no wonder his homegrown company, FXSmith, is renowned for its work in the field. “I can build wounds, blow your head off — I can do all that special effects kind of stuff,” says Smith, who recently showcased his work at the Revue Cinema. “But (when it comes to) real serious studies of the figure, distortions of the figure, 20-foot-bat-cow-things and all this kind of stuff, we need serious sculptors and very clever people to pull this stuff off.”

Smith’s claim to fame was pioneering the use of silicone prosthetics in special effects. Camera and lighting tricks had to be used to enhance things, such as painted foam prosthetics, to create the illusion of human tissue.

The problem, he says, is foam is an opaque material, but tissue is translucent. So in order to create the illusion of translucency, and with human tissue in mind, he got to thinking.

“If I want to create the illusion of tissue, whether it be a prosthetic or a dummy or whatever, I have to start with a translucent material, don’t I?” he said, hinting at his arrival upon the idea of using silicone. “It was a very primitive sort of thing, only used in breast implants and the medical industry.”

But it worked. And aside from the look, silicone was also far more durable than foam, and in numerous ways. A prime example of the difference in quality from the older foam-and-paint style to the use of silicone, he says, is in the character Mystique from X2.

“(The stuntwoman) spends hours running down a hall, dropping down onto her thigh and sliding underneath a door on a concrete floor,” he said. “She’s doing that on the prosthetic and all that we had to touch up was a little bit of paint on the prosthetic.”

Smith managed to revolutionize how special effects were done straight from his west-end Toronto studio. And when works like Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire film Near Dark and Oliver Stone’s JFK are considered, one can’t help but think it’s not a bad resume for someone with an extreme blood phobia.

Wait … What?

Indeed, much of Smith’s career was actually driven by his phobia, he says, one that stemmed from losing his father to leukemia only two days after he was born. But he faced that fear after a phone call offering him one of his first jobs — and at 20 times what he had been earning.

“They offered me to do the special effects on a film and reproduce five different forms of open-heart surgery,” Smith said. “My first impression was ‘Are you people stupid? Why would you call me?’”

To this day, he doesn’t have an answer to that question, his only speculation being that it was a mix-up.

“There is a godfather in my industry called Dick Smith,” he said. “All I can think of was they thought I was Dick Smith.”

He has managed to work on his phobia through the years, saying that one never really overcomes a phobia, but finds ways to deal with it.

It’s obvious Smith has made progress, considering he just finished showing off some his best work, including the replica of John F. Kennedy, over three nights in a show that was appropriately titled Bodies of Work.

Looking back at his career in the film industry, Smith sees it as both awesome and a bit absurd.

“I’m making things that aren’t even real and they’re supposed to look real — give me a break,” he said. “It gives you the opportunity to actually create the illusion.

“It just throws open the doors to creative potentials.”

About this article:

By: Shawn Star
Posted: May 11 2011 12:43 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto