Master of Puppets

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The boldest name in special effects makeup, creature suits and props is Mr. Glenn Hetrick. The man who brought characters in The X-Files, The Hunger Games and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to life talks about those experiences, judging Face Off and the designs he’s permanently put onto his body in tattoo form.

By Nick Fierro   |   Photos by Chad Michael Ward


If you’re reading this, you are going to die. Sorry to break it to you, but somewhere down the road – hopefully far down the road – Death is kicking back in a folding chair. He’s sipping on a tall glass of lemonade and smoking a crooked cigar, just waiting for you to emerge on his horizon. Until that day comes, however, you’re encouraged to squeeze every last ounce of good out of the time you’ve been given. Actor and special effects juggernaut Glenn Hetrick is anything but a stranger to this undeniable truth, summoning motivation from it and applying it to his daily life, his mind-melting special effects work, and every drop of ink on his skin.

Memento mori, the Latin phrase meaning “remember death,” stands as a reminder for Hetrick, as it has to so many before him. He uses it to keep moving, pushing himself to the limits of what a mere mortal can do: summon a monster, turn a man into a beast and unlock the gates of an unholy realm with nothing more than a steady hand, an encyclopedic mind, and a significant amount of the world’s supply of silicone. Hetrick remembers death every time he gives it a new face and sets it loose on set.

Today, the phrase exists as the centerpiece of Hetrick’s tremendous collection of tattoos, a chest piece inked by Adam Kiss that serves as an expanded interpretation of the symbols that have been ascribed to the archetype for centuries. Typically, the memento mori contains elements of life, death and the passage of time. Hetrick chose to expand most notably on the latter, describing his interpretation thusly: “The clock on my right pectoral is set to the time of my birth. The left pectoral has no hands as of yet, signifying the time of my death. It will be instructed in my will that the original artist complete the clock by adding the two hands in the proper alignment after my demise, should there be enough of my chest left intact, relying wholly upon the cause of death, of course.”

Bringing unreal characters, symbols and archetypes to life has been a lifelong crusade for Hetrick, who, like so many of us, sat transfixed as a child on Saturday mornings, studying the science of caped crusaders and the seemingly unstoppable bad guys to whom they delivered a well-deserved comeuppance. One of the effects wizard’s earliest inspirations is a classic cast of heroes and villains that we, to this day, have not grown tired of watching evolve. We’ve seen them humanised and stared with wide eyes and clenched fists as they’ve explored the deeper and darker sublevels of what it means to be good or evil. The original Batman TV series is a good example.

“There’s a beautiful graphic nature to the costumes and wardrobe design,” Hetrick explains. “The elements, how they realised the villains on screen, and how real they seemed. They perfectly represented their comic book counterparts.  It’s better than anything we’ve done in a big-budget film to this day. I felt that that show did a great job of lifting comics off the page and putting them on screen.” At a young age, Hetrick was able to realise every five-year-old’s dream, to reach into the TV and play with the heroes and villains alike. Reenacting the epic scenarios on the floor with his toys, Hetrick began to dissect the archetypes and symbols of what made a good guy good, and more importantly, a bad guy bad.

Why is it that we remember the villains more than the heroes? Is it because they show us what we’re afraid of? Is it because they, despite being monsters, exist in a world where they create the rules, or do they just look cooler than the good guys? Hetrick was fortunate to grow up during the Golden Age of gore, the late ’70s into the early ’90s, the era of Kruger and Myers, and even the Leprechaun that used to be in Star Wars. For Hetrick, this was the crest of the horror wave that he was fortunate enough to witness, and draw inspiration from. “The way we regard classic music as just that, those high points in shared cultural history,” he says. “I think  you can say that about the late ’70s through the early ’90s of film, and the process of shooting on real film. The people that knew how to light the set, which is the real art; it’s painting with light.”

Among all of the blood-crazed lunatics, however, one series stood out. One villain rose above all others in style, in story, and to Hetrick, in mythos…Hellraiser. “Because the ’50s were so conservative, you couldn’t have a homoerotic S&M creature with leather and chains ripping people’s skin off.  In 1955, you couldn’t do it.” The imagery was so striking to Hetrick that he chose it as his first tattoo and the genesis of his full body concept, borrowing from his lifelong infatuation with ancient religions, shamanism and occult symbols.

The Lament Configuration, for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of watching Pinhead and the Cenobites tear their victims to shreds, is a puzzle box that acts as a gateway to another world. Just like a young Hetrick demonstrated with Batman, adult Hetrick once again reached into the screen and pulled out the monsters that captured his young imagination. “The reason I’m comfortable putting that on my body permanently is that not only is Hellraiser an entrance for me, it also introduced me to so many of the ideas that are the spinal cord of Clive Barker’s work, magic and symbolism,” he says.

Hetrick chose to employ these original markings as a sort of gateway into the world of tattoos, constantly adding and folding over and overlapping designs that stood as a personal totem and spiritual armour that has grown alongside his knowledge and his obsession with the occult. “That was an entrance into a separate world in itself which is ritualistic magic. The Hellraiser box did that for me. They’re so appropriate that they’re still featured in my overall body layout, and they were my first tattoos. They were literally the gateway, the entrance into the world where I would learn about the occult. Every other symbol on my body is a direct result of that original fictional puzzle box that got me into studying the reality of the symbols behind it.”

Hetrick fell in love with the art of the monster, the world of makeup, and the theatrics of a captivating character. Entering the field as both an actor and an effects artist allowed Hetrick to learn from multiple avenues and presented him with more opportunities than someone pursuing one single path. “There’s a symbiotic nature to the two,” Hetrick explains. “I think it’s harder for someone to be a waiter, or something that removes them from the craft. I always took the approach where if I was working as an actor, I’d try to find a little effect in the script, and if I was working effects, I would try to get myself a small acting role. They’ve always been parallel for me.”

This dual track pursuit of the craft made Hetrick a prime candidate for the Syfy competition Face Off, where he’ll be seated in 2017 for the 11th season to judge a new generation of artists who have harnessed the ability to reach into another realm and reel in a monster. As a judge, Hetrick has guided a new generation of artists who have been presented with the opportunity to prove their mettle on national television, painstakingly summoning horrors at breakneck speed. While the goal of each week’s challenge might be familiar to Hetrick, the process is something that gives even this seasoned vet the chills. “Those are 12-to-15-hour days and you’re seeing 15 minutes of it. Even the worst makeups are amazing for two days. To conceive, sculpt, mold and paint in three days’ time is absolutely impossible. It’s a different art form that they’re doing.”

Adaptation, the overarching talent that cements skill and vision, is what has kept Hetrick at the forefront of the field of practical effects makeup, never content to rest easy on past success. He has embraced technology, weaving it into his practice like another swatch on his skin. Hetrick recently partnered with fellow Face Off judge and concept designer Neville Page. Together the two have developed Alchemy Studios, an effects stronghold that embraces the benefits of computer rendering and 3D printing and applies these techniques to practical makeup.

In one of his most recent and widely acclaimed projects, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Hetrick has melded two of his greatest passions, body modification and practical effects. In the film he transforms actress Eugenie Bondurant into an ultra-modified human surgically altered to resemble the feline-esque Tigris, who was deemed too modified to continue her career in television. “We got to play with tribal scarification, tattooing, animal-like implants, and subdermals” Hetrick explains. “Their structure is physically altered so that they look like animals, But it’s all done with an advanced form of plastic surgery.  They’re not animal hybrids. I like that Idea.”

The transformation seems fitting for Hetrick, who has, himself, embarked on a lifelong pursuit of transformation, both physically and mentally, ripping from the pages of his own past and intertwining them with the work of his predecessors, mentors, colleagues, and heroes, to form a tightly woven ethos, an unparalleled body of work and an unflinching desire to explore the bizarre and un-navigated.