AN INTERVIEW WITH AN ACADEMY AWARD WINNER
Today's monster maker interview features Academy Award™ winning creature designer and monster suit performer, Tom Woodruff Jr., co-founder of Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc (ADI).
In our exclusive video interview with Tom, he talks about his early inspirations making plaster bandage masks in a small Pennsylvania town, his life-transforming move to Hollywood and his rise to the top of his profession - first at Stan Winston Studio and then at his own company, ADI, with partner Alec Gillis. Along the way Tom provides insights about his career making monsters, relates his nightmare on-set experiences and shares a little honest advice with any fans who might want to follow in his monstrous footsteps.
CLICK on the video above to watch the FULL INTERVIEW.
Pictured above: Tom Woodruff, Jr., and a signed publicity photo of Tom as Pumpkinhead, from the film PUMPKINHEAD.
BEHIND THE MAN IN THE MASK
Special Effects Character Creator Tom Woodruff Jr. helped create a personal film studies program and graduated from Lycoming College in Pennsylvania with a major in Theatre and Business Administration. After moving to Los Angeles in 1982, he soon joined the legendary Stan Winston Studio on THE TERMINATOR and PREDATOR. For THE MONSTER SQUAD, Woodruff gained Stan Winston’s support to portray the Gillman and followed up with leading monster roles in PUMPKINHEAD and LEVIATHAN.
Pictured above: The gorilla puppeteer crew from ADI including (left to right) Alec Gillis, Garth Winkless, Dave Penikas and Matt Killen with Tom Woodruff, Jr. in the gorilla suit.
MONSTER MAKING BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY
Tom’s earliest memories of wanting to be a monster maker date back to watching cheesy monster movies as a child and deciding that he wanted to “do that!” without even knowing what “that” was! In art class he made plaster PLANET OF THE APES masks out of plaster bandages for lack of proper materials or knowledge. The experience taught him one of the best lessons that would serve him well in future years, “If you don’t have the right materials, or the right approach, it doesn’t matter, ‘cause you just have to spit this stuff out somehow.”
Pictured above: Tom Woodruff, Jr. suits up as the Alien in ALIEN3.
LATEX & HOLLYWOOD DREAMS
“Getting a little bottle of latex,” Tom says, “oh, my god, that was amazing! Because now I could brush latex into molds and then it was shortly after that, that I found, in that same catalog, a foam latex kit!” And it was Tom’s father who finally said, “Look, somebody’s out there making those movies, why couldn’t it be you?” He moved to Hollywood from Pennsylvania and met the men he’d read about in movie magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland including John Chambers, Tom Burman and Stan Winston. As he puts it, coming from a town where the only theatrical makeup supplies was a small shelf of greasepaint at the back of a local pharmacy - “everything was electric.”
Pictured above: Tom sculpts the bio-mechanical pelvis and lower spine for THE TERMINATOR.
STAN WINSTON STUDIO - GETTING IN THE SUIT
After a few jobs and learning the ropes on low-budget movies like METAL STORM, Tom was offered a job at Stan Winston Studio just as Stan was preparing to work on a film called THE TERMINATOR. As Tom describes it, “There was an energy to just being in that shop, because you’re looking around and you’re recognizing things you’ve seen…” Soon, Tom started performing the characters he worked on, contributing from inside the suit to such iconic Stan Winston Studio creatures as the Gillman from MONSTER SQUAD and the title character in Stan’s directorial debut, PUMPKINHEAD.
Pictured above: Stan Winston & Tom Woodruff Jr. as Gillman on the set of THE MONSTER SQUAD.
Pictured above: In addition to creatures, Tom Woodruff Jr. is a MASTER gorilla suit performer. This is a still from Tom's Monster Performance lesson for SWSCA.
AMALGAMATED DYNAMICS, INC. - A SHOP OF HIS OWN
After forming Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (ADI) with fellow Stan Winston Studio effects supervisor Alec Gillis, Woodruff, Jr. went on to design and play creatures and animals in a wide variety of feature films and television shows. He shared an Academy Award for ADI’s work in DEATH BECOMES HER, an Oscar nomination for ALIEN 3, and numerous industry awards. His recent projects include special effects character creation for and suit performances in Universal’s THE THING and MGM’s ZOOKEEPER as well as the upcoming ENDER’S GAME.
Pictured above: Tom Woodruff Jr., co-designer of THE THING effects, tests the 'ice block' alien suit.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
“Whether it’s 30 years ago, whether it’s now, or 10 years from now,” said Tom, “I think the most important thing that you have to bring to a job is enthusiasm.” He urges young artists to give everything, every time. Because “the more you do, the more you can do!”
Pictured above: Tom Woodruff, Jr., suiting up as Goro in MORTAL KOMBAT.
LESSONS IN PRACTICAL EFFECTS
“I always approach every job as a very important thing,” Tom said. “It took me an awful lot to cross country and throw away everything in the past and start all over, so of course, I’m gonna try to make everything the best it can be.”
That said, Tom also relates a cautionary tale from his work on ALIENS with Stan Winston and director, James Cameron, that taught him a little perspective: Even the best monsters exist only to serve the story. The final product isn’t the beautifully sculpted or painted creature, it's how that creature brings the story to life that matters.
And few do it as well as Tom Woodruff, Jr.
CLICK on the video at the top of the page to watch the FULL VIDEO INTERVIEW.
Watch Tom’s lesson, MONSTER SUIT PERFORMANCE, an overview of animatronic creature, animal and monster suit performance.