V (1983 miniseries) Visitor Alien Effects from Leo Lotito Jr, Werner Keppler & Rick Stratton

Make-up Artist and Prosthesis Technician, Leo Lotito, the head of the TBS Studios Make-up Department, where V’s filmed for Warner Bros. Television. With over 40 years of experience in his craft, Lotito considers himself one of the more fortunate. He apprenticed his beginning years under the tutelage of Ernie Westmore, one of the famous legion of Westmore Brothers, Hollywood make-up pioneers.

Leo first became involved in the makeup business when, by chance, he showed Westmore some of his drawings and sketches. Lotito, at first, entertained the thought of becoming an actor while recuperating from injuries suffered in World War II. Upon entering the theatrical world he soon became disenchanted and turned to film editing. But that lasted only several weeks.

While working as an apprentice cutter he realized that wasn’t his game either. He then turned to sketching and drawing. One day, Ernie Westmore walked in to where Lotito was working, glanced over his shoulder and liked what he saw. Westmore felt that Lotito had promise and took him under his wing.

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“It was a great experience,” Leo explained. “I did everything. I worked with old mortician’s wax, learned how to blend materials, balance formulas and come up with the proper color and texture. I learned how to mold and shape latex masks. It was an apprenticeship of the finest sense. Too bad producers gave up those early apprenticeship programs. They would be smart to start them up again, you can learn so much.

“You know, today, Make-Up is not just simply applying flesh colored creams and mascara. Today you absolutely must know much more. You have to understand prosthetics, mechanics, formulas and a little magic doesn’t hurt either. It took us three weeks of experimenting and testing just to decide how we were going to approach some of the complex problems that V presented,” he said. The most difficult situation, Lotito felt, was designing the prosthesis and dummy heads. They had to look realistic when the scenes called for the alien’ characters to eat live rodents.

Lotito worked on the classic Planet Of The Apes films. There testing, retesting and endless hours of experimenting to achieve the right effect was a way of life. “Oh, babe, it was indeed a tough assignment, no bones about it,” he reminisces, “but I learned so much working with John Chambers.” Leo credits Chambers with creating everything spectacular on ‘Apes’. However, after two ‘Apes’ films, Lotito found it just too demanding and resigned from that assignment. Chambers, of course, continued, eventually winning an Academy Award for his accomplishments. “You know, on ‘Apes’, everything revolved around the make-up department. It was probably the only time a production actually worked around what we were doing, and that in itself was quite unique,” he states proudly.

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Lab, When writer Ken Johnson first explored the possibilities of having his alien creatures be reptiles, a lot of research went into the project. Johnson didn’t want the standard and often used early science fiction concept of a prehistoric monster. Various zoological experts and scientists were brought in so that the design of the V reptiles would be as authentic as possible. Details such as the correct way the creatures’ mouths opened and closed while chewing, head movements, eyes blinking, how the skin rippled and expanded when they would turn or stretch were given close scrutiny. When Ken Johnson and Charles Davis, V’s production designer, were 100% sure of exactly what their aliens would look like, Lotito was approached with that concept.

Leo Lotito
Leo Lotito

Leo had read the script, sent to him earlier. He immediately knew that the effect Johnson was looking for would require a great deal of prosthesis work. Prosthesis involves the use of artificial limbs or other body parts.

“Prosthesis is a very tricky thing in make-up. If the application isn’t just so, it will look very phony and out of place. Hell, your audience will spot it in seconds. It also takes proper lighting and a perfect color match to work effectively, not an easy task by any means, “Lotito explains.

He feels that make-up is a team thing and definitely not just a one man show. While Lotito heads the TBS make-up department, he does not consider himself ‘a boss’. He feels he’s only as good as the men and women he works with and always strives for a team effort.

For V, Leo explained, it took five complete sculpture molds and endless hours of working with actors and experimenting. Only then did he and Werner Keppler, his very talented lab man, finally come up with a workable model for every face needed. From there, latex molds were cast and again tested on the actors to make sure everything fit exactly before it went on film. There was no room for error. Since realism was the key, applying the make-up for actual shooting became a laborious, painstaking process. Usually it took between two to two and one half hours in applying and nearly the same amount of time to remove.

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On V, a make-up man was on the set every step of the way. Especially when the scene called for the actor’ to ‘break out of his human features and turn into the alien-lizard. Since the on-camera process could only be done once, the actors had to be extremely cautious. They were carefully coached and instructed on ‘ripping away’ the top mask of the human features, without destroying the underlying alien features below that. Professionalism on all levels paid off here. “Not one mistake was made, much to everyone’s relief,” Leo grinned.

“Make-up is very important to today’s films. Movie and television audiences are just too sophisticated. Everyone wants realism. Explosions, burns, gunshot wounds, aging. Years ago, if a script called for an actor to be shot or injured in a scene, well, most likely, the director would instruct the actor to let out a pained yell, clutch his side, or shoulder or whatever, fall down and feign unconsciousness. Then, of course, the audience would assume the worst and imagine the rest. Why, heck, today almost everything is subject to graphic detail. Blood, guts, gore and God knows what else. So, the make-up takes on a special significance. You have to give them what they want!” Lotito explained.

While make-up and graphic effects are done for pure shock effect in some films and programs, everything utilized in V was significant to the story. Particularly in those scenes where the alien characters are shown to be eating live guinea pigs, mice and parakeets. This, of course, gives the audience credible proof that these so called humans are not really quite so human after all.

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The illusion of having actress Jane Badler eat a mouse was achieved by utilizing a latex life mask, molded in the actress’ image. The mask was then positioned over a hydraulic, mechanized head; life-like in every way, even down to the blinking of her eyes. Through a series of cut away shots and camera positions, it does appear that she actually swallows the rodent. Taking it one step further, Lotito and his company of experts created a neck appliance that was fastened from just below the actress’ chin on down to her breast bone. This specially designed appliance housed three separate air bladders and was operated by compressed air, which in turn was controlled by cables and wires carefully concealed off camera. When operated properly, it gave the illusion of something whole being swallowed. Jane’s fine acting aided the illusion and the audience believed she had just eaten alive rodent.

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Rick Stratton was called upon by Leo Lotito, to work on the various makeup FX required for V: The Final Battle, the second of two pilots leading to this fall’s new SF series. “I was one of the first people hired for the show: Leo has a tendency to look out for me in that way, giving me first crack at things.

“Leo was the makeup coordinator, Wemer Keppler was the lab supervisor; any ideas we had went through him, for him to provide his very knowledgeable input, and to let everybody know just what was going to be done and by whom. The balance of the crew was myself, Terry Smith and Jeff Kennemore, all working in the same basic capacity; sculpting, molding and application of the prosthetics and so on.

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“Werner Keppler really deserves the largest credit for the face-ripping sequences. which are really a follow-up on similar sequences he and his crew did on the first pilot. Werner did all the on-set application, and everybody had a hand in on the sculpture and molding, under his supervision. My design involvement was mostly for the lizard baby, and the human baby with the reptilian tongue.

“The guy who created the series originally wanted something like the first stage of Alien. I wasn’t too fond of that idea, so l went out and rented a whole bunch of videotapes- Alien, Eraserhead, Humanoids from the Deep-to show them different things that had been done with babies. That loosened things up a bit, and we were able to come up with a concept that was sufficiently hideous to please the director. I then did several clay sketches of the lizard baby: the director thought the eyes were too big on my first design–he thought it looked too much like E.T., though I didn’t.

“I was hoping to operate the mechanical baby myself, but due to the union situation, they had to hire someone with an actor’s Card, who was also a puppeteer, Steve Czerkas. Actually, he turned out to be very good; we had a lot of fun with it, and he did a better job than I would’ve been able to do.

“In general though, things weren’t really handled as well as they would have been if the people involved were a little more familiar with effects, and at the same time you’re dealing with a TV attitude that says, “let’s get this stuff over with and get to the love scenes. That was a little disappointing, especially for the scene involving a ‘swallowing head’ I had adapted from Charlie Spurgeon’s mechanicals to show the aliens’ bizarre eating habits. It was designed so that the head would tip back, the eyes roll up, and the jaw would drop five inches or so, and you could drop a guinea pig or something like that down its throat. They wanted one shot of one of the male aliens doing this, and then they were going to shoot the woman. So l had the guy’s head rigged up, and they decided they wanted to do the actress first, so I had to take the entire thing apart and set it up again, They changed the scene all around from what the script had said, they didn’t light it night, they didn’t situate it right so that a hand could come up around it and look like it was her hand. And they shot it very quickly; of course, it didn’t look very good. On the first V. I was told that they spent an entire day on shooting the swallowing sequence; on this one they spent maybe twenty minutes and, though they used a little bit of it in the teaser at the beginning, they wound up cutting it out of the show.”

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Enterprise Incidents#22
Fangoria#39

One thought on “V (1983 miniseries) Visitor Alien Effects from Leo Lotito Jr, Werner Keppler & Rick Stratton

  1. The visual effect sin V were so good, especially when the Visitors skin got ripped and you saw the reptilian face underneath. I remember when that green alien baby appeared as well, that was such a gruesome effect!

    Liked by 1 person

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