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Guest Editor: PJ Starks Interviews Special Effects Creator Cassandra Baker

Special Effects master Cassandra Baker was the creative force behind 25 visceral on screen kills in our new film Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. Cassandra is hands down the best effects creator in the Owensboro area and easily a talent to keep an eye out for. Having seen her work up close it’s safe to say that she is the female equivalent of Tom Savini or even Rick Baker. From melting faces to severed heads and exploding rectums, there’s nothing this intensely dedicated artist can’t do. I recently had a heart to heart with her about working on special effects and found out what goes on behind that curtain of gore soaked madness she calls a mind.

PJ Starks: What peeked your interest in wanting to become a special fx artist?

Cassandra Baker: I have always been a fan of all things creepy. I worked for a monster props shop during college and unknowingly learned most of the basics you need for special effects. We made life sized zombies and clowns and other small props for theme parks and haunted houses. A few years after leaving that job I was asked to help with a zombie commercial because I had some experience with painting them. I was so nervous but agreed to do it. I had no idea what it would be like to paint a live person I had never met. The atmosphere of a set is so cool, i had such a blast being and knew I needed to take on more projects. As it turns out the doing makeup is more fun than working with props because you get to learn about the people you are working with. They make it enjoyable. Not to mention it’s a creative outlet with endless possibilities.

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PJ Starks: There is a stigma with special effects make-up where people might believe someone who creates blood and gore has a sick and twisted brain. What would you say for or against this stereotype?

Cassandra Baker: I think we’re all a little twisted, the people who make horror, the people who watch horror. That pretty much narrows it down to about everybody. That being said, there are moments when I definitely question my own sanity. I google some of the most disturbing shit sometimes for reference material. Just this week I have googled “gaping next wound” for a prosthetic I am sculpting for my upcoming project. I have hit my gross out quota for the week but I will still use the photos I found to make my sculpt as life like as possible. Ultimately my job is to gross the audience out, if I can’t do that then I have failed you as an artist. Or you have just seen more sick and twisted thing than I have.

PJ Starks: In VOBHS you got to create nearly 30 kills. All practical and almost all on screen. What was your favorite kill and why?

Cassandra Baker: I bounce back and forth with this one. I think it’s because I’m biased having known what went into the preparation for each death scene. Most often I will say killing off Moses Moseley’s character in Blood Bath. It was really unnerving to know we had one shot to get it right because of the way we had to set up the shot and the fact that he was wearing a white t-shirt we were about to drench in blood. I think I liked it most not for the effect, which turned out really cool actually. It was so cool and interesting watching him work. He really got into character and blew us all away.

I also really liked the severed head from Death Day Party. I hadn’t had very much life casting experience and what little I had was a while ago. After finishing the makeup and hair punching this severed head looked so much like our actress. Even she was creeped out by how much it looked like her. I was extremely proud of that particular project.

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PJ Starks: You’ve been in charge of creating the special effects for several projects from music videos to fan films and commercials. What has been your most challenging special effect to pull off?

Cassandra Baker: I would say the most challenging would be “melting face.” The fan film, “Fall of Grayskull” had a scene where we kill off Evil Lynn’s character by melting her face. I had so much research to do with very little feed back regarding the approach of this effect. Essentially I was given a copy of “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Arc” and told to watch the melting face scene and the special features as a how to. I started by life casting the actresses face, I thought that would be the difficult part but I was wrong. I watched countless youtube videos, researched a few dozen gelatin recipes because that is what was used in Raiders and this was the first time I had ever used that product. I also had a small FX budget that I had quoted to the producers at the beginning of filming before really knowing how to pull off this effect. On top of that filming for this particular effect was saved for very last so most of the budget was used for the rest of the movie. I spent probably a month hammering out the details of this thing and it seemed impossible to get it down to a science. I showed up to set with two copies of the fake head, a smile on my face and small prayer in the back of my mind that this turned out the way they wanted it to. They loved it and we were all relieved that it was over. All in all is was a fun project and I learned so much from that effect alone that I’ve been able to take into other projects.

PJ Starks: I’ve heard a rumor that you’ve been dying to do a zombie project. Is there any particular reason this sub-genre is on your bucket list?

Cassandra Baker: Because ZOMBIES! Hahaha! I just LOVE zombies! Do I need another reason? There are so many variations of zombies in the gore, grossness and in their abilities. There so many different ideas out there about how a zombie came to be. Is it a virus? Is it chemical warfare? Is it a mutation? What the hell is it?! I suppose this is the case with any monster movie really. I think I prefer zombies because that is where I got my start in the FX industry. I worked on a zombie commercial for my first FX project ever. I had such a blast working with the cast and crew that I knew I had to keep going. Shortly after I became OBSESSED with the idea of working for The Walking Dead and the TV series. I realized I had discovered my passion and a goal in life.

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PJ Starks: What has been the most frustrating part of participating on independent projects?

Cassandra Baker: I wouldn’t say indie film frustrates me, sometimes budget is an issue and it can be difficult to quote prices for effects that someone may want but may not necessarily be able to afford in their budget. I get frustrated most when I’m building my effects, sometimes I have a specific idea in my head and I don’t get the result I’m imagining. A lot of times though it turns out better or I learn something new and scrap the project to try again.

PJ Starks: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to work in special effects make-up?

Cassandra Baker: Challenge yourself, take on projects you are afraid of, because you are going to surprise yourself. Do research to learn now things. Splurge on FX products occasionally so that you learn how to use them. Build your portfolio and meet as many weird and interesting people as you can. You never know what project you will be working on next and it is important to have contacts, a portfolio to back your work to show them what you can do and the drive to be creative.