Who knew opticians and dentists were so important on set? I chat to two chaps in the business of special FX.
I have always been a huge film-lover and as I have gotten older I have become fascinated by finding out exactly what goes on behind the scenes before the shiny end product. We all know a film needs a director and host of fabulous actors, many of whom with awards season right around the corner will be starting to clear a space on their shelves for their next BAFTA. But I was keen to catch up with some of the unsung heroes of the film industry, the crew members you won’t see in their glad-rags on Oscar night, despite their hours of dedication to the films scooping up the awards.
Richard Glass started working on films as a contact lens technician over 30 years ago. The 64-year-old from Radlett kicked off his movie career with the 1983 Star Wars Blockbuster, Return of the Jedi and has since worked on over 130 productions.
You would be forgiven for overlooking the necessity of a contact lens technician on a film crew, but Richard’s handiwork has resulted in some of the most iconic on-screen-eyes. He transformed the late great Alan Rickman’s warm hazel eyes to the beady brown ones belonging to Severus Snape and his company even supplied the the icy-blue peepers of the Game of Thrones White Walkers.
Richard arrived at our interview straight from the set of Guy Richie’s upcoming King Arthur film starring Jude Law. But the founder of the Reel Eye Company, one of the largest suppliers of special FX lenses in films, isn’t the slightest bit fazed by big names. Richard nonchalantly admitted: “I’ve fitted Michael Cane, Johnny Depp and Robert De Nero.”
At age 18, Richard trained to be an optician and says it’s all he’s ever wanted to do. When he isn’t on set he can be found running his ordinary opticians in Radlett, which unbeknown to most of its customers, is also home to the Reel Eye Company. It is there that he and his co-director, Jemma, create unique, hand painted lenses that are so intrinsically detailed they take on average a week to perfect.
The average optician wouldn’t have a clue on a film set
Contrary to popular belief, Richard insists that the film industry is far from glamorous. He said: Sets can be a lot like building sites which can be problematic when hygiene is so important to what you’re doing. You can be expected to work to virtually impossible timescales, the average optician wouldn’t have a clue on a film production.”
He claims the industry can be chaotic, he said: “You’ll request half an hour, then suddenly they’ll say ‘you’ve got less than two minutes. Go.'” Richard admitted that he has come across his fair share of Prima Donnas but says that most big-names are pretty nice.” He said: “Often the younger ones are bigger Diva’s. Most are very pleasant, I worked with Tom Hanks on Cloud Atlas, it was his first time having lenses fitted and he was terrifically interested in what I was doing.”
The father-of-three said that you get the odd prankster on set: “You can be on set for hours on end and when I once fell asleep while on standby an Oscar-winner thought it would be funny to attach a prosthetic nose and ears to my face. I won’t tell you who it was but I can say I was shocked to wake up feeling like my nose had doubled.”
Eyes aren’t the only overlooked element of film making, Chris Lyons has been in the business of teeth for over 30 years and has amassed well over 400 IMDB credits for his special FX mouth work. The 53-year-old from Buckinghamshire leads a small team at his company, Fangs FX, who specialise in creating character teeth and facial effects.
Coincidentally, it was Richard who got him in to the business, Chris said: “Richard got my dad involved when he was working on Legend (1983) and they were having some problems with the false teeth.” Chris’s well known dental technician Dad, Colin Lyons, who sadly passed away earlier this year, went to help on set and the rest is history.
You might be thinking special FX teeth are only good for vampires, but you would be surprised. Chris has created impressive false teeth for a wide range of productions, including most recently The Revenant, The Danish Girl and Steve Jobs.
I can retire happy with my name on the Bond 50th anniversary credits.
The company provided effects for 20 productions last year alone, Chris said: “It’s too hard to choose a favourite because there’s been so many. I would say the one I always wanted to do was Bond, I was chuffed to do Skyfall and I can retire happy with my name on the Bond 50th anniversary credits.”
All who have seen Skyfall will recall the haunting scene in which Javier Bardem’s villainous character removes his false teeth, revealing disturbingly rotten Gnasher’s underneath. Chris had to create two sets of teeth thin enough for Bardem to wear simultaneously and the overall remarkable impact of the scene is undoubtedly owed to his handiwork.
Like Richard, Chris juggles being the director at Fangs FX with running a regular dentistry in Buckinghamshire. But he’s no regular dentist and spoke proudly of his movie-mouth creations, which are usually kept by the production company.
He said: “Last year we worked on Pan which starred Hugh Jackman and I’ve got the teeth stored safely away, I imagine they would be worth a lot but I’m not allowed to sell them.” He chuckled and added: “You never know, in a few years once I’m gone my kids might be able to flog them!”
So while the Spielberg’s and Scorsese’s of the world no doubt deserve endless recognition, there’s no harm in giving a little shout out to the unacknowledged grafters of the industry, keep up the good work fella’s!