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Student Questions

March 6, 2019

Welcome dear visitor, come inside.  Nothing here will harm you.

This blog shares behind the scenes photos and commentary on different Horror photo shoots over the years.  This blog is so old that some of the behind the scenes photos were taken on flip phones. But it remains a valuable resource for those curious about how I create my photographs.  I keep it online now for young photography students seeking more information about my work and process.

If you are a student, then you have my permission to use my photos as part of your class presentation.

I’m also providing answers to the most frequently asked student questions.

Best of luck with your own personal Horror photography!

Enjoy kiddies!

STUDENT QUESTIONS:

When and where were you born?

I was born in Emporia, Kansas in 1973.

I grew up in Kansas City, where I still live and work today.

Did you go to college for photography?

No, I attended Kansas State University and graduated in 1995 with a BA in English Literature. I began studying photography shortly after graduation.

I started with Polaroid, and then enrolled in a basic B&W photography course at a local junior college and began shooting film. I was able to check out cameras and other equipment and use the darkroom.  I put together a portfolio and landed an internship with a studio that specialized in big budget advertising photography. This was a crash course in large scale studio photography and advanced lighting techniques. From there I started working as a photo assistant in the photography department at Hallmark Cards. In 2001 I left Hallmark and began working as a freelance photographer.

What inspired you to get into photography in the first place?

During college I made artwork – drawings, poetry, mixed media – and after graduation decided to do something with Polaroid. When I did finally pick up a camera the experience was transformative. My mind flooded with images and ideas. I knew immediately that I wanted to become a photographer and dedicated myself to the medium.

Which photographers influenced you and how?

I worked as a photo assistant for years and learned many things from different photographers. My lighting is based on the lessons I learned during my internship. At Hallmark the focus was on emotional storytelling. Those early lessons in emotional storytelling became influential in my work as a Horror photographer.

As a young photographer, I was inspired by the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin, Gregory Crewdson, and Robert ParkeHarrison.

Witkin gave me permission to go as dark as I wanted.

Crewdson taught me the power of photography as cinematic tableau.

And ParkeHarrison illuminated the importance of meaning and metaphor in image making.

When did you get into horror photography and how?

From early childhood I always loved Horror movies, monsters, and all things scary. One day I noticed that there was no such thing as Horror photography. There were Horror movies, and books, and comics, and video games – but no Horror photographs! Why not? So soon after leaving Hallmark I began to make my first Horror photographs. I was inspired by my young daughters when I noticed that they suffered from the exact same fears I had experienced as a child. I grasped that the experience was universal and thought to myself: Everybody knows about the monster hiding under your bed, but nobody has ever seen a photo of it before. That was the realization that started me on my path.

Do you shoot other types of photography other than horror?

As a freelance photographer I say yes to every gig regardless of what it is.

But online I only share my personal work as a Horror photographer. That is the only work I attach my name to. For me, it’s the only work that matters.

What is your favorite thing about photography?

World building.

What equipment do you use?

Canon DSLR cameras (different models over the years)

F2.8 24-70mm lens

500 watt mini hot lights with dimmer switches

1000 watt soft box light

Metz flashes with remote Pocket Wizards

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How does the equipment affect the final outcome of your shots?

Unlike strobes, using small hot lights allows me to see the lighting in real time, which enables me to be more precise when sculpting light on set.

Hot lights also give the photos a warm glow and work well with fog effects.

I tend to shoot with a wide angle lens, which provides deeper focus for background details. A wide angle lens also makes small sets look larger than they really are.

I think fog effects are beautiful and reminiscent of 80s Horror movies.

I use fog machines every chance I get.

How has your style developed over your career?

I was experimental as a young photographer, but my style solidified when I started making Horror photographs. I like to try new scenes and ideas, but my lighting and overall aesthetic remains consistent from project to project.

What inspires and motivates you?

Horror movies, Tales From the Crypt artwork, the paintings of Frank Frazetta, and the films of David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick.

What is your process?

All my work is pre-planned. I start with an image in my mind that I want to create. If I’m working with a SPFX artist or crowd funding a project, I will make sketches to better convey the image. Otherwise, I write a short description of the photo like a movie treatment.

Considerable time is spent preparing the set, costumes, props, and SPFX before the shoot.

Once the stage is set, I block the scene with my performers and choose the camera position. I then light the scene, sometimes for hours. SPFX make up can also last for hours.

During actual shooting I lock the camera down on a tripod and then don’t move it for the entire shoot. This approach allows for more precise lighting. I shoot hundreds of frames of the same image in pursuit of the perfect frame. This also allows for easier compositing in Post-production if I want to combine elements from different frames. The background and lighting and focus will always be a match.

How long does it take to create one of your images?

Pre-production can last for weeks. Location scouting takes time. So does building a set. Finding or making costumes and props also takes time, and SPFX are usually an ordeal.

Lighting and shooting goes on for hours. I usually don’t stop until the performers are worn out and I’m convinced I’ve gotten everything I can from them.

Post-production lasts for days.

What is your Post production process?

I shoot a ton of footage and it takes time to scrutinize it all. Sometimes I get the perfect image in one frame, but I often use Photoshop to composite the best elements from numerous frames to create the ultimate perfect version of the scene. The process can be tedious and time consuming.

How do you build your sets? Do you tend to shoot on location or in a studio?

It’s a blessing to find a location. It costs less than building a set. I’ll often redress an existing location with my own furniture and props. Sometimes I can’t find what I see in my mind’s eye in the real world and I build a set. For many years I had access to a commercial haunted house inside a dilapidated school building owned by my cousins. During the off season the building sat empty and they would help me build sets inside the haunted school. It was a dream studio for me.

Who does the SPFX make up?

In the early years I did my own simple SPFX make up.

Later I began to collaborate with SPFX make up artist J. Anthony Kosar.

I’ve also used custom masks created by Jordu Schell and Midnight FX.

Where does your work end up? Exhibitions, promo work?

The biggest audience is online. Photographs sometimes appear in magazines, or as ad campaigns for commercial haunt attractions. I’ve had a few exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. I’ve also been a featured artist at different Horror conventions, Horror film festivals, and other fringe events. I was once even the featured artist at the Missouri State Fair.

In the end I published all of my Horror photographs as a hardbound book.

How do people react to your photos?

Many people enjoy them ecstatically. Others are visibly upset by them.

Shock, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a Horror photographer?

“The first monster that an audience has to be scared of is the filmmaker.  They have to feel in the presence of someone not confined by the normal rules of propriety and decency.” – Wes Craven

Figure out what scares you, then use that to scare an audience.

Don’t play it safe. Push yourself and push your audience.

Horror is not polite.

Take the time to get the details right.

Experiment. Practice. Repeat.

Making NOSFERATU

October 28, 2016

This is my new photograph titled NOSFERATU.

I recreated the famous silent-film image of Nosferatu feeding on his female victim in bed, but in luscious color.

For the vampire, blood is both feast and consummation.

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Nosferatu was played by Bob Barber.

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The Victim was played by my beautiful wife Jen Hoffine.

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SPFX Make-up was created by J. Anthony Kosar and Kosart Effects.

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Demian Vela was my photo assistant.

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Thank you to all of the Kickstarter backers who made this project a reality!

See you next time!

Making JEKYLL & HYDE

September 2, 2016

This is my recent photo project titled JEKYLL & HYDE.

I staged JEKYLL & HYDE as a triptych of 3 images: Before, Mid-Transformation, and After.

The classic story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1886) operates on multiple levels.  It explores the duality of man.  It functions as a metaphor for drug addiction.  And it describes the epic clash between id and ego.

Ultimately, the story is about the fear of the loss of self.

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The star of this project was Chad Hawks. Chad previously played Jack the Ripper for me.  I think of the two characters as linked.  Both are Victorian boogeymen.  They even share the same top-hat.

Make-up effects were created by J. Anthony Kosar and Kosart Effects.

Demian Vela was on set to assist.

Lab props were loaned to us by Pamela Coggins at Noir Arts and Oddities.

This photo project was staged in the beautiful Victorian home of Kent Dicus and Michael Ohlson.

Thank you to everyone, especially Chad, for making this project a reality!

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See you next time!

 

Making INNSMOUTH PORTRAITS

October 21, 2015

This is my recent photo project titled INNSMOUTH PORTRAITS.

I photographed 4 vintage portraits of the monstrous fish people created by J. Anthony Kosar and his team at Kosart Effects as a supplement to my new photograph titled INNSMOUTH. Because the story by H.P. Lovecraft Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931) describes generations of Innsmouth inhabitants going back decades, I decided to shoot the portraits as genuine wet plate photographs utilizing photo technology from the 1800’s.

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This type of wet plate photography is like alchemy and utilizes dangerous chemicals.   I recruited knowledgeable wet plate photographer Steve Wilson to come in and help.  I worked for Steve Wilson at Hallmark Cards as a young photographer. He was an early important mentor and it was great to work with him again.

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We shot the portraits in my home.  Kosar and I dressed wooden mannequins in period costumes and posed them for the camera.

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Steve used a powerful HMI light because wet plate has a very slow exposure time and requires a tremendous amount of light.  I love the idea that some young man from Innsmouth participated in the Civil War as a Massachusetts resident.

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Here you can see Steve manning the large 8×10 View Camera.  I helped frame and light our portrait subjects.

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After exposing a metal plate that he had prepared with a light-sensitive chemical coating, Steve would remove the plate from the camera and develop it in my kitchen while we watched.

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I think the singular aesthetics of the wet plate process lend themselves beautifully to gothic subject matter.

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See you next time!

Making INNSMOUTH

October 1, 2015

This is my new photograph titled INNSMOUTH.

This image is based on the 1931 story Shadow Over Innsmouth by legendary Horror author H.P. Lovecraft. This photograph stars actor Doug Jones (The Shape of Water, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) as the victim and features SPFX from J. Anthony Kosar and his talented team at Kosart Studios.

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In the story Shadow Over Innsmouth, the human victim is chased through the streets of the seaside town of Innsmouth by a teeming mob of monstrous fish people called the Deep Ones. The image of a sole individual being pursued by a city full of monsters is similar to Invasion of The Body Snatchers, I Am Legend, or any modern zombie movie, but exists first in Shadow Over Innsmouth.  As with my previous zombie photograph LAST STAND, INNSMOUTH is populated by a horde of monsters, not just one.

We staged the photo-shoot at Kosar’s studio in Chicago.

Staging the scene in deep focus with extreme foreground elements was inspired by my love for Citizen Kane.  Giving the monsters daggers was inspired by the assassination scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. There are no daggers in the original story, but Lovecraft does make a point of describing the strange gold jewelry worn by the Deep Ones.  I changed the gold jewelry into golden knives, so that my swarm of monsters could fish-gut their cornered victim.

We ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for this ambitious tribute to H.P. Lovecraft to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of his birth. Many talented people came together to assist me on this project.

My cousins Steve and Jerry Hoffine and Mike Clouse from the haunted house 3rd St. Asylum in Bonner Springs, Kansas built the walls in Jerry’s carpentry shop.  They are all big men and accustomed to wearing masks for extended periods of time, so they also flew to Chicago to play the lead monsters in the photo-shoot.

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Our friend Kyle Stanley helped paint the styrofoam brick walls. He drove up to Chicago to play a monster as well.

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My assistant Demian Vela transported me, all of my photo equipment, and the brick wall we created in a rented U-Haul trailer from Kansas City to J. Anthony Kosar’s studio in Chicago.  He also plays one of the monsters in the photo.

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Kosar and his talented team spent weeks creating the crowd of Deep Ones. Kosar acted as Concept Designer, FX Supervisor, and Lead Artist.

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Celine Collins at MonkeyWrench Clothing hand-made the costume for my star Doug Jones.  I wanted him dressed as a white collar city dweller – an outsider – to contrast the blue collar mob of Innsmouth locals.

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Doug Jones is famous to Horror fans for his roles in The Shape of Water, HellBoy 1 & 2, Pan’s Labyrinth, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Crimson Peak, and many other movies. Here you can see my wife Jen Hoffine adjusting Doug’s sleeve on set.  Everyone was elated to spend time with Doug.

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Kosar created an army of monsters as pull-over masks and gloves. With my encouragement, he mixed elements of piranha, angler fish, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon into his designs.  His collection of Deep Ones is amazing.

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Here you can see Kosar giving Doug the easiest make-up application of his career.

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In addition to Demian, Kyle, and the Cousins, several other volunteers suited up to play monsters, including Justin Gardner, Mark Lancaster, Coye Vega, and Dan Dudych.  Costumes and prop knives were loaned to us by Jerry Vest at Have Guns Will Rent in Kansas City.

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I used several strobe lights to ensure my  whole scene would be in focus at F/22, including a special battery-powered strobe inside the lantern. Thank you to photographer Barrett McGivney for the additional equipment, tech support, and behind-the-scenes photos.

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Spending time with Doug Jones is awesome.

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Careful framing and the liberal use of fog completed the illusion of an outdoor night scene.

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A huge thank you to my Producer on this project Chad Hawks – pictured here in red on the far left – who worked harder than anybody to make this project a reality!

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A tremendous heartfelt thank you to all of our Kickstarter supporters, especially our mega-backers Matthew & Dawn Cheek and family, and Alan Harris!  And a big thank you to the leaders of the H.P. Lovecraft community who helped spread the word about our project – including Aaron Vanek and James Knouse at the HPLFF in Los Angeles, Neils Hobbs at NecronomiCon in Rhode Island, Brian & Gwen Callahan at CthulhuCon and the Arkham Bazaar and HPLFF in Portland, Tom Jenkins, Mike Davis at the HPL-Ezine, Chad & Chris at the HPL Literary Podcast, and Sean Branney & Andrew Leman at the HPL Historical Society. We could never have done this without you! Hail Cthulhu!

See you next time!

Making MONSTER PROM

May 12, 2014

This is my recent photo project titled MONSTER PROM.

I re-imagined iconic monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman as teenagers posing for their Prom photos.

This project was a commission from Sony.

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Nothing captures the quintessential awkwardness of adolescence like the Prom photo.  It is the final game of dress-up before entering the adult world.

Monsters are the perennial outsider.  Did any of us ever feel more like monsters than we did as teenagers? The self-consciousness of adolescence comes with the realization that the villagers can turn on you at any moment.

There is a long-standing tradition of teenage monsters in the Horror genre, starting with I Was A Teenage Werewolf and I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, both from 1957.  Modern variations on the teenage monster movie include Carrie, Teen Wolf, The Craft, even Twilight.  Wes Craven’s Scream could easily have been titled I Was A Teenage Slasher.

My eldest daughter Arinna (from my photograph BABYSITTER) played the part of Frankenstein’s prom date.  She also helped me cast my project, and recruited several of her friends to be models.

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All of the girls’ hairstyles were done by Nikki Moreno from Vixen Pin-Up Photography.

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Candy Cunningham – Nikki’s partner in Vixen Pin-Up Photography – did make-up for all the girls.

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I staged the photo-shoot in my own home.

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The teenage monsters were made by J. Anthony Kosar, and his special-effects team at Kosart Effects.

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I photographed the kids in full costume on my set, complete with hand make-up.  Kosar provided fake feet for teenage Wolfboy, played by Wyatt Zirkle.  Wolfboy’s date was played by Fee Pauwels.

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I photographed Kosar’s sculptures on the same set, under the same lighting, to ensure that both parts would fit together seamlessly when combined in Photoshop.

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Teenage Frankenstein was played by Andrew Gleason.  Frankenstein’s date was played by my daughter Arinna, who also starred in my photograph BABYSITTER.

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My wife Jen helped on set.

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Teenage Dracula was played by my 12 year old nephew Nate.  His date was played by Mary Burke.

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Demian Vela helped on set as well.

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A special thank you to my sister Sarah who made all of the flower corsages.  And a big thank you to Kevin Kinkead at Boomerang in Westport KC for giving me such a great deal on all of the retro clothes!  And lastly, thank you to Margaret of London for inviting me to be part of this project.

See you next time!

 

Making LAST STAND

March 14, 2013

This is my new photograph titled LAST STAND.

It depicts a family about to be consumed by a horde of zombies.

The star of the photo is A. Michael Baldwin from the classic Horror movie Phantasm (1979).

The little girl is my niece Thea, who was also the baby in my photo SNAKE.

The mom was played by Erica Kauffman.

The other child victim was played by my daughter Sadie.

We built our set at the 3rd St. Asylum Haunted House in Bonner Springs, Kansas.  My cousins Jerry and Steve Hoffine did all of the carpentry and construction.

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Bill Rose and his girlfriend Michelle stayed up late one night to wallpaper my set for me.

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Here you can see Steve and Bill measuring the shag carpet.

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I filled the set with my gathered props.  Jerry Hoffine and Mike Clouse destroyed the door by jumping on it.

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Here you can see me talking with J. Anthony Kosar, who drove in from Chicago to lead the make-up team.  Beside me is my assistant Demian Vela, and behind us is Colin Mogg, one of my zombie models.

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Kosar’s sculpted appliances were marvelous.

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Meagan Hester flew in from NYC to help Kosar with the make-up effects.

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Make-up artist Jeff Sisson also came in to help.  Here you can see him working on Demian Vela.

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My wife Jen Hoffine, who played the title role in LADY BATHORY, also played a zombie.

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My favorite model Bob Barber came in to be a zombie as well.

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Brian Wendling, the man walking the tightrope in my early photograph DEATH, played one of the zombies attacking my daughter Sadie.

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Brenna Hoch and her mom Rita also helped with the make-up.

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My star A. Michael Baldwin on set.

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Me with my daughter Sadie on set.

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My brother-in-law Felix Mercader helped run camera.

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Zombie Davis DeRock biting Erica’s arm as she reaches for her pistol.

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Theodis Williams made the coolest zombie of all.

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See you next time!

Making JACK THE RIPPER

September 4, 2012

This is my new photo project titled JACK THE RIPPER.

It is a 2-panel diptych.

Put together, JACK THE RIPPER 1 & 2 depict the moments “just before” and “just after” a grisly alleyway murder.

What makes Jack the Ripper so compelling is that nothing is factually known about him.  Because he was never caught, we have no information about who he was or why he committed his gruesome crimes.  We do not possess a historical or biographical portrait, but instead share a communally imagined idea of Jack the Ripper as an aristocratic predator.  As a boogeyman, he graphically symbolizes the idea of the wealthy preying on the poor.

For the brick alleyway, I decided to build a set.  The walls were made from large sheets of styrofoam that I carved and sculpted to look like brick using a hot-knife and heat gun.

My cousins Steve Hoffine and Jerry Hoffine run a commercial haunted house called 3rd Street Asylum.  They allowed me to build my set inside their creepy building.

The part of Jack the Ripper was played by Chad Hawks.  He grew out his own muttonchops for the role, and flew in from Chicago to help me with my project.

The part of Jack’s victim was played by Celine Collins.  She is the owner of Monkey Wrench Clothing. I had previously drafted her to make the elaborate costumes needed for this photograph. She was already busy doing the costume work when I asked her if she would be willing to play the part of the victim as well.  She gave a marvelous performance.

My assistant Demian Vela helped with this photo-shoot, as did my wife Jen Hoffine.

Steve and Jerry Hoffine, as well as Mike Clouse, came down to help run fog machines during the shoot.

The rats were plastic toys that I painted.  I added whiskers made out of fishing line.

We added a fake torso and silicone intestines for the gory scene in Part 2, and a lot of fake blood.  In fact, everybody had such wet sticky hands from the fake blood that nobody on set took pictures.  Which is too bad!  It was a gruesome sight!

See you next time!

Making PERSEPHONE

February 29, 2012

This is the third and final photograph from my new project titled PERSEPHONE.

In Greek mythology, Persephone was a nature goddess who became Queen of the Underworld after being abducted by Hades.  When she is in the Underworld we experience winter.  And when she visits the world she brings with her spring, flowers, and the resurrection of life.  As both a Goddess of Spring, and the Queen of the Underworld – she exemplifies the tension between life and death.

Rebekah Whitt played the part of Persephone, and her SPFX Make-up was done by Shawn Shelton with Bandersnatch Studios.

David Greathouse helped with set construction.

The walls and archway of the set were made from plastic VacuForm panels that we painted to look like stone.

We dressed the set walls with fake foliage and roses, which were meticulously glued to the walls, one flower at a time.

Beki Ingram helped with set construction.

Demian Vela also assisted with set construction.

My wife Jen Hoffine assisted with set construction as well.

Beki Ingram painted hands and arms on 2 models.  I shot the model hands separately and used Photoshop to graft them onto the fake arms that I inserted into the set.  The out-of-focus hands in the foreground were photographed live in front of the camera, with the models kneeling beneath the lens of my camera.

See you next time!

Making PICKMAN’S MASTERPIECE

April 1, 2011

This is a recent project I photographed for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine called PICKMAN’S MASTERPIECE.

This sequence of images is based on a 1927 short story by H.P. Lovecraft called Pickman’s Model.  I was attracted to this project because of the character of Pickman – who in Lovecraft’s mythology is a brilliant but marginalized artist notorious for his horrifying artwork.  Due to the graphic and disturbing nature of his work, he is shunned by his fellow artists.

Pickman is my patron saint.

I focused on the moment in the story when Pickman brings his last willing patron into his underground studio to show him his Masterpiece – his greatest and worst work – the one that can never be shown in public.

What he reveals is too much for the human mind to bear.

Instead of creating one heroic image, I wanted to create a sequence of images, like shots from a scene in a movie.

The patron was played by Damian Blake.  He provided his own vintage wardrobe and grew a handlebar moustache for the project.  Here you can see Damian standing in for a lighting test while still wearing his coat.  The basement location was very cold.

The character of Pickman was played by Bob Barber.

My regular assistant Demian Vela, as well as my wife Jen Hoffine (who played the lead in LADY BATHORY) acted as crew.  Here you can see Demian running the fog machine and moving the sheet into position using fishing line.

Pickman’s artwork was provided by fellow Horror Photographer Chad Michael Ward.

Thank you to Famous Monsters for inviting me to shoot this project.  See you next time!