Cinemax’s The Knick is known for its extremely gory and disturbing scenes that are sure to give you nightmares of being on a metal table in the hands of Dr. John Thackery. However, you can’t help but be glued to your TV screen every time he performs one of his gut-wrenching surgeries. After all, the procedures look way too real, and we have special effects makeup artist, Justin Raleigh, to thank for that. In fact, we have him to thank for many of the horror films and shows that are too fascinating to look away from including, The Conjuring, Insidious 1-3, American Horror Story: Freak Show among others. He won a Primetime Emmy for his work on AHS and has been nominated for work in The Knick more than once. So, in honor of the DVD-release for the second season of the Cinemax show, we got the chance to get inside the super-talented mind of the artist who loves to make us all very, very afraid. Plus, he gave us some pro tips on how to make the most realistic blood for your Halloween costumes this year!
Hi Justin! How and where did you discover your passion for special effects makeup?
JR: I think watching The Excorcist movies and John Carpenter’s The Thing, I was enamored with the idea of being able to create something from scratch just from your mind and getting to play Dr. Frankenstein a little bit.
I never thought of it that way! When did you decide to take this passion and open your business, FracturedFX?
JR: I worked 10 years for guys like Stan Winston and Steve Johnson and then there was a transition where one of the shops was closing and the right opportunity for a start-up. I was with that company (Quantum Creation FX) as the creative director for about 5 years until 2010 when we decided to go in different directions. After that I took 6 months off and then I organically started getting phone calls from people that expected to come back and work with me again. I had incorporated the business FracturedFX, but that’s the point when I was like “alright, let’s open the doors. We’ve got big calls and big shows coming, so let’s just turn this into an actual shop and see what happens.” It’s been an incredible ride and just grown so rapidly. I’m really honored for the opportunity.
Well, you’ve definitely made a major name for yourself in this industry and worked on so many different shows and movies that everyone loves. Including season 2 of The Knick that came out on DVD last week! Can you tell me what separated working on this show compared to your other projects?
JR: First of all, Steven Soderbergh is a different director compared to a lot of directors I’ve worked with. He’s behind the camera directing, he’s cinematographer and doing the editing and I’ve never seen anything like that. His speed and pace are just incredible and to work at that kind of pace in a very complicated show like this is mind-blowing. Also, doing all the surgical effects and the recreations for it were so heavily detailed that it was kind of a challenge wrapping our heads around how we were going to go in and detail these characters out.
That actually brings me to my next question. For this particular season of the show, what do you think was your biggest challenge?
JR: There were quite a few actually! I would say that with the knowledge that we learned from working on the first season, like learning how Steven shot, what type of elements he wanted to work with and having everything at his disposal, it changed our pace for how we were going to build everything [this time]. It put more of a challenge on us, but it was worth it in the end. For season two, we built insert elements and prosthetics all at the same time. As for the surgeries, the self-surgery was a big one. It was a very complicated effect to have him [Dr. John Thackery] working on himself while doing all of this complicated dialogue and not having a place to really hide anything. That was a huge challenge. The twins were a big challenge, as well. One, just making the prosthetics and two we also had to create full surgical recreations of them that had to breathe on camera. It was quite a bit of work.
Wow. It sounds like it! Which finished product are you most proud of?
JR: I’m definitely really proud of the twins. Steven shot a scene with the prosthetics and then he ended up just swapping them out and only using the fake bodies, which is kind of unheard of. A lot of people usually try to shoot around it, but the fakes looked so much like the girls that he got every angle he wanted. I would also say that the brain surgery sequence where he [Dr. John Thackery] is probing inside the brain is a very cool shot. It’s definitely disturbing to watch.
Wow, you do so much! Given the huge role you play in these shows, would you say that sometimes you get the inside scoop before anyone else?
JR: I mean, yeah! Usually, we’re the first people that are brought on because there’s so much to develop and so much to reverse engineer, from taking the actual surgeon’s data to trying to figure out how we’ll make that work on camera. We treat it like a 10-hour movie. So, we’re sent all 10 scripts, we break it down like a giant movie and we’re able to get all of our answers right up front from Steven.
Did Steven Soderbergh give you a lot of creative freedom or did you go by exactly what he wanted?
JR: Steven’s great in the sense that he hires people that he trusts can do the work. So, he does leave a lot of creative freedom to the artists across the board. He definitely has his ideas and knows how he wants it shot, but a lot of times when it comes down to how something will work, he’s relying on us to explain what’s the best way to attack this obstacle and what are the best elements and ways to do that. And if it doesn’t really work with how he’s thinking about shooting it, we come up with a different approach.
That’s great that you get the opportunity to work so closely with him and that he gives you this creative room. With your career, that makes things fun! I’m dying to know, have you ever created something so real that even you were creeped out by it?
JR: That’s a great question! I would say not really, but there’s definitely a lot of moments where I’m very excited how realistic it is or how well it played out on set. I always want to get the production vibe where everyone is just super happy and pleased, so when I get those moments I know I’ve done something special.
I’m sure that’s an incredible feeling! I only have one more question. A lot of people try their best to create bloody Halloween costumes, but no one does it like you! What’s your secret?
JR: The easiest way is to use Karo syrup (corn syrup). I prefer a combination of the light and the dark one and then it’s all about opacity. We usually add a little bit of white food coloring, a little bit of black into it and then it’s mostly red, yellow and blue on top of that. Small amounts of yellow and blue are to adjust the tone and the rest of it is to make it dark, dark red. I will say it’s sticky…but it’s the old school way of making fake blood at home!
Thanks for giving us the inside scoop and for talking to us, it was a pleasure!
You can get “The Knick: The Complete Second Season” on DVD today!