Mike Elizalde has since on over 80 feature films, including X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY and LOOPER. Elizalde and his wife Mary established Spectral Motion Incorporated in 1994. Mike worked under the company’s moniker with such top-level effects companies as Rick Baker’s Cinovation and Stan Winston Studio in the years that followed.
Today, Spectral Motion is recognized as one of the leading makeup and creature effects studios in the industry. Mike received an Academy Award Nomination for his work on HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY. He won a Saturn Award in 2004 for his work on the first HELLBOY film.
How were you introduced to GdT’s work?
My first brush with Guillermo’s work was MIMIC. I have to admit that I didn’t like the movie when I first saw it but later, I had the chance to see it again. On second viewing, I paid more attention to the cinematic aspects and the real artistry behind the creation of the film. I found the merits in those areas far outweighed any shortcomings I had initially perceived. I became intrigued by his work and sought out other titles. I found CRONOS and after I saw that, I was hooked. I loved that movie.
How were you approached about working with GdT?
The first time I had the opportunity to meet Guillermo, I was working at Steve Johnson’s Edge FX as the lead animatronic designer on Blade II. I had just finished machining some eye mechanism components when I saw Steve ushering Guillermo into the mechanical shop. I felt that rush you feel when you know you are about to meet someone you hold as inspirational. I tempered that with the knowledge that your heroes are not always what you expect them to be and can be a bit of a disappointment. As soon as I shook his hand, I knew that would not be the case with him. He and I clicked right away. I found him to be affable, funny, humble and grandiose, all at once. The second time we met I received a bear hug that has become the greeting we’ve shared since then. After the initial meeting, it was responsible for traveling to the set and leading the puppeteering team for the Reaper puppets. Guillermo and I grew to be good friends on the shoot. A couple of years later he approached me with the script for HELLBOY. The rest, as they say, is history.
What is like to work with GdT?
Working with Guillermo is incredibly satisfying and rewarding. He is a demanding director in that he never leaves a stone unturned. The challenges of working with a perfectionist are many but the results are unforgettable. I feel that our success as a company is due, in no small part, to the pantheon of memorable characters we have created under his watchful eye. Indeed, we owe a great debt of gratitude to Guillermo for the very existence of Spectral Motion.
Favorite GdT project?
I have two. One because it is close to my heart and the other because it is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen. The first is HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY. That film, more than any other, allowed me and my team to experience vast creative freedom while realizing an enviable number of amazing characters in just one film. It was the film that earned my team and me an Academy Award nomination. The second one I think might be obvious. It is Pan’s Labyrinth. It is poetry for the eyes. So many others before me have expounded so eloquently on the beauty of this film that I dare not attempt to follow their words here. Suffice it to say that I was profoundly moved by the epic beauty and horror of what I consider to be his Magnum Opus.
Talk a little bit about being an advocate of practical effects over computer generated effects?
Well, this is a discussion that has raged for quite some time now. I am not against CG. I am in favor of intelligent use of any asset, tool, discipline, or whatever. What I don’t like is misuse/overuse of digital effects, which is unfortunately, rampant in the film making business. I attribute that to many factors. One of them is a lack of experience with good practical effects. Once you’ve had the experience of working on a set with real effects that work, look great, and actually carry their share of a scene/story, you get it. If you haven’t had that experience it is understandable why so many film makers choose digital over physical effects. Other reasons for favoring CG over physical include embracing a new(ish) technology, studio mandates, and even just good old fashioned laziness. There are equal opportunities for both of these wonderful technologies to co-exist in peace and harmony. It takes an intelligent and informed director to make the right choices. Whenit comes to my arena, that is creatures and makeup effects, I always prefer molecules over pixels.
Also talk about your advocacy for keeping jobs in California/domestically?
I’ve been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to become involved with a push for getting some of the runaway production that we’ve experienced in California over the past two decades, back home where it belongs. I’m working closely with Sue Ebert, the president of I.A.T.S.E. Local 706 (Makeup Artists and Hairstylists), and the rest of I.A.T.S.E. toward the goal of creating competitive tax incentives for film and television in California. We traveled to Sacramento last week to lobby for Assembly Bill 1839 which would expand the existing incentive package to a competitive level with states like Louisiana, Georgia, New York, and North Carolina, among many others. Our efforts lobbying outside of the Assembly floor yielded a 74-0 unanimous vote in favor of the bill. Prior to this victory, the bill cleared three committees with similar results. I will be heading back to Sacramento this month to lobby before the State Senate. When the bill passes the senate vote, it will go on to Governor Brown’s desk. We have written many letters, called many offices and have spoken directly to our state leadership to let them know that we won’t stand idly by while one of California’s iconic industries slips away due to inaction. California needs to keep Hollywood in Hollywood and I am doing whatever I can to preserve that legacy.
Of your body of work,what has been the most difficult/most fun?
Back to Hellboy II for both questions!
Gives an update on your son Erik’s film GRIM MOUNTAIN
Grim Mountain, for those who do not know, is the brainchild of my son Erik. I was in Berlin working on Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters when I received a call from him telling me that he wanted to make a grind-house style zombie puppet movie. I loved the idea and told him he had my full support. Originally, he wanted to do the film with marionettes like Team America was done. After we started developing the puppets here at Spectral, Kevin McTurk had a chance to talk with Erik about his (Kevin’s) puppet film The Narrative of Victor Karloch”, and explained to Erik that because of the difficulties and challenges of working with marionettes, he (Kevin) opted to use rod puppets instead. Erik chose to go with Kevin’s advice. We put the word out to the artistic community and were overwhelmed with so many generous individuals who sculpted zombie heads to be used in the film. Today, Grim Mountain is charging ahead! We registered the script with the DGA. We just submitted the script to a line producer friend of mine who will be doing all of our scheduling and budgeting. We are fortunate to have and Angel Investor interested in the project. We will find the right avenues to fully fund the film as we move forward.
What is in your Cabinet of Curiosities /ManCave.
My Man Cave is filled with magic props, posters and memorabilia. In addition to being a die-hard monster fan, I have also always loved magic. Especially the history of magic’s golden era. Names like Kellar, Thurston, Chung Ling Soo, Robert-Houdin, and Houdini, always held me spellbound as a kid. I spent a lot of my time as a kid in a magic factory called Owen Magic Supreme. They built props for very famous magicians in the mid 70s including Doug Henning, Harry Blackstone Jr., and David Copperfield. I was fortunate enough to be there when they showed up so I got to meet them and many other famous magicians.
What are your hobbies?
Magic and writing. Erik and I wrote the Grim Mountain script together.
What do you geek out about?
I geek out about funny people. When I first met Jack Black I was surprised by my own reaction. I was giddy. I feel that way about anyone who is willing to put everything on the line for a laugh. That takes balls in my book. You should have seen me on the set of Anchorman 2! I met so many of my favorite comedy actors including Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn, Greg Kinnear, The list goes on and on. So yeah, that’s what I geek out about. That, and Universal Monsters! The good old black and white ones.
What are you working on now?
We’ve got a couple of really cool scripts we are looking at that I can’t mention but in addition to that, we recently created a dynamic dancing female robotic figure for artist Jordan Wolfson which created quite a stir (ed. note: see below). We’ve also been involved with some prominent magicians in Las Vegas and are collaborating with the good folks at Disney.