LOS ANGELES _ Coming up with the pint-size blue characters for the line-action film "The Smurfs" was a snap. All it took was a few clicks of the computer and suddenly Papa Smurf and the whole gang were walking around New York City.
It was a lot more difficult to create a realistic looking Gargamel.
That task fell to Todd Tucker and his team at Illusion Industries. They were ones who turned Hank Azaria into a dead ringer of the Smurf's chief nemesis in the original film and the sequel, "The Smurfs 2," which opened Wednesday.
"It's interesting when we are asked to recreate something that has pre-existed as an animated character, especially something as iconic as Gargamel. Everyone around the world has seen that character," Tucker says. "It was a challenge because we wanted to create something that the fans would truly like."
Tucker didn't want to bury Azaria under too many appliances and make-up and take away from his ability to show emotion through his face. The middle ground was accomplished by creating a wig, prosthetic nose, bushy eyebrows, big prosthetic ears and dentures.
The original "Smurfs" movie only required the team to create a head cast. But the sequel was more time consuming. Tucker spent three months in Montreal while the movie was being shot to apply the make-up every day.
"The movie was filmed on a new Sony HIGH DEF camera that is like a magnifying glass and sees everything. After I put Hank in front of the camera, I would look at the onset monitor and could see imperfections that I couldn't see before," Tucker says.
That was one of the major reasons Tucker started his own company. He wanted to make sure he would be able to meet all of the growing demands of the business.
All of this special effects knowledge has been years in the making. Tucker's interest in movie magic started while he was growing up in the Bay Area.
"I was an only child who spent every weekend in the theaters," he says. "I was obsessed with movies like "Jaws," "Star Wars," "E.T." I lived them. I was also a musician as a kid. So I balanced my love of movies and music at the same time. When I got into high school, I started learning how to create make-up effects and started building a portfolio of my best work."
Having a passion for both music and movies proved a big help in Tucker launching his career. He worked as a studio musician for five years while he built up his make-up design portfolio while being mentored by special effects artists Matt Rose and Steve Lane. He moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and worked for several companies on more than 100 films and TV shows, such as "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Passion of the Christ."
Three years ago, Tucker opened Illusion Industries. His company has worked on "GI Joe: Retaliation," "White House Down," "The East."
Illusion Industries _ with locations in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Moscow _ specializes in prosthetic make-up, animatronics, puppets and specialty costumes. The Southern California shop is like a museum of past work. Just inside the huge warehouse-size space stands a life-size version of Gargamel. It takes a second look to see it is not Azaria standing there.
(c)2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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