BEHIND THE ARTIST w/ HOWARD BERGER

// With a bucket of popcorn in hand, super-sized soft-drink in the other and our feet resting on the back of the seat in front.... We sit back, wide-eyed and watch our fave horror, monster, thriller or gore movie. Ironically, more often than not we forget the weeks and months spent making our heroes and villains look scary, beaten, zombified and mutated. But that's a good thing....

Because if our H&M artists hadn't done their job we wouldn't be engaged in the movie. Part of the BTL mantra is to celebrate the artists who have worked their entire life just to enthral us with their craft and have us forget they were even on set. Our next guest aligns with the above topic perfectly.

HOWARD BERGER is partner in a SFX company called KNB, he runs this "lil' house of horrors" with another SFX dynamo, Greg Nicotero. The list of movies and TV shows they've worked on is so big it's scary. Get past the sheer size of their production experience and you realise these guys have been responsible for many of the characters who haunt you in your darkest dreams.

We've run a (very abbreviated) list of film and TV credits this jump-scare genius and his partner in crime have put their palette to at the bottom of this story just so you see what we mean.

I need to have a 1” chip brush for quick splatter painting, and I love 3rd Degree for quick wounds on set. That has saved my ass many times!

We love the quote above, simply because it's not something you'll hear on a typical day on set.

This sets up our exclusive chat with Howard Berger perfectly - Enjoy. 

A photo posted by Howard Berger (@hoops511) on

// What made you want to get into special effects and how did you get your start in the industry?
I love monsters and movies, always have. My father was in the film business, he was a postproduction sound editor and mixer and he fueled my love for films since I was 3 years old. I knew that someone made all those monsters I loved, so I asked him who, and he explained to me that there were makeup artists that were responsible for them. At about 8 years old I was hooked and knew that is what I wanted to do when I grew up.

// Is there a particular feature of your work that is often noticed?
I think KNB is known for providing good work consistently. When we first started we were the gore guys, but things have changed these past 28 years and now we do it all. Prosthetic makeups, Zombies, creatures, animal replicas, you name it. I feel Greg Nicotero and I have forced KNB to always be fluid and do what it takes to create new and exciting things for film and TV.

// What is one of the biggest career challengers you face working in SFX?
For me it was the first Narnia film. That was epic for me. The largest crew at the shop I ever ran, and then on set the biggest as well. I had 45 hair, makeup and dressers on that one for the 9-month shoot. It was exhausting, but so rewarding as an artist and filmmaker, I had the best time ever on that show. It really mirrored the film’s story, as we went through the wardrobe and into a magical land, and then returning home was tough as reality hits and you have to do laundry, grocery shopping, pick the kids up from school, but yet you are sure you are the King of Narnia…..

// The top 3 “must-haves" tools or products for your kit?
For me it’s my tattoo pallets. I really dig them all – Skin Illustrator, European Body Art and Blue Bird Inks. 

I need to have a 1” chip brush for quick splatter painting, and I love 3rd Degree for quick wounds on set. That has saved my ass many times!

// Where do you look for inspiration and creativity?
My inspiration comes from other artists I know and get to work with. I am always learning and love to watch and see what everyone is up to. I really dig the creative energy in a makeup trailer and watch my colleagues create amazing things in front of me. 

// Is technology helping you on jobs like The Walking Dead - If so, how? 
I love working hand in hand with the VFX depts. They can help create things that are not possible in the physical world. The combo of both arts really tie the room together in my opinion

// Your top 3 Instagram accounts?
Instagram is big for me. I love the photos as It’s all about the visual.

I am a big Steve Wang fan so his account is a constant visit - @stevewangcreaturecreator

My wife’s acct @mj.clement – she is an amazing fine artist from Norway and inspires me every day

And I like my account @hoops511
[We were going to give yours a plug anyway Howard....]

// What do you enjoy to do when the brushes are down?
I am a big photography enthusiast. I have heaps of cameras, from digital to film to large format. Right now my favs are the Canon 5D Mark II and my Mamiya RZ67

// What advice would you give SFX artists starting out?
Be smart. Always pay attention and listen. There is always something new to learn. Don’t be afraid, just do it. There is no right and wrong way to do things, it’s all trail and error.

KNB is responsible for every aesthetically induced goose-bump you experienced in:  

  • THE WALKING DEAD
  • THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2
  • OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
  • PREDATORS
  • BREAKING BAD
  • TRANSFORMERS 1-4
  • FRIGHT NIGHT
  • THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA:
  • PRINCE CASPIAN
  • FINAL DESTINATION 4
  • TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE - THE BEGINNING
  • KILL BILL VOL 1 & 2
  • THE GREEN MILE
  • PULP FICTION
  • THE SCREAM TRILOGY
  • MEN IN BLACK
  • FROM DUSK TILL DAWN
  • RESERVOIR DOGS
  • THE X-FILES

** ALL IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT KNB EFX GROUP INC.

This is only a quick "bite" of the smorgasbord of screen credits to KNB's name, you can check out the full list and AMAZING images on their website HERE

A big thank you Howard, we're honoured to feature you on BTL.

Editor

Digital Thump, Sydney