Special effects are a tough business to get into. Not only do you need the talent to create believable, realistic looking wounds, appendages and prosthetics, but you also need to build a portfolio, and that takes both time and money. You also need a pretty strong stomach. Effects artist Cassandra Baker stumbled upon her calling quite by accident but once she figured out what she liked, she has never looked back. Sweet, humble and a lover of gore, this girl is going places!
PopHorror – When did you first become interested in creating FX and makeup for films?
Cassandra Baker – I first became interested in special effects when I worked for a company that specialized in Halloween props for haunted houses and theme parks. I learned a lot from that workshop, which we referred to it as the Monster Shop. Zombies and clowns were our specialty and I was cross trained to do just about any job in the shop but I had only ever worked with dummies and props. One day, I had a friend ask me to help out with a zombie-themed commercial for a couple of car dealerships and I jumped at the chance. I was pretty nervous to know that I would be working on a live person, someone who could talk back and stare at me while I painted them. I thought it would be extremely awkward but it ended up being such a fun project. From that point, I knew I needed more projects like that and I wanted to pursue that dream.
PopHorror – Do you prefer to work on horror films?
Cassandra Baker – Horror makes me giddy! I have only ever worked on projects with a horror theme and I love the gore that comes with the genre. I get so excited when I’m talking with PJ (Starks) about his new ideas for his next horror films. I’m interested in trying something new, maybe a sci-fi theme, so I can turn people into creatures. I always want a new challenge.
PopHorror – If you could create anything for a movie, what would it be and why? What are your favorite mediums to work with?
Cassandra Baker – I would like to do more large scale prosthetic work. I definitely had a few opportunities for prosthetic work in Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories on a smaller scale. I want to do a zombie movie at some point. I think that could be a lot of fun. I started working with a lot of gelatin for the practical effects and prosthetics for the film and it has become my favorite medium for prosthetic work. I like air brush work as well. I want to invest in an a better airbrush system and airbrush makeup to work on bettering those skills.
PopHorror – Is there anything that you would never want to make?
Cassandra Baker – There was a lot of life casting done for Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. Life casting is making mold of a person’s living body. We then use the mold to make a lifelike copy of them so that we can achieve practical effects for the film, such as severed heads. I get a lot of questions like, “So can you life cast ANY body part..?” (laughs) I’m not going to say I would never do it because I actually have life-casted a nude model but it can definitely get awkward if not approached with professionalism.
PopHorror – Tell me what it was like working with the cast and crew of Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. How did you meet PJ Starks?
Cassandra Baker – They were a blast! I always looked forward to going to set and getting to spend time with my new friends. Just being a part of something that is really a community friendly project and participating in something we all loved so much makes you realize how special a community can be. I feel as though I have made life long friends through VOB:HS. I met PJ through Facebook. He asked me to come and help with special effects for the short he directed in the first film called Ghastly. It was really neat to come in as a new person and see the setup for production. He eventually got to see some of the other projects I had worked on and he decided to make me a bigger part of VOB:HS as their Special Effects Supervisor.
PopHorror – I heard you were not the only FX artist they had originally hired for VOB:HS. Did you get to work on much of the film?
Cassandra Baker – That’s true. They asked me to be a part of the project after they had already filmed the first short in the production line up, so I actually didn’t do the effects for the Christmas short. When they invited me to help out, they still basically had an entire movie left to film. We had our first production meeting and they handed me a list of effects they were trying to accomplish in the film.
PJ, Katrina and Eric looked at me with what I assume was concern in their eyes. I looked back with wide eyes and agreed to take on the project. I didn’t want to let them down! I had to prove my worth. I showed up for my first day on set with all of the effects and I’ve never received such amazing compliments for my work. They were happy to have me working with them on the film and I was thrilled to be a part of such a great project.
PopHorror – VOB:HS has gotten some pretty major accolades in the indie film world. Were you surprised that the film was as popular as it’s become? Or could you tell from the beginning that it was going to be something special?
Cassandra Baker – I try to anticipate the worst and hope for the best. I know that everyone can’t love our film the way that we do. After being on set and seeing all of the hard working people involved, I knew it didn’t matter because we are just a bunch of friends doing something that we loved. I hate the idea of disappointing people so I will always worry with nervous butterflies when I sit to watch the film with a new audience, but I have been overjoyed with the responses we received. I knew that the first film had a great response and I wanted so much for this one to be bigger and better in all of the ways a sequel should be.
PopHorror – I saw that you also got to act in VOB:HS. What was that like? Would you do it again?
Cassandra Baker – It was so nerve wracking and exciting at the same time. I’m really glad it was a tiny roll because my heart almost beat out of my chest in the 10 minutes it took to shoot that scene. I told PJ that I was in theater in high school and he said I need a bigger roll in the next film. It was a lot of fun getting dressed up for my character and I would like to do it again but we will have to see if my nerves can make it through an audition.
PopHorror – I saw that you worked on The Fall Of Grayskull. What was that like?
Cassandra Baker – The Fall of Grayskull was a fun project. There weren’t as many special effects in that film as there were in VOB:HS so I tried to help out on set where they needed the help. My favorite effect and the most challenging to do for The Fall of Grayskull was the melting face. It was my first practical effect and the first time I had attempted life casting in years. When they played it on the big screen during the premiere the audience applauded the effect and I cried like a baby. I still couldn’t believe it worked (laughs). The best part, though, is always the people you meet and the friendships you make.
PopHorror – Are you a He-Man fan?
Cassandra Baker – I didn’t know anything about He-man before that project. I knew of the character but I had to do research to learn about the story and figure out what was happening on set. My parents were He-man fans so they were excited when they found out I was participating in a fan film about He-man.
PopHorror – What’s it like being a woman in the FX field?
Cassandra Baker – I tend to see more special effects artists who are women rather than men in indie projects. I know when it comes to Hollywood, there are more men in the FX industry and the big names are the ones who have paved the way for us to have these dreams. I have been fortunate to work with people who take me seriously as an artist and don’t rate my skills based on my gender. I hope to one day be one of the people paving the way for future generations.
PopHorror – What are your favorite things to create?
Cassandra Baker – All of it! (laughs) In all seriousness, I have a lot of fun tinkering and trying to come up with different blood formulas. I’ve spent hours in my kitchen coming up with some pretty weird concoctions. I also love making life casts of the actors and coming to set with a severed head that looks like them. It’s fun to see their reactions… some of them love it and some get really creeped out. My favorite part is the makeup. I like doing the prosthetics and gore. We used to tell the actors that if we let them go home in their makeup, they have to promise to stop at a gas station and tell us what the reactions were like. We got a few good laughs from that.
PopHorror – What inspires you creatively – music, movies, art, morgues…
Cassandra Baker – I listen to a lot of rock music while I’m working, especially around Halloween time. I also love to watch horror movies or Halloween while I’m working but it has to be something I’ve already seen or else I get sucked in and will not get anything done. I spend a lot of time with Netflix during big projects. Sometimes if I’m having trouble putting something together or I have an effect that isn’t working, I go to the hardware store. I look at anything and everything to try to come up with ideas to bring an effect to life.
PopHorror – Do you get asked if you’re related to Rick Baker a lot?
Cassandra Baker – (laughs) I was asked this question while working on VOB:HS. I actually said, “Who?” Please don’t throw rocks at me! Damn, I got a lot of crap for that. After being schooled on set, I’ve been doing more research. I haven’t seen a lot of the classics so I’m trying to make time to watch them. At least then I can sound semi-intelligent when asked why I love horror. Apparently saying, “Because it’s gross and I just love it” just isn’t enough.
PopHorror – (laughs) Speaking of Rick Baker, who inspires you in the FX world?
Cassandra Baker – I like Tom Savini. I learned a lot about him during my prop making days at the Monster Shop. I saw him at a trade show once and he walked past my company’s booth and grabbed one of the prop weapons I had painted. He was using it to scare the people visiting his booth. It was just so cool that he was playing with OUR props! I also really love Greg Nicotero’s zombies, I’m a big Walking Dead fan and would love to work on their set.
PopHorror – If you could work with and learn from anyone (celebrities, directors, inspiring people, etc), who would it be and why?
Cassandra Baker – It would definitely be Greg Nicotero. I feel that the experience with prosthetics and makeup would be invaluable. I want so badly to work for a show like The Walking Dead. I’ve worked on a few zombie commercials and they were a blast. Creating a zombie is great because these artists have taught us that there are so many different kinds of zombies. You can go crazy with it or you can take a minimalistic approach if less is more to you. You’re basically building your own nightmare.
PopHorror – Now that I know how much you love horror movies, which ones are your favorites?
Cassandra Baker – I love horror movies and horror comedies are a lot of fun, too! The ones that freak me out the most are possession and ghost movies so I try not to watch those alone or at night. I try to find new things on Netflix all of the time. A few things I watched during filming were Oculus, Dead Silence, Tales from the Crypt (I grew up on that), Child’s Play, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Devils Rejects (my favorite slasher) and Insidious (really creepy). I watched the first Hellraiser for the first time recently. Halloween – both old and new. But I still have a lot of catching up to do.
PopHorror – Do you have any advice for people who are looking to get into the FX business?
Cassandra Baker – Build a portfolio. You have to show people what you can do. Crazy things do happen for some of us little people but it only happens if you make an effort to do something with your talents. Practice is very important. Test your limits and try new things. It’s okay to be overwhelmed or to mess up and feel like you don’t know what you are doing. I can’t tell you how many times I messed up on set or an effect didn’t work the way I had intended. Just keep trying.
PopHorror – Do you have any projects coming up that you can talk about?
Cassandra Baker – Right now, I am working on building a portfolio. I would like to put something together and take off to Atlanta or Los Angeles for a couple of weeks to see if I could audition for something. I may have another indie project this spring/summer but nothing official just yet.
The VOB2 movie is awesome! I was completely surprised at how good it was. A must see. The gore was incredible. It looked so real!