Interview with Ben Bornstein – Special FX Artist for the film, Caterpillar

Where are you from, and where are you currently based?

I grew up in North Reading, Massachusetts and my studio is now based out of Woburn, Massachusetts.

What is your background and how did you get into sfx?

I started doing make-up and fx in 2002.  I went to a trade school to learn the basics, then moved to Los Angeles to get into the business.  I flew to LA with $200 dollars in my pocket and barely knew anybody. I was living with a friend of mine in Long Beach while sending out sample sheets and blank resumes to thirty of the Special Make-Up FX Studios I wanted to work for.  I got about three replies for interviews and one job out of it. I got hired and stayed at that company for about 2 years, then went on to work for other FX houses once I knew what I was doing.

What are some of your most favorite films that you’ve created effects for?

The Fighter, Caterpillar, 300

Describe your process behind the effects in Caterpillar

After reading through David Field’s storyboards, I got really excited about the project.  I was responsible for making dozens of webs and caterpillar nests, skin peeling effects, and shedding off all of the woman’s skin on camera.  I thought “OK, I know I can do this…but how?”  So I did some research on how to make fake cobwebs and came to conclusion to use rubber cement blowing through the air using a tupperware container attached to a fan blade and a high speed drill.  Hot glue and compressed air can work alright, although this technique looks far more organic.

As far as the skin effects go, I drove from Boston to Manhattan to do Leslie Bornstein’s lifecast of her face and neck with the assistance of my friend Nick Dennis.  The purpose of this lifecast was to have an exact match of the actress’s skin to duplicate it in rubber with mold making and casting procedures.  I also used the life-cast to map out placement for the transfer prosthetic I built for when she peels her skin off of her face and neck.

In the storyboards, Leslie sheds all of her skin off on camera (out of focus).   I knew there was no budget or time to make a full body life-cast of Leslie and produce the skin from those molds.  I bought a thin female mannequin and using the form, I created a “skin suit” from it that the younger actress would be breaking out of for the FX sequence.

Any funny stories from your escapades?  

When I met Leslie while doing her life-cast, it dawned on both of us that we might be long lost relatives.  Still a possibility!  Maybe I’ll do a DNA test, I still have a hair stuck in her life-cast.

Funniest memory from Caterpillar production

I’d have to say, when I put the suit on the actress, it was the weirdest, creepiest thing ever.  It flopped around on her, and a section of the face was cut out so half of her face and neck were exposed through the suit.  Everybody on set kind of froze.  I thought that was pretty funny.