‘Summer of Monster Love’ Keeps FX Shop Scarily Busy

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TV viewers’ seemingly unending love affair with monsters, vampires and aliens is creating a “Summer of Monster Love” for Hollywood special-effects company MastersFX, which is overseeing the visual special effects on three cable shows and one Netflix series this season.

It’s creating special effects for HBO’s True Blood and new series The Leftovers (though details on that work are being kept a secret), TNT’s Falling Skies and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.

MastersFX has produced makeup effects and prosthetics for True Blood (now in its seventh and final season) since its debut in 2008, having followed executive producer Alan Ball from HBO’s Six Feet Under, for which MastersFX won a 2003 Emmy Award for Best Special Effects Makeup.

For alien-invasion series Falling Skies (coming back for season four), the company’s work includes practical and digital effects for the alien Volm warrior race, including “Cochise,” played by actor Doug Jones.

For Hemlock Grove, returning for a second season on July 11, MastersFX provides prosthetic makeup effects on characters including Shelley Godfrey, a seven-foot, seven-inch tall reanimated girl.

This marks the first time the firm has been on active duty on four series at the same time.

“We are really psyched to have had the opportunity to contribute our vampires, aliens, werewolves, monsters and other various horrific characters to four major TV series this summer,” Todd Masters, the 28-year-old firm’s owner/founder/chief monster maker, said.

Senior VFX supervisor Johnathan Banta told The Wire that MastersFX is known for creating original and unique characters.

But Banta said the firm has upped the ante with a new technique combining prosthetic makeup (masks and the like) with digital techniques to provide a more realistic and engaging on-screen performance. The process is called digital makeup effects (dMFX), or the hybridization of visual special effects with practical character effects.

Characters and environments are being created that would have been impossible or too expensive for TV productions in the past, Banta said. “We’re using the same technologies and the same standards in TV and with film.”

Masters and company are being kept so busy because of the continuing popularity of supernatural, scary and otherworldly weirdness permeating the dial these days.

Horror, of course, has always been a staple in Hollywood and on TV since their birth. But the genre’s fervent popularity has really spiked.

Today, almost every channel has horror-themed shows, and technology to make those shows more entertaining and visually engrossing has kept up with the demand.

In seasons slightly less busy than this one, notable TV productions for MastersFX have included Fox’s Almost Human and Fringe, Syfy’s Stargate: Atlantis and Showtime’s Dexter.

Reality’s Playing Its Part In TV Success: Producer

There’s more to TV’s new golden age than great scripted dramas and comedies. Unscripted television is contributing its share of quality fare as well. So said hit reality producer JD Roth, whose roots in game shows have evolved into mastery of what he terms “transformational” reality shows.

A former child actor who appeared in many commercials, sitcoms and soaps, Roth broke through at age 19 as host of Fun House, a children’s game show that ran from 1988 to 1991.

In 2001, he and production partner Todd A. Nelson started their own company, 3Ball Productions.

“We really just wanted to work with friends and people we liked and create shows that we thought would be great TV,” Roth told The Wire.

Thanks to the success of early series For Love or Money — which drew 25 million viewers for its finale — The Biggest Loser and Beauty and the Geek, 3Ball Productions quickly grew.

“We had a lot of experience in the ‘90s in the game show arena,” he said. “Because we understood story and game format, we had a leg up on everybody else.”

3Ball sold a 50% stake to Dutch firm Eyeworks Group, and Time Warner Inc. bought Eyeworks this past February; Roth’s U.S. company was left out of that transaction, and he’s now the CEO of independent producer Eyeworks USA.

Its specialty is successful transformations. “Everybody loves a great before and after shot,” Roth explained. “Anytime someone can transform themselves or something in their personal life, I think it always makes for good television.”

The formula has led to cable staples including Spike TV’s Bar Rescue and Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell.

Eyeworks USA’s Extreme Weight Loss is in its fourth season on ABC, which just picked up a fifth season and ordered three additional specials under the banner Extreme Weight Loss: Love Can’t Weight, in which hosts Chris and Heidi Powell will help three couples get in shape for their weddings.

As a change of pace, Roth and Nelson’s firm also produced Hallmark Channel’s successful Super Bowl counterprogramming stunt, Kitten Bowl, which is set to spawn an encore in 2015 and a Kitten Paw-Star Game baseball-themed special next summer.

“Reality, in general, is a permanent genre now in television,” the former game-show ace said. “There’s comedy, there’s drama and there’s reality. There’s a reason that it’s there. I think it’s a symbiotic relationship between all three. They might not always realize it in the scripted world, but they need us as much as they need them.

“It creates a balance in television that I think is important,” Roth added. “As a whole, the genre is not going anywhere, that’s for sure.” — Will Hagle

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