El Segundo special effects makeup artist Kris Kobzina puts blood and guts into his work … for real
He’s scary good.
- Written byDarren Elms
- Photographed byNancy Pastor
When he was 7 years old, Kris Kobzina’s mother sat him down to watch the 1931 Universal horror classic Frankenstein. This first exposure to special effects makeup would flip a switch in his young, creative mind.
“I was instantly hooked and had so many questions, like how long did it take to put Boris Karloff in makeup? What materials did they use to create such a seamless, iconic look?” he remembers.
Kris went to the library to read up on all things Frankenstein. From there he went on to Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy and all the sequels. “I watched them all and loved every minute of it,” he shares. “I still love them.”
A kid of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Kris grew up with all the great special effects horror movies of the era. It also didn’t hurt that Halloween was his favorite holiday. “I was always doing makeup on myself and freaking out my parents and friends,” he says.
But it was while living in Virginia that a roommate unexpectedly led him to professional training. Knowing how much Kris loved the craft, the roommate started gathering information about makeup schools all over the world. He was surprised how many options were available to him and eventually found Joe Blasco’s school in Orlando, Florida.
Kris moved to Orlando without knowing a soul and landed on the school’s waiting list. When Halloween came around, he did his own makeup and entered a costume contest— winning first place and a cruise to the Bahamas. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “As a result, the school enrolled me and offered me a scholarship.”
After completing school, Kris moved to Los Angeles and began teaching at the sister school to Joe Blasco’s in Hollywood while honing his own craft. “It was like a college education in everything makeup, and I did that for about 2½ years.”
Shortly thereafter he got a job at one of the big prosthetic shops in town that acquired a few notable projects, including Marvel’s 2000 edition of Spider-Man. “I had to sign an NDA, and I couldn’t even tell my fiancé what I was working on. Months and months of silence is tough, but you get used to it.”
After Spider-Man, it would be a career in special effects makeup or nothing. “I never wanted to do other types of makeup,” he explains. “All my focus went into meeting and networking with other talented artists. It’s truly a never-ending learning process with many different techniques, and I wanted to learn them all. Even on my own time in between movie projects I find myself doing personal projects to push myself further.”
Now an established and sought-after artist in the industry, Kris can point to several film and TV projects with his handiwork on them. Yet the average filmgoer never sees the steps involved with creating and sculpting makeup for some of their favorite characters.
“Amongst all of the blood gags and bodies, we got the opportunity to work with professional wrestler Kevin Nash and had to make a full body with a silicone head and limbs. He gets his head twisted around facing his back when he meets his demise by the Punisher. Lots of good, bloody fun.”
“It can take weeks to create and perfect, and you have to take so many things into consideration,” Kris notes. “One of the toughest I did was CSI because when you’re working on television, there’s always a quicker turnaround to meet the deadline. We would have a few days to recreate a silicone body loaded with silicone guts so the actor could perform an autopsy starting with an incision and all the gory details emerging.”
Kris also traveled to Ghana with colleague Chris Burgoyne as a key makeup artist on Netflix’s Beasts Of No Nation starring Idris Elba. “It was very hot, and we had to get creative sometimes—working with limited resources in the jungle,” he recalls. “But I’m always up for a new challenge.”
Kris just finished a new movie (one he can’t talk about yet but is really excited about) and continues to make prosthetics for film and television projects at his studio in Smoky Hollow. He also plans to teach prosthetic classes and a weekend course in his downtime. Last summer he opened his studio for tours during the El Segundo Art Walk.
Looking back on his career, Kris is thankful for the mentorships, opportunities and great fun he’s experienced over the years. He recalls a particularly enjoyable gig working on Marvel’s The Punisher in 2004.
“Amongst all of the blood gags and bodies, we got the opportunity to work with professional wrestler Kevin Nash and had to make a full body with a silicone head and limbs,” he shares. “He gets his head twisted around facing his back when he meets his demise by the Punisher. Lots of good, bloody fun.”
What’s involved in the process of creating a mask or makeup?
First we get the actor’s life cast. This is the process of applying a bald cap to protect their hair, then covering them with impression material called alginate and backing it up with plaster bandages until it’s all set. We carefully get the actor out of the cast without damaging the cast. Then we create a positive in stone or epoxy material so it is strong and durable for many uses.
Next we move on to the sculpting process, which is a very important step in the look of the mask or makeup. Once the sculpture is complete it will be molded—again using stone or epoxy material. The set-up mold gets opened; all the clay from the sculpture gets cleaned out and then put back together. The void where the clay once was is then filled with skin-safe silicone or latex, such as foamed latex, which is very flexible and lightweight.
From there it’s all about cleaning up any seams, then embarking on painting all the details … and a mask/makeup is born.