Episode 226 — Justin Raleigh


Episode 226 — Justin Raleigh

Welcome to Episode 226! I’m speaking with Justin Raleigh who is a creature effects specialist who owns Fractured Effects. This award winning studio is responsible for everything from Aquaman to Westworld and so many more amazing projects. It was really fun to sit down and talk about the special effects side of things — rather than visual effects — and how the technology is bridging the two. There is a lot of cool stuff that we get into!

Please share this Podcast. I’m really excited.

So, let’s dive in!


[00:39] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[30:01] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


With nearly 25 years in the special make-up effects industry, Justin Raleigh has managed and art directed the creation of the special make-up and specialty costumes for some of the most groundbreaking projects of recent years, including Aquaman, Tron Legacy, Westworld, Stranger Things, The Knick and American Horror Story.  He is the Owner and CEO of Fractured FX, Inc. is an Emmy and MUAHS Guild Award-winning special makeup effects studio.

The Fractured FX team is dedicated to creating the most realistic, unique and innovative prosthetic makeup effects, animatronics, creatures, specialty costumes and props in the industry. It is leading the way in technology from in house 3D printing, 3D design, scanning, and advanced proprietary materials. The drive for perfection and innovation is what brings some of the largest directors and productions companies from around the world to trust in Fractured FX.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay and Justin Raleigh talk about the special effects side of things — rather than visual effects — and how the technology is bridging the two aspects of the VFX industry.

Justin Raleigh on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0707679/
Justin Raleigh on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/justin-raleigh-5784a29/
Fractured Effects’ Website: http://www.fracturedfx.com/
Fractured Effects on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FracturedFx/
Fractured Effects on Instagram: @fracturedfxinc
Fractured Effects on Twitter: @FracturedFX


[02:51] Allan: I’m just curious: Growing up, did you always want to be an artist or be in the creative industry?

Justin: In some ways, yeah. I was always interested in some kind of art as a kid, playing around with paint, a little bit of sculpting. I was also into music, there were musicians in my family. So I spent a lot of time playing guitar and various instruments.

[03:21] Allan: That really cool! I guess specifically for you, how did you discover special effects and makeup? Were you obsessed with horror films?

Justin: I think it started a little bit like that. I was interested in horror films as a kid. The one that really got me was The Exorcist which I wasn’t supposed to watch at that age. It scared the living hell out of me! As I learned more about the movie, I realized the old priest was in prosthetics. Her makeup wasn’t real, it was all prosthetics. I wanted to learn about the process behind it. And then the one that really intrigued me was John Carpenter’s The Thing. After that, my mind was blown and I started doing research on it. In early sculpting in junior high, I started tinkering with it, collecting fake blood around Halloween. And then, I’d scare my friends or my grandmother. And that evolved into: How do I turn this into a career? I started looking at some pathways to get there. Financially, my family couldn’t put me through a makeup school. So I had to find my own way to get into the business, through internships; and to build my career from there.

[05:11] Allan: By the age 8 or 9, I’ve already seen every Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween. I think there is a few of us end up getting obsessed with films that drive us the rest of our careers. Were you based in LA at that time?

Justin: Um, I had moved to California when I was in the 4th grade. We’re originally from Louisiana. I’ve lived in Texas for a little bit. So I went to a high school that was relatively close to Los Angeles, a hour away. It was a bit of a transition, but it wasn’t hellish to try and break in. By the time I was in high school, I was already working somewhat professionally for a photographer, doing print and fashion. Right after high school, it turned into a full time job. It wasn’t my passion but I was learning makeup and making connections that helped me start working for Stan Winston, to start teaching at a local school. I eventually moved on to Steve Johnson’s shop before moving on to have my own company.

[06:52] Allan: That’s so cool! I was curious about that. There aren’t many cities in the world where you could do that, at least back then. In the beginning, to make that break into the industry, was it just about pure hustle and networking to try and get yourself in?

Justin: Yeah, it was! I found an ad that was looking for an intern to go work for an indie horror movie, so I took that job. Then I responded to another job. It was constant networking and drive (honestly, not wanted to tuck my tail between my legs and go back home). I was trying to get into this art and had a taste of it, so I was pretty stubborn about continuing to work.

[08:01] Allan: That’s really cool! What was the first big film you’ve worked on?

Justin: The first big film? I’m trying to think! Maybe Hallow Man, or Nutty Professor 2. I’ve done a bunch of movies around that same time. Maybe it was Cast Away with Tom Hanks. They were really diverse jobs and I met a lot of cool people. That moved into working for Stan Winston relatively full time.

[08:55] Allan: What was that like?

Justin: At the time, it was incredible! It was one of the biggest companies at that time. They’ve done all the Jurassic Park movies! I came in to work on Pearl Harbor, the end of Galaxy Quest. We were also starting A.I. It was a gigantic studio. We worked around the clock. At the time, it was like working for the elite of the elite, between Stan Winston and Rick Baker, the two top shops. I took it really seriously and wanted to prove myself to Stan. Shortly, I was a Key Artist and running the silicone room for him. It was a great experience! I learned a lot from him!

[10:01] Allan: Do you know Aaron Sims? I had him on the Podcast not too long ago (www.allanmckay.com/179).

Justin: Aaron came in right around the same time that I did. Aaron had just left Rick Baker’s company. He joined around A.I. We’re still very good friends and we collaborate on projects.

[10:27] Allan: I was curious: Do you know Ian Joyner? It was interesting to see him working as a 3D modeler at Blur and then moving on to Legacy and enjoying doing practical models. He loves what he does.

Justin: I do. He’s a concept artist. We haven’t worked together very much. Legacy is a very good company. We’re likeminded. We use 3D printing and modeling all the time. It’s a constant part of our workflow. We have people who’ve started as traditional sculptors but had to learn 3D software and Zbrush, and learn how to build for 3D printing. And we had other people who started in 3D printing and had to learn how to create actual functional parts. It’s a really similar pipeline between our two companies.

[12:11] Allan: How does it work for you? Which way do you find easier?

Justin: I think it depends on a person. Someone who’s come from an engineering background but understands design is going to be just as good as someone who’s been building it in a practical sense. Whereas someone who comes from a purely digital background, those are the people who struggle sometimes. People who have the mindset of function and how to drive these parts take to it much faster.

[13:09] Allan: With Fractured FX, when did you start the company? And was there a turning point for you?

Justin: This is my second company. I started Quantum Creation Effects in 2005 and I had a business partner at the time. That I ran as a Creative Director and Onset Supervisor, as a Founding Partner. In 2010, I decided to go separate ways. I wanted to see the art go in a different direction, so I made the change and sold off my side of the company. That’s when I started Fractured FX. And I took it slow. I wanted to grow organically. I started getting calls from clients. Very quickly, we fell back into building creatures again but with the use of technology and what I see the future of the industry: 3D printing and having scanning and 3D printing technology in-house. We can work a hybrid transition between physical makeup effects and visual effects.

[14:52] Allan: That’s really cool! You mentioned this a bit, but what type of projects do you normally get called in for?

Justin: We’re all over the place. We do a large spectrum: from creature effects, to building full suits with prosthetics, to animatronics, doing puppet effects — down to superhero suits, to realistic looking medical work. We’ve even been working in the medical industry to create realistic looking surgical models. We’re pretty diverse, it’s a wide spectrum. It’s just about what your client is looking for.

[15:49] Allan: More from a management point of view, can you walk us through the process from start to finish? I know it’s a big question.

Justin: Sure! Usually, it’s a repeat client or a referral by a repeat client. Usually, we’re given an NDA so we can’t talk to anyone else about the project and a script. We’ll start with a script and create an itemized breakdown, scene by scene, of what effects we think may be needed. And it’s really to sit down with the director once we have that list. We’ll go beat by beat how they envision these scenes. From there, that determines our design and budgeting process. Within that we’ll start adding price options, from hybrids to puppet effects, to makeup, wigs, contacts. Our design phase is a combo of 2D photoshop and illustrations. If need be, we’ll bring in our actors and start the live casting process. Once the live cast is done, we’ll do the molds. The sculpting phase could last from weeks to months. Once it’s sculpted, it’s molded or [we make] 3D models. Then it goes through the finishing process, costuming process, whatever is necessary to complete. Then the item gets painted and delivered to set for approval by directors and producers. Then we move ahead with the notes and end up with the final item.

[18:24] Allan: I guess there is no average lockdown timeline. What’s usually expected?

Justin: We did Aquaman in 2017 and I was tied to that project for about a year. We’re currently doing a tv series and that’s going to be over a year. With less demanding projects, it can be a few months. With anything where we’re building large suits or in demand for every episode (like on Westworld), then we’re on those projects for the entire length of shooting, plus 3-4 months of prep before filming.

[19:31] Allan: What’s type of work did you do on Aquaman and what were the challenges there?

Justin: I was brought on as a creature effects designer and assisting with costume building. We were building a few costumes, as well as the fish creatures. When we first came in, we started on 3D models to design the suits and what the trench creature would look like. We collaborated with the art department. We shared those files. We ended up making the casts, which were the blueprints. Specific items we did was Dolph Lundgren’s look as King Nereus. We did his helmet and body armor. We created the design for Black Manta but ended up passing his suit and took on the Gold Aquaman costume. We created elements for the trench creatures. We did some practical and visual effects elements. We did the fisherman kingdom, all of the Atlantean soldiers; the special guards that had the translucent fins on their heads…

[21:45] Allan: So you’re basically equipping half the cast.

Justin: Yeah, it was about 67 costumes and elements that we built for the show.

[22:00] Allan: That’s amazing! How many people do you usually employ for a show?

Justin: On average, we usually have 40 people in the studio. On larger shows, we have over a 100 people. It varies. Tron Legacy, which was the biggest show, we had over 150 people and built 115 costumes, all illuminated. It varies.

[22:50] Allan: What were some of the bigger challenges on Westworld?

Justin: Westworld is always a challenging project because the script and ideas are constantly changing. Some of the bigger challenges were the drones, the faceless white suits. Alexander Ward ended up wearing those suits which was quite challenging. That was a big build to do a head-to-toe prosthetics, with tv demands. The Shogun World was very challenging as well, with gore effects and conceptual designs, and historical research.

[24:02] Allan: How has the industry changed overtime? Obviously, as you mentioned, there is 3D printing and digital tools. Have you found more technology in the makeup and application?

Justin: It has definitely changed! It’s continued to grow, materials have improved. When I started, we were primarily using gelatin and latex foam. There wasn’t a lot of silicone. Now, the elements are a lot easier to use and the science, the chemistry behind it makes it easier. But the technology behind 3D printing and scanning! We have 5 printers in-house and are acquiring the sixth one. Years ago, that was unheard of. It’s gotten cheaper so we can have it in-house. The process has become easier and safer. We’re always trying to break the rules and find new ways and solutions. A lot of it fell into the medical part of our business with the Boston Children’s Hospital. We spent about a year creating synthetic skin and membranes between the body. They’re so finite. They wanted the fidelity of real tissue. [26:58] The other thing that’s changed: There was a period that was making this shift into less practical and into visual effect. But I think that process has come back around where we want as much in camera as possible but we embrace what we can do with visual effects. Having something and marrying the two together seems to be the approach now. And I’m a huge advocate of that! We really try to utilize both worlds to the advantage of the design.

[27:56] Allan: That’s so great! My last question would be for those who want to get into the industry. Do you have any advice?

Justin: [28:14] I think it’s really important to focus on the traditional artistic background: art classes, sculpting, painting. Get your foundation put together. It’s incredibly important to start working Zbrush. It opens up your job options. By having both, you can apply to a video game company or a VFX company, or come work in-house and build prosthetic work. And continue to practice. It’s a tough industry to get into even though it’s global. It takes a determined person with the skill sets to do it. We’re always looking for new talent to come into the industry and spark new ways.

[29:34] Allan: Thanks for taking the time! Where can people find out more about your studio?

Justin: You can find us at www.fracturedeffects.com. Or you can can find us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

[29:51] Allan: That’s great, man! Thanks for taking the time to chat!

Justin: Absolutely!

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Justin for talking the time to do this Podcast.

I will be back next Episode talking about what I’d learned in 2019. That will come out on New Year’s Eve.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you’re having a safe and fun time!

Until next week —

Rock on!


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