"Grande Illusions: The Art and Technique of Special Make-Up Effects - Original Books I & II" Book Review

Written by Robert Gold

Published by AuthorMike Ink

Written by Tom Savini
2013, 286 pages, Reference
Book released on October 13th, 2013


Grande Illusions: The Art and Technique of Special Make-Up Effects Original Books I & II from AuthorMike Ink is a reissue of the how-to guides previously released by Imagine, Inc. and Morris Costumes in the 1980s and '90s from author Tom Savini, a make-up artist who has worked in the industry for the past four decades. Originally inspired by the skills of legendary performer Lon Chaney, Sr., the “Man of a Thousand Faces”, Savini spent years refining his craft until he became one of the most sought-after names in the business.

In the 1980s, a new kind of celebrity emerged within the horror community: the special make-up effects artist. For years there remained a layer of mystery concerning how the monster magic was created. The popularity of the genre had given rise to such magazines as Famous Monsters of Filmland and later Fangoria, where fans clamored for a peek behind the scenes at the techniques in practice. Tom Savini, a charismatic and enthusiastic film buff brought an infectious energy to the field and made the work feel like fun. He and his team of professionals appeared as big kids having a blast in a cinemtaic playground, as witnessed in Roy Frumkes' Document of the Dead and the Fangoria video release Scream Greats (which featured both highlights of Savini's work and a glimpse at his family life).

Savini was one of the first artists to bring a video camera onto a film set and document the execution of the effects and this further revealed glimpses of his personality. Soon, he was appearing as a semi-regular guest on shows like Late Night with David Letterman and making cameo appearances in music videos (Twisted Sister). At the height of his fame, Savini opted to write a book that would chronicle the steps involved with creating some of his most famous works. This was a fantastic decision, as there was a void on most store shelves when it came to instructional manuals for cinematic make-up work.

Grande Illusions (1983, and briefly reissued as Bizarro in 1984) is a straightforward guide that teaches aspiring artists the basic techniques, including the process of making life casts of heads and teeth for designing appliances. From there he breaks his filmography down into ten chapters that focus on specific movie effects, including work for titles like Creepshow and Friday the 13th. The book is 135 pages of conversational instruction prefaced by not just one, but two forewords to the material. The first piece is by author Stephen King and the second by director George A. Romero, and neither man can find enough nice things to say about Tom's work.

Thirteen years later, Grande Illusions Book II (1996) continued the tour of all things Savini, and this time focused almost exclusively on the dozen or so films he worked since the previous book. In addition are brief chapters dedicated to the process of “punching hair” into fake heads (one strand at a time) and on designing make-ups from case molds and working with plaster casts. Each topic is clearly explained and thoughtfully illustrated with diagrams and behind-the-scenes photographs. This installment spanned 102 pages and featured an impressive foreword from legendary effects icon Dick Smith (The Exorcist). Smith was an early proponent of expelling secrecy and inviting the practice of openly sharing information to anyone showing interest. Savini has taken this advice and continues to share his secrets with everyone.

Both volumes went out of print fairly quickly and fetch high prices on the internet, but now AuthorMike Ink has gained the rights and combined both books into one large volume. Everything is exactly as it originally appeared, though now on a slightly thinner, lower-quality paper. The numerous illustrations and color stills are faithfully reproduced and look fine. The first volume starts with the table of contents, followed by the forewords and the introduction by Savini. When this book concludes, the second volume follows on the next page with a reset of numbers and a similar layout to what has come in the pages before.

For anyone with an interest in special make-up effects, this is a great book to start with. More advanced lessons can be found in recent books like Todd Debreceni's Make-Up Effects for Stage & Screen. Not to plug someone else's book within a review for Savini's work, but this is a logical extension to the lessons and comes with a tutorial DVD. That being said, serious students in the field should also consider attending Savini's make-up school at the Douglas Institute (in Pennsylvania) for a more thorough educational experience.


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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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