Interview: Makeup Effects Expert Adrien Morot On Creating Alligators And Gore For Alexandre Aja’s ‘Crawl’

With more than three decades of experience and over 130 credits to his name, Adrien Morot is one of the most experienced and in-demand makeup effects experts in the film industry.

Morot – who has worked on Vice, Mother!, Sicario, Pet Sematary, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and many other acclaimed films – joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about his recent work on Alexandre Aja’s Crawl. A nerve-wracking survival film to rival Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows, Crawl follows Haley (played by a superb Kaya Scodelario) as she bravely attempts to save her father – and herself – from a category five hurricane and a swarm of deadly alligators.

Crawl arrives in UK cinemas this Friday (23 August)

Q: What was your remit from director Alexandre Aja heading into ‘Crawl’? And what was your own vision for the project?

A: I am a huge fan of Alex’s work! All the way back to High Tension! He is one of the best directors working today when it comes to creating suspense and tension on film.

A few years ago, I went to the theatre to go watch Piranha 3D not expecting much considering the schlocky looking promotion campaign that the marketing department for the movie had done. They made it look like a subpar exploitation movie, not that there is anything wrong with those movies, haha! But it made the movie appear way below my usual expectations of an Alex Aja movie. But boy was I ever wrong!

Had I seen that movie when I was twelve, it would have changed my life! It would have for sure became my favourite movie of all time! Out the door Close Encounters Of The Third Kind! It’s such a fun and exciting movie. Gore galore! Thrills! Suspense… and lots of beautiful women! What else could anyone need in a movie? Nothing! It was all in there. You know what? I’m actually going to watch it again tonight! Yes! It’s that great, haha!

Me and Alex had been speaking for a number of years and we had tried to work together a few times, but our respective schedules never coincided or the projects didn’t end up being done, so when he called for this one it was an immediate ‘yes!’ from me. It could have been anything and I would have said yes. A third sequel to 50 Shades of Grey? Going to his house to mow the lawn or to clean his windows? Yes! I’m in, haha! But no. Alex called me for a killer alligator movie!

I grew up on a heavy diet of “nature gone wild” movies like Jaws (of course), the original Piranha, Orca, Barracuda, Tintotera, Grizzly, Prophecy... I couldn’t get enough! I was finally going to be able to put my own stamp on the genre. Obviously, I needed to create some of the best effects we had ever done for the film.

Q: Can you give us insight into the process of constructing numerous alligators and human bodies for the film?

A: This is quite a generalised question that would require an entire book chapter to describe all that it encompasses.

For the alligators, it all started from highly detailed clay sculptures of the male, female and baby alligators from which molds were made and skins casted out of medical grade silicone. In parallel, the mechanics and robotics are being designed and assembled by our animatronic team. Then all of this work is put together, painted and seamed. 

For all of the human victims, it’s a bit of a similar process with the exception that the work often begins with the minutious design of a specific effect with the director and then the life cast of each cast member who will meet their demise in the movie.

Q: It must then be nerve-wrecking to bring all this hard work onto the set for filming. What is it like being on set and seeing your work in action?

A: Being on set can both be the most dreadful or rewarding experience ever.

If you are on set and your practical effect doesn’t work… For example, the cable of the mechanical alligator jaw snaps in the middle of a take and it will take four hours to disassemble and replace said cable… or if, for some reason, the rubber tube that brings the blood to the sculpted wound in your prosthetic is pinched or disconnected somewhere under the rubber skin and that the director calls for ‘ACTION!’ and that no blood flows out of the wound, in front of hundreds of technicians and of an increasingly angry team of producers… or that you have applied a complicated and delicate prosthetic makeup on an actor who literally sweats off your makeup in matter of minutes…

Every minute on set seams like they are lasting centuries and you start contemplating each beam supporting the ceiling of the studio and you assess which one could successfully support your weight at the end of a rope… not that any of these scenarios have ever happened to me. 

On the other hand, when your effect or makeup works and is successful, there is no better feeling. You have taken organic matter and created something that is suddenly coming to life! You are the hero of the day on set and are being crushed by the weight of the incessant accolades of your colleagues and employers… not that any of these scenarios have ever happened to me either, haha!

Q: Did this ‘Crawl’ throw up any unexpected challenges along the way?

A: There are always unexpected challenges being thrown at you on any given project. This one was certainly the ambition of the demands, from production and from myself and the very limited budget given to us to fabricate all of these effects, puppets and makeups! Such a tight budget meant limited manpower and resources. We had to be as creative as humanly possible and worked absurdly long days with little sleep in between.

Let’s just say that I have slept more times on the couch of the shop during the making of Crawl than during an entire decade of marriage!

Q: What has been the most unexpected or strangest challenge you’ve faced on a project?

A: On a project? Not Crawl? The strangest request that I’ve ever had was on an Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen movie [Beyond Borders, 2003] where we had a kid who was solely hired to walk on a stage and to eat a banana. It was a relatively big budgeted movie with an international cast ensemble. They could have chosen any kid in the world! For some reason, it seemed like a good idea to them to cast a kid… who’s allergic to bananas! It was a great idea for a joke if anything!

So since I was already working on the movie, and that I’m often the resourceful guy who comes up with the solutions for every problem on set (or so it often seems), they came to me for help. Once I had put a bit of thought into possible solutions and had accepted the challenge, they then gave me a list as long as the phone book of a medium sized town of products and food items that the god damn kid was allergic to! After I copiously soiled my diaper and gathered my thoughts, I ended up making a banana that was made out of soy based organic white chocolate with a gelatin peel imbedded with celery fibers around it.

Once on set, I was anxiously watching the kid taking each bite with 911 on speed dial, haha! Thankfully, everything went well and I didn’t end up being sued by the family of a defunct 12 year old!

Q: Your filmography is nothing short of incredible. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in the industry so far? Are there any standout memories or moments you’d be willing to share with us?

A: Every project brings its shares of joys and pains. I am an eternal perfectionist and I am rarely content or satisfied with the work that comes out of the shop.

On the movie The Fountain, I got to work for the first time with director Darren Aronofsky, who is as much of a perfectionist as I am. It was a bit of a masochistic dream to work for someone who always thrives to make things better, and better and better. We completed and rebuilt the quasi-entirety of the effects and makeups we’d made for the movie multiple times to perfectly bring Darren’s vision to the screen. Either that or I sucked so bad that we had to re-do everything multiple times, haha!

I’ve worked with him on four different projects since so I’d like to believe that it was the former answer…. haha!

Q: You worked on one of my favourite seasons of TV, ‘Sharp Objects’. The self harm scars on Amy Adams’ character are so well done and stick in my mind. What are your memories of working on that project?

A: That was another project that was difficult due to the lack of time to produce Amy’s makeup and to then apply it on set. We had to totally invent new ways to apply body covering prosthetics. I wish that I could do it all over again with the knowledge I now possess from that experience. There are so many things that i would do differently and more efficiently.

Q: If your filmography is anything to go by, you never stop working. Are you a workaholic or do you have passions away from filmmaking?

A: If you ask my kids, who haven’t seen me in the past few years (the younger one calls me “Mister”… usually preceded by “who are you…”), they would probably say that I’m a workaholic. I prefer to call myself a deeply passionate and invested makeup effects lover.

I started making masks in my dad’s basement when I was 11 years old and I have been working professionally since I was 17, that’s a cumulated 37 years of makeups, creatures and mask making! I could have cured cancer five times over if I had chosen to do something meaningful with my life! What a useless loser I am, haha! But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I still love it more than I ever had.

Q: What is next for you?

A: I have just finished a project called The Loudest Voice In The Room with Russell Crowe and I have The Witch director’s [Roger Eggers] sophomore effort, The Lighthouse, which received overwhelmingly rave reviews at Cannes, that is coming out in theaters soon-ish… I think.

I’m of course working on a bunch of current projects… but we will have to schedule another interview when I will be allowed to talk about those.

You can see ‘Crawl’ in UK cinemas from this Friday (23 August)

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