Q&A with Britt Gentsch – SFX Makeup Artist at Terror Behind The Walls
If you’ve ever been to Philadelphia or grew up around here it’s likely that at some point you stepped foot in Eastern State Penitentiary. Opened in 1829, Eastern State is considered to be the world’s first true penitentiary, dubbed the “Pennsylvania System” its practice of separate cells became the model for countless prisons around the world and has housed notorious criminals such as Al Capone and bank robber William “Slick Willie” Sutton. Currently, the former prison turned National Historic Landmark operates as a public museum in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia and is open Monday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
Every year for the past 29 years, Eastern State has hosted a haunted Halloween tour entitled Terror Behind The Walls bringing family and friends together to celebrate the spooky season with a good scare. Earlier this month, the Veracity team was on location at Eastern State to film the latest episode of “Jawn in 60 seconds”, and our very own Pat Brogan was lucky enough to sit in Britt G’s chair for his zombie guard look. Going on her 8th season as SFX Assistant Makeup Manager, at Eastern State, Britt has found various ways to incorporate her art’s degree into her work and was nice enough to answer a few questions for us about how she got into the business of terrifying people for a living!
Britt, you have a pretty awesome job as an FX makeup artist at Terror Behind the Walls. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got into this career path?
Absolutely! As a multimedia artist it was challenging to find a career path that fits into all of my interests, so that is actually what inspired me to pursue FX Makeup. It allows me to do everything from painting and sculpture, to elaborate makeup, photography and the like. I went to school to earn my degree alongside my certification in Special FX Makeup and later built on that with my esthetics license and various workshops as I continued to work in the field. In this way, it is kind of an adventure for me and is always leading to working with new materials on obscure projects.
How long have you been working at TBTW, what if any other gigs do you do?
Having started at Terror Behind the Walls back in 2012, this is now my 8th season. I do a wide spectrum of other jobs throughout the year, including special effects for films, medical videos for universities, interview makeup, escape games, scenic painting, etc. As a freelance artist, I am always looking for the next creative opportunity.
Did you have any inspiration, who is your role model?
This is always a hard question for me, as I really believe in finding inspiration everywhere. At Terror Behind the Walls, I’m inspired by the prison’s overgrowth, the rustic nature of the historic architecture, and the amazing work of my coworkers. I’m inspired by nature, folklore, and diverse cultural practices. I used to collect and cut out photographs from National Geographic magazine and keep them in a categorized binder that I could reference for my projects. I don’t have one specific person as a role model, but there are a number of artists whose work and attitudes I’ve admired. Guillermo Del Toro’s films and concepts are among my favorites, and the illustrations and light-hearted journalism of Alex Pardee have been inspiring me since grade school.
Which do you prefer fx or beauty?
While I do both, I prefer FX. Special FX makeup jobs often call for more elaborate looks, and I’m all about working with different mediums. I love that about the FX world.
What first inspired you to get into the world of special effects makeup?
For me, it was about finding a career path that ran congruent with my own personal interests working with new mediums and techniques.
Are there any misconceptions about your work that you hear from people?
Definitely. Having a background in makeup, fabrication, painting, and sculpture can confuse people. For instance, when I am working a lot of body art gigs people will start referring to me solely as a face painter. I always find it fun to see how people perceive me based on what work they have seen from me.
What is the hardest part of the job, and what is the most enjoyable part of it?
The biggest challenge would be working in different locations without having the convenience of a home studio or workshop. At Terror Behind the Walls, for example, we are working in a historic building – Eastern State Penitentiary – which doesn’t have heat or running water. But that’s what also makes it enjoyable, as we are constantly finding creative new methods to make the process more seamless. There’s also the aspect of being able to work in such an inspiring atmosphere.
Can you describe your method?
My method is to utilize the tools available in my environment, and with makeup that is most importantly the talent themselves. I like to work with their bone structure and facial features, accentuating those elements into their look. They are the centerpiece of the character, and working this way allows the makeup to move complementary to their expressions.
Image courtsey of Britt Gen Art
How long does it take you to create a look? What’s the longest one has ever taken you?
At Terror Behind the Walls, this all depends on how visible the character is, which attraction they are in, and where they are located in that attraction. We have big, highly visible and photographed foam-latex and silicone looks that take about 45 minutes to complete. Faces in low-lit areas that are less visible to guests can take just 5 to 10 minutes to complete.
How much research goes into the process of making your art?
I would say it is an ongoing process that I am always building on.
Image courtsey of Britt Gen Art
What is one look you are still itching to create?
I like to take traditionally male characters and create female renditions of them. Krampus is a particularly fun one given its growing popularity throughout the season.
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in makeup, specifically FX as a career?
Keep practicing, researching, and seek out education that will help you practice safely and efficiently.
Favorite Halloween Candy?