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LV Weekly

Creature creator Miriam Writer spills her DIY Halloween secrets

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Local makeup maven Miriam Writer improvises during final prep for the Weekly‘s Horror Issue cover shoot. Having forgotten to grab the bag she packed with all of her supplies, she applied the one color she had—red—under model Michael Dredla’s eyes and used a professional product called mouth oil to make his custom prosthetic grin filthy and shiny at the same time. Both were, as she says, “happy accidents.”
Photo: Corlene Byrd

“Evil.” That’s how Miriam Writer described her idea. Hours of sculpting, molding, painting and one foam fiasco later, the jester on this week’s cover was in our studio. With his dagger-sharp grin, devilish brow and dice (perfect for making mortals roll for their lives), he looked like Las Vegas’ impure soul. Despite knowing that Writer’s friend Michael Dredla was underneath all that gelatin, we were relieved when the jester’s evil ass got back in the elevator.

Earlier this year we chronicled Writer’s journey from special effects gypsy on the California film scene to notable newcomer at the International Make-up Artist Trade Show and now comprehensive makeup artist in Vegas. She has applied her creativity to everything from body painting to makeovers for battered women to “five-minute bald cap” workshops at a local makeup school. And as a moulage specialist for JTM Training Group, she fabricates gory scenarios at Nellis Air Force Base that help soldiers and emergency responders learn to cope with trauma.

Between that job, building her company Panic Munkey FX, interviewing for a gig at the Strip’s Goretorium and laying the foundation for a tandem undead pirate/octopus Halloween costume for herself and her son, she found time for our doubly wicked cover. While most of us don’t have the skills or materials to make creatures on that level, Writer says it’s a thin line between obvious fakery and transformation. Her advice:

1. Best ready-to-wear special effects: Graftobian Rubber Mask Grease (makeup) and Tinsley Transfers (prosthetics). While quality is key, Writer says you can help avoid the sad clown face where the colors run together (“That bugs the sh*t out of me on Halloween!”) by prepping skin with an astringent to minimize oil. When shopping for prosthetics, examine the edges—thick will look fake while thin will visually melt into your skin (which should always be tested for sensitivity to adhesives, paints, etc.).

2. Biggest rookie mistake: Many prosthetics come with Spirit Gum adhesive, and beginners don’t realize it isn’t immediately sticky. Writer says to “tack it up” with a brush, cotton swab or fingertip until your skin pulls along with it. “That’s when you do the application, because when it’s wet, it doesn’t really have any strength, any bond. ... And you totally don’t need to rub it all over your face. A little goes a long way.”

3. Powder is your friend: It fights shine, sets makeup and makes it look more realistic, whether you’re going for angel or demon. But don’t smear. Gently pat. The same principle applies to makeup application: “Stipple instead of sweep. Take the brush up and down, up and down, up and down, dotting it around, getting the coverage you want and blending as you go.”

4. Effects on the cheap: Writer is a genius when it comes to using everyday items to kick up a costume. Instead of a professional setting spray for your makeup, she says a light, very (and we mean very) careful mist of hair spray does the job. To block out eyebrows, you could buy fancy wax or you could use Elmer’s Disappearing Purple Glue Stick. For an undead sheen, try Vaseline, hair gel or mineral oil (unless you have latex prosthetics, which dissolve under petroleum products). “If you want to do a zombie and you really want to be just drooly and mucky and gross, or a mummy, you take a little instant coffee, a little bit of water, you make a sludge. It doesn’t smell amazing, but it looks amazing.”

5. Zombie 101: “So many people do zombies thinking they’re super-easy, but there’s a lot going on with a zombie.” Writer says to avoid the “cheap-ass blood,” which looks great when it’s wet and like Kool-Aid when it dries. And remember to dirty up your clothes (you can use actual dirt) and “chisel” your features with special effects from hollowing your eyes to accentuating neck tendons.

6. Easiest Halloween looks for beginners: Bullet holes and witches.

7. Don’t be afraid to make faces at yourself: Special effects are innately distorted, but the best ones still seem real because they exaggerate natural forms. Study your expressions to figure out what lines to darken and where prosthetics should go.

8. In case of makeup emergency: “If you make mistakes, if all else fails, slap some glitter on it.”

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Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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