Hi Frank. I always like to start these interviews by getting to know the artist a bit better. Could you tell us about yourself?
I grew up here in the San Francisco Bay area. Watching a lot of Bob Wilkins and Creatures Features. Monsters and monster movies were a big part of my life growing up. From that first issue of "Famous Monsters of Filmland. The one with the beautiful painting of the Saucerman by Basil Gogos, I was hooked bigtime. Reading about Jack Pierce, Dick Smith and Rick Baker, gave me direction about what I wanted to do for a living. The book "Making a Monster” became my Bible and "Pressmans Horror Make-up kit" by Dick Smith was the greatest thing known to man in my book. Later to be joined by his "King of the Gorillas" make-up kit. What a great time to be a ‘monster kid.’ My parents and family were always so supportive of my dreams. My father, who worked in a auto body shop at the time, let me make him up one morning before work in full face gorilla make-up. What a sight that was to watch Dad drive off in his Jeep with our dog Oscar' at his side. My dad was the best guy in the world.
But back then there was no internet, no websites, no easy way for a kid to gather information about becoming a SFX make-up artist. The only thing I really had at the time besides my monster mags was the telephone. I remember I'd call information for make-up shops in the Los Angeles area. Hoping I'd get someone on the phone who might want to take pity on me and share some info about their craft or better yet, a story. One time, I managed to get Tom Burman on the phone. I was really into "Phantom of the Paradise" at the time.
I also found Don Post Studios and talked with Don Post Jr. It was during this time that I'd graduated from the Pressman kit to actual crude latex mask making, which I'd told Mr. Post about over the phone. He said to me "kid, if your ever in N. Hollywood, come on by. And I'll give you a tour of the facility.
That was the first time I'd actually seen in-person "professional monster sculpts". I spend a good many years after that trying to better my sculpting skills. Practicing make-ups, doing sculptures and the like. I was determined to go to LA and work in the film industry doing SPX make-up someday… Or so I thought.
That all changed in when I was in Junior High and Star Wars was released. Followed by “The Empire Strikes Back", then Jedi a few years later. I no longer wanting to move to southern California, I wanted to be apart of this place called "Industrial Light & Magic.
Working in the famous ILM Creature Shop! This was my new direction.
But as I recall, I couldn’t just call ILM and say "Hello, my names Frank Gravatt, can I talk to someone in the creature shop please?...CLICK!. I needed a contact. Wesley Seeds name came up. I forget how but I got his name. Through a friend of a friend’s friend I think. Anyway, so I nervously called ILM. The receptionist answered and I said calmly "hi, can I speak with Wesley Seeds in the creature shop please?"
"Yes, hang on. I'll connect you". I was freaking out. What was I going to say to this person? What if I blew my delivery line and came off sounding like a fanatical fan?, which I was of course. But I didn’t want him to know that! Anyway, Wesley spend sometime with me on the phone, talking monsters, clay and mold making. He invited me down for a tour and to show him some of the work I had at the time, a mask I was in the midst of creating and a few sculpts. I was totally blown away by what I saw in the creature shop at that time. Props and sculpts from the film Willow were sprinkled throughout the shop along with a variety of other past projects.
I'll never forget that moment. It wouldn't be until 1993, five years later, that I was hired by ILM. Not as a sculptor mind you but as a maintenance worker.
I spend 2 yrs in maintenance, moving people, assembling furniture, plunging toilets (talk about paying your dues) and continuing my art when I could.
Ken Maruyama , director of animation and creature development at the time discovered my sculptures on the desk of a co-worker and friend Jillian Rittenberg, and asked me if I'd like to train in CG as a modeler. I've been here ever since...
What you do at ILM?
Creature Modeler, Concept artist, and Digital Supervisor.
How long have you worked for ILM?
14 years and counting…
What work did you do for the Spiderwick Chronicles?
Early in the production I shared rapid proto-type duties with Jung-Seung Hong and Andrew Carwse also here at ILM. Once the proto's were approved by production they'd be rebuilt up to production standards. I was also a part of the facial development team for Thimbletack and his alter ego, the Boggart. In addition, I did the displacement work using ZBrush on the character Mulgarath and I modeled the griffin, Byran.
Image 1 Image 2 Image 3 Image 4
How did you use ZBrush on Spiderwick?
On Spiderwick, Mulgarath, designed by Carlos Huante, was as a combination of demonic nastiness, snake skin, monster skin, and forest trees. He's quite the combination of creatures. Once the model by Gionvanni Nakpil was completed, the models divided into multiple partitions, head, arms, legs, torso and back, then U/V'd. Groups of partitions (head group, etc ) were then imported into ZBrush for displacement goodness. The first stage of the work was importing "tree bark" reference images as alpha's. Adjusting the radial fade, in combination with the "Drag Rect stroke" the alphas were applied to the surface. Other alpha's created were done using the "simple brush" drawn in 2D mode. Then simply picked up using the "Grab Doc" option in the alpha menu window. This allowed me the freedom of creating a texture stamp on the fly when ever I needed something custom. Working in this fashion I was able to bridge the different types of tree bark image alphas to one another and their neighboring monster or snake skin surroundings. Other times I'd use a Start Up Alpha in combination with the "Inflate" brush or other and produce some really organic results. "Crop and Filling" an alpha to screen, was another method. I'd modify this with one of the 2D brush tools and then pick it the back up with the 'Grab Doc" option. Simplicity was key for me; the more inventive I got with a simple approach, the better the results I was able to achieve. I was blown away by what I could do in ZBrush.
Were there things that you created that you could not have with out ZBrush?There’s a certain harmony of sorts when combining different neighboring textures together. Making them very different from one another but ultimately having them all sing together. I don’t think I could have done it to this extent using a traditional approach to displacement.
How has ZBrush changed you as an artist?ZBrush has allowed me total freedom as a sculptor in a 3D world. Being able to take a model so much further than before sculpturally has been a dream come true.
What do you enjoy most about using ZBrush?With ZBrush I believe I've come full circle with my goals in life.Having originally wanting to do SPX make-up and creature work back in the day, I believe now I've actually achieved those goals in a 3D sort of way. And it’s only getting better! I feel there’s another plateau of sorts coming soon for creature design. I know ZBrush will be big part of it!
Why do you use ZBrush instead of other 3D packages?Options galore. High poly count.Oh, and the "Trans Pose" masking tool" rocks beyond belief!!
What other projects have you worked on for ILM?
1. My CG career started with Tim Burtons "Mars Attacks" building various props and gags. The Martian hand that disconnects then crawls and stabs President Jack Nicholson was one of my first builds. I was so thrilled with that scene. I think every step of that film was a thrill for me.
Other film credits include (in chronological order):
2. Speed 2, Cruise Control - Modeler
3. Small Soldiers - ModelerBuilt the CG character, Chip Hazard
4. Starwars Episode 2 Attack of the Clones.Wow! To have the opportunity to work on a Star Wars film was another dream come true. I modeled Dexter Jettster and his facial library and several Geonosians. I nearly fell out of my seat when I saw my credit for the first time in that Star Wars blue font.
5. Minority Report – ModelerModeled a variety of CG props
6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - ModelerHaving the opportunity to model the CG character "Dobby the house Elf" was a real growing point in my career. It was the first time that I'd created a complete facial library for a character that was human like in its facial proportion. Unlike Dexter’s face from Episode 2 who was somewhat frogface/monster like. Dobby’s face had to adhere much closer to human. It was a fantastic learning experience.
7. Hulk - ModelerBuilding upon what I had learned while working on Dobby, I created the facial library for Hulk.
8. Terminator 3, Rise of the Machines - ModelerI modeled Arnold’s digital double head and the different stages of the Terminator’s facial damage.
9. Van Helsing - Digital Model SupervisorModelled and created the facial library for Mr. Hyde.
10. War of the Worlds – ModelerModeled the "Aliens
11. Pirates of the Caribbean: Deadman’s ChestI Modeled the complete Kraken, separate types of tentacle from large ship crushers, to mid-size one to small ones for grabbing sailors. I also modeled (shot by shot)individual sucker movement shapes for each tentacle. Finally, I ZBrushed the tentacles and the kraken’s nasty mouth textures.
And many thanks to you, Frank, for having shared your work here at ZBC and also for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us!