Kyle Pasciutti '08 delivers makeup and special effects in COVID times
By Sofia Sallaway | Tuesday, December 22, 2020
By Sofia Sallaway
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
In the credits of the Middlesex Health commercial below is a name that will be familiar to University of Massachusetts Department of Theater members. Alum Kyle Pasciutti '08 adapted to continue his work as a makeup and special effects artist during this pandemic, including on this commercial. I had the opportunity to interview him to get a better understanding of his involvement in the makeup and haunted house industry and how it's been affected by the pandemic.
What was your focus in theater during your undergrad?
I focused on tech, primarily scenic design, but also slurping up classes in lighting and sound design as well as completing a minor in psychology. The theater department didn’t have makeup classes, so after the department found out that I had a history with haunted houses, I got brought in to do a bunch of blood gags and gore for shows… There’s a lot of blood in Shakespeare after all!” Stage makeup is much like the makeup for haunted houses: big, bold, immediately visible. On film, if you can see my work then I’ve done a terrible job. Subtlety is the name of the game for anything with a lens. On stage, the intense lighting will actually reduce the appearance of natural wrinkles and crow’s feet which must be drawn back in, while the same effect would mostly be done by adding three dimensional folds for the shadows to play more naturally to a camera.
Sallaway: Describe your involvement with film and television.
Pasciutti: My company, Decimated Designs, aims to be a creative tour de force for the entirety of the entertainment industry, from weddings and mitzvahs to zombie runs and video game commercials, we’re the team to come to when a production needs something unique! For film and television, this work mainly centers around makeup fx and foam fabrication. We don’t do “standard” makeup, but when the call arises to make someone look older, or to have a fake scar for a commercial about knee replacement, we’re on it. On the other side of things, we do various types of foam fabrication, creating a giant 6’ tall skull for a Nickelodeon show which only weighs 11lbs so that the team can moves sets much easier, a fat suit for a celebrity who must go unnamed, or flexible headdresses for a marketing a line of premade “Care Packages From Mom”. As much as I love working in film, my heart will always be with live performance, which is why I am so excited to currently be working on a new cabaret style dinner theater performance venue which we have laid out specifically for COVID safety and protocols.
Sallaway: What are the biggest differences of doing makeup now compared to before COVID?
Pasciutti: Many many tricks in the makeup fx arsenal go out the window with COVID protocols. If we had 4x zombies to make, we would somewhat assembly-line things with all the pieces getting glued down on everyone, then all the filler, all the base coating, etc. Now, those same 4 zombies have to be done one at a time with cleanup in between. Safety has always been a top priority, so adding on to that aspect of the new protocols hasn’t been an issue whatsoever, and in fact, having a production team that is far more understanding of what these things really take to pull off has been a huge positive! Suddenly I find myself no longer having to negotiate for another 15 minutes for a makeup, or trying to squeeze the budget to fit in backup pieces because everyone on the production understands that infection-wise, the makeup department is also potentially the most dangerous spot on the shoot.
Sallway: How do you do makeup safely during this pandemic?
Pasciutti: Temperature checks for everyone every single day. On larger shoots, every single person involved might be getting tested every other day. On our particular shoot the majority of the actors were a family unit which really helped with quarantining ahead of the shoot, but smack dab in the middle of our schedule they announced new travel restrictions between states which meant that some of our actors were unexpectedly stuck in a hotel for a few days. Actors can’t wear masks while in a makeup chair, so it’s on the artist to protect as much as possible which means both masks and face shields. The easiest answer to safety in this pandemic is to: 1. Take every possible precaution, 2. Allow for the time and budget to properly implement protocols and prevent any scenario where you might have to rush something causing a possible slip up, and 3. Get creative after 1 & 2 are under control! If the normal way of doing things isn’t going to work, or can’t be done safely, have plans B, C, and D in your back pocket ready to go!
Sallaway: How has the haunted house industry differed this year?
Pasciutti: This year saw an absolute upheaval in the haunt industry. It’s hard to come up with accurate numbers, but from what I watched I would say that around 1/3 of attractions decided not to open this year. Of the ones that opened, probably 1/10 switched to drive-thru setups, and the rest opened with heavily enforced sanitary protocols. I partnered up with a group on Long Island to do a drive-thru attraction building puppets and oversized costumes for the performers in order to make sure the audience could still get that WOW from their cars while maintaining distance. In addition, I also consulted with a separate haunt here in Connecticut on how they could still safely do makeup for their actors suggesting things like moving their makeup area outdoors, and switching over entirely to airbrushing. This was a wild year with the money that haunts would usually spend on props going towards plexiglass and sanitizer sprays. There’s a general rule in the industry that year-to-year an attraction needs to be around 1/3 different (you wouldn’t go see the same exact play over and over again, and it’s the same with haunts) but that rule fell apart this year. Most haunts continued what they had done from the previous year and asked their guests to be understanding, which for the most part they were! You just can’t please everyone, but I think the majority of people were looking for SOMETHING fun and normalizing, and this year that is exactly what haunted houses provided.