New York native Matt Singer found his calling at the tender age of 9 while watching bad adventure movies.
"I went to see Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger," Singer says with all the excitement of a 9-year-old watching a Sinbad movie. "All the special effects were done by Ray Harryhausen, the father of stop-motion animation. And it was all great stuff, like the Cyclops on the beach and things like that."
Singer was so taken with the idea of stop-motion animation that he began making his own films a year later. "I did animation until I was in my teens," he says. "Then I went to a special camp for gifted kids at the Institute of Technology on Long Island. I met this kid there who did special-effects makeup for horror movies, and we sort of switched. He started doing animation, and I started doing makeup."
Singer attended NYU film school to study special effects and special-effects makeup. After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles and went to work in the film industry. After 14 years in the business, Singer left L.A. to teach sculpture at the Memphis College of Art, and he has recently fulfilled a long-standing desire to open his own school to teach the art of prosthetic makeup. Located on South Front Street in the Paperworks building, Matt Singer's Prosthetic Makeup Academy begins its first schedule of classes in January.
"I developed my own process [for making silicone prosthetics], and I sold that process to a company in New York," Singer says, adding, "Whenever you see a prosthetic used on Saturday Night Live, for example, that's [my process]." This sale provided Singer with enough money to open his school.
"I'm currently working on a special silicon-based wrinkle cream to sell on QVC that will be my retirement money," he says, laughing. "I really am working on that. It's almost finished."
Singer, who has developed a reputation for working with exotic materials, hopes to offer students a chance to learn the most cutting-edge techniques in makeup technology.
"They will learn skills that put them head and shoulders above everyone else in the field," Singer says. "I'm only going to teach skills that are currently being used and that will be used in the future, nothing old-school. Students will also get a real handle on life-casting, which is the most important part [of the process]. If you don't get the life-cast right, nothing will fit."
Singer has worked on films ranging from big-budget blockbusters like Bicentennial Man, Monkeybone, and Star Trek: Nemesis to Matthew Barney's critically acclaimed anthology of art films, The Cremaster Cycle. He claims his students at MCA couldn't care less about his mainstream work. "But when they found out I'd done The Cremaster Cycle," he says, "they absolutely lost their minds."
The most fulfilling aspect of Singer's work comes from working on medical prosthetics. Over the years, he has constructed everything from noses to breasts.
"[The medical work] is always a compromise," Singer says. "There's not going to be movement under the skin like there is in the movies, because in the movies there are muscles under the skin. Here we are usually replacing something that is gone." There is also the problem of making the margins of a prosthetic match the real skin.
"That's why I try to disguise the margins in a wrinkle or a fold," Singer says. "The best-case scenario [if you are working on a facial feature] is if the person wears glasses. This is where the makeup artist has to become an illusionist. You highlight a shortcoming rather than hide it."
"[The medical work] can be hard," Singer says, "but it's my way of giving back. You can't actually replace the things that are gone, but you can give someone at least a sense of being whole again." n
Prosthetics Makeup Academy workshops begin on January 3rd. Call 458-3370 for additional information.