Hill Vinot: A Tried And True Monster Maker

I instantly became a huge fan of the Syfy original series ‘Monster Man‘, which just wrapped its six-episode inaugural season. Who wouldn’t love a show that celebrates the creativity of an art form that is slowly being phased out of our cinematic experiences- practical effects?

I’ve always had a deep respect for the people behind the scenes of horror films and getting the chance to watch Cleve Hall and his ensemble of family and friends creating the beasts I’ve always loved was an awesome way to spend the last handful of Wednesday nights.

One of the members of Hall’s Monster Crew is Hill Vinot, a soft-spoken fabricator who has been dabbling in the macabre for as long as he could pick up a pencil to draw.

Vinot has assembled a résumé that is as impressive as it is diverse. From creating masks to making fake blood, ‘Mortal Kombat’ masks to towering animatronic dinosaurs, Hill has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the best guys in the business. Also, I can’t be the only one in the world who thinks Jason Lee would play a great Hill Vinot in ‘Monster Man: The Movie’, right??

On a whim, I got in touch with Hill to not only share my appreciation and respect for his work, but also with hopes of picking his brain a little. Seeing as how I am a novice monster maker and am always interested in chatting with those who do what I want to do as a career, I was ecstatic when Hill agreed to an interview. 

Get ready, folks. Take it all in- I present to you my most in-depth interview here at Mangled Matters! Keep all arms and feet inside the car at all times. Hill has promised not to bite.

MM: Growing up, what were your monster influences?
Hill Vinot: I suppose my grandfather would be the one to give the credit for. He used to sit and watch creature movies with my brother and I. He also used to get us ‘Famous Monsters’ magazine all the time. My dad grew up with the old monsters of the fifties and watched those movies with us as well, only he enjoyed pointing out how good it looked or how fake it was most of the time.

MM: What were you like as a child?
HV: Well at school I was mostly introverted with few friends, but I did well with school work which is how i threw the teachers off my trail while I drew in their classes. We didn’t have much growing up, so I made most of the Halloween costumes that we went trick or treating in. The rest of the time I spent in my own world.

MM: You spent a lot time drawing monsters in the basement of your Tennessee home as a child. Was your mother supportive of your monster doodles as a youngster?
HV: Although my mom wasn’t strict on what we could draw or what toys we could have, she was very strict on what we watched. So when she saw me only drawing monsters annihilating the human race, her first concern was to have me see a shrink. Later somebody talked her down from that after they told her what I did was normal.

MM: What was the first film you worked on?

HV: I really can’t remember the first film, but the first major film and on screen credit came from “Blade 2”.

MM: You’ve worked with a number of people and some of the biggest names in effects in the business. Was there one particular moment when you realized people were really seeing your talents for what they were?

HV: In the industry, recognition for my real talents didn’t come until about three years ago when I decided to drop out of the mainstream shops and start working more for small shops, and jobs on my own. Even though I’ve worked on big films, the shops I worked at have become more FX factories rather than studios. If I was to pinpoint anything, it would have to be when I built a number of things for a revamped version of the classic “Mortal Kombat”.

MM: You mentioned Forrest J. Ackerman’s benchmark publication, ‘Famous Monsters Of Filmland’, as an early inspiration to your monster love. Who are some other horror heroes of yours throughout the years?

HV: John Carpenter comes to mind with “The Thing”. Clive Barker won me over with “Hellraiser 1, 2 and 4”. Wes Craven with his films, as well, but mostly because he is always fighting Hollywood from sweeping him under a rug.

MM: What has been your most proud accomplishment to date with your career?

HV: I can’t really say exactly what I’m most proud of that I’ve done. There’s a lot of things I’ve been really proud and surprised that I could do and some I would like to forget. Typical artist, being my own worst critic.

MM: With ‘Monster Man’ Season 1 now wrapped on Syfy, what was it like working on a television show? Sure, you’re making monsters still, but how much did your days alter when the TV crews were in the building?

HV: The differences were quite noticeable. When we get a job, we have a deadline, we do our work and deliver. With them, we had different deadlines to get the job done as their shooting schedule changed for their crew, which in turn drove us nuts at times. Also they would have us hold the work or start over so they could get different shots or a retake in.

MM: On the show, I love how little things like hair gel as wolf slobber and plastic spoons as monster eyes were tricks of the trade the average movie fan got an inside scoop on. What is one “trick of the trade” you can share with us horror junkies out there?

HV: One of the best tricks is to be able to mix blood correctly. For fresh blood, the best is red and caramel food coloring, either in Karo syrup or a mixture of powdered coffee creamer which can also be used as mouth blood. The best trick is to take what you know and utilize it in your work. The reason it’s called make-up is because we “make it up” as we go.

MM: I can’t wait for a Season 2 so we can see more from the coolest monster team in the business. Has a second season already started filming?

HV: Actually no, we’re still waiting on a final word from Syfy if there’s even gonna be a second season.

MM: I don’t see how there can’t be a Season 2 of ‘Monster Man’! I loved the show. How long have you been working with SOTA FX?

HV: I’ve been with SOTA for the past three years solid, but I’ve been with them on and off for the past thirteen years.

Most of the crew of ‘Monster Man’ at the Season 1 wrap party

MM: This may be like asking a parent who their favorite child is, but what are a few of your all-time favorite creations you’ve made in all your years as a fabricator?

HV: Well, I’m proud of the make-ups I designed. I’ve sculpted for the film “Machete Joe” and I also created a customized machete for the film. I’ve also done a fully animatronic dinosaur for a world known ventriloquist.

MM: Being a jack of seemingly all trades in the monster effects business, is there one particular area of effects you love to do most?

HV: There really isn’t one particular part of effects I prefer. I have found that if I do one thing for too long I get bored, so I keep it different to eliminate the possibility of pigeon holing myself in one area. People tend to try too hard to label somebody as an expert in one field, which usually leads to burn out and boredom quickly.

MM: CGI has run rampant in the world of horror these days, and it was so cool to see a show dedicated solely to the old school ways of practical effects. What are your thoughts on the current state of mainstream horror films?

HV: Current mainstream horror movies are being made by people who don’t really know horror or even know their audience. They think they can crank out whatever they feel like handing us and we’re gonna eat it. That’s not to say that all of it is fodder for the yard but it is getting harder and harder to find one that’s even tolerably amusing. The old ones might have been ridiculous at times but they never broke the golden rule of entertaining your audience.

MM: The remakes are getting absurd. It’s also sad that this current generation is losing appreciation for practical effects. What is your all-time favorite practical effect horror scene in movie history?

HV: My favorite probably isn’t one scene but every scene in John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. That movie is a masterpiece and a landmark tribute to what real-time effects can do for a culture in story telling. Everything in that film is real, no CG to even speak of. We won’t speak of the new one (the 2011 premake).

On a side note, even though I worked on and liked “Slither”, the space leeches in “Night of the Creeps” were definitely better as real-time effect influences.

MM: What are some of your favorite horror films of all time?

HV: “Halloween 3”, most of the Krueger films, “Event Horizon” , and “Trick Or Treat” from the ’80s.

MM: You immediately become one of the coolest people in the world of naming ‘Halloween 3’ as one of your favorite horror films. That movie NEVER gets the credit it deserves.

HV: Naming “Halloween 3” as one of my faves was because I thought it was taking the horror sequel world into a new direction. There’s nothing wrong with the recurring serial killer, but it would have been cool to see a series that showed weird and peculiar events of Halloween for each film instead of focusing on a particular character. I suppose I’m too much of a fan of the “Weird War” and “Tales from the Vault” comics from way back.

MM: What advice, if any, would you offer a young person who has dreams of bringing their nightmares to life?

HV: Learn what you can from everything you do,no matter what it is and never let anyone discourage you from those dreams.

I can’t thank Hill enough for his time and insight with this interview. It was truly an honor talking with one of my new-found monster heroes.

Keep your eyes peeled and fingers crossed for news on a Season 2 of ‘Monster Man’ and until that happens, be sure to catch up on Season 1 either on the Syfy website or through your cable provider!


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