by Amy K. Lavender

The Carrollton Cultural Arts Center was bursting at the seams last Tuesday with students, faculty, staff and community members anxious to hear all about how movie magic is made from University of West Georgia alumna Dawn Dininger, who is currently lead fabricator at Legacy Studios.

The event was sponsored by the Michael and Andrea Stone Visiting Artist Series, and Michael Stone himself welcomed the crowd to the event. 

The Making of a Monster: UWG alumna shares secrets of the special effects trade“We're here to offer the fifth installment of the Visiting Artist Series,” Stone said. “We are dedicated to working with the university to bring in different genres of artists to visit Carrollton and work with the students–to give our community and students a full experience of what it’s like to be an artist in the real world. We’ve had some great artists thus far, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with our guest tonight.”

Stone’s hope was not in vain, as all those in attendance remained captivated throughout the event as Dininger shared details on the materials she works with, techniques she uses and the mechanics involved in building creatures, super hero costumes and prosthetics. 

“As a fabricator, it’s my job to put all the pieces together, because they’re all made separately,” Dininger explained. “But if there’s a muscle suit that has to be made that’s kind of become my specialty. So I made The Beast muscle suit for X-Men that goes under his fur and his clothes.  We have someone who sculpts the muscles out of foam latex, then I get the foam and put everything where it’s supposed to be on this really stretchy material, and I glue it and sew it all together.”

However, Dininger was quick to point out that her job was not limited to suit fabrication; it can also include puppets, prosthetics, painting, etc.

“I still do a lot of everything in my department because you never know what you’re doing from day to day, and it’s always different,” she said. 

According to Dininger, the field of special effects fabrication has also changed drastically in the past 10 years, and new technologies are changing the craft each year.

The Making of a Monster: UWG alumna shares secrets of the special effects trade“For example, we rarely do body casts anymore,” she explained. “We just take someone over to get scanned, and they do a 3-D scan and it carves it out in foam, and then we just fix the imperfections on it and mold it. In five to ten years, this will be old technology. There’s just faster techniques now.”

Dininger said one of the great things about her job is traveling to sets that are on location and the variety of the jobs she does.

“We all like working on big movies, but commercials can be fun because you don’t have time to get tired of it,” Dininger laughed. “For Alien vs. Predator, I made 18 Predator suits and 18 Alien suits, and by the end I didn’t even want to see any more Alien or Predator suits." 

But she said anyone interested in working in films should be willing to work freelance and come to terms with the fact that there will be periods of unemployment.

“If you want to do it, you have to take that leap of faith and not give up because there are times in the beginning when it’s tough. My first job was three days, then I waitressed for three months. Then I got a gig for three months, then I waitressed for seven months. It goes back and forth, and you have to do some free work on some low-budget stuff that no one is ever going to see, but it helps to flesh out your portfolio. Eventually, you start working full time.”

And her parting advice for students looking to get into the behind-the-scenes business?

“Be easy to work with,” she said. “If you’re skilled and talented, you’ll get jobs; but you’ll get more jobs if you’re talented and easy to work with.” 

In addition to the lecture at the CCAC, Dininger spent the week visiting various UWG art classes and conducting a workshop with theatre and art students at the UWG Costume Shop. For the workshop, she guided four groups of students as they created their own muscle suit from start to finish. 

Dininger said she was surprised at how much Carrollton and the campus have changed over the years.

“But it’s great,” she said. “It’s really amazing. And I’m so glad I was here during Homecoming. I even got to see the Glow Parade. It’s been a great week!”

Posted on October 27, 2016