“Farscape” Season Three: Dave Elsey and The Creature Shop

By Anna L. Kaplan

Dave Elsey, creative supervisor of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop™ in Australia, loves working on the FARSCAPE. When he first agreed to do the job, he set himself a goal. He recalled, “I am a fan of everything you can think of to do with sci-fi and horror, anything that might possibly contain any makeup effects and creatures. When we got offered this job to come out here and do this show, my one objective was to try and do something that would actually excite me.”

Season three presented Elsey and his team with new challenges. They worked on everything from humanoid bipeds to completely non-anthropoid creatures. Said Elsey, “It’s been the usual mixture of hellish deadlines and great opportunities to do new characters. I think this has been one of the most tiring seasons for us.”

One of the first new characters Elsey had to create for season three was Moordil, for “Suns and Lovers.” He recalled, “Moordil was fun, because it just said in the script ‘Barkeeper, probably Creature Shop.’ I thought, ‘What would be the ultimate alien barkeeper?’ I thought what you’d really want would be somebody with six arms, so that he could serve several people at once. I set about designing Moordil. It ended up being huge, with about six puppeteers on the arms, and Thomas Holesgrove, who plays most of our big-suit creatures, in the middle of it in the makeup. I really like that creature. But I think unfortunately I designed a widescreen creature for television,. We weren’t actually to get him all on the screen all at once without getting so far away that you couldn’t actually tell what was going on.”

A favorite of Elsey’s was Kaarvok, the insane scientist in “Eat Me.” Remembered Elsey, “That was actually one of my favorite episodes to do this season for a couple of reasons. One reason was that when I was a kid I used to have a horror book, and on the front cover there was a picture of Baron Frankenstein as played by Peter Cushing. He was being assisted by this blonde-haired, young man. That was the guy, the blonde-haired guy, I most wanted to be when I was a kid, because I wanted to be Baron Frankenstein’s assistant. He was played by Shane Briant. He turned up as Kaarvok, on completely the other side of the world here in Australia. The [book cover] was from a Hammer film called FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL [1974], and it was about a cannibalistic creature. I don’t think anybody knew when they hired this guy that it was almost the same story. We did pretty crazy makeup on him, and we got to build his mechanical arm with the brain-sucking device on it.”

Going in a completely different direction, in “Thanks For Sharing” a being called a strannat was supposed to tell if someone was speaking the truth. Said Elsey, “Nobody really had any idea really what it should be or how it should work. We had meetings where people would go, ‘Well, you know, we need this thing that can make Crichton tell the truth. He pulls it out of a tank, and he sticks it on his head, and that’s how we know.’ ‘But how does it work? What’s the threat? What will happen if he gets it wrong?’ ‘It will kill him.’ ‘How will it kill him?’ They go, ‘We don’t know.’ The whole thing was thrown at us, and we came up with that kind of weird lobster creature that can actually suck your brains out if you get the answer wrong. Originally it was going to jet the brains out the back of it, but they thought, maybe that will be a little far for the show.”

The same episode introduced the Colartas, reptilian tracking creatures, who worked with Xhalax Sun in “Relativity.” Recalled Elsey, “I am really happy with the actual Colartas creature. It’s quite a good design. We also got to do the costumes for them. Lou Elsey, my wife, worked really hard and managed to come up with a good look, really complex. I was really pleased with the way they got photographed, the way they looked, and the way they acted.”

Elsey worked along with other people to create the prosthetic makeup of Jool, played by Tammy MacIntosh. He recalled, “We designed her in The Creature Shop. Originally, on all my designs, her hair is bright red. Tony Winley and Andrew Prowse didn’t like the red hair. [They] wanted her to have kind of reddish, strawberry blonde hair. David Kemper, to keep the peace, decided that she’d have both red hair and ginger hair. She’d have the ability to change her hair color, and now make that part of the story.”

The prosthetic parts are not what viewers usually see on FARSCAPE. Said Elsey, “We basically designed and sculpted the pieces [which] start around her cheekbones. It’s her whole forehead, and then a big number with her hair. It’s actually not the kind of makeup we normally do on FARSCAPE. We try to avoid foreheads, because of what’s been done on other shows. But Andrew was particularly impressed by the face of the actress Tammy MacIntosh, and wanted to keep as much of it exposed as possible, whilst giving her alien tendencies. That does limit what you can do. He wanted her to have as little makeup on as possible. Tammy could have played that role with no makeup on at all and I don’t think anybody would really notice. It’s just that we always try and keep everything as alien as we possibly can on the show. We’ve handed the whole makeup job over to the makeup department. They’ve been sticking it on and establishing her look ever since then, and have done a lot of different things with her hair, and changed her coloring a little bit, and made it their own. The people responsible for the look of that really more than us in The Creature Shop were really Andrew Prowse and Tony Winley.”

Jool looks almost human. On the other end of the spectrum was a character Elsey created for “The Choice,” an small, slimy alien with many eyes who claimed he could contact the dead. Recalled Elsey, “We see a character called the Seer, which I think is one of the weirdest puppets we’ve ever done here on FARSCAPE. It turned out to be quite a stunning piece of work, and a very good character. Rowan Woods, the way he shot it, it’s just beautiful. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, ever, on any of the seasons.”

A Boolite appeared in the next episode, “Fractures.” The audience never saw him except in pieces. He was blown to bits and Jool and Crais tried to put him back together. Laughed Elsey, “The Boolite is the very first thing I think that we have ever designed that actually turns up on set every day in a bucket. It’s the weirdest thing I think we’ve been asked to create on FARSCAPE – apart from the Seer actually now that I think about it.”

At the end of FARSCAPE’s second season, Elsey was asked to work on STAR WARS, something reported in the last CINEFANTASTIQUE FARSCAPE issue. Elsey wanted to set the record right. He said, “We were offered STAR WARS, towards the end of season two, but we didn’t end up doing it. The schedule didn’t work, and I would have still been working on STAR WARS when FARSCAPE three came back. I didn’t. I actually turned it down so I could do FARSCAPE. I hope we carry on and do season four, five, six and seven, until we run out of ideas. I am not sure when that will be.”

Copyright 2002 by Anna L. Kaplan. A shortended version of this article originally appeared in the June 2002 issue of Cinefantastique (Volume 34, Number 3-4). Other articles from this issue can be found in the Archives June 2002.

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