At Alcone Company, we’re always excited for the Halloween season, but this year even more so. That’s because we’re the official makeup sponsor of Into the Dark SF’s Terror Vault and Apocolypse, two fully immersive, theatrical haunt events taking place in San Francisco through November 3rd and 9th respectively. And what would a haunted attraction be without its horrifying characters that make people squirm? Dani Spinks is the special effects artist who designs all of the creepy character makeup and leads the team of artists for this thrilling event. If you’re going to be in the Bay area, be sure to grab a ticket so you can check out her work in person at this horrifically fun and fear-inducing show. In the meantime, read all about her love of gore and her path to becoming a haunt makeup artist.
Where are you from originally?
I am from Bedford, Indiana, which is in the southern half of the state. I have lived in the Bay area for over 15 years.
How long have you been a professional makeup artist and how did you get your start?
I began playing around with special effects makeup in 2011 when my best friend and I started a company called SF Zombie Bar. We produced zombie-themed events such as our annual “I Was A Teenage Zombie” Prom along with zombie-themed pub crawls all year round. Eventually, businesses and people came to us to hire zombies for events and private parties. I discovered I had a talent and passion for this kind of makeup. I began reading and watching every book and tutorial that I could get my hands on to soak up as much knowledge as I could. I also have a background as a massage therapist, so I already had a strong understanding of anatomy, which is essential in doing this sort of makeup.
What types of projects are your focus in the industry?
I have worked on commercials, movies, theatre, live events. I love theatre, so I guess my energy shifts more to theatre work. I am also the owner and artistic director of Dreams on the Rocks, a Bay Area theatre company where we mostly do sci-fi-themed shows. I get to design and create really fun props, sets, and makeup. I also get hired from various other companies for design work or custom-fit prosthetics, but working on Terror Vault is the absolute most fun and completely in my wheelhouse. Designing the makeup and props for all of the twisted and sick characters created by Peaches Christ is so much fun!
How did you find your way to becoming the lead makeup artist for Terror Vault?
I had been introduced to David Flower, one of the producers, years ago when he lived in San Francisco. I was interested in starting a haunt in San Francisco since the Bay Area seriously lacked good haunts. A mutual friend suggested David and I meet since he had the same plan in mind. Shortly after, David moved back to the East Coast, but we stayed in touch via social media. Long story short, I noticed a post about him and Peaches going to Transworld in St. Louis, which is the largest haunters’ convention. So I reached out to him and asked if they were planning a haunt in SF and if so, I wanted to get involved in any way I could. And, well, that was pretty much it. I became the lead makeup artist and production assistant building props and the set.
What was it about special effects or gore in particular that called to you as an artist? Was there a particular moment when it clicked and you knew that it was your calling?
I have never been more passionate about anything in my life. Makeup is a very magical thing. It’s that moment when your design comes to life right in front of you — a living breathing piece of art. I don’t recall a particular moment. I am just the type of person that when I set my mind on something, I won’t stop until I have completed it. Horror is just in me. It makes me happy more than anything else. To be able to create nightmare fuel for a living is the absolute best!
Who are the artists you look up to most or follow in the industry?
There are two: Ve Neill and Greg Nicotero.
As a female in this industry, you don’t have a lot of other female effects artists to look up to. Ve Neill (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Pirates of the Caribbean) did not let this male-dominated industry hold her back. She made a name and a very successful career for herself on her own by letting her talent speak for itself. I respect her as an artist and as a strong female.
Greg Nicotero got his start working under Tom Savini on George Romero movies. He quickly grew to become the leading zombie makeup expert and oversees the makeup department for The Walking Dead. I love the aesthetic of his style of makeup.
Does working on a haunted attraction differ from your other gigs as far as makeup design, prep, workday pace, team size, etc.?
Yes absolutely. It’s a full-time gig for about half of the year. I began in June, working with Peaches on the looks of the characters while also working on the props. When designing makeup for haunts, there are a lot of factors to consider like the dim lighting, how long the actor has to get into makeup, and how long they will be in that makeup. You also have to consider the types of makeup: user-friendly, quick to apply, longevity. Also, due to the lighting, you might have to pump up certain colors or exaggerate lines or areas so that they read better in the dark vs. in natural light. Last year (our first year), it was primarily me with an assistant who was there some of the time. This year, I have three other assistants helping on performance nights, so I am looking forward to that! LOL.
Where do you look for inspiration for your character ideas?
I think a lot about that character itself, their motivation and backstory. From there, I build. I tend to pull inspiration from older horror as far as the looks go.
What or who is your favorite Terror Vault character makeup this season and why?
The Whitaker Clan! Especially Grandma. There is just something about inbred cannibals that makes me happy. They are so terrifying. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn. Those characters are all so scary. Creating those looks and the props for them was by far my favorite part!
What Alcone products are your favorites to work with and why?
3rd Degree is incredible. I use it for so many things like scars, burns, rotting skin, wounds, and cleft lips (one of the cannibals has a cleft lip!). It’s super easy to work with, and the cure time allows plenty of room to take your time and sculpt. The Alcone Company Bald Caps are great too. They’re the easiest and most time-efficient that I’ve worked with. Honestly, every product I have used from Alcone is amazing and clearly created with the makeup artist in mind.
Have you ever created an effect or look that was so realistic or just plain disgusting that you almost “lost your lunch?”
LOL. Anytime fake maggots are involved in any makeup, I nearly lose it!
What advice do you have for aspiring effects artists and those who want to get involved with the haunt scene?
Read books. Watch tutorials. Learn how to do every style of makeup from beauty to old age to decaying rot. Practice, practice, practice. Build a portfolio. Get involved in any way you can with a haunt, even if it isn’t makeup at first. Get your foot in the door and learn everything you can!
Favorite horror or effects movies of all time?
The Nightmare on Elm Street series is my absolute favorite. I can remember being 6 years old, and my mom let me watch the first one. I was so in love with it. From there, I was watching Friday the 13th, Halloween and Hellraiser. I grew up with 80’s horror, which is a special kind of horror, and that will always be my first love.
Dani at work.
Many thanks to you, Dani, for sharing your haunt life and professional journey with all of us!
For more information about Dani, check out agoreabledesigns.com.
All photos courtesy of Dani Spinks and Into the Dark SF Productions.