Visual arts | The Man Behind The Masks

In the spirit of Purim, Shtetl decided to approach C.J. Goldman, mask and monster-maker, artist and creator of wrinkles, wounds, and whatever else you can think of.

As a special effects artist, C.J. has quite an impressive array of films under his belt ranging from “Conan the Barbarian” and “300” to “Death Race” and “Dawn of the Dead,” and the list goes on. C.J., being the quiet and gentle chap that he is, would blush at the mention of the Gemini he won three years ago for a children’s T.V. series where he transformed a 12-year old girl into an ageing, balding 60-year old man. Following that accolade, C.J. was recently nominated for both a Genie and a Jutra award for “Les 7 jours du talion.”

It is not unusual to see C.J. taking a stroll in the Mile End neighbourhood slinging along two silicone heads on their way to get a hair cut.  Apparently, silicone ladies don’t get any deals at the salon.  If you happen to see someone walking around with a silicone baby in hand, chances are it’s C.J. Goldman.  You can touch and feel the baby – the only unreal thing about this newborn is that it’s wrapped in a garbage bag.

If a baby in a plastic bag sounds absurd or disturbing, it is run-of-the-mill for C.J.  I fondly remember an incident that happened while C.J. and I were taking a trip to New York City. As we stopped at U.S. customs, C.J. was asked to open up the trunk. However, he had overlooked one little detail: his trunk was filled with dismembered, bleeding body parts. As the customs officer took a step back in disbelief, C.J., trying to reassure him, promptly grabbed a bloody arm and declared, “but it’s fake! Look it’s corn starch; it’s not real blood.”

In typical fashion, C.J. showed up for today’s interview carrying two bags – one contained an Arahova souvlaki, while from the other protruded what looked like his dad’s head. C.J. has been working on making a life-like reproduction of his dad’s head, and after several months of painstaking sculpting, C.J. can tell you that the pores on his dad’s neck are very different from the pores around his nose. It goes without saying that C.J. successfully re-created his dad’s noggin.

C.J. clearly remembers the moment of inspiration for his life’s work. When he was four years old, he came across a book about magic in the library of his nursery school. He was enthralled to see a man about to step into a rubber fish costume. He pretty much decided in his four-year old mind that he wanted to make monster costumes. From his early childhood through his teenage years, C.J. was exhaustive both in his research and experimentation with masks, moulds and special effects make-up. At 19, C.J. convinced his parents to let him take Dick Smith’s special effects correspondence course. Dick Smith, a special effects master, was the man behind films such as “The Exorcist,” “The Godfather,” “Amadeus,” and many more that redefined special effects make-up techniques.

C.J. had already started practicing his make-up techniques on friends’ experimental movies and was the go-to guy for fake bruises, cuts, burns and blood. It was at this time that he met Adrian Morot, who was recently nominated for an Oscar for his work on “Barney’s Version.” Adrian is not only gifted technically but is an excellent sculptor and illustrator. Once C.J. started working with Adrian, his “work improved 400% just by seeing what was possible in make-up.”

For the next four years, at the expense of having neither a life nor a girlfriend, C.J. invested every moment into learning and practicing sculpting techniques. This experience was fundamental for him in developing a critical eye towards his work, and in being able to discern what was good from what needed improvement. Soon after this, C.J. made his way to the big Hollywood studios in L.A. and started working with Steve Johnson, a Hollywood make-up mogul.

Upon his return to Montreal, C.J. juggled between his own projects and working in other studios until he was getting so much work that he decided to open up his own shop. C.J. admits that it is one thing to be an accomplished artist and quite another to start your own business. This was an uphill battle after under-budgeting on several projects and consequently paying for movies out of his own pocket. However, since C.J. is accustomed to being self-taught and embracing challenges, it is no surprise that he is getting more and more comfortable walking the tightrope of running a business.

When asked about one of his more memorable make-up gigs, C.J. recounted an amusing anecdote about doing a body casting of Denzel Washington in a Wonder Bread factory, all while Denzel’s mother eyed C.J. rather suspiciously as he manhandled Denzel’s semi-nude body.  And, when asked which actor he would like to work with most, C.J. does not have to think long to come up with Christopher Walken.

As advice for the upcoming generation of special-effects artists, C.J. insists that the most fundamental tool to creating great sculpture is drawing. It helped him sharpen his observational skills and improve his 3-D perspective. Also, C.J. believes that a lot of special effects artists get stuck in perfecting a specific technique and end up just repeating their designs. Every time C.J. has to create a monster, he spends a lot of time coming up with an original design that is ultimately believable.

So keep an eye out for our local magician C.J. Goldman. Maybe, like me, you’ll be lucky enough to one day visit his studio – picture a bomb shelter scattered with dismembered limbs and their respective bodies, lying amidst monsters and goop. And, of course, C.J. all smiles.

Asma Khan is a writer, editor and artist living in Montreal. As a Muslim, of Pakistani origin, this year will be her first time celebrating Purim.