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Interview: Christien Tinsley on makeup and 'American Horror Story' FX part 1

Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man are arguably some of the scariest, most memorable monsters ever brought to life on film. Born in an era which was decades before digital effects, these chilling creatures were shaped under the skilled hands of renowned Hollywood makeup artist Jack Pierce.

Still shots taken in the showroom at Tinsley Studios during Christien Tinsley's interview with Lori Melton from
Still shots taken in the showroom at Tinsley Studios during Christien Tinsley's interview with Lori Melton from
Valerie Hulet McCarty for Lori Melton
Christien Tinsley talks with Lori Melton from in an exclusive interview at Tinsley Studios.
Valerie Hulet McCarty for Lori Melton

As horror films took a more modern turn toward personifying evil, the makeup process became much more involved. Legendary Oscar winning artist Dick Smith (“Amadeus”) pioneered the process of applying prosthetics to allow an actor to have a wider range of facial expressions. How can anyone ever forget Linda Blair’s bone-chilling transformation as demon possessed Regan in “The Exorcist?”

The man who received the inaugural Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Rick Baker, was an assistant to Smith on “The Exorcist” and went on to capture the Academy Award for his spectacular work on the 1981 film “An American Werewolf in London.”

All three of these men practiced their craft for more than 40 years and helped pave the way for current day makeup effects artists. Other giants in the field include Stan Winston (“Terminator” series, “Edward Scissorhands”) Steve Johnson (“The Abyss, “Spiderman II”) and Screaming Mad George (“Predator,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4”).

At only 40, Oscar-winning makeup/FX artist Christien Tinsley joins these legendary men (some of whom he cites as professional inspirations) as an innovator among his peers. In getting his first professional job at 22, Christien has already built an impressive film and television resume’ which includes “The Grinch,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Oceans 11,” “The Assassination of Jesse James,” the “Fast and Furious” series, “Men in Black 3,” “Gangster Squad,” “Labor Day” and many more.

In 2005, Christien received an Oscar nod for his emotionally arresting work on “The Passion of the Christ,” and in 2008 he won the Scientific and Technical Achievement Oscar for developing Prosthetic Transfers. The recent Emmy winner (“Behind the Candelabra”) remains humble and grounded in light of all he has achieved. He is also acutely aware of his field’s changing scope in the face of digital advancements in film and visual effects.

The indisputable fact remains that Christien and other makeup artists bring something to the cinematic table that digital effects alone can’t provide: Imagination and human artistic expression. Like a painter filling a canvas, a makeup artist uses a creative eye and diligently works in often layered and intricate detail to achieve an overall vision for any given character.

The end result of this delicate and dedicated process helps inspire actors to more fully inhabit and embody the characters they portray and helps the audience become more deeply invested, engaged and submerged into the world of the story.

Christien’s list of amazing transformations is long, with his stunning work on Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ in “The Passion of the Christ” creatively defining him as an artist and ultimately leading to a pinnacle moment in his career with his first Best Makeup Oscar nomination.

Christien Tinsley co-founded Tinsley Studios with his wife Angela and is quick to acknowledge the collaborative efforts of his talented and dedicated team as being a key factor to the success him and the studio has enjoyed. Key members of his team include Production Coordinator Robin Hatcher, and makeup/FX artists Mike Mekash (his brother), Eryn Krueger Mekash (his sister-in-law), Jason Hamer, Chris Nelson, Hiroshi Yada and Allison Oliver.

The team’s collective efforts have resulted in multiple Emmy nominations for Outstanding Prosthetic and Outstanding Non-Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie or Special for “Glee” and “American Horror Story: Murder House” and “American Horror Story: Asylum.” They also took home the Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup Emmy in 2013 for “Behind the Candelabra.”

Christien and his team have done spectacular work in bringing the terrifyingly original world of “American Horror Story” to life. I recently had the honor of sitting down with Christien at Tinsley Studios to discuss his extraordinary career and get an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look some of the incredible FX used in “American Horror Story: Asylum” and “Coven.”

In part one of our two-part exclusive interview which is shown in the attached video, we discuss Christien’s astonishing career achievements, including his work on “The Passion of the Christ.” In part two we discuss his work on “American Horror Story” and how some of the visually graphic effects were achieved with Adam Levine, Chloe Sevigny, Evan Peters, Kathy Bates and more.

Be sure to check out the slideshows in both articles for some exclusive studio still shots of AHS props and FX.

Read part two of the interview by clicking the suggested link below.

Follow @TinsleyStudio and @Tattoo_FX on Twitter or visit

“American Horror Story: Freak Show” returns to FX in October 2014.

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