SET INTERVIEWS: Insidious production designer Aaron Sims & more!


While visiting the set for the latest collaboration between James Wan and Leigh Whannell, I happened to get a very nice welcome from everyone involved. The biggest problem is that I saw so much, that as much as I want to talk about how cool shite was, I have to hold back a little. After all, this looks like it could be a pretty original thriller that hearkens back to films along the line of POLTERGEIST or maybe even THE OTHERS. But it still feels like a James Wan film, at least from what I had the chance to watch. And yes, that is a very good thing.

One of the treats I had while on set, was a chance to hang out with the make-up department. Justin Raleigh and Kelly Golden were putting what looked to be the finishing touches on the film’s demon (played by the film’s composer, Joe Bishara). The make-up trailer was burning up with heat, simply because poor Joe is pretty much naked and cold… well, aside from the creepy as hell black and red make-up design. This ghastly looking demon not only creeped me out, but he also terrified one of the young actors on the set… for good reason, the dude is scary. I found this design to feel sort of old-school Biblical. And I got the chance to talk with both Justin and Joe about how one creates and becomes a hell spawn.

Make-up wize Justin Raleigh and Kelly Golden, & the film's monster Joe Bishara (below)


How long does this process take?

Justin Raleigh: This is about a four and a half hour make-up… I think it was about four fifteen today. So to get him to this point, you start with like a head, getting all the hair work, and finishing off the head. We go to the body and do the body all at once. The most time consuming part is the hair work.

What is the worst part for you?

Joe Bishara: The worst part for me is the cold, getting cold… cold and wet and sponging off… that’s the worst part for me.

What’s the best part?

JB: The rest of it is all the best part. [Laughing] The best part is making the kid cry.

I heard about that. [Laughing] Now what was the inspiration for this look? To me it looks a little bit old school, Biblical demon sort of.

JR: This was all from Aaron Sims and James Wan. They both sat down and figured out the design, and brought the design to me.

Now when they first came up with the designs, how many trial runs did you do? Was it a quick process?

JR: It was pretty quick because the design was so complete. Say, second make-up in, we really kind of honed… every time we do it, we are still tweaking it a little bit. And luckily, because of the schedule, we’ve had the luxury where we’ve only had one real close-up establishing point. So we’ve had the luxury of really kind of tweaking it each time and make it look better and better and more refined.

How is this compared to the other times?

JR: Yeah, I think this is probably the best one ever.

This is pretty kick ass. I like it. The eyes are really disturbing. [Laughing] How did you end up getting this role?

JB: Well, James has been a friend for awhile and I’m actually the composer on the film also. And James just kind of asked me to do this.

Is that kind of helpful to you, to be composing the music and also playing this demon?

JB: I’ve made some notes and stuff while working, yeah. It’s interesting kind of being on the inside and trying to think of what it’s going to sound like later.

Production designer Aaron Sims


After hanging out with the make-up department, I was introduced to the man who designed all the darker elements alongside Mr. Wan. Aaron Sims has a pretty damn impressive body of work. He has a number of films on his resume, and it was nice to hear him talk about getting involved with Insidious. While we talked a bit on set, it wasn’t until later that we connected again by phone, to officially talk shop.

On the phone, he told me about a short film he was working on. He genuinely seemed excited about the short, and in turn, made me excited to see it. But that is not all; he of course, talked about Insidious and what part of the film he contributed to. He also spoke about working on CASTLEVANIA, which he thinks will still happen one day. He also spoke about his work on THE RISE OF THE APES, the PLANET OF THE APES origin story. And not only is he an absolute professional, he also happens to be a sincerely nice guy. I’m guessing we’ll be seeing him take on the role of director sometime soon, for a major release… I’m pretty damn sure I’m right about this one.

You mentioned at the set visit that you were doing a sci fi robot film. What is that all about and what kind of budget are you working with on it?

A lot of it is just getting people I know to kind of get together and actually do it, so it’s not going to be a gigantic budget. And I’m trying to develop an aspect of my company, a visual effects component, so I’m kind of testing the waters with that and using this as kind of a seed for it. So a lot of people are just helping out as more of a favor. So budget wise, it’s actually fairly low but the idea is that its gonna look top-notch. And I’m getting the best in the industry to do it. I got, kind of a one day shoot, and then just add the visual effects component. It’s basically a robot that is being interrogated because they think he is a weapon and he’s confused because he thinks he’s human…


… and later on we find out that he is actually is human and they actually use human brains. It is kind of a ROBO COP and TOTAL RECALL scenario. And that’s kind of the gist of it. There is more to it than that, but that’s kind of the overall.


That’s sounds kind of cool dude.

Yeah, yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s actually kind of an idea for a feature as well, so the shorts gonna hopefully be a piece that will help sell the feature, get people interested in the feature as well as add visual effects to my company. That being a piece that was done internally, as well as a hybrid approach to that we are doing. Because I have a make-up effects component as well, so we can do both physical and digital. And also just showing my directing ability… you know, there is an action scene in it, but it is mainly a character piece. We’ve seen a lot of really cool shorts that people have been doing that are all action based, and that is getting everybody excited, like from the studios. I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the stuff that’s on-line, but a lot of it for me, I need more of a strong character piece. And also to show the stylistic approach of how I would make my own films. So that’s one thing that I’m dealing with right now, because I want to shoot this in the first week of June. It will be some of the same guys that are helping with INSIDIOUS who are helping on this. I’m hoping to have like three cameras going at once to really make this, to really get as much as I can. You know, right now I’m looking into casting, looking into different actors that I’d like to get. But we’ll see how that goes. So far, we just started.

How did you get involved in INSIDIOUS and what .js" type="text/javascript"> was James Wan looking for specifically from you?

Well, on that show, we had a good working relationship, we worked on DEAD SILENCE. And when I helped out at the end, I was called in, that’s when I first met him. So at that point I was hired to help design the end of the film, the climax as far as how the ghost was coming out of the dolls and everything. So we had a good time on that and he went on to another show. And when he got into this bigger film that he wanted to do, he re-connected with me, which is CASTLEVANIA. And so we spent a lot of time on Castlevania, the design and the look of the film; the characters, creatures, vampires, in a very, very unique style. It’s very much a James Wan style, mixed with my contributions and my aspects of what I would do as a designer as well. That was a really good show to kind of see how we work together from the ground up. Unfortunately it’s still kind of in limbo right now but it sounds like it is picking up.

Why do you think it has fallen into limbo like it has? There was Paul W.S. Anderson involved for awhile? Is he still involved? It seems like a no brainer that that could be a big hit right now.

Yeah, I’d think so. And then there is the new videogame with Patrick Stewart that is coming out, where he is one of the lead characters. It just has… you know, making a film is definitely not an easy task if it even has a gigantic fan base or not. There are so many things that can go against it. You know, getting financing is always trouble, especially independent financing. And the studio is another thing, trying to get the studio on board with it. So it’s always difficult, I don’t think any film really goes as smoothly as anyone would hope it would. I can’t really say exactly why this has been having a little bit of trouble but there is interest. Eventually it will be made and it will hopefully be James and I working on it together, because it is really a joy to… he really wants to do something like that too, where it’s a bigger film, more of a big action film with a lot of characters and stuff. He loves doing Insidious and SAW and all those films, I think that he really enjoys it because he knows them so well. But he wants to challenge himself too on some bigger stuff. So me and him are talking about other stuff too which unfortunately I can’t mention… but that is the main thing with me and him right now. Odds are we will continue to work together on other stuff. He is just such a joy to work with.

He does seem easy to work with, at least from what I’ve seen today.

Yeah, and what’s great is, I have meet a lot of really great filmmakers, like Louis Letterier who did CLASH OF THE TITANS and THE INCREDIBLE HULK. It’s great when you meet filmmakers like James Wan that really, really love what they are doing. No matter what people may say about, critics or whatever say about the properties or whatever, at least the filmmakers themselves really enjoy the process and that is what is really important to the individual,l and the ones they are working with.

I think audiences are genuinely excited to see James do something different from his past work. But how did you fit in to the Insidious world, what did you guys put together for the film?

Well he came up with the idea, him and Leigh, and they’ve worked on several shows together. So they came up with this idea and we were working on Castlevania and he said, ‘You know what? Since Castlevania is in this state right now, I just want to jump in on this and get some people interested. So do you want to be on board? There’s not a heavy production design element to it or even a creature design, but he definitely wanted to work with me so that was how it came about. And as it went on, we kind of started to make stuff a little bit more stylized, because he realized, ‘You know what, I have Aaron, why not make this a little more interesting visually? So there were a lot of components that were scripted but we were actually able to take them a little farther, just because he felt like, we might as well make it unique. So that was where I hopped on.

Earlier, we talked about POLTERGEIST, and in many ways this almost feel s like a modern day version of that. And I mean that as a compliment, we really don’t get movies like that anymore.

That’s what’s great about it is, it isn’t a slasher film, it isn’t an ugly horror film that deals with blood and guts and the fear of that. It is more playing with the simplicity of a family that has moved into a house and has an incident and they are trying to deal with it. And we as an audience are trying to figure out, what is it that is going on, so there is a mystery that is involved.

Now, I don’t want to keep you too long because I know your busy, but you are involved in so many huge projects, I’d just love to hear about what is going on with some of these… of course, what you can actually talk about. 

Well, we’re still kind of at the end as far as the designs go with CASEAR: THE RISE OF THE APES which is a prequel for PLANET OF THE APES. So we did a lot of designs on that, which was coming up with an origin story. I can’t tell you too much, but it’s basically the beginning of how it all started. So we spent quite a lot of time designing the apes, the evolution of the apes and these big scenes. So that was a lot of fun because I’m a gigantic Planet of the Apes fan, ever since I was a child. It was just one of my favorite films when I was just growing up. To be able to work on this one was just a dream come true.

How true are you staying to the original film?

Well, the thing is, it is different from the original because it’s an origin story. None of the other movies really had a beginning. This actually has a beginning. So it’s kind of the offshoot of how everything started. So it’s going to be its own thing. So that’s exciting. We pretty much designed all the characters and all the apes and they are up building the sets in Vancouver right now.

After speaking to the make-up department and the design, I had the chance to talk with James Wan and Leigh Whannell themselves. You’ll be able to read all about it very soon, until then; you can enjoy the lovely Rose Byrne.

The lovely Rose Byrne

Let me know what you think. Send questions and or comments to [email protected]

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