Horror films: the gore, the angst, the torturous anticipation of the next mutilated figure
creeping out from the dark! In no other genre is the makeup artist more crucial. The
grotesque creatures need to be horrific and realistic. Leya Oakley, special effect
makeup artist, has been terrifying us with her craft for years. We were lucky enough to
spend some time with her talking about what it takes to petrify an audience.
Were you always artistic?
Yes, I was always artistic. I was always the resident makeup artist growing up
specifically for beauty. I grew up with a sci-fi movie loving family. We are die hard
Trekkies. My name is Leya, everyone assumes it is Star Wars for me but it is definitely
What made you go from beauty to horror?
I love working with actors and the creativity behind it. I went to theater art school. I kind
of fell into it because I remembered how much I loved it later in the life. At first I thought
I would do it only for beauty. It occurred to me how incredible and fun it would be to do
the effects course. I wound up in the horror world right away.
Have you ever gotten spooked out while at work?
Yes, I have gotten spooked out on set. We had a ghost experience. I was working on a
whole burned body at a closed down hospital in Los Angeles. It truly is haunted. You
know the moment you walk in something is not right.
Also when I worked on My Haunted House, years ago, Patrick DeLuca, my director was
always open to my suggestions. I had a dream about a girl with dark eyes and I went to
him with this vision. Patrick said he had a story that would match my dream perfectly. It
was my scary dream and then I got to do it.
What is important for you to do to prepare for production?
Knowing the character back stories are essential. I read the script. Give the director my
ideas. It’s really a collaborative effort. I want to work with the director, producers and
It’s also important for me to take into account the environment. I need to know weather,
for characters and for makeup purposes. To keep things settled. The sleeping habits
about characters. Especially in horror characters aren’t sleeping. No one should look
perfect. They should have under eye bags. For the actors I need to know how they
walk, run. I need to take that all into account.
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
I find my inspiration from other great artists and making it my own. Craft tables to
texturize skin. My favorite thing to play with his skin. I pull different textures and food. I
then layer it with latex to layer with the skin. This will get a really interested gross shot
for the production. I never use real dirt, I feel terrible when the actor is covered in dirt
head to toe.
As a special effects makeup artist you must love the current popularity with
horror on television.
I think that horror like comedy goes in waves. Certain styles last a while. I think
zombies may be on their way out. First it was vampires, zombies and now I’m not sure
what’s going to come about. Personally I hope it’s a little more psychological. My love of
horror is psychological. A lot of people love their gore and I’m happy to provide it.
There is so much opportunity to sink our teeth into some fun projects.
Also I would love to work in fantasy. Creating magical creatures. I’d love to come up
with all different characters for a production.
Is there a medium you find essential when making your horrific creations?
I work a lot with third degree silicon. It moves live so I’m able to use it on the fly. In the
indie world, everything is on the fly. I need to be prepared for anything. Not only must I
be prepared, I also need do it! The silicon molds and shapes it to whatever I need it to
be. Making a prosthetic live, once the mix sets and you can carve it to what you need it
to be. If I don’t get a prep day I can use the silicon onsite. It’s a must have in my kit.
I’ve seen you talk about your work on the project Conversion Therapist. Your
motivation and excitement for the project is undeniable. Can you tell me a bit
more about this short?
I love doing shorts because they tend to be the biggest passion project. Everyone is
usually really excited to be there. Nobody is doing it for the money, everyone is really
excited about the project.
Sarah Fletcher and I have worked together on another horror movie. She brought me
on. We have so much fun together. So creative, I had so much feedback. Lots of
passion around this project.
We can’t wait to view your work on the Conversion Therapist when it’s released in 2019
and to follow your future horrific projects to come. Thank you Leya.
Article by Lauren Frances Stannard
Lauren, when not chasing her three sons, writes. Her experience includes work in marketing, education and
screenplay writing. She's been known to ditch the carpools and escape to the nearest mall, concert or comedy show.