Posted: December 25, 2016
Bart Mixon is the man behind Pennywise in the original miniseries from 1990. I got a chance to talk to him about how he created Pennywise. Here is what he had to say.
Lilja: Please tell me a bit about how you ended up working with IT.
Bart Mixon: IT was the second of four projects that I did with Gene Warren of Fantasy II Film Effects and Tommy Lee Wallace. Gene had asked me to set up a creature shop at Fantasy II for FRIGHT NIGHT PART TWO and he and Tommy were happy with my work on that show so when IT came along we continued our collaboration. Simple as that.
Lilja: Which parts where you involved with? We have seen photos of a puppet version of Pennywise that were used for some stop motion scenes and we have seen photos from the first makeup test you did for Pennywise. What else did you do?
Bart Mixon: I was the creature effects supervisor for IT so I was responsible for all the various incarnations of IT. I designed, sculpted and applied the Pennywise make-up for Tim Curry and oversaw the crew that created the werewolf, the mummy, the Al March zombie, the lake corpse, Stan's severed head, the bodies in the spider's cave, and the spider; as well as the miniature stop-motion puppets for the spider and Pennywise. I applied all the make-ups on set and worked with my team to bring the spider to life during filming.
Lilja: Can you tell me how you created Pennywise and his look?
Bart Mixon: Like any make-up character, I started with the script and once Tim was cast I did several designs for him, first over photos and then three sculptures on his head cast. I did a rough paint scheme on these and sent photos to Tommy Lee Wallace who selected the one that he liked and then I resculpted it to be broken down for a prosthetic make-up. We did one make-up test on Tim in which we tried two different looks - one with just the domed head and nose and a paint design suggested by Tim, and the second with the cheek bones and chin added and a paint design closer to my original concepts. The lighter make-up was selected and then we did a few more tests to dial in the pain design which ended up being a combination of ideas from Tim, Tommy and myself. I had three red clown wigs tied that were used for the test and filming.
Lilja: How much (if any) input did Stephen King have on Pennywise’s look?
Bart Mixon: Sadly Stephen King never came by the set during the production and thus had no direct input in the look - but I did refer to his description in the book while doing my original designs.
Lilja: Could you ever dram that Pennywise would get the kind of recognition and cult status that he has today?
Bart Mixon: At the time I had NO idea he would become as popular and recognizable as he has become. I was having dinner with Rick Baker while we were filming RINGS and he complemented the make-up and I told him it is nice to have at least one make-up that can be considered iconic.
Lilja: How do you feel about him today?
Bart Mixon: I am still very pleased with my creation of Pennywise and of course I am thrilled that people are still interested in it and talking about it over 25 years later. Tim did an amazing job bring this character to life - he lives on due to Tim's wonderful acting - and I am honored to have been able to contribute to that.
Lilja: Would you change anything if you created him today and if so what?
Bart Mixon: I based the look of Pennywise upon the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera and I think the overall design still works very well today. My original concept was to have two looks for Pennywise - the one seen in the film which would have been his "nice" look that he uses to lure in his child victims and a second horrific versions that these same seven kids would see as adults, now that they know he is not a clown but something monstrous. The "acid burn" look was derived from this Horror version, only it would have been much worse.
Also, recently I thought it would be interesting to have transitional versions of Pennywise when he encounters the kids as adults. If one had seen him as the werewolf as a child, then the adult would first see a werewolf/Pennywise hybrid before seeing the horror Pennywise; same with a mummy version, etc. I guess it would be somewhat like the Thing - where each time IT is seen it is a different look for Pennywise.
Lilja: What do you think about the new Pennywise?
Bart Mixon: Overall he's looking pretty good. A new photo showing more of the body and another of him the sewer were just "leaked" and I am liking it more and more. Aspects of the design are similar to what I did do on Tim while other aspects are similar to what I was toying with. Costume looks nice, sort of has a delToro feel to it and that's not a bad thing.
Lilja: A documentary about IT is being done for next year. Will you be involved in it?
Bart Mixon: Yes, if we are speaking about the same one, I will be.
I have told them they can use any of my behind the scenes photos so there should be lots of never before seen material, which sadly means I am trying to not reveal anything new before they have their pick of it...
Lilja: Where you a Stephen King fan before you worked on IT? Are you one now?
Bart Mixon: My brother is the King fan in our family, but I have read a hand full of his stories and enjoyed them all. PET SEMATARY is the only novel I recall reading and thought it read like it was intended to B a movie, which I work on briefly for part 1 and extensively for part 2. I think the first film missed the mark in a number of areas so here's hoping a remake will correct that.
Lilja: With that I thank Bart for taking the time to speak to me. It was a pleasure!
The black & white photo of Bart is taken by John Calpin