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February 12
2020

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Bodies, Fake Hearts and a Fake Marlin: The Practical FX of THE GOOD DOCTOR

By IAN FAILES

An animatronic marlin was made to skewer an actor’s leg. (Photo courtesy of ABC/David Bukach)

When you see those injuries, ailments and operated-on body parts in medical dramas, they are – thankfully – generally not real, but instead the work of makeup and practical effects artists.

That’s the case on ABC’s The Good Doctor, where MastersFX is responsible for delivering bodies and body parts featured during surgery scenes. The show is about a young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome who works in the pediatric unit of San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital.

MastersFX, run by President, founder and chief monster-maker Todd Masters, has worked on a host of film and television shows delivering animatronics, prosthetics and makeup effects, as well as digital makeup effects (via its dMFX process).

Close-up on the fake marlin. (Photo courtesy of MastersFX)

‘REAL’ BODIES

The Good Doctor requires MastersFX to build surgery bodies for each episode that look and feel realistic. “If it’s a heart, the heart may need to beat on camera, or a chest may need rise and fall,” details MastersFX artist and co-ordinator Lori Sandnes. “If the actors need to be dissecting, cutting or suturing something in the body, we want to make it easy for them to be able to perform the action as close as possible to the script.”

Getting to that level of realism involves a lot of research and referencing of real body parts and injuries. For this, the team of course rely on Google and YouTube searches as well as a team of medical advisors on the show.

“For bodies and wounds, bruising or suturing,” says Sandnes, “we sculpt or paint from reference photos we find and always get the real doctors to give feedback and approvals. For all the surgeries, we usually have a rehearsal or show-and-tell first, again getting final approvals that all organs are in the right place, and that our textures, colors and blood looks real.”

Makeup effects applied to an actor on set. (Photo courtesy of MastersFX)

“For bodies and wounds, bruising or suturing, we sculpt or paint from reference photos we find and always get the real doctors to give feedback and approvals. For all the surgeries, we usually have a rehearsal or show-and-tell first, again getting final approvals that all organs are in the right place, and that our textures, colors and blood looks real.”

—Lori Sandnes, Artist and Co-ordinator, MastersFX

Prosthetic hearts for a transplant scene. (Photo courtesy of Masters of FX)

“If it’s a heart, the heart may need to beat on camera, or a chest may need rise and fall. If the actors need to be dissecting, cutting or suturing something in the body, we want to make it easy for them to be able to perform the action as close as possible to the script.”

—Lori Sandnes, Artist and Co-ordinator, MastersFX

A body for surgery is cast. (Photo courtesy of MastersFX)

Prosthetics for a scene in which a character suffers a major facial surgery from a skateboard incident. (Photo courtesy of MastersFX)

FROM FACIAL RECONSTRUCTION… TO A MARLIN STUCK IN A LEG

The prosthetics MastersFX are called upon to create can vary, sometimes quite wildly. For a scene involving a jaw injury and reconstructive surgery, artists had to deliver makeup effects that helped tell the story of a character having half of his face ripped off from a skateboard accident.

“We first designed the look in Photoshop,” explains Sandnes. “Then we created a prosthetic skin edge. This was just basically a sculpted hole that was applied to the actor’s face. The inside was painted green so VFX could add the gore and so we could see the damage actually on his face. His teeth and tongue were showing. We couldn’t really get this look on the actor without CG’s help.”

“We cast the real actor’s head,” continues Sandnes. “Then we did a full head clay pour of him and then sculpted the wound and damage. This was then made into a full, fake, silicone head that was then painted with hair work added. VFX took full photos of this head which was comp’ed in post onto the actor’s face which had the skin edge prosthetic on. The fake head was used in surgery scenes for the doctor actors to work on.”

The last look for the scene was the post-operation stitched-up version of the prosthetic. This was custom-sculpted by MastersFX and then re-painted. Sutures were added before they were applied to the actor on the day. Adds Sandnes, “Production wanted the face to look like they had done skin grafts, so the skin tone was a slightly different color, as if it had been grafted from another part of his body, like his thigh.”

A slightly crazier kind of effects challenge came about for a sequence in which a character’s leg had been speared by a seven-foot Marlin, which was still alive in the hospital. MastersFX constructed an animatronic fish for the shots.

“In creating this effect,” relates Sandnes, “the actor’s leg was cast in order to create a prosthetic and a ‘Steve Martin rig.’ A wrap-around armature was made for under the back of his leg. A custom-sculpted silicone skin prosthetic was made to go on the actor over the rig, which was applied on set. The rig would hold the tip of the bill and the rest of the fish. This would ultimately give the audience the look of the bill going through his leg.”

The marlin was sculpted and cast in a two-part silicone construction, then painted. A puppeteered element was created for inside, with machined metal parts in the head, gills and pectoral fins. Spring steel and cable in the tail and flexible cable in the center allowed for body movement. Two puppeteers were required to bring the fish to life on set.

PRACTICAL IS NOT DEAD

Todd Masters, who has seen a major change in the industry from practical to digital, believes there’s still a need to have these on-set prosthetics, such as those used on The Good Doctor. “Our practical FX work is still in high demand and, if anything, seems to be more popular with directors and producers of TV series and features than ever before.

“As artists working in both makeup and visual effects,” he adds, “our team enjoys embracing any tool or technique appropriate when helping our clients tell compelling stories. Helping to create an organic, relatable character in service to the story – is always paramount. We have the ability to take advantage of all the artistry of the sculptors, lighters, cameraman and actors on set, and then extend their capabilities through the integration of our tried-and-true dMFX process.”

The final stitched-face makeup effects. (Photo courtesy of MastersFX)

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