Beyond Reality Pt2: inside the Sculptor’s studio with Valter Casotto

Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Hobbit prosthetics king talks with Hot Corn

If you are a fan of any of the huge fantasy blockbusters that have stormed cinema screens in the last decade, there is a good chance that you’ll chewed popcorn whilst observing the handiwork of London-based, Italian-born artist Valter Casotto. He has carved out a fine career in the field of prosthetics. Although his work is rooted in the film and TV industry, he has also accumulated a substantial roster of work outside of those fields; very much representig the younger generation coming hot on the heels of the likes of the older guard, such as John Humphreys (his contemporary, whom we spoke to in Pt1 of our Beyond Reality interviews, which can be found here). Talking to the Hot Corn on the eve of his residency as part of the Opera Gallery’s Beyond Reality exhibition, he discussed working with his hero Ridley Scott, being in a field shooting Game of Thrones, computing Harry Potter surrealism and much more.

Casotto in his Studio,

How would you describe your work?

I work as a prosthetic make-up artist doing prosthetic make-ups, old age make-ups, creature make-ups. The techniques that we use in the movies, we transfer into the art world.

What inspired you to get into this field?

From when I was very little I always wanted to do my own art. I was just looking for a way to do so: a way that could teach me how to sculpt, how to paint and so forth. Eventually, I came up with the idea that the cinema and the effects industry could be the one, because there’s so much optic stuff. So many materials and techniques. Everything is combined in the effects industry.

David di Donatello prize for best makeup on Tale of Tales by Matteo Garrone.

You created a very profound piece called ‘We Will Never Meet At That Age’ where you recorded your parents’ reaction to a sculpture of you as an old man. That must have been a highly emotional and personal work. Where did the idea come from?

I guess that everyone has that moment in their life where they grow up and they realise that they are going to die someday. They really realise. It’s not just an idea, but they realise inside of themselves. They realise that their parents are not going to be there forever and that you’re going to lose them. That was the moment where I realised that. And that was such a sad moment, to be honest.

And that’s where the artist comes through. I saw so many people connect to that art piece because, obviously, it happens to every one of us. That’s what I like about art: connecting to people under the same idea or feelings about something.

Was there a particular film that formed the catalyst for your early ambitions?

Alien was the movie that made me think that I should do this. H.R. Giger (the brains behind the alien creature) was one of my heroes. He still is one of my heroes. Alien, the movie itself, was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Years later, I had the chance to work with Ridley Scott on his first new alien movie (Prometheus) and that was just a big dream come true. It was unbelievable. I was so, so happy.

Which director that you’ve worked with has been the most hands-on?

Ridley Scott for sure. He was the best I have ever seen. He’s such a presence, but he’s so into the tiny details. Even on the paintings. I’m really talking about the fine details.

On the set of Prometheus.

What about working with Peter Jackson? He has a reputation for being attentive to detail.

I liked him a lot on set… walking around with his tea cup at all times! I was a bit further away from the level of involvement where he might say if he wasn’t happy or changing stuff, but I can say that he was a very nice person.

Some of the prosthetics that you work on are quite deliberately grotesque. And you have to work on them for some time. Do you find it has an impact on you when you have to snap back into the real world?

You kind of lose your normal way of seeing reality, especially if you’re doing very long days for weeks and weeks, and especially if you’re doing night shoots. Game of Thrones is a cool one, because you’re on a field with fake snow and these creatures are all around you.

With Harry Potter we were working on Gringott Banks (Casotto created the goblins) and we started very early each day – about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. We would do 3/4 hours makeup and then we go on set for 12 hours before taking an hour to derig. Long hours because there were so many goblins. Anyway, say you were talking to someone, you’d then turn around to be confronted by 5 or 6 of the goblins talking to each other. It was surreal!

A Gringott Goblins.

You have had an extensive commitment working on Game of Thrones. One that has spanned from its earliest days. Have you noticed any changes during that time?

The production has changed a lot from the first season to the last one. It has become a lot more professional. The first ones were a bit mental. Personally, I would be leaving London for Belfast (for shooting) without knowing for how long or what to do on set. And that happened all the time for the first, second and probably the third season as well. Then, after that, they got really precise and super professional and everything was very well managed.


Are you a fan of the series? When you’re involved like that, can you enjoy the series as a piece of entertainment? Or are you too involved?

(Laughs) The really funny thing about all of this is that I’m not really a fan of effects movies! I do like it but, for example, with Game of Thrones I haven’t got the time to watch all the series. I watch it whilst it’s happening and that’s enough!

Do you want to remain working in the film industry?

I won’t leave it. I like the film industry, because it keeps you mentally sharp. For every single job, you change workshops and that keeps you sharp on techniques, materials and, by seeing different people every time, it gives you something extra.

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