|Tom Woodruff & Alec Gillis of
By Michael Corvin
When it comes to making monsters for films,
these are the two guys to go to. Tom Woodruff Jr
and Alec Gillis started as make-up artists and
special effects masters under the leadership of the late great Stain Winston. Under his guidance, both
budding artists worked on such films as Aliens, Pumpkinhead, The Terminator and The Monster Squad.
The two young men with a passion for make-up and monsters became fast friends and together learned
everything they knew from Winston who himself was top of the line as the Hollywood go to guy when films
needed monsters. As their friendship grew, they became partners and after striking out on their own in
1988, the two started their special effects house Amalgamated Dynamics in Chatsworth California. Within
their own effects house, like with Winston, they crafted prosthetic make-up effects and animatronic
creatures for horror movies and other films starting with a little movie called Teen Witch in 1989 and then
hitting it big with the creature effects in the movie Tremors.
The amazing giant killer worms in Tremors were all
brought to life by the use of a combo of life sized puppets
and miniatures. The creatures became so well loved that
they followed on in movie sequels and a TV series. Tom
and Alec followed the success of the monsters in Tremors
with Death Becomes Her, for which they won an Academy
Award for Best Visual Effects. Other films they did effects
work for were Starship Troopers, Spider Man 1, 2, & 3,
Scary Movie 3, Cast Away, Evolution, X-Men films, The
Santa Clause trilogy, The Thing 2011, Skyline and the list
goes on and on. Even non-horror and fantasy films like Zookeeper, grown Ups 2, Point Break, Michael,
and The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps where they turned actor Eddie Murphy into all the wacky family
members of the film.
But of all their film landmarks, its maybe their work on the
Alien franchise that stands out the most. In 1992, Tom and Alec
had the chance to do their own take on the Xenomorph alien.
The pair were asked to do the creature design for Alien 3. In
fact, it is Tom Woodruff himself you see in the Alien creature
costume all throughout the film when the creature is seen in
close shots. Slipping into the skin of the Alien Xenomorph was
nothing new for Tom as it was a role he first played when work-
ing with Stan Winston on Aliens in 1986 and has played the
creature in every Alien film since. For the crossover films of the
Alien vs Predator series, Tom once again portrayed the Xenomorph and it was he who fought the
Predator warrior to the death in their glorious battle scene. Working as creature designer and monster
actor has always been part of the many hats that Tom Woodruff Jr. has worn. Among the Aliens, he has
played the Gill Man in the 1987 kids horror film The Monster Squad, the demon killer in Pumpkinhead in
1988 when working with Stan Winston and later The Kothoga from The Relic.
In 2013, Tom and Alec ran a Kickstarter campaign as part of their Amalgamated
Dynamics to fund their own horror movie Harbinger Down. The story of a Soviet
spaceship found locked within ice with some nasty monsters waiting to be set free.
The movie was written and director by Alec Gillis with Woodruff acting as producer
as the two worked on all of the practical creature effects together. The film was sort
of a sorry note to all their fans after the mess the studio made when the pair worked
on the prequel to The Thing. Both Tom and Alec were shocked when all their on-
screen practical creature effects were all painted over with CGI due to a bad
decision by the studio heads. The end result was a mess of poor CGI over what
would have been great practical effects that would have matched those used in the
original John Carpenter film. By the studio stepping on Tom and Alec's toes, in the
end what could have been a better movie was sadly forgotten about and made most
fans of The Thing 1982 pissed off.
Today Tom and Alec continue working on monsters and other amazing creations as they show no sign
of slowing down. Their most recent work on the 2018 The Predator is both a homage to their teacher Stan
Winston who created the original design for the 1987 movie's creature, and their own work picking up after
Stan for their work on the Alien vs Predator crossover. I have only listed a small amount of films that these
two very gifted artists have worked on but trust me if you have watched a movie within the last 30 years you
have seen their work on screen.
Spotlight on Hollywood's