Libertyville makeup artist brings monsters to life at Fright Fest
BY KATLYN SMITH email@example.com | @Katlyn_eSmith October 21, 2013 7:44PM
"The clowns freak me out," Fright Fest makeup artist Bill Roberts admits. | Courtesy of Six Flags Great America
Tips from the artist
Fright Fest makeup artist Bill Roberts offers some tips for Halloween:
• Play up the eyes. For Fright Fest demons, Roberts prefers reptilian contact lenses. “The eyes are a good way to spook people out,” he says.
• Use sponges, cotton balls — anything with a coarse texture for decaying skin (good for mummies and zombies).
• Experiment with shadows and highlights: “Think outside the realm of just black and white,” Roberts said of creepy makeup. “A lot of greens, purples, reds can give you fun colors.”
Where: Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Drive, Gurnee
When: Thursdays to Sundays, through Oct. 27
Tickets: $32.50 to $64.99
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:22AM
If you’ve seen one zombie, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
They’re rotting, undead, hungry for human flesh. Predictable, right?
Only their speed — sometimes slow (see George Romero’s 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead”), sometimes fast (see Brad Pitt blockbuster “World War Z”) — is up for interpretation.
But when you look at Bill Roberts’ creations, you can actually distinguish one festering face from another.
He’s the man (brains?) behind the makeup of zombies popping up in Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest. The Libertyville man also does vampires, clowns, demons.
But the zombies are a rare breed. Each come with their own personality, lavish costume and rich backstory.
It’s hard to pick a favorite.
“They’re all like my zombie babies,” the 26-year-old says.
One does stands out: a Confederate soldier-turned-zombie roaming the set of a Bayou cemetery.
“I gave him one gold tooth,” Roberts said. “I’m proud of that one.”
He insists it’s a team effort at Six Flags, where makeup and wardrobe technicians work weeks in advance to prepare the Gurnee amusement park for all sorts of horror.
But Roberts comes up with some eccentric types.
“We really want to create full, rounded-out characters,” the Libertyville High School alum said.
Before their debut, Roberts fashioned masks out of foam and liquid latex. He warmed plastic wrap with a heat gun and layered the wrinkled material over the molds for their skin. Then, he covered with prosthetic makeup. He adheres props — there’s a grisly-looking screw that appears to be drilled through one zombie construction worker — with medical-grade adhesive.
And that’s just the face.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said.
For Roberts, the more decay the better.
“It’s less gory-zombie,” he said.
That philosophy springs from his love of the “old-school” horror movies, the kind of flicks where you never see buckets of blood or anything else overtly grotesque, but they still have your imagination running faster than, well, a zombie.
Think Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff vehicles, Roberts says.
“They’re still spooky and scary because it’s in your mind,” Roberts said. “Your mind can do scarier things then what you actually see.”
Jennifer Gale called Roberts a valuable asset to a crew that must demonstrate the versatility to paint a range of faces. The Grand Haven, Mich., woman oversees five other makeup artists who handle the “Wicked Woods” haunted house, pirates, clowns and the “crypt zombies.”
“He’s a super creative guy,” the bubbly 31-year-old said. “He always has new ideas.”
Roberts first started behind the mask, so to speak, as a College of Lake County theater student acting on campus. But he soon got hooked on the production side.
“It’s the first thing people see,” Roberts explains of his love of makeup. “It’s what says who that person — or monster — is.”
Oddly enough, he doesn’t have plans for his own Halloween costume. He usually takes a familiar character (last year was Batman) and adds a nightmarish spin.
“I’ve been playing Halloween now for about two months now,” Roberts said. “I love it. It’s my favorite time of year, but you get there, and you’re kind of like ‘I’ve got a pirate costume in my closet. I’ll probably just do that again.’”
But he has high expectations for Fright Fest. Each day, Roberts transforms about a dozen actors. The makeup is so detailed that one zombie stationed in the “Bermuda Triangle” wears Cheerios for barnacles.
“Like every artist, you see the flaws,” he said of the first unveiling of his work.
Still, Roberts knows he can’t take himself too seriously.
“When you’re creating a monster or a fantastical character, there aren’t any boundaries,” he said.