Born and raised in Los Angeles, Vincent Van Dyke is an industry leader in special make-up effects. Getting his first job at just 14 years old, Vincent Van Dyke has gone on to work on TV shows and movies like I Tonya, Darkest Hour, Code Black, and Dexter. Acting as the owner and creative director of Vincent Van Dyke Effects at only 28 years old, Vincent Van Dyke has now moved to the Burman studio space where he learned the tools of the trade.
Despite being so much younger than his peers, Vincent Van Dyke says his career has always progressed in “gradual baby steps.” From experimenting with a make-up kit at six years old, to introducing himself to Barney Burman at an FX supply store, to working with Kazu on Darkest Hour, Vincent Van Dyke’s career has blossomed in a way many young make-up artists can only dream of. We spoke with him about approaching your make-up artist idols, living your passion, and knowing when to take your next big career step.
MUD: What was the defining moment when you knew you wanted to be a make-up artist?
VINCENT: That’s such a hard question for me because it goes back so far. My step-dad was a huge film aficionado, so he was really big into old black and white silent movies and all that stuff. I remember one night in particular I was going to bed and he had the original Hunchback playing and I was mesmerized by it. I could barely go to sleep because I was like ‘oh my god I want to do that!’ When I woke up in the morning I got my little makeup kit out and I duplicated that makeup on myself. I don’t remember when I first got this little kit or how I put it together, but I had it already. That was one of those moments where I got silly putty and I got a pillow and I shoved it in my back and I made this little face. It was really a fun make-up to do. There’s a picture of it somewhere that my mom has I’m sure.
MUD: How old were you?
VINCENT: I was probably six when I did that–that’s what’s weird. I had no idea what I was doing; I just knew it was fun. My mom would always be so encouraging and so supportive. I would say “how does this person look like this?” And she would go “oh well it’s makeup and I don’t really know how to answer that question, honey.” My association with makeup was what my mom put on her face so I was like “well that doesn’t make any sense!”
MUD: I read online that you were reading a lot of books and watching a lot of videos about special make-up effects early on. Which ones in particular?
VINCENT: I was reading a lot of Vincent Kehoe’s Special Make-Up Effects. It’s funny because I found it recently and it has all these little highlighted notes and post-its. It looks like a textbook, you know? The internet was in its absolute infancy, so I was literally going through books and getting VHS tapes. Michael Burnett had a line of VHS tapes that were huge for me. I watched those over and over and over again.
MUD: You met Barney Burman at an FX supply store, correct?
VINCENT: He was there shopping and I showed him my portfolio, and maybe six months after that he gave me a job. It was my first internship, which was amazing. Then later on, maybe one and a half or two years after that, I went over to Tom and Bari Burman’s shop. That was when my career took off. You know, you have your job and then you have like your career. It was really like they honed me in and guided my eye. I can’t imagine any other company ever doing that for me. I was so, so lucky to have fell into that position at that time in that month and the universe–just everything aligned and it just worked amazingly.
MUD: What was it like working that young?
VINCENT: Oh it’s ridiculous! It’s weird to be paid for something that you absolutely love. I think that’s honestly still hard for me to grasp, because so many people have to work to live but when you live to work and you really just have this amazing passion that you get paid for–that’s so rare. It was hard for me to fathom like ‘oh I’m getting a paycheck for playing with the stuff that I played with already for so many years as a little kid.’
MUD: I bet that a lot of people reading this will wonder how you were able to just strike up a conversation with a potential employer. Do you have any tips for approaching a big make-up artist?
VINCENT: I always had my portfolio with me. So no matter where I went, especially if I was going to a make-up store, I always had a little portfolio. You never know who you’re going to run into. I would just go up to them and say ‘hey, I know who you are, and I would love to show you my portfolio. I hate to interrupt you.’ I can’t imagine anybody in this business going ‘I don’t have time for this like get out of my face.’ Everyone’s going to take a minute to look at your portfolio, especially if you’re coming up to them, and you’re polite, and you’re just asking for them to look at your stuff, not asking for a job. I wasn’t really thinking about having a job.
MUD: When did you know that you wanted to have your own studio?
VINCENT: It’s funny because I think a lot of people maybe discover that they want their own studio after working for people, but I knew from when I was little. I really loved this stuff, and I knew that one day (I just thought it was going to be when I was 50), I want to be able to have the stuff produced under my roof be something I’m really proud of. When it happened I had no idea that I was ready for it. I don’t think you ever know that you’re ready for a move like that. But the way that everything had aligned–I had been working at the Burman’s for around 8 years, and I eventually became their shop supervisor and creative director, and they had really groomed me to be in a position like that. Bari Burman pushed me and my eye so much- really giving me a totally different perspective on the way I approached sculpture and paint. She and Tom are brilliant artists. And Tom Burman had such an ease about everything he did- always thinking outside the box and pushing the boundaries for the “standard” approach. Orchestrating teams, and working with extreme deadlines, I could go on and on but they really made it possible for me to have my own shop. It was a good time for me to be able to get a space and see what happens.
MUD: You’ve said it can be difficult to relinquish creative control once you start expanding. Do you have any advice for delegating tasks or collaborating?
VINCENT: I’ve been really fortunate that all the artists that I hire are all very collaborative. I never feel like somebody’s taking the bull by the horns and just saying like ‘this is how we’re doing it.’ It’s always a conversation of like ‘what’s the best way to get here?’ That was something that was instilled in me from Bari and Tom when I was working with them–like having these discussions and having open ideas of like ‘let’s take ego out of it and look at this situation and figure out the best way to do it.’ That to me is always the answer. Most of the time the answer for me is ‘that guy is way better at this than I am, so he’s going to do this.’ Sometimes it’s ‘I would love to sculpt this right now, but I’ve got my lead Daniele Tirinnanzi.’ He’s been my lead sculptor and painter now for a while, and he’s brilliant, so I always know that he’s going to do these things better than I am and it’s easy for me to relinquish that creative direction.
MUD: What is your favorite thing about your job?
VINCENT: I think that actually is my favorite thing about my job–that collaborative deal–because it’s so nice to be able to work with other artists that I learn from every day. For me the coolest thing is when I get to hire people that I think are so amazing at their job. Because I don’t shop hop around, I’m actually bringing people in that I get to look over their shoulder and learn from.
It’s cool to me when I can go ‘oh, I get to bring in Mitch Devane, who I think is the best sculptor in the business, to sculpt for me and he’s across from my office and I can just look in there and be like ‘wow Mitch Devane is sculpting the most amazing thing right now!’ That to me is kind of the coolest thing.
Thanks for talking with us, Vince!
MUD Talks: An Interview with Vincent Van Dyke