Monsters enthusiasts of all stripes will congregate this weekend in Hollywood for the inaugural Aliens to Zombies Convention, an event that will bring together visual-effects artists with specialists in the other-worldly for panel discussions, creature-crafting competitions and more.
Todd Masters, a monster-maker himself, co-organized the event with Bruce Haring, the director of JM Northern Media, which runs the DIY Convention and multiple book festivals. Masters, who founded MASTERSFX, the company that handles effects for shows including “True Blood” and “Falling Skies,” used his industry connections to assemble panels that kick off Saturday starting at 11 a.m. at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Participants will include “I Am Legend” effects artist Shaun Smith, Zombie Research Society founder Matt Mogk, “Encyclopaedia of Hell” author Martin Olson and Amalgamated Dynamics co-founders Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., whose effects resume includes “The Thing” prequel and the “Aliens” films.
“It became this really interesting mix of people,” Masters said. “It should be a lot of fun to get them together on some panels.”
Gillis and Woodruff’s panel, “Aliens Are Among Us,” pairs them with “Cowboys & Aliens” effects artist Shane Mahan and UFOlogist Steve Murillo, the California director for the Mutual UFO Network. “Those issues of the existence of aliens – we don’t ever get a chance to discuss that,” Gillis said. “I’m a total alien skeptic so it should be an interesting conversation.”
On the zombie end, a panel called “Talking Dead” features actor Michael Rooker (of “The Walking Dead” ), and 2004′s “Dawn of the Dead” writer James Gunn, who directed Rooker in both 2006′s “Slither” and this year’s “Super.” Rooker expects the panel to be an especially entertaining one, saying, “Whenever [Gunn and I] get together, we never know what’s going to come up…. It’s definitely a Mutt and Jeff routine we’ll be doing.”
As a special giveaway to fans, Rooker and Masters opted to create prosthetic “Dixon hands,” named for Rooker’s character on the hit AMC zombie series, who, in the show’s first season, severed his own hand to escape from a rooftop where he had been shackled to a pipe. “This’ll be the debut of the hand…. They’ll take them and hang them on their car rear-view mirror,” Rooker joked of the fans.
“We’re frantically making them right in the middle of trying to put together this small little convention,” added Masters.
The convention also will include a contest among effects artists to create a monster costume using less than $22 worth of materials from non-specialty stores. An exhibit – or “monster zoo,” as Masters calls it – will display puppets and practical effects pieces from “Cowboys and Aliens,” “Paul,” and the 2008 version of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” among other projects.
Aliens to Zombies will kick off on Friday night with the Halloween Book Festival, which will present an award to Mike Howlett’s “The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds.”
“There’s a rich trope of zombie literature and horror and science fiction that we’re hoping becomes a big part of what we’re doing [with Aliens to Zombies],” Haring said.
The convention will conclude with Masters’ “Monster-Makers Bash” at La Velvet Margarita Cantina in Hollywood.
At a time when mega-entertainment conventions like San Diego’s Comic-Con International attract big-name stars, thousands of attendees and a blinding glare of media attention, those prepping for Aliens to Zombies say small, niche gatherings like theirs offer their own kind of allure.
“I like the little ones, and I like the entrepreneurialism of a guy like Todd Masters who really believes in the entertainment value and the intellectual value of aliens and zombies and monsters,” Gillis said.
Masters noted, “It really is a chance to … focus on the art of monsters. I don’t know any other convention that’s doing that. Not to mention that it’s smack in the middle of Holly-ween.”
A full event schedule is on Alienstozombies.com. Tickets are available on the site for $50 for the conference only and $75 for the conference plus the parties.
– Emily Rome
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