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Untold Tales of Hollywood #85

The first of our “principal zombies” (as Dan O’Bannon referred to them) that I designed has become the most beloved zombie of The Return of the Living Dead: the Tar-Man.

I showed these drawings to Dan and he flipped.

“This is exactly the kind of approach I am looking for! Go to finish!”

So I did.

The Tar-Man presented me with an interesting problem. He was basically a profusely dripping skeleton. Putting a guy in a suit sort of contradicted what I was trying to do. I wanted to take away bulk — not add to it. I solved the problem by adding glimpses of the Tar-Man’s skeleton throughout the suit.

I also insisted on something I always insist upon when I’m designing a guy-in-a-suit monster: I demand that an actor wear the suit — not a stuntman. We hired actor and puppeteer Allan Trautman to don the suit and play the Tar-man. Alan brought that creature to life. He could move as if his bones weren’t connected. Alan invented what I call “the Tar-Man Slouch”. When fans rave to me about the Tar-Man I always bring up Alan. I tell them Alan deserves at least half the credit for bringing the Tar-Man to life.

Here’s good ol’ Tar-Man, chomping away. Our film was the first zombie movie in which zombies could run and move fast. It was also the first zombie movie in which they all had a hunger for brains. I figured to zombies loved eating brains as the endorphins being consumed relieved them from some of their pain. I congratulated Dan on this bit of brilliance with the endorphins.

“I never thought of that,” he responded, “but I’ll happily take credit for it!”

In all honesty, Bill Munns was finally starting to get it. He did a very good job with his first attempt at constructing the Tar-Man. Unfortunately for Bill, it was too late.

Before each shoot, I check with all of my department heads to make sure they’re all ready for the work to come. I walked over to Bill’s trailer to check on his readiness.

“Are you all set for tonight?” (it was a night shoot)

“I don’t know…what are we shooting?”

“Check the call sheet and your script.”

“I forgot my script.”

“What?!?!”

“I left it at home.”

I exploded.

“You forgot your script? Then what in the fuck were you going to do tonight?”

Each department head having a copy of the script to work from each day is so basic to film making that there was no way that Graham could defend Bill. Munns was fired and promptly replaced with the talented Kenny Myers, who beautifully finished the Tar-Man Bill had started and created some other terrific make-ups for our film.

I own several intellectual properties throughout The Return of the Living Dead, including the Tar-Man. I occasionally create new Tar-Man art for licensing purposes. Here’s one:

Here’s another I did for the great special make-up effects house KNB:

I’ve done lots more pics of Tar-Man. I find him really fun to draw. Note that most of my zombies are pretty happy zombies most of the time.

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