Recreated reality - Interview with Iván Pohárnok, SFX makeup artist

Aug 26, 2021

Iván Pohárnok is one of the most wanted SFX makeup artists in Hungary, but also in the world. His career story could easily be in a Hollywood movie script.

When Ivan was ten years old he saw George Lucas's classic in the cinemas. "I can't remember if I had a different dream job before that point. I did a lot of drawing and building. After seeing Star Wars though I knew for sure what I wanted to do, and that is what I'm doing now,” he recounts the beginnings.

From then on, he was driven by the desire to, one day, work on films like Star Wars. When he saw a making-of film about The Return of the Jedi around '85, he knew this was what he wanted to do. "I incredibly liked the medium, the way the sculptors modelled the figurines, manufactured them, painted them, while they were fooling around and laughing. As I watched the film, I thought,” this is my dream job " – we learn about the nature of attraction.

But he was not satisfied with the longing. After seeing an advertisement for Dick Smith's correspondence course in a film paper, he immediately wrote a letter to the world-famous mask master and makeup artist.

He sent his drawings, some photos of his work, and not only did the master reply, but he also sent the curriculum for free, because the 16-year-old wrote that, although he dreams of taking the course, he can't pay $2,000 tuition, as a Hungarian high school student.

As soon as he graduated from high school, he flew to Los Angeles to Dick Smith's studio, where he worked with the bests for a year. "I didn't really enjoy living there, so I thought I'd have to create a place at home where I like to be, and that's basically what happened. Since then, I've been working at my dream job every day, " we find out about the impact of the American adventure.

Dreams, jobs

Since then, Filmefex has become known worldwide as a mask, prop and model company. We don't create only for feature films, but we also make supplies and models for advertisements. When Ivan returned from America, the modern advertising industry had just exploded. Foreign advertising agencies came to Hungary, domestic agencies were born, including KOZMO by Kozma Péter. It was considered to be the first modern advertising agency, and they made most of the advertisements at the time.

We're talking about a time when computer animation didn't exist yet or was spreading its wings. When Ivan started working at KOZMO, he had to solve a lot of things practically that now would be solved by a computer. For example, there was a cleaning product ad that ended with a smiley sponge making a streak and shrugging twice. "Today, a scene like this would be animated by a computer, but then we had to figure out how to "puppet" the sponge with small sticks" – we learn about contemporary practices.

At the time, they were mainly working with producer Tamás Hutlassa's company, and in addition to making models, there was an increased demand for storyboards to be drawn. It was in the mid-'90s when you and Laszlo Falvay started working together. Ivan's downtown apartment was the office and the studio. One room was for the models, and the other was for the graphic designs. They founded the company Filmefey then and there. It was officially registered in 1996.

The golden age of advertising

The budget of the films made in Hungary at that time made it much less possible for him to deal with what he cared about, so he turned to advertisements. So whether it was making cookies or aliens, the manual challenge was all that mattered. "I was interested in how to solve a problem, how to create a realistic and authentic object. To create something that might not exist in reality and to do it as if it existed. In the film tricks, I was interested in making something with my hand that would deceive the human eye,” he says, about the most exciting process.

"Over the years, there have been interesting changes in requests. From the early '90s, we were working on Hungarian commercials and some feature films. In the early 2000's we made more foreign advertising films than Hungarian. Especially ones that were shot in Hungary. And then we gradually started working abroad. Until 2008, we travelled around the world, from South America to Moscow. There are few places in the world where we didn’t shoot. These were not all advertisements running through Hungarian service companies. We were often approached directly. After all, those who came to Hungary to shoot from abroad got to know us, and then they called me to work here and there. So we did a shooting in the Swiss Alps with an artificial cow and with little puppets in Buenos Aires. In the early 2000s, people spent huge money on advertising films, and then the economic crisis broke it in its waistline after 2008.

Since then, they've only done one or two commercials a year. In the last decade and a half, the production of advertising films has deteriorated, but the amount of foreign films in Eastern Europe and Hungary has also increased. Today, Filmex is almost all about this kind of work.

Technical turning point

The answer to which new technology is now fully incorporated into the life of a company that prefers manual techniques is clear. "Several years ago, we began to work on 3D printing and 3D scanning. It can simplify and speed up a lot of processes, but it can also complicate things and make some work slower. It can take several days for a high-quality print to come out of the printer, so we can't use it for a commercial film. Speed is one of the most important things in that world.” On the other hand, the new technology can play an even bigger role in the production of special masks and objects Pohárnok makes for feature films.

"During the pandemic, in the case of actors who didn't want to or couldn’t travel, this has been the only way to get a sample of the actors' faces. We're working on three films now, where we get 3D scans of the actor's head from all around the world. It’s very important that we can print out the heads. We must be technically prepared for these situations. But it didn't change the real meaning of our company. We're still making real things. We only use the technology to create even more realistic objects, not to make film tricks.”

Instead of burnout

Over the years, Filmex and Ivan have received many requests in person, asking how they decide to take jobs on a whim. "Most of the time, it's the deadline that dictates the decision. It's no secret that we try to work five days a week, eight hours a day, and that is very uncommon in this scene. So we take only what fits into this schedule, and I'm very proud of that. Some people have been working with us for more than 20 years. It's my principle that if the workload increases, it's the number of colleagues and not the working hours that should increase accordingly. We mainly have workshop work, but of course, we go to the shoots as well. We don’t determine the number of work hours, but the workshop continues to be in a good mood and at a normal pace. And I still like to manage and control the whole process. I have difficulty delegating tasks, but that's only because I still like my job just as much as I liked it at the beginning. I didn't burn out, and I didn't have a heart attack, which I'm happy for.”

So are we.