The average person, when told a newspaper photographer is stopping by, straightens their tie or touches up their mascara.
When special effects artist Marcel Banks has a photo shoot scheduled, he puts in bug-eyed contact lenses and attaches a partially formed conjoined twin to his body.
At 26, the Tacoma-born-and-raised Banks already is a Hollywood veteran. His movie career began when lied his way onto a set at age 17. He was soon pulling down jobs on increasingly larger projects.
Now he’s extending his reach back to Tacoma. Next weekend, the haunted house he’s created for the Washington State History Museum opens for a three-day run.
Banks first rose to the attention of the general public in 2011 when he appeared as a contestant on the Syfy network’s reality show “Face Off.” The series pits special effects artists against each other in elimination challenges using makeup and prosthetics. Banks didn’t win the competition but lasted long enough to get noticed by special effects movers and shakers.
Since then, he’s made skeletal remains for the 2013 installment of Vin Diesel’s sci-fi franchise “Chronicles of Riddick,” spent several months in Singapore working on a Dolph Lundgren action film, and created tattoo designs for “Pitch Perfect,” a musical-comedy now in theaters. Earlier this week he gave a make-up demonstration with horror icon Elvira at a Seattle costume shop.
The Lincoln High School graduate was raised by a police officer father and a nurse mother. Though both parents are now deceased, he still maintains a home in Tacoma as well as one in Pasadena.
“I spent a lot of time watching films,” Banks said of his childhood. “I was obsessed with Garbage Pail Kids and monster movies. I’m still obsessed with them.”
In Hollywood, a unique perspective on the world can be an asset. In high school, it can be a hindering liability.
“I felt like no one got me,” Banks recalls. “My guidance counselor told me ‘You can’t get in to film. You have to get a real job.’”
Today, even without a prosthetic twin and black contacts, Banks maintains a decidedly alternative appearance with numerous piercings and tattoos.
The ink reflects his advocation and obsessions. Tattoos include a Freddy Krueger-like robot, Lon Chaney from “Phantom of the Opera,” and the title monster from “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” who Banks calls his “favorite monster of all time.”
After “Face Off,” Banks had to make a decision. “You could either take your 15 minutes of fame and go to (fan) conventions, or buckle down and work on your career.” He chose his career.
Although Banks makes his living off of visuals, he says he puts narrative above all else. “A good story is the basis of everything,” he said.
He believes computer-generated imagery (CGI) is being used too often in movies today. “The art of filmmaking is suffering,” he said. “CGI is a good tool. When it’s used in excess, it looks like you’re watching a cartoon.”
Banks’ haunted house at the history museum isn’t the first he’s done. Last year, he worked on one at Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles.
Banks hopes museum visitors will be put on edge. “I want you to feel unsafe and uneasy the whole time,” he said.