From knives to giant cockroaches, Philly sculptor specializes in movie effects

    Special effects and makeup artist Dylan Pecora has a penchant for hair, horns and teeth. Any or all of those items may be necessary in the vocation that’s also his avocation.

    Most mornings, Pecora goes to work at his day job at Gamla Model Makers in Feasterville. When he returns to his Southwest Philadelphia home, he descends to the basement to work until he’s hungry and then go to bed.

    His basement workspace brims with stone molds, clay, dental acrylic, wigs, latex and silicon paint, which he says is tricky to work with but looks most like flesh.

    That’s coming in handy as he works  on his latest project  — sculpting a face that will eventually become a mask for a Brooklyn musician. The character is “Uncle Pizza Face,” a chef who braved a pizza oven to battle a demon, burning his face in the process.

    Pecora, who attended Tom Savini’s School of Special Effects in Pittsburgh, returned to Philadelphia six years ago. Since then, he said, the work has not stopped coming in. And Pecora says he’ll take any opportunity to sculpt and create.

    “Sometimes it’s movies, sometimes it’s weird favors for friends or strangers on the Internet, and occasions like this, it’s props for a band,” he said.

    Along with Uncle Pizza Face, Pecora is working on a pair of specialized dice and a bust of his cousin, who would like to display it in his law office.  His projects always take him as long as his deadline, whether it’s a year or a matter of hours.

    “In Baltimore I was working on a movie where a bunch of people had to die,” Pecora said. “And it was guns, and then it switched to knives, and they were like, ‘Where’s the knives? ‘We don’t have knives.’ ‘Well make some knives!’

    “Sometimes you have to make knives in two hours in a hotel bathroom, and sometimes you have a year to make a giant cockroach,” he said.

    Last year Pecora transformed an elderly German actor into a cockroach for a short film called “Cheap Extermination.” The man spoke little English and, when Pecora tried to get him to the makeup trailer to be fitted in latex, he refused to leave because he was watching “Toy Story 3.”

    Pecora ended up working in the man’s living room. “I’m shaving this 75-year-old German man and he’s weeping because they put Woody in the college box. It’s glamorous.”

    Monsters mean the most

    People often ask Pecora if it’s possible they’ve seen any his work, and he says that although a few have made it to Netflix, it’s unlikely unless they’re big fans of chainsaw massacres. He’s grateful for that work, but his true passion is in the creation of monsters.

    A yeti-like creature Pecora made and named the Guardian watches him sculpt from his workbench. If he had the means to create anything he wanted, it would be a monster film, he said, but one where the monsters are friendly like in the 1992 film “Munchie,” where a struggling young boy is assisted by a cute monster.

    “It was this tiny little gremlin voiced by Dom DeLuise who helps this kid get free pizza and fight bullies and get better math grades, but it’s terrifying,” he said. “It’s this really bad, slow moving, animatronic little imp. I love stuff like that.”

    For now, he said, he makes a lot of hairy feet for people on the Internet .

    And he recalls the time someone contacted him to make a mask of a monster from a cartoon “Scooby Doo” episode –not of the monster, but of a mask the monster wore of Scooby Doo. His excitement was cut short when he received this message: “Lost my job at Petco.”

    He was disheartened to lose the job, but never about his work.

    “It’s fantastic to me that people care this much about the weirdest stuff,” he said.

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.