VPA student hopes to horrify with hyper-realistic special effects

VPA student hopes to horrify with special effects

Studio arts sophomore Danielle Russo is redefining her major with realistic special effects makeup depicting cuts and bruises.
Published: February 4, 2020
Danielle Russo cuts circles for her prop dream monitor at her work station.
Danielle Russo cuts circles for her prop dream monitor at her work station.

As she cut out paper circles to be placed on a prop dream monitor made of fabric and wire, Danielle Russo divulged a secret.

“I’m actually a really big baby when it comes to horror,” she said.

Russo is a sophomore VPA student majoring in studio arts who specializes in special effects. Russo fabricates cuts, bruises, and ligature marks among other things for her art classes, and hopes to take her talents to movie sets one day.

“I’ve only really seen the classics,” Russo said. “Like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Insidious, a bunch of the really old, classic horror movies because I knew that I had to watch those to have a sense of what I was getting myself into.”

Her interest for special effects didn’t come from the horror genre, instead, it came from a different TV phenomenon. Russo said she became interested after watching a reality show called Face Off with her dad. In the show, special effects artists compete with one another to see who can achieve the best human-to-monster transformation. Russo’s dad encouraged her to give it a try.

“I went out and I got flour, and vaseline, and fake blood I had left over from Halloween,” Russo said. “It was latex, and paper towels, and fake blood, and it was nasty looking and gross, but I was like, ‘this looks so cool, I can definitely do this.’”

Russo has come a long way from paper towels and Spirit-Halloween fake blood, but Gerard Russo, her dad, supports her just as much today as he did when Russo was 15 years old getting inspired by a TV show.

“Danielle is full of talent and potential,” he said. “I hope she recognizes it and lets the world see what I see in her.”

She said she was also drawn to gory special effects because of their realistic nature. She considers people’s disgust with her work to be a compliment.

Danielle Russo finishing the details of a gash running across her hand.
Danielle finishing the details of a gash running across her hand.

In classes, Russo interprets the prompts given to her to fit her unique art form. For a prompt that instructed students to utilize time, Russo aged herself. When she was told to incorporate scale, she gave herself three different wounds of varying sizes on her hand.

For Russo’s final project, she focused on humanity. She decided to fabricate three fatal wounds: a small cut on her wrist, a slit neck, and a large, bone-exposing gash on her thigh.

“The fact that they look different doesn’t matter, they all can kill you,” Russo said. “As morbid as that is, it kind of ties into the idea how we’re all human and we all die.”

Her live sculpture professor, Bob Wysocki was pleasantly surprised with the level of comfort with the materials she showed in his intro-level that Russo took just to play around with plaster.

“Danielle is extraordinarily well-formed for her age. She has an understanding of materials and a way with them some of our grad students don’t possess,” Wysocki said.

Although Russo feels encouraged by her professors at Syracuse, her type of work comes with challenges of its own. Two of her professors sometimes can’t stomach to look at her work, which limits her opportunity for critique and can impact grading.

Danielle Russo laughs with studio arts classmates while in a studio class.
Russo laughs with classmates while in a studio class.

Despite obstacles, Russo is extremely dedicated and passionate about special effects makeup. She has an internship lined up for this summer working on the set of Stalker’s Prey 3, a shark attack movie. She is very excited about the opportunity, considering it’s the type of work she wants to do after graduation.

“My dad is like, ‘you’re gonna win an Emmy for this makeup one day, I want you to go up on the stage, I want you to get your Emmy, and I want to thank your dad who supported you through all of this,’” Russo said, “so if I could do that, that’s the dream, like the dream of dreams.”

Avatar for Violet Lazarus

is a contributor to The NewsHouse.