Podcast Episode 5: Beetlejuice Special FX — Featuring Painter Rob Tharp!

In honor of its 31st anniversary this month, special FX artist Rob Tharp joins Lauren Spear on the HorrorFam.com Podcast to share behind-the-scenes stories from when he and Cathy Tharp worked on Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice!

Follow along with the written transcript for a peek at amazing never-shown-before photos going behind-the-scenes of the 1988 classic film!

HUGE thanks to our sponsor, Audible! If you’d like to indulge in a VAST array of audio entertainment AND help support HorrorFam.com, grab a free trial (with a FREE audiobook that you can keep for LIFE), using our affiliate link: https://audibletrial.com/horrorfam

And another HUGE thanks to all the AMAZING HorrorFam.com readers, listeners, and followers who wrote via Twitter/Instagram/DMs/Emails with questions and comments for Rob Tharp (my dad). He was truly touched that y’all cared so much about his — and Mom’s — work.

FULL Written Transcript with Exclusive Beetlejuice PICTURES:

*Intro music from FreePD.com*

Lauren Spear: Hi, Everyone! My name is Lauren Spear and you’re listening to the HorrorFam.com Podcast. Today’s episode is brought to you by Audible — and we’ll be talking more about that later; but, for now…

I’m going to be talking to my dad — Rob Tharp — about the work he did as a special FX painter on Beetlejuice!

Hey, Dad!

Rob Tharp: Hey, Daughter!

Lauren: *laughs*

So… Beetlejuice came out on March 30th, 1988 and that’s going to be on Monday, so…

Rob Tharp: So, happy anniversary!

Lauren: So, happy anniversary! That’s why I picked that topic to talk to you today: Because the anniversary’s coming up and I thought, y’know, it’d be timely.

And so, like, back in the day, you and Mom — Cathy Tharp — were… *snorts* *laughs* My dad’s sticking his tongue out at me!

Uhhhhhhhhhh… *fumbling to get back on track* You… You and Mom worked on Beetlejuice in the special FX department… And I was there too! But, for me, it was just a ton of fun. Just, you know, like a very weird playground, I guess?

I searched for hours through thousands of old photos to try to find a pic of me hanging out with the Beetlejuice FX stuff… But I had to give up due to time constraints. So, uh, here’s a photo of lil me with the ant my mom (Cathy Tharp) painted for 1989’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

Rob Tharp: You were three-years-old. It was the perfect environment for you.

Lauren: Absolutely! Yeah! *laughs*

But now I’m much older than three-years-old and, uh, it’d be nice to hear about the actual, you know, work side of things…

Rob Tharp: Would you like to hear about them from me?

Lauren: Yes!

Rob Tharp: *mock surprised noise*

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Well, Beetlejuice, for us — although it came out [theatrically] in 1988 — was what I always think of as being a 1987 project.

The movie projects are always the year before their release. So, we — Cathy (my wife) and I — spent the better part of 1987 painting all the monsters and goofy stuff for Beetlejuice that wasn’t actually Beetlejuice.

Beetlejuice himself was the work of the makeup artists. But, all the other stuff that was in that movie — the sandworms, all the crazy dead people in the waiting room, and… yeah! Everything else got handed to us as blank pieces of rubber and sponge and we had to paint it to look like Tim Burton’s and Rick Heinrichs’ maquettes and designs.

And, of all the movie projects that I’ve worked on, I would have to pick Beetlejuice as being the most fun! It had the craziest designs and the most fun monsters to work on of any of the things that I’d ever worked on before or since… It’s got a warm spot in my heart.

Lauren: *giggles* Mine too!

One of the things that I noticed…

I asked our HorrorFam.com readers and social media followers if they had any questions for you — and I’ll be getting to those a little bit later — but, one of the things I noticed was that… A lot of people don’t seem to understand, uh, how special effects departments work.

Like, you were… You and Mom [Cathy Tharp] were painters. Mom did a little sculpting on Beetlejuice as well, right?

Rob Tharp: I think so!

A lil teaser… Some of the carousel animals Cathy Tharp painted on Beetlejuice’s hat! (That lil yellow guy with the red spots was my fave as a kid!)

Lauren: Yeah. So… Mom did some painting and sculpting [which I confirmed with Cathy Tharp pre-show]. And you were a painter.

But… People kinda mash everything into sorta one, like, all-around job instead of… many cogs operating the machine.

Rob Tharp: We were two of the many cogs operating in the shop and Beetlejuice would STILL be in production if Cathy and I had to do everything [ourselves]. It would… *laughs* It would be absolutely impossible!

Our cog was painting all the creatures and whatnot. But we were just part of a team.

There were people who sculpt the creatures, there were people who make the molds on the creatures, people that cast the parts… Then, people that trim [the excess latex off of] the creatures and do the clean-up work on them… Then, they’d get handed to Cathy and me — we put the colors on!

Then, there were other people doing the mechanics to make the creatures move. And then there are the makeup artists that go on the set where the movie’s being filmed and either control the puppets or apply the makeup appliance pieces to the actors’ faces.

It’s… We were just part of a team! And it was a really great team — lot of fun people and talented people…

And, I wish that this interview was being done 30 years earlier so I would be able to give name shoutouts to everybody that worked on it!

Linda Frobos sculpted some of the creatures — she had just come off working on Ghostbusters — and [she’s a] really talented person.

Annnnnnnnnnd… Mike Mills and Frank…Carrizosa(?) were the makeup artists that did the applications…

Cathy and I pre-painted all the [makeup] appliances and then handed over paint to Frank and Mike to use on the set. And they gave us MAJOR props for making their jobs a whole lot easier! All they had to do was just put on the appliances we had pre-painted and then blend in the edges. So they were real happy with us!

Lauren: *giggles*

Yeah! I think… I think that’s one of the main things that people don’t seem to “get” is that the makeup effects and the practical effects are separate departments.

Rob Tharp: It’s ALL separate departments! Everybody has a specific job to do…

There’s crossover, of course…

Lauren: Yeah.

Rob Tharp: …because everybody’s working on the same team and… If you can help out somebody in another area, you do it!

But, generally, on larger projects like Beetlejuice was: You get hired to do a specific thing and it keeps you busy ALL day — and they’re LONG days! *chuckles*

Rob Tharp painting a sandworm’s mouth.

Lauren: Oh, yeah! I remember when I was a kid and you guys were working on movies… You’d have, like, 14-hour days most days! *laughs*

Rob Tharp: That’s usual. You work really long hours for a finite amount of time…

And then you go to a wrap party, say goodbye to everybody and how much you’ll miss them, and get on the phone and start saying, “You got anything going on? Anybody hiring in town?? ANYBODY?!”

Lauren: *knowing/uncomfortable laugh* Yeah…

Rob Tharp: One of the things on Beetlejuice that I regret is: In the end credits… Don’t bother looking for our names! They’re not there!

The only people whose names were allowed on the end credits of the people who worked on [the film] were people that were Union members. And Cathy and I were freelance contractors and weren’t in the Union at that time, so…

Lauren: Same with pretty much everyone else on that project!

Rob Tharp: Yeah. Yeah… There were a lot of REALLY disappointed people that got to the end of the movie and wanted to clap when they saw their name on there, and… they weren’t there.

Lauren: Yeahhhh.

Rob Tharp: So, there were a LOT more people working on Beetlejuice than you see in the end credits. But… such is life! I have the paycheck stubs that testify [that I worked on Beetlejuice]! *laughs*

Lauren: Yeah! *laughs* You can prove that you worked on it!

And you’ve got a lot of cool behind-the-scenes photos in your portfolio — as does Mom — and we’re gonna look at those and… Whatever ones you point to and go “OH! Yes. I have a fascinating story for THAT picture!” I’ll scan those in and make sure they get put up with the written transcript for this.

A page from Rob Tharp’s portfolio! Before owning a computer, he’d type everything out using a typewriter — including the movie scripts he wrote (but that’s a story for another time *wink*)

Rob Tharp: Behind-the-scenes from Beetlejuice?! What could be more fun than that?!?

Lauren: *laughs*

Well, for me, uh, I had a lot of fun riding the snake [from Beetlejuice] when I was a wee lass.

Again… I know we have photos of me messing around with Beetlejuice stuff SOMEwhere, but I couldn’t find those pics. So here’s a random pic of me being extremely ’80s with my acid-wash jeans and Pee-wee Herman doll.

Rob Tharp: That was so much fun to see you taking a ride on the giant snake that… ultimately didn’t really get used, but…

At the time…

There’s a part in Beetlejuice, for people who haven’t seen it in a long time — which would include me laughs — where the banister in their house turns into a giant snake with Beetlejuice’s face on it. But…

Lauren: Yeah! Actually, one of our readers wanted you to talk about that so…

Rob Tharp: I’m talking about it now, Reader!

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Anyway…

Lauren: Shoutout to Andrew Cameron!

Rob Tharp: Okay, Andrew! Here’s a little behind-the-scenes on the snake:

When we were working on Beetlejuice, we didn’t know, to start with, who was going to play Beetlejuice. At the time, they were looking at Sammy Davis, Jr. to play Beetlejuice.

Lauren: That would’ve been a different movie.

Rob Tharp: It would have!

Lauren: *giggles*

Rob Tharp: And, in the meantime, we needed to get stuff going. And, so, construction was done on the snake. And Rick Heinrichs and Tim Burton had designed a snake head that you were supposed to know was Beetlejuice and it was going to be done mechanically.

It ultimately ended up being done with stop motion animation.

But we did the giant snake with the giant snake head — let me point to a picture of it here! Giant snake!

Gigantic (unused) snake body from Beetlejuice. [Note for Andrew: There are pics of the head further down!]

Lauren: I think the head is in Mom’s…

Rob Tharp: Portfolio. *snickers*

Lauren: Portfolio! *flustered laugh* Sorry!!

Rob Tharp: Yeah. So, the giant snake… We did the giant snake and…

Once Michael Keaton had been cast, and the makeup done on him, they took out the giant snake that we had made and put in the stop motion snake instead.

But, when Lauren was three, she used to like to ride on the giant snake body! *laughs*

Lauren: It was BIG! It took up SO much space!

Rob Tharp: Yeah!

Lauren: Like… I was wondering, like… Was it really as HUGE as I remembered it. Because, you know, I was small so I figured… You know, like when you go back to your elementary school? And it’s like, “Man! This playground used to be enormous but it’s actually really tiny!”

But… seeing these photos, it’s like, “No, that really was a gigantic snake!” *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Yeah! It really was.

Lauren: Oh! But the banister did get used, yes?

Now you know how the banister-into-a-snake effect was done!

Rob Tharp: This banister in this picture here was at Ted Rae’s shop. I got called to Ted Rae’s shop a couple of months after my work on Beetlejuice stopped…

Lauren: At Robert Short’s.

Rob Tharp: At Robert Short’s shop.

I got called into Ted Rae’s shop to paint the banister as it transforms from a banister into the snake.

Ted Rae was the guy that did the stop motion animation effects for the snake and for Barbara annnd…

Lauren: Adam!

Rob Tharp: …Adam’s transformation scene when they stretch their faces into scary monsters.

Yeah. This… This insert banister was for somebody to put their hand on for an insert shot in the movie as the banister turns into the snake.

Lauren: Yeah! But… the colors. There’s something weird with the colors, right?

Rob Tharp: The colors are different!

Steve Wang, a fantastically talented artist…

Lauren: He is; yeah.

Rob Tharp: …had done the paint scheme for the snake for Ted Rae’s shop for the stop motion puppets. And he had used a brown and diamond paint scheme whereas, originally, it was gray and diamonds.

So, Steve wasn’t available to do the painting on this banister, so I got called in for a day’s work to try and replicate Steve Wang’s paint job that he had done.

Lauren: And you were like, “Whoooooaaaaaaaa!”

Rob Tharp: Yeah! I’ve been a fan of Steve’s for ages — well before I met him — and I was really glad to finally meet him because he’s a super nice guy as well as being extra talented.

Lauren: He is! He’s very sweet.

Rob Tharp: So… yeah! I got to work at two different shops on Beetlejuice, briefly.

Lauren: Oh! You were talking about the face stretching part and… G.G. Graham wrote in and said that…

Rob Tharp: Yo, G.G.!

Lauren: …They were going to need details on these stretched-out faces.

Rob Tharp: Well, Linda Frobos sculpted the stretched-out face for Geena Davis. Annnnnnnnd… I wish I could remember the name of the guy who sculpted Adam’s face, but I can’t right now. But…

What does… What does he want to know?

The eyes were mechanical. The tongue was mechanical.

Lauren: Like, what does that involve…?

Rob Tharp: It involves the guy from the mechanics’ department rigging the eyes to go back and forth and the tongue to wiggle! *laughs*

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: It was basically a giant Halloween mask that was just there for brief, brief shots.

For the actual “stretching” effect, before the giant mechanized “Halloween mask” was used, they used these heads (and the ones I’ll share below) for replacement animation. There was a slightly different sculpture for each stage of the “stretching” process.

Lauren: The thing I remember most was that we had a bunch of the eyeballs floating around our house for YEARS afterwards!

Rob Tharp: Yeah. Yeah… We had all the reject eyeballs from the castings. *chuckles*

Lauren: Yeah! Mom had to paint, like, Geena Davis eyes…

Rob Tharp: Over and over and over!

Lauren: …HUNDREDS of them! Yeah.

And then, we just had eyeball… Like, every once in a while, we’d be digging through a drawer or something and there’d be Geena Davis’ eyeball poppin’ out! *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Yeah…

The thing I remember was painting all those TEETH in that mask! My gosh she had a lotta teeth! *laughs*

Lauren: Yeah! Yeah, I remember just, every once in a while, opening a drawer and a brown eyeball kinda rollin’ out.

Geena Davis eyes for her stretchy-face mask in Beetlejuice (painted by Cathy Tharp).

Rob Tharp: Yeah. So, the Adam heads and the Geena Davis [Barbara] heads were both just giant Halloween masks.

And hat’s off to Tim Burton and Rick Heinrichs for designing such fun-looking stuff!

Lauren: Yeah. Yeah, those are very memorable.

Rob Tharp: Rick Heinrichs sculpted amazingly fun maquettes!

Maquettes are little statue versions of what they want the finished thing to look like. And it would always be a treat when he would bring in the latest thing that he had sculpted. Because they were clay sculptures and he had painted them and… It made the reference for making the large-size versions of them SO much easier.

With the maquette, you can turn the statue around, look at it from all angles. And…

The reason why Bob Short got that job in the first place was: He was one of the only people that realized that Tim Burton WANTED this stuff to look cartoony!

A couple of the other shops that had bid on the job tried to make the stuff look more realistic. They figured…

Well, Tim Burton was an unknown quantity pretty much at that point. And they figured that, well, “He just can’t get across what he wants very well. He wants a realistic version of this!” *chuckles*

Lauren: Yeah.

Rob Tharp: They… They didn’t understand that [Tim Burton] wanted it to have that cartoony look to it…

But Bob got it! He understood what he was after and that was what landed him the job.

Lauren: Well, I’m glad that he got it!

Rob Tharp: Yeah! Me too! It couldn’t have come at a better time for us!

Lauren: *uncomfortable chuckle remembering the extreme financial duress her family was in (partially) due to her medical/birth defect complications at the time*

Rob Tharp: Yeah! The first thing that Bob did that got him the job — and got me onto the crew as a painter — didn’t get used in the movie!

Originally, when Beetlejuice shows up in the movie… He was going to be sitting on top of a giant tombstone puppeteering a ghost creature that kisses Geena Davis.

And the first thing that Bob did as a sample of the work that he would be doing on the movie was the puppet for that scene. And that was what Bob called me in to do the paint work on!

So, there’s a picture of it in my [portfolio], but that’s something that you never see in the movie. But it’s what got Bob Short’s shop the project!

The first-ever prop made for Beetlejuice was painted by Rob Tharp. It ultimately wasn’t used in the final film. (There’s another pic of this big-eyed cutie later on!)

Lauren: And you!

Rob Tharp: And me! And Cathy!

Lauren: Yeah!

Rob Tharp: So, yeah. Thanks to that puppet!

Lauren: Well, a lot of these questions are sort of, like, “What was the biggest challenge you had to deal with…?”

Rob Tharp: Getting up every morning.

Lauren: *laughs* Early hours!

Rob Tharp: Yeah.

Lauren: And a long commute.

Rob Tharp: Yeah. Bob’s shop was in Santa Monica which is at least an hour [away] in good traffic… which doesn’t happen in Los Angeles.

Lauren: Yeah.

So… okay! So, the biggest challenge was just getting up in the morning.

But, effects-wise — other than waking up — were there any times when you built something or when you were painting something and [you] went, “Oooh. That’s not gonna work”?

Rob Tharp: One of the most rewarding projects that I’ve ever worked on was Beetlejuice because no matter what kind of disasters were happening in other people’s areas: Every time Tim and Rick would come in and look at what Cathy and I were painting they’d go, “It’s PERFECT! Don’t change a thing!” laughs

And then they’d go over to somebody else and go…

Oh! My favorite thing!

I remember Tim Burton looking at something — and I don’t remember what it was now — but he was just SO frustrated! He was just waving his hands in the air and going, “It’s just… It’s just NOT!” *laughs*

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: And for YEARS afterwards, whenever something would be going wrong, I would do an imitation of that and just LAUGH. *chuckles*

Lauren: *cracking up*

Rob Tharp: “It’s just NOT!!” *laughs*

Lauren: Oh man! That probably isn’t the favorite production story for whoever’s department that was happening to!

Rob Tharp: Oh no. They would have MUCH different memories and feelings about it than I had! *chuckles*

I was sorry for whoever it was “just NOT,” but… That just amused me at the time! *laughs*

Here’s some more carousel animals Mom painted for Beetlejuice’s hat!

Lauren: So, uh, that was another one of the things: People wanted to know if you got to meet Tim Burton. Obviously, you did. *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Got to meet Tim Burton, got to meet Rick Heinrichs, got to meet Michael Keaton…

Lauren: Yeah! Actually, the “Two Guys and Some Horror”…

Rob Tharp: Hey, Two Guys!

Lauren: …asked if you got to meet Michael Keaton.

Rob Tharp: Yeah! He was NICE! He was really nice. Really friendly.

Lauren: Yeah! You don’t talk about him too much, but Mom — whenever Mom is reliving the old days — she brings up Michael Keaton fairly often.

Rob Tharp: Yeah. Well. She’s a girl, isn’t she?

Lauren: *giggles* Yeah! She found him quite charming!

Rob Tharp: Yeah.

Lauren: “Oh, he was SO sweet! And SO funny!”

Rob Tharp: Yeah! He was all that. I was pleasantly surprised!

And Geena Davis came into the shop and…

Lauren: Really TALL!

Rob Tharp: That was… *laughs* I was just gonna say! That’s what everybody who met her there in the shop…

She was really pretty, but what everybody looked at each other and said after they’d met her was: “She’s so TALL!”

Lauren: Yeah! She’s like an Amazon!

Rob Tharp: Yeah. She’s like six-foot-tall to start with and she was wearing heels! So, that would put her at like six-three? Six-four? I know that she just towered over everybody! *laughs*

Lauren: Yeah! Like, I’m five-foot-three as an adult and, you know, everyone is tall when you’re a child, but… I could see to maybe her knees!

Rob Tharp: Well, she was really nice. Really good sport! She and Michael Keaton both were all about looking at everything that we were working on and being interested in it. They were really charming.

Lauren: Well, that’s awesome to hear. It’s nice when it’s like, “Oh the people were genuinely nice!” and not “Oh yeah… They were only nice on-screen. They were horrible behind-the-scenes!”

Rob Tharp: *laughs*

Lauren: So that’s nice that, you know… Because Beetlejuice… A lot of the people who wrote in were just like…

Like Lily Spellman: “No questions. Just tell [Robert Tharp] I said ‘thank you'” and that [Beetlejuice] is one of her favorite movies…

Rob Tharp: Aww! Thanks, Lily!! I’m glad you liked it! *heart-warmed chuckle*

Lauren: Your paintwork was, you know… Very appreciated.

Brian Danger just sent a bunch of hearts and loving emojis! *laughs* Like… People LOVE this movie!

Rob Tharp: I feel like watching it again! We should watch it again!

Lauren: Oh yeah! *laughs*

They… They love your work on it and all that stuff. And Mom’s, of course…

Mom’s a little shy about speaking in public. Even though it’s, like, internet “public.” So, Dad’s taking the reins here… But Mom also did a TON of work on Beetlejuice.

Rob Tharp: She did just as much or more work on it than I did! And she deserves mad props for the work that she did.

Lauren: Speaking of props, there’s a great photo in Mom’s portfolio where she’s wearing the shrimp hand from the shrimp cocktail [“Day-O”] scene!

Cathy Tharp mutating into shrimp cocktail.

Rob Tharp: Yeah, we both… We were both painting shrimp arms for that part!

Lauren: Yeah!

Rob Tharp: And lots and lots of fake rubber shrimp to decorate the edges of the cocktail glasses… The shrimp cocktail glasses!

Lauren: And Mom [Cathy Tharp] was on the set throwing sand during the scene with the sandworms…

Rob Tharp: Yeah!

Lauren: Yeah. She was throwing sand on [Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis].

Rob Tharp: Throwing yellow sand! She had yellow sand in her work toolbox for YEARS after that! *laughs*

Lauren: I think she STILL does!

Rob Tharp: Yeah!

Lauren: Just a lil bit! *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Little Beetlejuice souvenirs!

Lauren: Yeah. *laughs* That yellow sand… Like the eyeballs! The yellow sand just was everywhere for a while!

Rob Tharp: Yeah, she was on the set where they were filming the sandworm sequences just in case the sandworms needed any [paint] touchups.

And she got roped into helping throw sand up in the air when the sandworm was diving in and out of the yellow sand on — where was it? — Venus or wherever.

Lauren: *giggles*

Rob Tharp: And she ended up with yellow sand in her clothes and in her toolbox…

It showed that she had been somewhere that day!

Lauren: Yeah!

Rob Tharp: Her day at the “beach.”

Lauren: Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd… Let’s see here… *shuffles papers* I’ve got a bunch of printouts of everybody’s questions…

It’s hard ’cause a lot of ’em were kinda repeating [the same questions]…

Rob Tharp: Well, Cathy painted all the carousel animals on Beetlejuice’s carousel hat!

The hat when it was in full hat mode. (More close-up pics of the carousel critters further down!)

Lauren: Oh yeah! We used those as Christmas decorations!

Rob Tharp: Yeah!

Lauren: For our Christmas tree!

Rob Tharp: Yeah. Those were fun little things! I wish they could’ve shown a close-up of each one… They were all unique and really fun.

Lauren: Yeah, those were really cute!

Rob Tharp: Oh! Speaking of problems that we had… I remember!

There’s a part — what reminded me was that carousel hat thing… There’s a part where Beetlejuice’s arms unroll and…

Lauren: Yeah. They inflate.

Rob Tharp: …they inflate into mallets. They tried EVERY which way to come up with a way to inflate SQUARE balloons! Trying to invent a square balloon that would inflate as a mallet.

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: And… They just couldn’t figure it out! I don’t know whether anybody’s figured out how inflate a mallet-shaped balloon [since then], but… We couldn’t do it!

They ended up using… I think they used prophylactics! We painted ’em with stripes and they inflated those… But they inflate ROUND!

Lauren: Yeah.

Rob Tharp: And that was the ONE thing that just stumped everybody! I remember them trying for DAYS to come up with a square inflatable and they weren’t… They just weren’t able to figure it out.

Lauren: Well, I guess that answers Erin’s — of “PomsLoveHorror” — question about what was the most difficult effect…

Rob Tharp: That wasn’t the most difficult! But it was the one that… *cracks up* …DEFEATED us! *laughs*

Lauren: *laughs* Well what was the most difficult one?

Rob Tharp: *exhales* Ohh… I can’t remember! I’m probably blocking it.

Lauren: There is one picture that… Whenever my friends or anyone would come over and look through your photos they’d be like, “What’s this giant thumb?!”

Rob Tharp: The giant thumb was with a giant forefinger!

There’s a part in the movie where Beetlejuice is shrunk down real tiny and Geena Davis picks him up and is yelling at him or something… And she has him between her thumb and forefinger…

Lauren: Mm-hmm!

Rob Tharp: …and he sprouts spikes out of his body to make her drop him.

Lauren: Right.

Rob Tharp: For the part where he’s getting yelled at by Geena Davis, while he’s being held between her thumb and forefinger: We made a giant thumb and forefinger for Michael Keaton to stand between for the insert shot where he’s being yelled at and being held by her!

So, anyway… yeah! There’s a picture in [my portfolio] where I’m standing in front of a giant thumb…?

Rob Tharp with the gigantic Barbara/Geena Davis thumb used in Beetlejuice!

Lauren: Yep!

Rob Tharp: That’s what that was from. *laughs*

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: It’s a giant Geena Davis thumb! But this thumb is WAY bigger than her real thumb!

Lauren: *laughs*

Oh! Yes! This guy… Who’s also named Robert!

Rob Tharp: Hey, Robert!

Lauren: Robert… Estes? I think I’m pronouncing that right? Hopefully?

He wanted to know: Of the work that you did — the painting that you did on Beetlejuice… When you went and saw the film in theaters and saw your work up there… What was the effect that you worked on that you went “Oh! Great! That looks good!” *laughs* You know? Which was the one that you were like, “Oh, good. Yes. That… That turned out awesome!”

Rob Tharp: I was happy with… With ALL of it!

They did good lighting. They made everything look super!

Lauren: Oh yeah…

Rob Tharp: I was real pleased with the way everything turned out!

There’s one part where Michael Keaton turns… Turns to the side and his bald cap wrinkles unnaturally that made me flinch a little bit. But, other than that! *laughs* I was REAL happy!

Lauren: Now people are gonna be lookin’ for, like, which scene that’s in like, “Huhhhh?? His bald cap wrinkles?! Lemme see!”

Rob Tharp: Yeah! Compared to the disappointment I had looking at the paint jobs in From Beyond, I was REAL happy with [seeing my work on-screen in Beetlejuice]!

Lauren: Ooh. Yeah. Yeah… Uh, if you wanna briefly touch on that story…?

Rob Tharp: Oh. Uh… I worked on From Beyond… The Stuart Gordon — God rest his soul — movie that he did after Re-Animator… And I did a KILLER paint job on this flying shrimp monster!

But, when I finally saw…

Lauren: And you had to work overtime on Valentine’s Day!

Rob Tharp: Ah, yeah. I got home from Valentine’s…

Valentine’s Day, Cathy had cooked a great dinner and put hearts up [on the walls] and everything… And I got home at like eight o’clock the next morning from working all night on this thing!

Lauren: Dinner was out there [still on the table] just cold…

Rob Tharp: Yeah…

Lauren: …the balloons were sagging down… It was very sad.

Rob Tharp: It was SO sad.

Lauren: Yeah.

This old photo doesn’t do Rob Tharp’s paintwork in From Beyond justice (and neither did the movie).

Rob Tharp: Yeah. But, anyway: Killer paint job on this flying shrimp monster for John Buechler. And he was real happy with it. I was real happy with it.

Annnnnnnd… I finally get to see the movie [From Beyond], and… They put a red gel over the lights whenever something “from beyond” showed up! Everything was lit RED! And I thought, “They coulda just packed that thing up and sent it to Italy to be filmed without me painting it at ALL!”

Because, all you see [in the movie] is the sculpture without any of the detail work and… everything’s colored RED!

Lauren: Yeah! It had all kinds of crazy veins and details…

Rob Tharp: Yeah, they published some photos of it in old issues of Fangoria where you can see what it looked like and… None of that showed up in the movie! I was disappointed by that.

Lauren: Yeah.

Rob Tharp: Beetlejuice? I was REAL happy with how everything looked! *laughs*

Sad face for shrimp “from beyond.” All smiles for shrimp possessed by ghosts!

Lauren: Oh, yeah. Everything looks fantastic in Beetlejuice! It’s… It’s beautiful. *laughs* I’m proud that you were a part of that. And Mom too!

Rob Tharp: We too!

Now, can I get back to my audiobook now?

Lauren: Oh! *laughs* Not yet! Not yet!

Rob Tharp: Oh, okay. Sorry.

Lauren: We’ve got one last question here from a girl named Rachel — “BlackRosePoem.” She wants to know how you got into all of this.

Rob Tharp: I stumbled into this stuff “bass ackwards” as a summer job and… it’s been a long summer!

I needed a summer job and this is what I ended up doing. So, yeah. Long summer.

Lauren: *laughs*

There’s a photo in Mom’s portfolio…

Rob Tharp: Oh! She’s got some nice shots of the carousel critters!

Lauren: Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh! I should include those ’cause you don’t get to see them very well [in the movie].

Rob Tharp: Oh! And there’s what the original snake head looked like!

Lauren: Yep! It looked like a snake.

Rob Tharp: Yeah.

Lauren: THESE pictures here. *finger tapping sound* The fly and this MESS of parts here. I know what this is, but I’d love for you to explain it to people.

Rob Tharp: There’s a scene in the movie where they ask Michael Keaton if he can be scary and his face springs open on both sides…

He’s photographed from the back and you just see a bunch of junk fly out on either side of his face. And Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin react in horror.

This photo here is of some of the things that fly out from Michael Keaton’s face.

Now you know what came outta Beetlejuice’s face in the graveyard!

Lauren: *giggles*

Rob Tharp: But I can’t remember what that fly was for!

Lauren: It’s for that scene where his arm comes up and he’s coaxing a fly to come to him so he can grab it… And he pulls it into the dollhouse [miniture town] floor and eats it.

Rob Tharp: That’s right! Good for you! *laughs* Wow! Yeah.

Lauren: With the Zagnut bar…

Cathy Tharp painted the poor fly who met his doom in Beetlejuice.

Rob Tharp: Yeah! Yeah! Okay. That’s the fly!

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Hey! It’s been 30 years!

Lauren: *laughs* Thirty-ONE years!

Oh yeah! There’s…

The sandworm here. And there’s, like, a miniature…

Barbara looking very “Barbie” for the scene when she bursts through the wall on a sandworm to save the day.

Rob Tharp: Yeah! There’s little Geena Davis riding a miniature sandworm. It was a puppet!

Lauren: Yep!

Rob Tharp: And there’s the little shrunken head guy…

Waiting around at Bob Short’s FX shop before… waiting around in the waiting room.

Rob Tharp [continued]: There’s Geena Davis when she pulls off her face to be scary while she’s hanging in the closet…

Lauren: And how was that done?

Rob Tharp: That was why Geena Davis was in the shop: So they could do a lifecast of her face that they could put over this!

And the eyes… They bug out. But, they filmed it with the eyes being pulled back in and then reversed the film so the eyes popped out on the film.

Movie magic!

Lauren: Ahhhhhhh…

Rob Tharp: They’re movie magic!

Lauren: Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!

Ah! And the Flat Man!

Covered in genuine pavement grime!

Rob Tharp: Yeah, the guy that got run over! We had to do his flat body and we were collecting up junk from the parking lot outside the shop there to glue on there to look like road dirt. *chuckles*

And there’s the picture of the puppet that was supposed to give Geena Davis a kiss that got Bob the project!

Lauren: The very first [Beetlejuice] prop!

See? Told ya there was another pic of this guy!

Rob Tharp: Yeah!

Lauren: He never made it into the movie.

Rob Tharp: Yeah. That was the one I went down there and painted to show a sample of what Bob’s [FX] shop could do.

Lauren: *flipping portfolio pages* Ah yeah… those are from Little Monsters and Joe Versus the Volcano and Alien Nation

Rob Tharp: Yeah. *chuckles* Next time.

Lauren: Yeah! *laughs* Next time! We’re focusing on Beetlejuice today!

There’s you painting shrimp hands!

Rob Tharp painting shrimp hands for the “Day-O” scene in Beetlejuice.

Rob Tharp: Yeah… Look! Look how much hair [I had back then]! *wistful laugh*

Lauren: Yeah! You had a lotta hair back then!

Oh yeah! You said that there was a problem with the sandworm mouth here…?

Rob Tharp: Oh, the mouth worked fine! Tim Burton just wished it extended back farther. He had to cut his shots in really, really tight because… Although it was really big, he wanted it to be even bigger — longer.

Lauren: That would’ve been REALLY heavy though.

Behind-the-scenes sandworm action!

Rob Tharp: Oh, yeah. It was really heavy to start with!

And there’s me trying it out in the parking lot! We were riding around on this little cart making the mouth go up and down. *chuckles*

Lauren: What’s this lil guy??

Rob Tharp: That’s one of the sandworm puppets. Just for having it diving in and out of the sand.

Lauren: Yeah. That’s kind of the exterior face before it pulls back and shows its real face.

Rob Tharp: Yeah.

Lauren: And that’s… pretty much it! So… there you go! Beetlejuice.

Rob Tharp: Yeah. We’ve talked long enough about Beetlejuice.

Lauren: And now you wanna talk about Audible… Who’s our sponsor today!

Rob Tharp: Audible… I’m SO glad that you hooked me up with that [service] because I have been having the BEST time listening to those books!

I’m listening to Twilight right now and it’s WAY better than the movies!

Lauren: *surprised laugh*

Rob Tharp: *insistent* It IS!!

Lauren: No… I… I agree! I’ve read the Twilight books!

I know it’s hard to tell sometimes, but Dad wasn’t joking: He really is listening to the audiobook-version of Twilight!

Rob Tharp: It’s been ages since I felt like a teenage girl and this brings me… it brings it all back… Oh. Wait.

Lauren: *cracking up*

Rob Tharp: No, no… The person who does the reading for that book’s GREAT.

I just finished listening to… Before I started listening to Twilight, I just finished listening to Tommyknockers… I’ve been having the best time catching up on just… all the books!

The readers — the actors that they have reading those books — I wish that so many of them had been able to do the movie versions and play all the parts! Because they do SUCH a great job.

A tiny peek into Dad’s massive audiobook collection in his Audible library. (Frank and I got him a subscription as a gift last year!)

Lauren: You really like having audiobooks from Audible because you’re always complaining about how your “internal narration” is very monotone and “blehhh.”

Rob Tharp: It sounds like ME! [My internal voice] sounds like a dial tone!

Lauren: *laughs/cries*

Rob Tharp: I’ve got the most BORING voice in the world! And these people… Their voices go UP and they go DOWN…

Lauren: *snickers, still trying to compose herself*

Rob Tharp: …They change voices when they change characters! I’m SO impressed by the quality of the narration for the [Audible audio]books!

And they’re unabridged so you get to hear the whole book… And you can do stuff with your hands while you’re listening!

Lauren: Yeah! You listen to them a lot when you’re painting and everything.

Rob Tharp: Yeah. It takes a different part of my brain to make monsters so… It’s really fun for me! I can catch up on reading that I don’t have time to physically sit in one place and do like I used to when I was young…

I can still enjoy listening to a book that’s done by a WAY better reader than I could be. And it’s just been a blast! So thanks for hooking me up with that!

Lauren: You’re very welcome!

Rob Tharp: I’ve got a laundry list of stuff that I wanna get next [from Audible]!

Lauren: Yeah! And, if you ever finish Audible’s entire range of audiobooks — which would probably take about three centuries! — they also have theatrical performances, podcasts, meditation programs, and all sorts of cool audio-based entertainment and useful things.

Rob Tharp: That sounds awesome! But, first, I want to get through all the Twilight books.

Lauren: Oh yeah?

Rob Tharp: Because I’m really enjoying this first one. It’s great! *chuckles*

Lauren: Yeah, I… I really liked the first one. And… I actually… I liked them all, but the first one was probably the best. For me.

Rob Tharp: Well, I gotta see where it goes from here!

Lauren: Oh yeah! *laughs* It… It gets really nuts by the fourth one!

Rob Tharp: Okay. Excellent!

Lauren: No spoilers, but… *laughs*

Rob Tharp: I’m looking forward to it!

Lauren: And if anyone wants to have a wonderful array of audiobooks and podcasts and theatrical performances and pretty much any other kind of audio entertainment: You can get a free trial Audible and a free audiobook by using AudibleTrial.com/HorrorFam

And that’s AudibleTrial.com/HorrorFam — that’s H-O-R-R-O-R-F-A-M… As in “family.” And that’s our link to get you a free trial and a free audiobook!

And, even if you decide not to continue with Audible after that, you get to keep your book and…

Rob Tharp: OOOOOHHHHH!

Lauren: Yeah! They get to keep that audiobook for LIFE!

I actually signed up for Audible many years ago using a free trial and I got an audiobook… And then I canceled for whatever reason and then…

Rob Tharp: *horrified* Why would you cancel?! They’re SO GOOD!!!

Lauren: *sheepish laugh* I know! I know! I know!

Well, OBVIOUSLY, I realized that “they’re so good” and I came BACK… And now we have the plan where we get a FEW books each month! Because you listen to them and my husband, Frank, listens to them and… We ALL enjoy Audible!

Rob Tharp: Frank and I have been having a really good time passing books back and forth!

Lauren: Oh, yeah! Absolutely!

So… Even if you discontinue, you get to keep the [free] audiobook [you selected]. And, if you come back, they’ll forgive you for leaving, and you’ll get to have MORE audiobooks… It’s awesome.

Rob Tharp: It is awesome! I enjoy listening to [Audible audiobooks] even more than I enjoy watching movies. Because I can up the production values in my imagination.

Lauren: That’s true too! Yeah.

Rob Tharp: I’ve got WAY better actors in Twilight [in my mind, while listening to the audio narration] than what was in the movie version that I watched! *cracks up*

Lauren: *busts out laughing* That… seems… easy to do…

Rob Tharp: Oh, [way to] bag on the movie! *laughs*

Lauren: Well, there’s a lot that you can do with audiobooks that you can’t do with “normal” books. Like, when you have a [traditional] paperback or hardcover book, you have to sit and read the book.

But, with an audiobook, you can listen to the wonderful story while painting monsters or writing articles or…

Rob Tharp: Doing dishes!

Lauren: Or doing dishes!

Rob Tharp: All the stuff that you’re homebound having to do now!

Lauren: Yeah! Absolutely. It’s a wonderful thing to have while everyone’s…

Rob Tharp: Yeah, it’s taken my mind off of the coronavirus.

Oh! Vampires? NO PROBLEM!

Lauren: Yeah. So. There’s that.

And, if anybody wants that [lovely audio-based distraction while we’re all in mandatory lockdown], go to AudibleTrial.com/HorrorFam

Rob Tharp: Like family!

Lauren: “Fam” like family!

And you’ll get to try out Audible for FREE!

Rob Tharp: Do it! Do it NOW!

Lauren: *laughs*

Rob Tharp: Are we done [recording the podcast ’cause I need to smoke a cigarette and hear what happens next in Twilight]?

Lauren: Uh… yeah! Well, happy anniversary to Beetlejuice! Thank you to all the HorrorFam.com readers and followers who sent in questions and comments!

Rob Tharp: Thanks for talking to me again! That was fun remembering about that.

Lauren: *laughs* I’ll talk to you again soon, Dad.

Rob Tharp: Okay!

Lauren: Okay! Thanks, Everyone!

Until next time…!

Rob Tharp: Okay, bye!

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11 thoughts on “Podcast Episode 5: Beetlejuice Special FX — Featuring Painter Rob Tharp!

  1. Hey! My name is Michael Hood, and I was a sculptor on Beetlejuice! I sculpted the shrimp arms, the “what do you think of this” tentacles, rattlesnake tail, and Linda Frobos and I sculpted and re-sculpted the original banister rail snake.

    Also worked on the flat man, with Michael Moore, some of the other DMV props, mechanisms, and the skeleton secretarial pool, and did a lot of casting of polyfoam and latex!

    I loved your podcast transcript! I wish I could see more your portfolio pics. I was only 19 years old and Beetlejuice was my first big movie project. I didn’t have a camera, so I never got many pics of my work on that project. I did manage to shoot a roll on someone’s camera, but it was left in my pants pocket and washed with my laundry…

  2. Thanks so much for patiently answering all of our questions! This was a lot of fun to listen to/read for the bonus pics!

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