Local Special Effects Makeup Artist Wins Emmy

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By Janice Lane Palko

It’s fortunate that the police were never called to the home of Gino Crognale when he was a teenager, or they might have died of fright.  Crognale, a special effectsNC Cover for Twitter_Apr13 makeup artist, began creating ghouls and learning his craft in his Norristown, Pa., home. “I taught myself in the basement of the house I grew up in.  It was like a dungeon of horrors my mom would say.  That is where I would sculpt and draw monsters from movies,” said Crognale, who moved to California in 1983.  “I moved to Hollywood right out of high school to pursue my dream of being a special makeup effects artist.”  He has been working in the film industry since 1985, his first big break coming when he landed his a job working on a low-budget horror flick called Troll.    

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Crognale, who lives in Adams Ridge with wife, Tami, and sons Gino, 14, and Joe, 13, won his first Emmy for his work on AMC’s hit zombie show The Walking Dead on Sept. 15, 2012, at the Nokia Theater L.A. Live in Los Angeles.  He won in the category of Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup.  “This was my first Emmy.  It was the high point of my 28-year career.  It was great to experience the red carpet and the scope of the event with my wife.  I loved bringing home the Emmy to my sons,” Crognale said.  The Walking Dead films south of Atlanta, and he flies to that location when needed on the set.

Crognale has numerous credits to his name including The Green Mile, Kill Bill, and Django Unchained, the best picture Oscar nominated film directed by Quentin Tarantino.  “My favorite film to work on would be Django Unchained.  It’s a great and powerful movie.  I was proud of my work and being able to work with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson and the great director Quentin Tarentino was an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Crognale. 

He has also worked on such spine-tingling files as Scream 2, The Mist and Halloween II.  Some of his work even scares him.  “I did an effect one time on a movie called Dr. Giggles.  I had to push a young boy through the stomach of his dead mother.  It was creepy and gross,” said Crognale.

There must be something in the air in Pennsylvania besides the aroma of cheese steaks and Primanti sandwiches.  In 1990, Crognale joined KNB EFX Group, a special effects studio co-founded by Greg Nicotero, a Pittsburgh native whose first major work was on George Romero’s 1985 Day of the Dead.  KNB EFX creates the zombies for The Walking Dead.  He has also had the pleasure of doing the makeup for Tom Savini, another Pittsburgh native who is also an actor, director, producer and star of the George Romero film Land of the Dead.  “Tom was my idol when I was in high school and it was a real thrill to do his makeup,” said Crognale. 

Though not a thing of beauty in the strictest sense, Crognale’s creations are nevertheless works of art.  “The process of creating varies, but generally, it starts with a sketch or a 2-D design, or a ‘moguette,” which is a small scale sculpture of the design,” said Crognale.

Crognale also worked on Oz, the Great and Powerful, the tale of  how the Wizard came to Oz, which premiered on March 8.  He spent several months in Pontiac, Mich., on that set, working on a team that made up the Wicked Witch, Winkies (the witch’s guards) and Munchkins.

He is currently working on Sin City II with Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Josh Brolin. There is one actor he would love to work with:  “I would like to work with Sly Stallone since I am a fan of the original Rocky movie. 

When he’s not on location, Crognale is at home in the North Hills.  “When I’m not working, it’s all about family time whether we are on an athletic field watching the boys or just dinners at home,” Crognale said.  He’s even plied his trade in service of his family.  “I’ve made up my boys many times over the years, but they also really enjoyed the zombie graveyard I would set up on the front lawn every year.”  In his free time, he plays drums, writes scripts and sculpts his own personal pieces. 

“I feel blessed to be doing something that I love doing.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with great actors, great directors, seeing parts of the world I would have never seen, and having a front-row seat to making movies.  Most of all, doing the work I dreamed of doing since I was 13 years old.  It’s been a good run,” said Crognale.