Autodidact: self-taught


Twisted Circus Productions

by V. L. Craven
Twisted Circus Productions (Karen Girard)

photo by Karen Girard

Twisted Circus Productions is an effects makeup company based in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s owned and run by Karen Girard, a one-woman force of nature. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask her about all the things she’s got her make up covered fingers into.

How did you first become interested in doing special effects make up?

It started way back when I was a kid, I was actually horrified of anything having to do with horror (even E.T. scared the crap out of me haha), but once I figured out that it was just effects I told myself that that was what I was going to do…plus I wanted the satisfaction of being able to scare people too. I started playing around with effects when I was 13 and soon I was obsessed. To this day, I’m entirely self taught.

What genres do you specialise in? Do you have a favourite to work in or would like to do more of?

Horror is my mistress, I’m in love with the darker aspects of life and art and I think it shows through some of my work. I’m trying to improve daily, there are constantly ideas knocking about in my head and sometimes it feels like I can’t create them quickly enough.

Karen Girard for Twisted Circus Productions

photo by Karen Girard

Any favourite brands of make up, from the foundation right through removal.

Oooh lord, there are so many. I love anything by Kryolan, Ben Nye, and Alcone, those are my old faithfuls.  I dabble in a lot of lower brand names as well, I’ve been known to go crazy a time or two in the makeup department of the Halloween store in town, if I wrote them all down this would turn into a novel instead of an interview!

What are your favourite non-make up materials to work with? What’s the most creative material you’ve ever worked with?

I’ve MacGyvered some pretty random things together to make a few pieces but they work! I use a lot of cotton, wires, fake skin, and occasionally I’ll dabble with tissue paper for different textures. I have a cart STUFFED with a huge collection of things I’ve bought from art stores that ranges from faux fur, textured beads, feathers, sand, pretty much everything you could imagine. I use what I can and it’s worked well for me so far!

Karen Girard

photo by Karen Girard

What’s the longest make up you’ve done?

The longest one I can remember was about 8 hours. I did a head to toe third degree burn victim (this was before I had an airbrush machine so everything was hand painted) and it was still in my learning phase so it was a step by step process. I’ve done makeups on myself where I’ll sit and work for about 4-5 hours straight. I’m a total perfectionist and I doubt myself constantly so when I put out a piece of work I want it to look absolutely stunning.

What sorts of things have you done make up for? Films, commercials, etc?

I’ve done a few independent films here in town as well as makeup consulting for the local news team. I’ve done makeup and painting for a handful of plays at the local theaters, I’ve taught a few basic special effect classes, tackled makeup on over 200 high schoolers from a hayride I helped design years ago, and makeup for anyone that calls me needing something specific…I’m kind of all over the place!

Who are your effects idols?

Tom Savini is the god of gore in my mind. To attend his school one day would make me the happiest little horror dork in the world. It’s something I’ve been working towards for years now and I can only hope to be as incredible as he is eventually. I’m also a sucker for Dick Smith, Rick Baker, and Stan Winston-they are monuments in the industry and I have the utmost respect for all of them.

photo by Karen Girard

photo by Karen Girard

What are your favourite films solely in terms of make up effects?

I tell my friends constantly that this is a trick question! I’d have to go with Pumpkinhead, Hellraiser, Dawn of the Dead, Pan’s Labyrinth, all of the Hannibals, Frontier(s), The Devil’s Rejects, and Midnight Meat Train to name a few.

What’s the next project you’re working on?

I was recently asked to design Victorian era Star Wars aliens but it’s not set in stone yet! I’ve currently been working on my beauty makeup portfolio because I hope to get into mortuary makeup eventually, but if all else fails there are a billion different photo shoot ideas floating around in my imagination that are dying to be set free.

When you do photo shoots you obviously mean make up, but do you also take the photos? You’re a photographer, as well, right? Tell me about that–how’d you get into taking pictures? And when you do your shoots how much control do you have over costumes and such?

I do! Anyone that does a shoot with me will tell you that I’m all over the place with my camera, I do a lot of weird angles and I encourage my models to be creative with their poses, the weirder the better! I put them through a mini horror boot camp and we go through different types of macabre art and I have them study different looks of pain, postmortem photography, etc because I want it to look as genuine as possible.

I’ve always been interested in photography, when I got my first digital camera I took pictures of literally everything. As the years went on, I became more and more curious about what else I could do with it and it sprouted into my version of dark art.

When I do photo shoots for my portfolio I have control over costume pieces and props, I give general ideas of what I would like people to bring but I tend to have costumes pieces that we can add on to finish the look. I have a closet that is STUFFED with boxes of props and costumes that I’ve collected over time so I’ve always got backups!

photo by Karen Girard

photo by Karen Girard

You also do great little clay dolls in habitats. They’re a creepy/cute combo I really enjoy. How did those come about and do you have any plans to sell them on Etsy?

I’ve always had a fascination with taxidermy and as twisted as it sounds I’ve always thought the little animals that sit in formaldehyde were absolutely precious. One day I decided that I was going to make my very own little jar monsters because I couldn’t afford the real ones and it became a bit of an epidemic from there. I give some of them “habitats” with random little props in them to give them more personality and also because I thought it more fun that way. They’ve become quite a hit and once I sculpt a few more I would like to open an Etsy and see how they do (also because my friends insist that if I don’t my monsters will eat me in my sleep from disappointment, haha).

If someone were interested in hiring you for make up (or wanted one of your clay monster friends) what would be the best way to contact you?

Currently my email is the best way and people can reach me at anytime at or they can find me on Facebook and message me from there. I’d like to start up a website, I just never knew how to go about starting one.

WordPress is your friend, my friend. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and good luck with all of your future endeavours, of which I am sure there will be many!

One Response to “Twisted Circus Productions”

  1. Karen Girard Profile for WILMA | V. L. Craven Says:

    […] more information about her check out an interview I did at the summer. With even more photos of her […]

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