Special effects artist Margaret Caragan is getting ready to welcome local filmmakers and creatives to a new hub in Vallejo. She’ll be celebrating her new Vallejo studio with an open house furnished with demon sculptures and prosthetics — mementos from her impressive resume of film projects.

“I feel like Vallejo is having an artistic renaissance,” Caragan said. Even if it wasn’t before, Caragan’s studio is sure to help rally the creative forces.

This studio is a homecoming of sorts, as the local artist returns to the area where she was raised.

When establishing this open house, Caragan said, “It’s a lot of word of mouth. I know people from Redwood City, Oakland and San Francisco.” From there, she expanded her reach by posting on her feed, and also calling on her friends to help spread the word throughout the community.

“I’m kinda trying to do a mixer to get other effects artists here, as well as local filmmakers, and then any creatives from Vallejo who want to get involved,” she said. From tattoo artists and writers to lighting experts and photographers, Caragan is hoping for a variety of artistic talent.

“There are as many types of art as there are types of people,” Caragan said. “When I work on a film, I work with sculptors, photographers and even tattoo artists when we design a tattoo.”

Caragan has seen the serendipitous moments of people connecting creatively at these events. In hosting her own mixer, Caragan is hoping to create a space where anyone can find that spark, where they realize a goal or idea that would have otherwise been impossible without meeting that person.

Margaret Caragan will host an open house at her new creative studio, welcoming local creatives for an artistic networking mixer (photo credit: Erin Ashford).
Margaret Caragan will host an open house at her new creative studio, welcoming local creatives for an artistic networking mixer (photo credit: Erin Ashford).

The mixer will feature an introduction from Caragan herself, as well as words from her special guest, director and producer Alrik Burcell.

The studio represents a full-circle moment for Caragan, whose route to the studio takes her by many of her childhood landmarks. She feels a sense of overwhelming fulfillment at this opportunity to be back in her stomping grounds, just down the street from her aunt and uncle.

Caragan is busy funneling that gratitude back into the community. The studio represents more than a networking space. It will also serve as a spot for Caragan to host classes and collaborate with professionals wishing to build their portfolio.

After her upcoming film project in May, Caragan aims to start teaching classes later this year.

“Introductory classes will be the bread and butter of the studio,” said Caragan, explaining how she wants to bring in kids and young adults from all over the Bay. The classes will be arranged around themes such as “demon” classes and “alien” classes.

During Caragan’s own training at the Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles, the syllabus was divided by “beard and moustache week” or “bald week.” She noticed that many of the students didn’t know how to read a script or a character. “It was lab work,” she said, which has prompted her shift in focus to thematic work.

People don’t have to travel all the way to LA to take classes now, said Caragan. Drawing once again on her impressive network, Caragan has friends who are excited to share their own expertise through teaching.

From transforming Steph and Ayesha Curry into the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, to movies like “Earth Mama” for A24, “Fruitvale Station” and “Sorry to Bother You,” Caragan has amassed over 20 years of experience in the special effects industry.

“Sorry to Bother You and “Earth Mama” are high on Caragan’s list of projects that proved most satisfying. Caragan recalled how challenging it was to create huge pregnancy bellies for “Earth Mama” due to their unwieldy nature.

“You were trying to make it look perfect,” remembered Caragan. “Especially since entire shots were focused on the exposed belly, which meant you couldn’t get away with much.” The difficulty only increased when hallucination and dreamlike scenes called for things to grow out of the belly.

As she looks back on these projects and the time constraints she has had to work within, Caragan recognized that the bar always gets raised a little higher. “Every once in a while you look back, and you’re like, ‘Oh that was easy’.”

One project’s timeline only gave her two days to create an in-depth effect. “There’s a difference between doing stuff well and doing stuff well under pressure,” Caragan said.

Of all the effects that Caragan has helped bring to life across 600 projects, transformation makeup presents a welcome challenge. Talking about the full body demons that she’s worked on, Caragan said the process is really cool “because you’re calculating all the coverage for the paint, doing separate pieces and then marrying it together with a small team of artists.”

Constructing a character that heavily utilizes special effects entails planning colors, shapes, making pieces, budgeting time and putting design notes together.

While much of her work has centered on inhuman looks, Caragan like to balance it out with hyper-realistic makeup like pregnancy bellies and old age makeup.

Margaret Caragan applies a light old age makeup with her assistant Rafel Alvarez (contributed photo, Margaret Caragan).
Margaret Caragan applies a light old age makeup with her assistant Rafel Alvarez (contributed photo, Margaret Caragan).

“I’m the only person in the bay who likes to do old age makeup,” said Caragan, who just got hired for another project creating aged looks. “It’s one of the hardest things to make look good. And when it looks good it looks normal.

“Of course doing creatures and horror is fun, but I did so much horror the first four years that I realized I needed to balance it with some artistic fine art.”

Rising to the challenge has been the theme of Caragan’s life. When a stressful health scare in 2019 was compounded by the stress of multiple simultaneous projects, Caragan made it through without many people even realizing.

“If people know me they know what I’ve been through, and I’m really proud of myself for pulling that off,” said Caragan.

If you go …

  • WHAT: Pandora FX Open House
  • WHEN: March 16, 1 p.m.
  • WHERE: 102 B Lincoln Road East, Vallejo.
  • TICKETS: $15 cover charge.

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