ARVADA, Colo. — In the winter of 1954, moviegoers watched as the Creature from the Black Lagoon reached its hand out from the waters of the Amazon before withdrawing it back into the river, leaving claw marks on the sandy bank.
This was not the only way the Creature left his mark. Like the Universal Monsters before him — Dracula, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, et al. — the Creature inspired several generations of a group Adam Dougherty likes to call “monster kids.” Dougherty himself is a proud member of the group.
“I would just collect toys as far back as I can remember,” Dougherty explained. “I'd always want Frankenstein toys or Dracula toys. And I also grew up in a very creative and spooky family that loved Halloween and loved creating art and having fun.”
KreatureKid brings practical movie effects to Colorado
That childhood love of monsters still drives Dougherty to this day. He is the founder of KreatureKid, a practical effects creature shop for movies and television. Work from his studio has been featured in a commercial for the Colorado Lottery, a film screened at Sundance and even HBO’s “Watchmen.”
Dougherty created a marionette of Dr. Manhattan for HBO's "Watchmen."
KreatureKid produced tree and boulder characters that were featured in a Colorado Lottery commercial.
Dougherty, in his early 30s, wears his glasses on a chain and has the artfully tousled hair of someone who has watched a lot of indie horror flicks. His pants and boots are splattered with paint, clay and other monster-making materials — evidence of his hard work.
As a kid, Dougherty assembled and painted monster model kits with his dad. He began sculpting his own monsters around the time he was 12, and began receiving commissions for his sculptures by 15. A couple years later, Dougherty had dropped out of high school and was working with manufacturing companies overseas creating licensed Universal Monster pieces.
“By the time I was 20, I felt that I had done as much as I could in my parents’ basement,” he said. Dougherty then moved to Los Angeles “to work on movies, to work on bigger sculptures, and to do the larger version of what I was doing, essentially.”
After a decade in Hollywood, Dougherty moved back to Colorado. Although most practical effects shops are concentrated in Los Angeles and New York, he realized it simply doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
“Back in the fifties and sixties you would build a monster suit, production would come and look at it, and then when you were done, you would drive it to the lot and they would film it there,” Dougherty explained. “But now movies and TV are all filmed in different countries … and everything gets shipped everywhere.” In his mind, there was no reason a practical effects shop could not succeed in Colorado.
Artist Mariah Keirns works on a clay sculpture for KreatureKid.
With KreatureKid, Dougherty said he’s trying to create a space he would have wanted to work at during his own formative years.
“I would have loved to have had a place locally, growing up in Colorado as a monster kid, to learn these kinds of techniques and stuff,” he said. “I mean, when I was in high school, I was in pottery class … And it got to the point where my teachers were just like, ‘You just get in the corner, make your own thing.’”
Through KreatureKid, Dougherty has even discovered and nurtured local up-and-coming monster-making talent.
“It just started to make more and more sense that a company like this could work in Colorado,” he said.
The creatures and sculptures populating KreatureKid’s drafty workshop reveal that Dougherty was right.
For Dougherty, computer-generated imagery (CGI) is almost sacrilegious. He can’t name a movie that he has seen recently that he truly enjoyed, save for Rob Zombie’s “The Munsters,” which used practical effects — including a piece he created.
Practical effects refer to tangible objects like props, sets, makeup, and more. Iconic examples include the shark from “Jaws,” or the CGI-free scene in “The Dark Knight” where Batman successfully flips an 18-wheeler.
“In my mind, practical effects are the best – and I feel like most people would agree,” Dougherty said. “We watch these Marvel movies now, and everyone recognizes a digital creature. Everyone knows the best stuff is E.T. and Jaws.”
Old fashioned, practical effects are making a bit of a comeback thanks to movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” high-impact blockbusters that boast real-life stunts in natural settings. Dougherty hopes to continue the trend, even if it’s on a smaller scale (Tom Cruise hasn’t called him yet).
Dougherty makes an effort to include his signature character, Pugloo, in most of his projects.
A problem, Dougherty noted, is the time crunch. He estimated that legendary special effects artist Stan Wintson had about two years to make the 9,000 pound animatronic T-Rex for the first “Jurassic Park.”
Until Steven Spielberg comes knocking, Dougherty and his KreatureKid colleagues are focusing on what they do best: storytelling.
“Even just with a shop that has done one movie already, I have a thumbprint that will now hopefully live on longer than me,” Dougherty said. “That's kind of the whole point of creating something, is that you're inspiring other people for as long as you can.”