One of the beauties that come with a film like PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH is the incredible amount of practical effects used – whether that be from the puppet designs themselves or the practical application used for the copious amount of gore. For the release of Cinestate / Fangoria’s PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH, I had the opportunity to speak with award-winning SFX artist Tate Steinsiek about what it was like to design the brand new killer puppets, the challenges of doing practical effects, and some of his upcoming projects.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Tate, it’s a pleasure to speak with you today! Let’s start things off by talking about you, shall we? For those who may not be familiar with your work and what you do, can you tell them a little bit about yourself? 

Tate Steinsiek: Well, I’m a big redneck from Oklahoma and I grew up a horror fan, in the woods, with no reference of what to do with it because there was just no facsimile of horror industry. I had no clue how to do what it is that I loved so when I got old enough to leave Oklahoma, I took off and moved to Pennsylvania in search of Tom Savini himself and found him in his lovely little school in Monessen, Pennsylvania. He and I became friends which was cool for one semester and then he gave me a script and said: “I think this is a good one for you to cut your teeth on. Why don’t you come to New York and work on this movie.” I went to New York, and ended up staying for 10 years. It’s a really cool thing that I can tell the world that my biggest inspiration, and idol, actually gave me my start in the industry, so I got Tom to thank for giving me a horror ground to stand on.

It’s pretty bizarre. I’ve been blessed in that regard. I don’t know what it is but I’ve been able to do most of what I wanted to do and meet the people I loved. Yeah, I’m a lucky guy. I was milking cows when I was a kid (laughs) so to be doing this stuff now… I’m pretty blessed.

Nightmarish Conjurings: How did you initially get involved with PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH? 

TS: Well, I was contacted by my agent who had worked with Dallas Sonnier, the owner of Cinestate, in the past at a company called Caliber Media, which oddly enough, I was represented by. Dallas and I had a couple degrees of separation without me knowing it. My agent contacted me saying: “This movie is coming up and it’s perfect for you. Let me put you on the phone with the producer.” Dallas and I got on the phone and we just hit it off. We’re both a couple of gorehounds. We’re relatively the same age and we love the same films. We both had really fun introductions to Puppet Master stories. It just clicked. He’s good people. I like good people especially when it comes to the film industry which has a severe lacking of good people. It was kind of a no-brainer to move forward with him.

Nightmarish Conjurings: What were some of the challenges you faced in doing the practical effects/make-up? 

TS: Oh. Everything. Everything was so hard (laughs). We have the typical indie films challenges. Sometimes you don’t get to meet your talent until you get there so you don’t know about size and fitting and all of that. We also weren’t familiar with our location so when you’re looking at a storyboard and you see a puppet running through a room what the storyboard artists, and the directors, and everyone else may not conceptualize ahead of time, is where do you put a Puppeteer? So getting to a room and saying “Ok well there’s a bed. Can’t fit under that because it’s touching the floor” and everything else is just a room. How do you work with that? You get really crafty and it’s good to have smaller puppeteers on your team so you can shove them in drawers. Stuff like that. Long story short, everything was a challenge but that’s what made it so rewarding to watch it.

Nightmarish Conjurings: You did the puppet designs for this film which were amazing. How did you come up with the idea for the new puppets while also making sure the more well-known ones had a slight change to the original design? Do you have a puppet that is your favorite? 

TS: In re-designing the original puppets, I tried to go with my gut cause I’ve always been an artist, starting as a four-year-old kid drawing insane things. I remember, even as a kid, watching Puppet Master thinking of what I would do differently. This is a true story. I remember thinking “oh I would tweak that” or “I would change that eye” or “I’d make those hands look different.” I kind of challenged my youth, my young self and said to myself: “What did I want to see as a fresh young kid seeing this for the first time” and luckily a lot of that came through exactly the way I wanted it to. Some things we tweaked a little further but for the most part I was in design and the guys would be like “Yeah, that’s it.”

Some of the designs we nailed in one take. Some, it took a bunch. We designed Blade probably a dozen times. It’s really cool if you look through the cheat sheet of all the different designs we did. There were a lot of crazy different looks. But as far as new puppets go, I love Autogyro. I just feel like he’s ruthless. He’s like the terminator of the Puppet Master world. He’s even more cold, and calculated, than the other puppets and that says a lot cause they’re all just real maniacs.

Honestly, all I wanted to do was sort of give the puppets an updated look but still let everyone know: we’re not trying to change these guys. It’s still Blade. It’s still Kaizer. It’s still Pinhead. We love these characters. All we want to do is give respect and make a cool movie. [As far as a favorite puppet] I love Scoldblade just because of his simplicity and he has this serial killer-presence about him. In terms of design, Autogyro was probably the most fun to make.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects we should be keeping our eyes out for in the future? 

TS: Yes, absolutely! I’m rolling right into a feature called Satanic Panic directed by Chelsea Stardust. It’s going to be a Fangoria Film. We’re actually in prep for that right now. After that, we’re rolling into the Castle Freak reboot which I’ll be directing. I can’t even begin to detail how excited I am about that. Those two films are going to carry me well into the next year. Lots of fun stuff coming up for myself, Fangoria, and Cinestate.

PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH will arrive on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo on September 25, 2018. The film is now available on VOD and Digital HD.

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Shannon is the Founder of Nightmarish Conjurings and a lover of all things horror and haunt related. When she's not obsessively collecting all things "Trick 'R Treat" related, or trying to convince everyone that "Hereditary" is one of the greatest horror films ever made, you can find her designing interiors for commercial restaurants. An avid haunt fan, Shannon spends the entire year visiting haunts and immersive experiences throughout the Southern California area and hopes to one day design her own haunted attraction.
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