Artist of the Month: Ernie Foster

November’s artist is my stepdad, Ernie Foster. This is a guy who resents the label “artist,” who detests how it is applied so liberally today. But, as his job title has the word “artist” in it, sorry bud, you’re an artist.

To him, his work is just that—work. To an outsider, his job is the coolest job in the world.

Ernie is a Scenic Artist—he builds on and develops sets for film and television. His CV boasts classics such as Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Oz, and Zoolander (as well as some not-so-classics…I’ll pretend I don’t have a pair of souvenir sandals from Step Up 2). For a bigger (though incomplete) list, check his IMDb page, which he didn’t even know he had until recently.

I am now going to ruin your perception of realism in film and television.

These are ordinary decorations in my mother’s house. Except for the fact that you’ve seen them on your television.

Inuit-style bear
Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Clay sculpture made to look like ivory.

What’s this—a delicate, artistic touch in the background of a scene? A subtle ornament in an office or house? Come on folks, this is Law & Order we’re talking about; it’s obviously a piece of evidence from a crime scene! The only thing delicate about this unfortunate bear is Ernie’s application of blood on its backside. Onto the next one…

Horse model
The Thomas Crown Affair. Clay.

The Scenic’s process is not simply building a filmmaker’s setting (as if that were simple)—a lot goes into it. For instance, above is a model Ernie made for the film’s life-size version. Multiple casts were made before finding the formula for the prop. This prototype is clay, but the final product Ernie and his team created was styrofoam coated and cast in fiberglass.

Mosque panel
Ishtar. Plaster.

Yes, that Ishtar—the one that nearly sabotaged Dustin Hoffman’s career and which Roger Ebert described as “truly dreadful.” Dreadful? Maybe. Legendary to have part of it in a household? Definitely. Ernie made this cast from an original Moroccan carve. Do you know any other kitchen conflicted between great art and horrible film?

Hand cast & mouldLaw & Order: Criminal Intent. Silicone.

Whenever you see a severed body part in Criminal Intent, chances are it was Ernie. No, not his severed body parts, his silicone-cast severed body parts! This hand found its way home because its fingers wouldn’t come out of the mould. Maybe “found its way” isn’t the best way to describe it—it certainly couldn’t have Thing‘d its way over!

Ernie’s artistic ability extends beyond working on film sets. He can draw, paint, and even dance if we step outside (pun intended) visual arts. But I think we can all agree that his Scenic Art is the tops. To sum it up in a television sentiment:

“Illusions, Michael!” Here’s hoping he gets signed onto the new Arrested Development!



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