Intergalactic and Fantasy Furniture Maker
When I arrived in the kitchen there was a counter full of assorted fantasy and sci-fi masks and props Dennis made either for work or personal use. The items were from movies such as Predator (several of the series), Hellboy 2, Star Wars, and even a Daft Punk helmet.
For our interview, I met Dennis at his Olathe home--which certainly made an impression. Erin, his wife, greeted me at the door along with their two dogs, Boba Fet and Stephen. Boba Fet is a very affectionate bulldog shaped roughly like a beer can and Stephen is a fifteen pound mixed breed who wears a diaper and loves to cuddle. Throughout the interior of the home are assorted Star Wars paraphernalia. This prepared me for what Dennis laid out for the interview. When I arrived in the kitchen there was a counter full of assorted fantasy and sci-fi masks and props Dennis made either for work or personal use. The items were from movies such as Predator (several of the series), Hellboy 2, Star Wars, and even a Daft Punk helmet. We sat down at the dining room table and went through a series of questions I prepared--and even a few I didn’t.
TO START OFF, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PROJECT YOU’VE EVER WORKED ON?
Without hestitation, Dennis answered, “Star Wars, Alamo Drafthouse in Omaha. I got to live and breath Star Wars! I was brought into a room at work and I thought I was in trouble. Then they told me about the project and asked what would be the best way to approach it. I told them, hands down, Death Star. They gave me complete creative freedom on the project.” Dennis had complete access to the Lucasfilm archives to build a mock Death Star in the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse in Omaha, Nebraska. Included in the build was General Palpatine’s throne (for those who don’t know, that was in the final scene of Return of the Jedi), a scaled down version of the Death Star itself (about 10’ in diameter), and the rest of the lobby made up like the interior of the Death Star.
NEVER GROWING UP AND ALWAYS HAVING CURIOSITY ABOUT HOW THINGS ARE MADE
-Dennis Butt on being creative
WHAT MATERIALS OR MEDIUM HAVE YOU REALLY WANTED TO WORK WITH, BUT HAVEN’T HAD THE OPPORTUNITY?
“That’s a little bit of a tricky question. I’ve always wanted to make suits like my Predator suit out of silicone. I have worked with silicone because I make molds out of it all the time. The reason I want to work with it so badly is because it’s much more flexible and forgiving than latex--which I use for masks and suits now. Latex is nice because it’s easy to repaint, it’s just not as flexible. You also only have one shot with silicone as opposed to latex, which can be reworked.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHEN YOU REALIZED THAT CREATING WAS SOMETHING YOU WERE GOING TO DO FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?
“I’ve always made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle weapons and Star Wars blasters since I was a kid. Then I became a Union Boilermaker and did that for thirteen years.” I asked what a Boilermaker did. “I worked on nuclear and power plants mostly as a welder. Still making masks and props on the side. I learned a lot from my job as a Boilermaker, but when I was about 30 I decided to make the leap and start doing what I loved for a living.”
YOU DESIGN AND CREATE 3 DIMENSIONAL OBJECTS. WAS THERE A FORMAL TRAINING FOR THIS, OR DID YOU GET INTO IT ANOTHER WAY?
“No formal training. I learned along the way. Wasted a lot of time and money and learned from my mistakes.”
DO YOU HAVE A ROUTINE TO CREATING DESIGNING? MEANING, IS THERE A SPECIFIC APPROACH YOU TAKE TO ALL OR MOST PROJECTS?
“I gather a lot of pictures to start since I’ve been making a lot of replicas. Then I make a scale model. After that, because I’m not a computer whiz, I use a projector to map out the full size project.”
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO EARN A PAYCHECK, WOULD YOU STILL COME INTO WORK?
“Yes” (no hesitation). “Definitely.”
WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO PURSUE AN ART OR DESIGN CAREER?
“Keep practicing.Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Think outside the box--there is always an alternate way to complete a project.” When asked about details about thinking outside the box, Dennis expanded: “My Predator suit is a Spider-Man muscle suit with a paint job. I wander Home Depot and look for ways to use things from the plumbing and electrical departments. I’ve also been known to tear apart old computers for my projects.”
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER “SUCCESSFUL” FOR WHAT YOU WANT TO DO IN YOUR CAREER?
“Getting a paycheck? (His sarcastic answer). Getting compensation to fund my other projects. A lot of people think you will make art for them for free. But, to give an example, my Predator head with dreadlocks cost me $400 or more without time included. Each dreadlock took 15 minutes and there are 60 of them.”
Interview by: Eddie Croissant