Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
Darla Wigley’s childhood love of monsters lead to her current career as a full-time FX makeup artist.
“I was and still am a monster girl,” she explains. “I loved monsters of all types, [with] werewolves being [my] most favorite.”
Growing up, she had a wide range of geeky interests that built on that love, including playing “Dungeons and Dragons,” reading comics, watching shows like “Star Blazers,” “Transformers,” and “Thundercats.”
As she got older, she knew she wanted to learn more about the magic behind her beloved monster movies.
“It wasn’t just good enough to watch them. I always wanted to know how they were made,” she explains. “I was in the theater when I was in my 20s and that gave me the chance to dive into it head first and I never looked back.”
Bringing Special Effects Expertise to the Southeast
Today, she runs Wigley FX, a full-service special effects makeup studio as well as traveling around the Southeast, working and teaching others the tricks of the trade and best practices related to being a makeup artist.
“I have been offering my knowledge for about five years,” Wigley says. “I teach in Chattanooga, Atlanta, Alabama, and anywhere else folks will have me.”
While her portfolio does include beauty and character makeup, she excels at body trauma and wounds and she also sells ready-made prosthetics in her storefront. Making gore, blood, and injuries realistic comes from years of working in haunted houses.
“Haunted houses are a good place for an artist to start. It is true I spend a lot of time in the haunt field,” Wigley explains. “It gave me the speed, organizational and leadership skills I needed to work in the film industry [such as] learning how to use new products and techniques. The film and haunt industry help you learn how to think on your feet.”
With multiple film credits to her name as a makeup artist, Wigley counts film work as one of her favorite experiences to date, even with the long hours, no sleep, and sweating under the bright lights.
“I would have to say the indie film I worked on over three years ago has, to-date, been my favorite,” she says. “The crew, the story and the whole experience was one of the best.”
However, her prosthetic line is what she’s most proud of.
“It’s my baby … [and] maybe [my] greatest accomplishment,” she says. “Being a classically trained artist, you love everything [related to] art, [but] I do admit that I love working with silicone over most mediums.”
Creating character designs through makeup and prosthetics has also lead to prop work, which Wigley sees as a natural extension of her craft.
“[Being] multifaceted in the makeup field is important. With FX, enviably it leads to needing props for your character [design],” she explains. “In this field, if your company can provide all that a client needs under one roof, [it] makes you more appealing to others that are seeking those services.”
Being based in Chattanooga also means Wigley has an interest in the local convention scene. She currently serves as board member and director for Con Nooga, but also tries to attend other events like Atlanta’s MomoCon and DragonCon when her work schedule allows.
“[Cons] gives us a chance to meet up with friends and geek out about our favorite things with no judgment,” she says. “Chattanooga has come a long way in terms of … geek culture. Chattanooga could use a good Renaissance fair.”
A self-taught artist, Wigley encourages other people wanting to get into the makeup and special effects field to reach out to other pros and to continue pushing their craft and work hard for what they want.
“Nothing is a secret … if you run across someone that won’t help you further your skill, then move on,” she says. “There are people out there that will have the answer. Always remember [to] never stop learning. There is always something new to learn. Be humble, respect your peers and the other artists around you. No skill or dream is unattainable … [but] nothing worth doing comes easy.”
Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority — a “Doctor Who” fan group — and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Chattacon, Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who, and ConGT. She also reviewed “Doctor Who” novels and Big Finish audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to be featured? Email Rachel at [email protected].