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Special Effects

He wanted to help real people with his artistic skills. His motivational story proves you can find what you’re looking for.

Motivational stories: Special effects artist finds rewarding job

“I went from working with celebrities to working with real heroes,” special effects artist Chuck O’Brien says. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chuck didn’t start out thinking that way. He dreamed of working in the entertainment industry and sold everything he owned to move to Hollywood. He took a course in makeup and special effects, which landed him great jobs in television (including The X-Files and CSI: Miami) and movies (Terminator 3 and Charlie’s Angels 2, for example). But a few years making silicone corpses left Chuck feeling, well, dead. Why not help real living, breathing people with my painting and makeup skills? he wondered.

Chuck scoured the nation in search of companies making realistic prosthetics. Finally, he came across a Connecticut-based company that helps accident and war victims, and with the Iraq war underway, demand for prostheses was high. Chuck moved cross-country and got down to business.

His first challenge was learning to paint in reverse, since skin tones are painted on the inside of a silicone mold made from the remaining limb. “Each person is unique,” Chuck notes of his intensive color-matching technique. He glues in hair shaved from the other limb, and the resulting prosthetic is so realistic, you can only see a difference up close.

But Chuck wanted to take his work a step further. On his biweekly trips to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he noticed many servicemen have tattoos. He decided to try recreating them on prosthetic limbs, and he’s gotten an enthusiastic response. Chuck is inspired by his clients’ attitude. “When you see them put on their new arm for the first time, you see their confidence,” he says. “They’re whole again. It’s a wonderful experience—the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”

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