Hollywood is known for special effects and, when it comes to Dental FX, producers generally look to Beverly Hills Cosmetic Dentist Laurence Rifkin, DDS for some extra special dental effects. In this interview with Aesthetic Insider Radio, Laurence Rifkin, DDS who practices in Beverly Hills, CA, explains his work on movies such as The Hangover, and the Nelson Mandela TV series working with Laurence Fishburne to create Dental FX to make these shows and the actors appear more realistic on screen. To learn more about Laurence Rifkin, DDS visit www.drlaurencerifkin.com.
Why do Hollywood producers reach out to you to help them create special dental FX in the movies?
I have been in cosmetic and reconstructive dentistry for over forty years and have been practicing in Beverly Hills for most of my career. I have had a multitude of wonderful experiences with patients both in the normal realm of dentistry as well as working with patients who are professional athletes, actors, and models. Professional actors physically transform into their characters not only though their makeup and wardrobe, but also through their teeth which has led many Hollywood producers to reach out to me create special dental FX in the movies.
How does dental FX work when it comes to Hollywood movies, are they regular patients that come in and then they have the need in the show, or just the producers say this is what we want to do in this particular movie and how can you help us?
It comes from both directions. Sometimes it comes from the actor themselves letting me know about their role for an upcoming movie, usually the actor describes the character to me and they say my teeth don’t reflect the character, what can we do? In addition to professional actors, I have Hollywood producers that are also my patients and they will tell me about an upcoming film and the character they want to produce. The producers then ask how I can help with dental FX to transform the actor physically into the character the actor is portraying.
How did you first get involved with doing dental FX?
It began more with repair rather than special effects. I was a team dentist for the Los Angeles Lakers and repaired teeth that were broken during athletic play. I then started to get called down for emergency repairs on movie sets to keep movie productions shooting. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per day to shoot and I initially did emergency repairs for the purpose of the movie, not even special effects, but just to keep the actors looking like themselves. This emergency repair led to other opportunities, such as working on, The Hangover. My patient and friend, Mr. Ed Helms who is terrific and starred in The Hangover was playing a character that had one of his teeth pulled out in the movie. Ed and his producer asked how we could make his front teeth look like a tooth had been pulled out. Initially, I gave him the option of blacking out the teeth, but he actually had a crown on one of the front teeth and a dental implant so we removed his crown and during the movie, he actually had a missing tooth. Another fantastic actor, Laurence Fishburne, has natural gaps between his teeth. I fully support gaps that go with your individuality because every face is unique and different, but in the roles that he was taking on such as Nelson Mandela, he wanted to close the gaps to more physically transform into the character. We decided to develop multiple sets of overlay plastic teeth that fit and filled the gaps between his teeth, and in doing so he started to metamorphosis into Nelson Mandela. Closing his gaps also affected his speech pattern because his tongue and mouth had previously adapted to speaking with those gaps. Since we filled the gaps in, it led to another transformation because it affected his phonetics as he ran through lines and developed his South African accent and developed his voice for Nelson Mandela.
In terms of the phonetics influencing the voice and the pitch how you do the special effects so that it’s an easy transition for the actor?
When you add in the changes anatomically of the teeth length or thickness, it affects the space with the tongue and how you annunciate F sounds or S sounds, sibilance or fricatives. Consequently, we have to work with the temporary teeth when we design to start to shape and control the contour to make it the most comfortable transition for their tongue to adapt to that new shape. We continuously refine shapes of teeth to be the utmost natural form, and the actor can readapt to that shape. Temporary crowns are a huge part of our practice both for the person that’s acting and non-acting. When we do a smile makeover, it can also affect someone’s speech and we all adapt to that because over our lifetime our teeth do change, they grow, they change position, and we adapt. When we do it rapidly in a special effect situation, we have to work with the actor to ensure our contours are suitable for them.
Is there any overlap in terms of dental FX and special things you might build for a patient with a particular dental issue outside of the movies?
All experiences are additive and my experience being challenged to do these repairs in short term and long term and create new characters that have to be able to function and speak has always helped me in my everyday practice with my patients who are just as important to me as any celebrity. If it is a smile makeover, the design process includes photographs, computer imaging models, three dimensional models, digital models, and creating wax sculptures of the new teeth that would be appropriate for that particular patient. As a team of artisans and dentistry professionals, we shape and color the tooth to ensure that it appears undetectable; it looks like a natural tooth. Similarly to dental FX for actors, the non-acting patient also will have their speech impacted which is all a part of the design. We design for the health, function, and aesthetic appearance of a person’s teeth; thus there is considerable crossover in those working experiences.
In terms of people in the modeling industry, is there ever an instance in dentistry where shadowing from lighting might make somebody with a perfect smile look like they have an imperfect smile and that it’s something that you have to fix?
One instance I had was working on a beautiful young actress. In normal lighting, her teeth were slightly crowded and overlapped, but not enough to warrant a whole smile makeover. However, when she was acting everyday with harsh studio side lighting, it tended to create shadows in studio that were not there in normal ambient lighting. Similarly with the models that I’ve worked on, the harsh studio side lighting can create a shadow on the tooth. Frequently, we simply move a few teeth and get them straighter and more aligned to eliminate that overlap which eliminates minor crowding and eliminates the shadowing effect.
How does Dental FX enhance your practice and/or patients?
It has changed my practice by changing my protocol for how I design teeth. It has enabled me to gain experience and knowledge in more challenging cases such as making perfect duplication of teeth that have been fractured. Additionally, it has made me more sensitive to concerns of phonetics and speech, because the typical patient doesn’t always think about this. It has allowed me to anticipate potential problems with my normal non-Hollywood patients and make their treatment a little bit more predictable and more fun for them as well.
Is there anything on the horizon we should be looking for where your dental FX skills are being used?
Currently, we are working with extremely innovative combinations of treatment and predictability. With today’s technology we can look at the patient from the inside out, observing their skeletal system, which allows us to predict if we change the teeth position, what would that effect be on their smile or their lips. All of these technologies help me in my work for facial aesthetics as well as my other specialists in the medical community of plastic surgery. We are able to take a patient and look at the skeletal system, teeth, lips, and look at the skin surface and see how we can improve a patient’s function, health, and beauty all at the same time with the new technologies.
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