Anna Lopez’s introduction into makeup and special effects goes all the way back to when she was 7 years old.
A friend of hers introduced her to a YouTube channel devoted to creating things like scabs out of cocoa powder or chocolate milk mix.
Almost immediately, she was hooked.
“I ended up bingeing the videos,” she said. “Something about it just switched on my brain. Of all the things I was ever interested in, I kept coming back to that.”
The videos taught viewers how to duplicate effects that Lopez saw in Hollywood blockbusters.
It led to her attending an effects program created by Tom Savini, dubbed by some as the “Godfather of Gore,” who has worked on classics like “Dawn of the Dead” and “Friday the 13th.”
Now, the 20-year-old Lopez uses the training in the Pittsburgh-area program to help Orlando tech company SIMETRI build realistic mannequins that aid soldiers in training.
SIMETRI’S growth in Orlando
The mannequins are built with an intricate series of tubes and sensors which mimic the human body.
SIMETRI CEO Angela Alban started the business in 2009, creating a business that quickly connected with Orlando’s deep military ecosystem.
She has grown that company to roughly 45 employees, including effects artists, programmers and even on-site chemists who serve as consultants to some of SIMETRI’s military customers.
“Our strength is the team and the diverse skillsets required that is very unique,” Alban said. “Bringing that together and creating a culture where it can all work is one of the things we consider our ‘secret sauce.’”
The company last year moved into a new 15,000-square-foot location in Winter Park.
While SIMETRI has primarily focused on defense, it recently made inroads into the medical industry. Alban has partnered with a Norwegian company with operations in New York, Texas and Tennessee.
A range of skillsets create SIMETRI
Recruitment efforts for SIMETRI as it grows pulls from a variety of backgrounds.
Evan Shafran, for instance, is a musician and filmmaker who recognized early on the potential of having a hand in saving a life.
He learned some about biology from his physician father growing up but this, he said, is different.
“I don’t know a lot of different venues for me to be able to be creative, work with my hands but also be extraordinarily helpful for medical and military people,” he said. “It feels good. It’s another level of creation and creativity.”
That’s partially why Lopez got into this industry, as well.
“Entertainment is fun and I love it,” said Lopez, who is originally from Jacksonville. “But I wanted to do something that was quantifiably helping people.”
At Savini’s school, Lopez learned how to work with latex, silicon and even learned how to detail eyeballs, which Lopez said included painting them using paintbrushes that included a single strand of brush.
“It’s very meticulous,” she said.
Lopez landed at SIMETRI late last year, seeking work that would give her steady hours and not be seasonal.
Although her father was initially suspicious about the long-term viability of the job, her mother went to Facebook to show her friends the visually stunning job her daughter had landed.
For Lopez, it was a matter of trying to use her skills to make a difference.
Although her initial interest was a potential Hollywood gig, she said the difference between that and her job at SIMETRI is the importance of getting everything just right.
“The main difference is how they feel,” she said. “When you’re fixing someone, you’re not just looking at it but also physically interacting. You don’t want someone taken aback when they work on a real person.”