Loyalsock Township School District's Lancer Foundation presented Academy Award-winner Tom Woodruff Jr., 1976 graduate, with the honor of being the first recipient of the district's distinguished alumni award Thursday.
"It's a great honor and I think I'm being honored because I followed my dream," said Woodruff at a reception the night before.
Woodruff has worked on special effects and makeup on over 300 movies including major Hollywood hits, such as "Terminator," "Predator," and "Jumanji." He also worked on the 2011 Kevin James movie, "Zookeeper," controlling the costume of Bernie the Gorilla.
JOSEPH STENDER/ Sun-Gazette
Academy Award-winner Tom Woodruff Jr., a 1976 Loyalsock Township graduate, shows students at Donald E. Schick Elementary parts of the costume he wore in “Zookeeper.” Woodruff controlled the character Bernie the Gorilla, voiced by Nick Nolte.
"He sat right in your seats," Superintendent Robert Grantier told students.
"It's an honor to be called a distinguished alumni," Woodruff said.
Woodruff said he's been interested in monsters and movies since he was 9 years old. His parents were the first ones to tell him he could one day make those same movies.
"It was my parents that told me ... 'Someone makes those movies. So why don't you?'" Woodruff remembered.
From that point he remembered that he would read anything he could get his hands on about movie-making. He would find books on movie makeup and start experimenting on different techniques.
He credited two teachers, Wayne Moffatt and Vic Engel, as individuals who embraced him and his creativity. The two teachers allowed him to show off his creative side in forensic competitions.
"He was a little shy but he had a talent. And his talent was special effects," said Engel, who taught history. "The special effects blew us away."
Moffatt remembered Woodruff had three masks designed like those from "Planet of the Apes," and described the process of making them for his presentation.
"He was unbelievably good," Moffatt said.
And although Moffatt praised Woodruff's skill, he also spoke about some the "creative" measures Woodruff would take for a laugh. On one Saturday Moffatt said he woke up to 50 bowling pins lined up in his driveway. And the following day, there was 100 pins for Moffatt to clean up.
"He took all of the bowling pins he could find and put them in my front lawn," Moffatt said.
The English teacher also remembered when he came to work one morning to find the building covered in posters bearing a caricature of Moffatt - a poster he keeps to this day.
After graduating from Loyalsock Township and Lycoming College, Woodruff ventured out to California in 1980 to attempt to chase his dream. When he got there he soon had to turn around because of a writers strike.
"It was so overwhelming," he said. "The town was shut down."
But in 1982 Woodruff returned and hasn't left since.
"My biggest dream back then was to make movies and make enough money to live on," he said.
The most-treasured time of his career was in 1992 when he was able to meet Clint Eastwood at an Academy Award reception.
"He said, 'What's your nomination for?' I told him and he said, 'I saw it and I liked it,'" Woodruff remembered.
He said that moment was very special to him. But the important message Woodruff wanted students to understand is that hard work and passion can take you anywhere.
"Don't ever think just because you come from a small town you can't do something big" he said.
"It's wonderful to dream - everyone dreams - but have you caught your dream?" Grantier said. "I believe Tom has."