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Contender – Makeup Artist Joel Harlow, Star Trek Beyond

February 15, 2017 | By
Special Makeup Effects designer Joel Harlow on the set of Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Special Makeup Effects designer Joel Harlow putting make-up on Ashley Edner on the set of Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

For any below-the-line craftsperson, being nominated for an Academy Award represents the culmination of a career’s worth of relentless, diligent, pinnacle-level work. In Joel Harlow’s case, he has been nominated thrice: for 2008’s Star Trek feature film reboot, for which he won the Oscar, for 2014’s The Lone Ranger, and this year for Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the newly launched series of films based on the 1966-69 TV series. “It’s pretty incredible,” said Harlow from the Atlanta location of the new Black Panther film, “having been a fan of Star Trek the original series—and subsequent series and films—that I would be involved to the extent that I am to the point of being nominated for an Academy Award.”

With Harlow winning the Oscar for his prosthetic work in the first of the new Star Trek films, producer Jeffrey Chernov asked Harlow to come aboard on the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. However, at that time, Harlow was already committed to The Lone Ranger and had to decline. Alas, when Star Trek Beyond ramped up, Chernov again asked Harlow to come back aboard. Although Harlow was finishing work in London on a project with Johnny Depp, for whom Harlow has created characters in a horde of films, Depp told Harlow to take the new Star Trek film. “He was 100% supportive,” Harlow revealed. “I have a close working relationship with Johnny. He has an artist’s soul; he gave me his blessing.”

LR-StarTrekBeyond-SATINE ALIENAwaiting Harlow on Star Trek Beyond was that the project included more specialty characters than the first two Star Trek films combined—then doubled—even though the script was in flux. “We started designing before we had the script,” Harlow recalled. “We had to populate the film with a variety of alien races. Yorktown Base [in the film’s story] is farther into space than Starfleet had ever been. When the first script came in, there were 10 hero alien races, and we needed to populate the world with 46 other alien characters, for a total of 56.”

Surely, the idea of creating, from scratch, 56 individual alien races would be an overwhelming task for any artist, but Harlow and his crew were up for the challenge. “Everybody that came aboard at the studio[s] in Burbank and Vancouver were fans of the series,” Harlow explained. “To create another alien was a perk, a gift. We just started creating—we got to the point where we had 46 different aliens. ‘You need to make 50 because it’s the 50th anniversary.’ We pushed for four more and created those. By the end, we ended up with 56.”

To make sure each character looked as incredible as the film’s featured characters, Harlow insisted that every artist assume that his or her makeup would be as close to camera as possible. “If it was a miniseries or another Star Trek series, they all would have had their spotlight,” Harlow divulged, noting that in a two-hour film, not every character is featured tightly in the frame. “Some of them are inevitably in the background.”

LR-StarTrekBeyond-vancouver crew shotAt Morphology, Harlow’s makeup effects shop in Burbank which he created after the first Star Trek film, he had 30 people working on all aspects of the project, and, close to the main film set in Vancouver, he had another 30 people working on makeups. Additionally, 10 artists from Los Angeles made the trip to Vancouver. In all cases, Harlow mandated that each makeup be as unique and spectacular as possible, regardless of the fact that many of them might end up in the background of a shot. “The beautiful thing about that crew, with both crews working in separate countries on the same makeup, [is that] they all brought their A-game,” Harlow unveiled. “All of these characters were good enough to be hero makeups, and not backgrounds. We didn’t treat any as Bs or Cs – they were all heroes. Nobody was taking shortcuts.”

LR-StarTrekBeyond-QUILLSThough the digital toolbox was clearly available to the Star Trek Beyond production team, with regards to its specialty characters, the film served as a significant practical makeup show, a rarity in today’s Hollywood. As such, Harlow’s technical challenges matched the artistic ones on the project. “We had to re-engineer molding and coring,” he said of a key early stage in the process of creating an alien makeup. “Their craniums were larger than a traditional silicone appliance would allow. A lot of them required accessory pieces – nails, quills, fake eyes, teeth, mechanical hands, servo driven – augmentations to makeups. There was a laundry list for each one of them. At one point, I knew every element that went with every character. We were so immersed in it, I’m surprised I could keep it all straight — I had to. I would relegate a character to [an] artist, and they had the responsibility to maintain the quills, fingernails, spines. Everybody was doing dozens and dozens of makeups.”

Also nominated with Harlow on Star Trek Beyond is veteran artist Richie Alonzo, who Harlow described as a “consummate perfectionist.” In Harlow’s opinion, Alonzo’s makeup on Sofia Boutella, playing the alien character of Jaylah, was one of Alonzo’s major triumphs on the film. “The makeup on Jaylah was just as beautiful in person as it is on camera,” Harlow said. “He sculpted it on a double until we were ready to try it on Sophia; then we sculpted the piece for her. His contribution was 100%. He also did the makeup for Ensign Syl [played by Melissa Roxburgh]. Norman Cabrera sculpted it, and Richie applied it with one of our locals — he was always on that.”

Of note, for Jaylah, Khanh Trance tied the wig which was used, and Robert Bandini and Anne Caroll (hair department head) applied the wig.

LR-StarTrekBeyond-rep2When one is in charge of all makeups on a film of Star Trek Beyond’s magnitude, also working in the makeup laboratory, sculpting characters and preparing appliances, would normally be out of the question. However, on this film, Harlow also worked in the preparatory stages of the work. “I got to sculpt the Reptilicus makeup,” he said of a crustacean/seashell-influenced female character. “It’s always nice when you design, sculpt and apply it. Natalia [played by Ashley Edner] is seen walking at the end of the film with Chekov at Kirk’s surprise birthday party. We pushed the enveloped of a Star Trek alien: a gigantic nautilus shell on her head. That could have easily weighed 20 pounds—that shell was the lightest element of that makeup; the silicone pieces on her arms and face weighed more than that shell. It was a feather cast material with one layer of fiberglass—it was extremely durable.”

To divide the show between his two chief locales, Harlow aimed to complete all design, sculpting and moldmaking at his shop in Burbank, while in Vancouver, fabrication of all of the alien makeup appliances, pre-painting them with the necessary patterning, iridescence and translucency, and finishing off the makeups with hair, quills, and other key accessories took place. Harlow’s material of choice to realize the alien appliances was silicone. “We used 650 gallons of material run in Vancouver except for the month that we took the shop to Dubai,” Harlow revealed, noting the latter location needed for the exterior Yorktown scenes. “We had to run 20 alien makeups in Dubai: Krall pieces [an elaborate alien played by Idris Elba] and Natalia pieces.”

STAR TREK BEYONDWith stage work both in Vancouver and Dubai, Harlow’s team worked for five months applying makeups for Star Trek Beyond. “Not a single day where we weren’t applying at least one full prosthetic makeup,” Harlow conveyed. “The majority of the days it was 10 or more. I’ll never be on a show as big as this again. It broke a lot of records for me.”

Given that Star Trek Beyond was released in 2016, representing the 50th anniversary of the legendary TV series, Harlow noted that the project was special to all involved. “It was nice to give that Star Trek experience everything we had,” he said. “One of the hallmarks of Star Trek [is a] rich history of alien characters. We lost Leonard Nimoy at the beginning of the build; it touched us in the shop as well. It made us want to deliver something to the Star Trek community that’s never been seen before.”

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