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Three Disparate Projects on Display at Academy’s Makeup and Hairstyling Symposium

February 29, 2016 | By

LR-IMG_0032Concerning three wholly separate facets of makeup and hairstyling artistry, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held its pre-Oscar symposium on Feb. 27, one which illuminates the methodologies entailed in these specific crafts and the people who work across the globe to bring their talents to the screen. Gracefully moderated by longtime makeup artist and former makeup branch governor Leonard Engelman at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, the two-hour symposium was followed by a public display in the building’s lower gallery of various materials used in the Oscar-nominated films.

This year’s nominated artists were populated with first-time nominees, largely non-Americans, as the group of eight artists included those hailing from Sweden, England, Canada and Australia. In fact, the audience also included many international cohorts from places such as Australia, Italy and Colombia.

After the main event opened with Academy comments, Engelman began the heart of the proceedings by acknowledging many in the audience who were past Oscar nominees and winners who then stood up to gracious applause. The kindly gesture was warmly received by the near capacity crowd, paying homage to the artists who have been officially recognized by the Academy for 34 years now.

Following the introductions, each nominated film’s artists joined Engelman on stage for an overview of the artistic and technical approaches to that film’s key challenges. This year, the three films were wholly separate, both in the types of films recognized for makeup and hairstyling, and the specific nuances in the makeup and hairstyling techniques used to create appropriate visages for those films’ actors.

The first of the three films nominated was the Swedish production of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Nominees Love Larson and Eva von Bahr were on hand to explain the carefully-manufactured prosthetics required to turn actor Robert Gustafsson into both younger age stages and succeedingly old-age stages for the story, culminating in the titular century-old character, Allan Karlsson. Both credited as makeup designers, the couple toiled in Sweden to fashion the various creations for Gustafsson, which included punching individual gray hairs into a full head piece and adding very fine lace eyebrows to complete the character. They used a full team of lab artists in their Swedish facility plus those who assisted them on set.

Secondly, the eventual winning film presented was the post-apocalyptic action film, Mad Max: Fury Road. Makeup and hair designer Lesley Vanderwalt had worked with the Max film series’ creator, director George Miller, on 1981’s The Road Warrior, but the new film was unlike its predecessors in many ways. First and foremost, Miller rejected his native Australia as looking too familiar for the film’s desert setpieces, necessitating a worldwide location scout, culminating in the selection of Namibia as the film’s key location. Naturally, this created chaos for Vanderwalt’s extensive team, which used artists working in a makeup laboratory in Australia (later transported to Africa), and an international team putting together the myriad Mad Max characters in tents before driving them out to the remote locations.

Also, among Mad Max’s many challenges was the variety of looks that the titular character (Tom Hardy) endures throughout the story in addition to co-star Charlize Theron’s character, Imperator Furiosa, plus the sheer amount of supporting players, all of whom were wearing either a fantasy makeup or character makeup attribution. Additionally, the lead “war boy,” Nicholas Hoult (Hux), wore prosthetic scars across his nose, cheek and lips, overseen by prosthetics supervisor Damian Martin, who described how he led a team which sculpted, molded and manufactured prosthetics in Australia. On hand but not nominated were other artists in a large group who worked on the film, including prosthetics sculptor Adam Johansen who personally sculpted Hoult’s appliances. Nominee Elka Wardega, on hand for the symposium, endeavored to apply and supervise the prosthetics on set in Africa as senior prosthetic makeup artist. Wardega and Vanderwalt described the mixture of materials required to cement the looks of their characters in the heat, humidity and dusty conditions on site. For their efforts, Vanderwalt, Martin and Wardega each brought home an Oscar statue on Feb. 28.

Finally, the seminar included the wilderness epic The Revenant for which a group of three artists were nominated makeup artists Sian Grigg and Duncan Jarman from England, and overall hairstyling department head Robert Pandini. Grigg and Jarman explained in depth how they collaborated with DiCaprio’s personal hair stylist Kathryn Blondell (present but not nominated) to create the actor’s numerous looks, predominantly including the aftermath of the unforgettable grizzly bear attack which required scarring in the form of prosthetic appliances, plus blood effects and various stitching effects. Some of DiCaprio’s prosthetic scar pieces were applied for principal photography but never filmed, while others had to be added after-the-fact when director Alejandro Inarritu actuated previously unplanned angles for a shot. Overseeing every other aspect of the characters’ hair preparation was Pandini who researched and re-created 19th century hairstyles and conjured character hair styling for men deeply embedded in the American frontier.

Among the notable characters included in the film were Native Americans. Performer Duane Howard, who played Elk Dog in the film, was invited onstage towards the end of the symposium. In a touching discussion, Howard explained how the film’s makeup and hairstyling teams worked to carefully and respectfully depict First Nation peoples in accurate likenesses, including accessories to their overall characters’ appearances, such as feathers and even corncobs, each representative of a specific idea or historical relevancy to Native Americans.

After each of the films’ presentations concluded, all nominated artists were recalled to the stage where they fielded questions from the eager audience about the nature of the selection process for the nominated films and the makeup and hairstyling procedures implemented in various conditions of on-set difficulty. Though this portion was limited due to time constraints, the questions, most seemingly from fans and enthusiasts, provoked detailed and revelatory answers.

As a result, the Makeup and Hairstyling Symposium shed new light, not only on the meticulous nature of these essential crafts, but also provided considerable insight into the developments which have unfolded in this area of transforming screen characters to now manifest any possible description a screenplay may envision.

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