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Contender – Makeup Artist Ken Diaz, Get Low

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Ken Diaz started in the entertainment industry 35 years ago when he attended makeup school. Through mutual friend and eventual makeup effects expert Vince Prentice, he met Rob Bottin, who went on to a spectacular makeup effects career in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1978, Diaz’ career was launched when he put together a Haunted House at an El Monte, California house that was built in the 1800s. With help from Bottin and other future effects wizards Chris Walas and Bob Short, the house, replete with zombies, was a huge hit.

From that point, Diaz has been steadily working on various aspects of makeup for films. “My career has gone through different phases,” he said. “I started in the makeup effects realm and then went more into character work. There are subtleties in doing character work – the work had to be seamless and the makeup had to be invisible. It’s much harder to pull off but much more rewarding in a sense.”

Through his home makeup studio, Diaz has long been creating prosthetics for my own projects and manufacturing theatrical makeup: different types of blood, tattoo products, facial hair and old age products. He then works on sets with actors, transforming them into any role a script might call for. “Mickey Rourke and I go way back. I worked for Jon Voight, and I did Harvey Keitel’s makeup as Mickey Cohen in Bugsy. The best part of my job is working with these great actors and helping them discover their characters,” he revealed.

Diaz received due attention with an Oscar nomination for aging Jack Lemmon in the film Dad. He also did the makeup for the multi-generational story, Mi Familia, which was also nominated. For that project, Diaz aged actress Jenna Gago, who was 38 at the time, into stages including 48 and 72. Created with stretch rubber and subtle prosthetics, Gago never appeared in the film at her actual age.

For Get Low, after consulting with the film’s director, Diaz talked to star Robert Duvall who was in Argentina at the time. “He gave me input on the character and told me to look at a certain book for a photo as reference,“ Diaz stated. “His character goes from a wild crazy hermit look to a cleaned up look with a goatee. I did some Photoshop work and mapped out the facial form.”

Based on similar types of characters with requisite hair work, including two Zorro films and the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, for which Diaz designed a lot of makeups, he developed a plan for Duvall’s character. “I blend the hair color myself as you get a lot of depth in the hair,” he noted. “You have to play close attention to the depth of the hair at different areas and consider the mobility so that the actor doesn’t feel constricted.”

Duvall’s Tasha wig was built on an extremely fine lace that disappears on the skin, a key to creating the makeup, which Diaz applied himself. “He kept the goatee from the secondary look that I kept trimmed,” Diaz said. “I flattened it with a silicone adhesive and applied the beard with a chin piece and two side pieces. I applied the lace adhesive on the top of the skin. There was a little blender piece. I kept the little tuft of hair just under the lip and kept a little lace piece right under that. Then, I put a bushy moustache over his own mustache. I added a hair gel that had a natural shine and texture to it.”

For the secondary cleaned up look, in one of the reference photos, the character had ears that were pushed out, so Diaz I made a set of acrylic ear braces that gave the character a new visage. “Duvall’s character also had different degrees of health, so I did subtle paint jobs for the different stages with coloration around the eyes,” said Diaz.

Considering that the low-budget film shot for six weeks, with Diaz having an additional three weeks of preparation, Duvall’s appearance is unique and memorable throughout the film. “It was done on a very low budget,” said Diaz. “We didn’t have the greatest makeup trailer. We had to work with what we had. It was a team effort working under difficult conditions budget-wise, but it was very rewarding.”

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