Cinema makeup and hairstyling artistry is so evidently crucial to a film’s success, it is a wonder that it received almost no attention from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, from its establishment in 1927 until films that were released in 1981. Indeed, in spite of a few special Academy Awards and various companion awards to the Oscars, makeup was fully relegated to the often-seen visual punchline in television comedies; when a director would call for “makeup,” an artist would smash an oversize powder puff into an actor’s face, blasting the actor in a white pancake frost. Why was this craft, hailed by actors, directors, cinematographers and other positions as being critical to the look and believability of a film, sidelined for so long? One can only speculate as to the reason behind the lack of honors; it seems wholly illogical as screen credit for makeup arts was awarded as early as the 1930s in Hollywood films despite makeup’s absence of recognition as a formal category by the AMPAS.
In its most basic sense, the makeup and hair department of a motion picture is responsible for the appearance of each performer appearing on camera for every shot in the film, second unit included. Stars, supporting players and extras alike, all performers in a film are attended to on a daily basis and throughout a day’s shooting to make sure that they look their parts and are always camera-ready. This attention to an actor’s appearance may include, but is not limited to, aging the actor or making him/her more youthful looking; turning the actor into a specific racial, ethnic, or societal “type” of person, with amendments to the actor’s features, other facial and bodily attributes, plus hair color, style, and texture of hair; and of course, there is the radical alteration of an actor’s appearance with the use of various prosthetic appliances, paints, gels, hair pieces and other elements in a makeup artist’s and hairstylist’s kit.
In films released in 2012, the complete panoply of makeup challenges was on display in a wide variety of films. In one makeup sub-category, the traditional “monster” and alien makeups were surely presented in a film such as Men in Black 3, while the unfairly overlooked film, Cloud Atlas, featured actors in six different vignettes, each of which involved a near-total transformation of the principal cast to suit characters who varied in age, race, and even gender. In the finalists of films being officially recognized by the Academy for their makeup and hairstyling achievements, there are three titles whose requirements represented three entirely different types of work within the craft.
In Hitchcock, Sacha Gervasi’s biographical take on legendary director Alfred Hitchcock’s journey to make the film Psycho despite a horde of naysayers, the makeup team was first responsible for period makeups to reflect the 1959-1960 setting of the film. This involved altering its actors and actresses to flawlessly resemble the looks of the time. Another challenge on the film, and one which has garnered much attention, was Howard Berger and Peter Montagna’s endeavor to change star Sir Anthony Hopkins into the visage of Hitchcock himself. Rather than approach the makeup as a direct likeness of Hitchcock, which displeased the production team as it completely obscured Hopkins’ face, Berger’s team, which also included key sculptor Richie Alonzo, and artist Martin Samuel, determined to create a “portrait” of Hitchcock, which both recalled the British director but allowed Hopkins’ distinct eyes and forehead to express themselves through. The end result gave audiences a reflection of the notable director but still allowed them to take in the film as one driven by another sensational Anthony Hopkins performance.
The wide array of period and age-specific makeups drove Academy members to also nominate Les Misérables, Tom Hooper’s cinematic adaptation of the smash-hit 1987 Broadway stage musical. In Hooper’s film, which follows lead character Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) through his adult life, 19 years are spanned, leading up to the historical 1832 June Rebellion in France. Shot entirely in Europe, Les Misérables’ crew included nominees Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell who supervised a makeup and hair team responsible for numerous leading and supporting players, optimizing their looks to portray early 1800s France and simultaneously tracking the 19-year time span of the narrative. Period films are often noted for crafts such as costume design and production design, but makeup and hairstyling craftsmanship is equally important in achieving the verisimilitude of a film set in years past.
Lastly, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, makeup department head Peter King supervised a large team of artists on location and on stage in New Zealand, creating all manners of fantasy makeups, including hobbits, elves, dwarves and other creatures who populate the J.R.R. Tolkien prequel to The Lord of the Rings’ films. In this first film of the trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey features a group of 13 actors who appear as the key dwarves, necessitating that they and their stunt and photo doubles wear beards, wigs, and heavy prosthetics, overseen by Rick Findlater and Tami Lane who were key on King’s team, supervising hair work and prosthetics, respectively. Lane’s group worked with another crew of prosthetics craftspeople under the auspices of Richard Taylor at the Weta Workshop. Taylor’s group also produced special props, armour, miniatures and creatures as needed from the highly regarded Wellington facility.
With these disparate films representing just a few of the many types of makeup artistry and hairstyling crafts categories, the Academy has surely selected three distinct films for the best makeup award consideration, all of which demonstrate the rich amount of potential that many of these largely unheralded artists possess.