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HomeAwardsFor Your ConsiderationWith Screen Characters, The Makeup is the Thing

With Screen Characters, The Makeup is the Thing

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Anne Hathaway in Alice In Wonderland

When Charlize Theron won her coveted Best Actress Oscar for her performance in 2003’s Monster, among her many thanks was one to “Toni G for transforming me.” The moment was as revealing as it was shocking; rarely had a winning performer thanked the makeup artist for a manner of transformation into a unique onscreen look, though many a lauded turn in a special role owes much to makeup artistry. In fact, makeup as an Academy Awards category is a broad term that blankets everything from Theron’s altered appearance into that of a realistic non-fictional character, to a possible accentuation of old-age makeup, to various stages of infirmity, to historical character makeups, to more prosthetically-based fantasy.

Certainly, all levels of the aforementioned categories of makeup have been recognized by the Academy for films that have been released over the past 29 years, including multiple examples of monsters, inclusive stages of aging, period film work and basic but believable character makeups. One can only speculate upon which films might have garnered Oscars for their makeup artists had awards been given in that category prior to 1982.

Robert Duvall in Get Low

Films from 2010 are again varied in their approaches to enhancing, manipulating or fully distorting the appearances of actors via makeup and hairstyling processes. In Get Low, Ken Diaz, a 35-year makeup veteran of many large productions, supervised a group who created period characters for the film’s Tennessee setting of the 1930s. In addition to his duties manufacturing 70+-decades-past looks for his cast, Diaz was charged with formulating Robert Duvall’s character, which changes mid-film. Duvall’s hermit, Felix Bush, required a grizzled aged visage through most of the film, with Diaz applying multiple hair pieces to create Duvall’s memorable personage. For the “living funeral” scenes later in the film, Diaz scaled back Duvall’s look but needed to create a consistent appearance for the character. Though this type of makeup is less showy than, say, creating a 10-foot monstrous creature, the more invisible Diaz work was to the untrained eye, the better Get Low worked as a story.

An interesting problem presented itself to the makers of Barney’s Version – how to execute the numerous gradual and subtle aging stages necessitated by the principal cast without turning the project into a “makeup film” with numerous hours spent by cast members inside the makeup trailer, a hindrance to a low-budget effort.

Such a dilemma fell into the lap of Adrien Morot, who had worked for ten years in Los Angeles before moving back to his native Montreal, the setting of Barney’s Version. With pre-painted prosthetic appliances, Morot aged both male and female characters, paying careful attention to star Paul Giamatti’s evolving look throughout production. Not as drastic as, say, the extreme old-age techniques used in Amadeus, Morot’s approach involved multiple appliances and special hair-gluing techniques so that Giamatti’s freedom of facial movement was unrestricted. As such, Giamatti’s performance, augmented by Morot’s concepts, was not buried beneath layers of hair and synthetic materials. The result is a film that will have many Oscar categories abuzz, with makeup ultimately resulting as a key aspect to tell that singular story.

Though its characters are more glamorous, visually colorful and star-studded with name actors, Alice In Wonderland faced its own obstacles. Not only did Tim Burton’s interpretation envision Alice as a 19-year-old returning to the dream world of her youth, it re-imagined all of the characters familiar to millions through the book and other filmed versions. Though the more fantastic characters were realized with computer graphics, and even some traditional characters were created with partial CGI, a massive team of makeup people was required to bring Burton’s personal bent on fantasy to fruition. Legacy FX, with prosthetic makeup led by Shane Mahan, one of Stan Winston’s longtime lieutenants, and Lindsey MacGowan, provided many grotesques for members of the Red Queen’s court scenes. Under Mahan and McGowan’s supervision, numerous makeup experts applied the various prosthetic pieces over which additional makeup would be layered. Richie Alonzo, another veteran of Stan Winston’s studio, even played one of the denizens of the queen’s court and applied the forehead piece worn by the Red Queen, played to the hilt by Helena Bonham Carter. Valli O’Reilly then created the remainder of Carter’s makeup while Joel Harlow and Patty York gave Johnny Depp the shocking orange hair and eyebrows with a painted pallid face to bring the Mad Hatter to life. Special contact lenses rounded out his look. Of note, Mahan’s work with Burton goes back 20 years to Edward Scissorhands whose titular character was created at the Winston studio where Mahan supervised projects as early as 1984’s The Terminator until Winston’s death in 2008.

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