As part of their overall Oscar Week Events, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held a series of individual presentations honoring each of several categories eventually acknowledged at the March 2 Academy Awards. Included were animated and live-action shorts, documentary features and shorts, animated features, foreign language films, and makeup and hair styling artistry. The latter symposium, held on March 1 at the Academy’s prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Theater, was moderated by Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists branch governor, Leonard Engelman.
On an erstwhile unpleasantly blustery California afternoon, after a sumptuous lobby reception replete with physical display materials from the three nominated films, not to mention an open bar and luscious food and desserts, as the sold-out crowd was ushered into the Goldwyn Theater, onscreen images from throughout cinema history flashed across the main screen. Suddenly, it all came clear as the progression of images unfolded, from the earliest silents to the most recent blockbusters: the splendid visual icons that represent movies’ greatest characters are chiefly the domain of the makeup artists and hair stylists who created them.
Surely, along with costume designers, makeup/hair artists are most responsible for the onscreen appearances of every character in a film. Currently, 1,800 artists serve as members of the makeup/hair union, Local 706 in Southern California, with numerous additional members in other local unions across the country, many of whom are trained by Local 706’s — and New York’s Local 798 — makeup artists and hair stylists. Whether it is the deceptively “simple” addition of wigs, moustaches, and other facial hair to an actor, or the complete burial of an actor’s face under full prosthetics, makeup and hair artists of all extractions will be the first ones to see an actor on a day of principal photography and are often the last ones to receive the actor at the end of a day so that they may remove any materials which have been applied through that day of shooting. In this way, other than the physical embodiment of an actor himself or herself, the makeup and hair team operate as the most valuable individuals on a crew in the realization of a classic screen character.
Both graciously and generously, Engelman began by recognizing not only the three films which were nominated for best makeup of 2013 by the Academy, but also past winners and other luminaries in the field who were in attendance for the celebratory proceedings. Additional makeup branch governors Bill Corso and Kathy Blondell plus Local 706 president Sue Cabral-Ebert among noted others were asked to stand in the classy gesture, which not only provided relevance to others who had achieved greatness in the craft but also created a due sense of community for this often misunderstood if not overlooked vital field within moviemaking.
Naturally, foremost in the events was the discussion of the three films nominated for best makeup by the Academy: Dallas Buyers Club (the eventual winner), Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger. All five nominated artists were on hand to elaborate on their processes, preferred materials, and anecdotes regarding the production of these wildly diverse films. To support the Bad Grandpa segment, makeup designer Stephen Prouty brought out a welcomed surprise guest, actor Johnny Knoxville who shared stories of getting into – and out of – his detailed old-age prosthetic makeup, which was said to convince actual passersby in close proximity to Knoxville that he was a senior citizen, though he was only 41-years-old during production. Since Bad Grandpa was shot verité-style to prank people in public with the character, Prouty’s makeup had to hold up not only through rigorous stunt work, but often in brightly-lit conditions. Without question, the reported $15-million budget of the film, tame by current Hollywood standards, fervently relied on the success of Prouty’s makeup, which was co-created with artists Will Huff, Jamie Kelman and Bart Mixon, under the guise of Tony Gardner’s Alterian Studio.
Secondly, The Lone Ranger was represented onstage by makeup department head Joel Harlow and hair department head Gloria Pasqua Casny. Of equal importance to Johnny Depp’s prominent Tonto character manifestation were both his facial/bodily makeup and wigs that he wore throughout the film. For some scenes, Pasqua Casny wrangled a 32-inch wig for Depp while Harlow employed various degrees of prosthetic makeup with the assistance of several Los Angeles-based craftspeople and locals trained throughout the American Southwest. One of the most complex of Lone Ranger’s scenes came at the outset of the screenplay with Tonto appearing in an extremely old-age stage of makeup for a harshly lit diorama scene. Numerous prosthetic appliances were employed for these scenes both in test makeups and makeups resculpted for camera. Harlow noted that for a sequence involving sideshow performers, he and his team created an array of special characters not in the script, which director Gore Verbinski promised to cover nonetheless. Often, these ephemeral characters appeared for a scant few seconds on screen but required detailed design and application methodologies. Harlow noted several key team members in creating these scenes and others through the massive shoot, including Robin Beauchesne, Mike Smithson and Kenny Niederbaumer. Unavoidably, this Disney summer film stood in contrast to its competitors in this category with its reported $215 million budget.
Lastly, diametrically opposed to the comical Bad Grandpa and epic Lone Ranger, Dallas Buyers Club was a $4.5 million film, shot without the benefit of a grip and electrical department, meaning that all camera shots relied on ambient lighting alone. Unbelievably, makeup department head Robin Mathews was granted a scant $250 makeup budget. She noted that there were obvious additions to that amount, such as the use of her entire makeup kit, but that her days were spent furiously getting actors into and out of various makeup stages to accommodate the mobile art department. Citing the assistance of co-nominee Adruitha Lee and key makeup artist Melanie Deforrest, Mathews noted that the schedule, packed into a minimum of shooting days, involved various degrees of illness makeups applied to lead actor Matthew McConaughey and supporting actor Jared Leto, both of whom the following day won Oscars for their performances in the film. Lee shared her tale of trying to achieve the correct feminine wig appearance for Leto’s Rayon character. After several rejections from the director, Jean-Marc Vallée, she literally drove her car over the wig, damaging it with her tires in the gravelly base camp area of the set. Alas, that version of the wig finally gained screen-ready approval.
Certainly, though digital techniques have been implemented in the appearance of screen characters – for example, Depp’s old Tonto was “thinned” with computer technology by Lola Visual Effects – the viability of the makeup and hair artist will seemingly never disappear from a film set. In fact, as digital effects using human characters become more commonplace, the total integration of the makeup artist in the pipeline of pre-production to postproduction to cement the look of a character throughout the story of a film will likely become more relevant than ever before.