In the 1980s and early 1990s, the three original Evil Dead films, created by writer-director Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell, made the careers of both men and became instant fan favorites. Over 30 years after the original film, Raimi and Campbell have re-teamed for a Starz cable TV series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, being filmed in Auckland, New Zealand. After she was brought in to work on the pilot, British makeup, hairstyling, and prosthetics designer Denise Kum engaged Raimi to develop the look of the Deadites, the main villainous characters Campbell battles in the project.
“We thought from the beginning that it was important with the fanbase to use the films as a springboard to retain the look of the Deadites – creepy and comical,” Kum said, noting that she started from scratch in her designs but used the earlier films as a point of inspiration. “The technique was looking a lot more handmade. CGI and things are so perfect. We all felt that it would be a mistake to try and go into that world.”
Noting the retro approach of Ash vs. Evil Dead, Kum related that filmmaking in 2015 is a completely different world. “Everything is a video game and virtual reality,” she reflected “You can do so much with greenscreen. Take the schlocky style of things and Fangoria [Magazine]; we didn’t use latex rubber and tissue paper, but we didn’t want it to look perfect and seamless. We had to use a lot of things that were practical for time constraints.”
Initially, properties manufacturer/prosthetic and effects designer Roger Murray started putting visuals together for Raimi and his producing partner Robert Tapert to review while Kum was tasked with creating a color palette, supervising makeup application and finalizing the look of the characters and effects. “Everyone had a piece that was going to fit them for the hero Deadites,” said Kum of prosthetic appliances, which included whole forehead pieces and cheek pieces. “We experimented with 2D painting did a lot of things that had to work in low lighting in a lit studio set and an outdoor car park. We were pushing the shape in a comic area but not having anything too flat — or what everyone has in mind when you see something scary.”
Furthering her experimental methods, Kum ordered generic pieces for stunt people which were also applied by a small core team of three full-time artists and three others working part time. “The prosthetics were applied by myself and Clare Ramsey,” she stated. “The two of us did a lot of the makeups; the boys in the workshop made the pieces. Things grew as time constraints got bigger and we doubled the department. I can’t believe that we did it.”
To establish the basic look of the Deadites and gags which were executed practically in-camera, Kum began to test various looks immediately after she joined the show. “We were testing two days after I got off the plane, after we set up the makeup room,” she said. “Production had only seen illustrations. We needed to get the timing down, and formulate paint techniques. I started five-six weeks out to do the first Deadite tests to get feedback from Sam and the Starz team so that we were all on the same page. Sam was incredibly supportive. We also had to take into consideration what Starz thought – too scary or not scary enough? Do we have to redesign and remake anything? We did 2D tests so that they could see options.”
After many previous decades where special makeup effects appliance-based makeups were fashioned with different formulas of foam latex, contemporary projects such as Ash vs. Evil Dead are commonly adopting the use of silicone appliances. “For the generic pieces, they stretch a little more,” Kum said of her Deadite silicone makeups. “We had two makeup artists on each person. The longest makeup took three hours. The other ones were down to less than two, including teeth, eyes and wigs. It sped up towards the end. We would try and pre-paint the appliances if we could, but sometimes only the day before. It was a mixture of hand watercolor painting on the top of airbrushing. We had many Deadites coming out of the trailer.”
As Kum described the Deadite makeups, most included a forehead appliance that glued to the nose with cheek blenders. “It was a forehead to the hairline/wigline right out to the cheek and up the nose,” she described. “We started with these. Certain Deadites would have neck pieces plus hand and nail appliances, teeth and eyeballs. A lot of them had different contact lenses.”
While Kum prepared the pilot episode, the ambitions of it grew. “People seem to like it for the truth of what it was – in–camera effects,” Kum explained. “Very good old-school techniques with a lot of people putting their heads around the table – special effects, makeup effects, prop effects trying to work it out. Bruce also loves being involved. Because we had limited resources and time, everyone tried to solve problems together.”
After Kum wrapped the pilot of Ash vs. Evil Dead, she joined the team of The Zookeeper’s Wife as makeup/hairstyling designer. “They asked me to stay [on Ash vs. Evil Dead], but I could only commit to doing the pilot with Sam,” she said. “It was a fantastic one for prosthetics and creative makeup. It’s great that it’s found a new audience.”
Since the completion of the pilot, Jane O’Kane has supervised all regular makeup artistry and hairstyling duties for the ensuing episodes of this show.