By Paige Donner
Three-time makeup Oscar winner Ve Neill says that when the Academy picks its nominees its members look beyond beauty makeup to character makeup, period makeup and, in certain cases, prosthetic makeup.
“Voters need to look specifically at what the film was nominated for,” says Neill, who won Oscars for Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire and Ed Wood. “The larger body of the Academy may not realize that we have nominated the makeup artist for specific things,” she says.
For example, she cites last year’s Cinderella Man, for which David and Lance Anderson were nominated specifically for Russell Crowe’s makeup within the larger context of the period makeup for the film.
“Look at the name of the person or people who were nominated and at what they did specifically within the context of the film,” she says. This will give the voter the most accurate information regarding what to look at when determining who best deserves the Oscar.
“We have established an array of subcategories within which we nominate films,” Neill says. “We look at the film in detail and identify who has done what.”
Neill encourages voters to determine what exactly the film has been nominated for before casting their votes. Has the film been nominated for the whole look of the film, for specific actors’ makeup within the film, for prosthetics, for prosthetics within the period film?
Take The Nutty Professor. That film’s makeup artist, Rick Baker, was nominated for an Oscar and won specifically for the prosthetic makeup used to create Eddie Murphy’s character.
Notably, Baker was the first ever recipient of the Oscar for best makeup, which he won in 1982 for An American Werewolf in London. When Neill won her Oscar for Mrs. Doubtfire, it was specifically for Robin Williams’ prosthetic makeup, whereas on Ed Wood she won for the black-and-white film’s overall look as well as for Martin Landau’s makeup and his prosthetics.
Such distinctions are made easier by the process by which the Academy’s makeup branch chooses its nominees, which has changed this year under the direction of Leonard Engelman, governor of the makeup branch.
The process invites all branch members to look at all the qualifying films for that year and vote for seven films to advance to a bakeoff, which is now open only to Academy members. Representatives from the seven films are invited to present a 10-minute clip showing their work in the nominated film and answer questions from their peers. A vote follows, with the top three films being nominated for the Oscar.
“This is a really fun event,” says Howard Berger, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Berger says it’s important that the Academy does its own research to determine which artists did what work. Having this process in the hands of the Academy is ultimately the most fair for the artists rather than if the films’ producers, for example, were allowed to determine the nominations, he says. “The Academy now does the research to distinguish that the deserving ones are singled out. The Academy makes the decisions.”
“The year I was nominated for Narnia,” says Berger, “was the same year that David LeRoy Anderson and Lance Anderson were nominated for Cinderella Man, specifically for their work on Russell Crowe.” Berger says the Andersons’ makeup on Crowe was so “invisible” that he had to look long and hard to see it and ask what specifically was done. “They used a lot of makeup on Crowe – nose, ears, dentures, a hair piece … it was invisible makeup. And it was so good, I even had to ask, ‘Dave, what did you do?’” he says.
But he points out that this is truly the mark of an artist and is exactly what is deserving of recognition. Berger says that voters, when evaluating how the makeup appears in a film, need to ask themselves, how seamless is it and how well does it integrate into the film? “You want your contribution to help create the world of the film,” says Berger.
What I look for is what was the artistic choice that makeup artist made for the character in that story? Is it appropriate for that character for that story? Is it believable and does it look real or was it a distraction? Did it look organic to that face?” says Jane Galli, makeup department head for 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line.
Galli says that when she designed and applied the facial hair for characters in 3:10 to Yuma, she immediately evaluated whether the muttonchop sideburns, for example, looked organic on the actor’s face. If it didn’t look organic to the actor, even though it fit the character, she would modify it.
“If something is a distraction, it doesn’t work. That’s where application comes in. Even if it’s a prosthetic, it has to look organic,” she says. This is where the importance of test makeup comes in, she adds.
Galli stresses the importance of connecting a character’s look also to the story. “On 3:10 to Yuma, every actor came in with brilliant white teeth. But this was supposed to be the 1800s! So everybody had to have their teeth taken down a notch. I used my own mixture to achieve the look of tobacco and otherwise stained teeth,” she says.
Berger, talking about working on Prince Caspian, the second film the in the Chronicles of Narnia series, echoes these feelings regarding the genre of fantasy. “We’re back within the world of Narnia and everything is bigger and better. There’s tons and tons of makeup. None of the same characters are used so I get to re-think and re-design all the characters. I’m making everything even richer,” he says.
Written by Paige Donner