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Silicon Makeup Technology

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When your humble correspondent was assigned a story on makeup in Hollywood involving fake skin and silicone, it was hard not to think that Below the Line had gone somewhat above the line, and was suddenly taking stock of acting royalty’s lifts, tucks, botox injections and implants.But no, those are the things human beings do to their real skin. Here we speak of new frontiers in fake epidermises and ghoulish effects.Creature designer extraordinaire Patrick Tatopoulos – who designed the dragon in the upcoming Eragon film adaptation, as well as critters-from-the-id for movies like Independence Day, Pitch Black, I, Robot and the upcoming Outlander and 10,000 B.C. He states the genesis of silicone’s use in Hollywood: “Foam rubber latex has been the workhorse’ of the MUFX (makeup effects) community since the earliest days of its use in film and TV. Foam rubber is a great material. It stretches, compresses, it’s easy to repair, it’s easy to glue and apply, and it’s lightweight. The downside of foam rubber latex is that, ultimately, it’s an opaque material; it tends to reflect light rather than absorb it.“Silicone materials, on the other hand, absorb light, much like human skin, and offer an amazing level of translucence. Some early forays into this type of thinking generated the initial gelatin-based appliances. The early gelatin, unfortunately, didn’t prove durable enough for the heat generated by film set lights, so somebody said ‘Hey! How about this silicone stuff?,’ and the experiments began… “The see-through quality within silicone allows for the use of integrated coloring materials and multilevel/layered coloring systems (i.e. red under-color ‘blood’ tones). These types of techniques can be used to give a much more organic feel to the initial pre-painted parts.”You could do cool and/or interesting and/or horrific things to the material. In other words, and it looks that much more realistic than its forebear, latex – even though latex effects (could we agree to call them LXFX?) had reached a pretty high level of artistry under the auspices of pioneers like Rick Baker and Stan Winston.Dave Elsey walks some of the same MUFX boulevards as Tatopoulos does – designing creatures for such iconic offerings as the Revenge of the Sith installment of the Star Wars, as well as the makeup for horror fests like Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and the “fake face festival” that comprises the Mission: Impossible films. He further charts the evolution of the “new skin”: “I first heard about silicone appliances when I saw the revolutionary work of Gordon Smith (who worked with Oliver Stone on Platoon and other films, and also oversaw MUFX for the first two X-Men films). At the time Gordon was the only person doing it, and I was really excited by what he was up to.“Colin Ware and I started to do our own experiments but found it hard to get information on what he was using. We knew he was encapsulating his stuff in a urethane, but we couldn’t find it, or anything like it in England at the time. We didn’t have much money to experiment with anything that exotic, so we looked for an easier, cheaper material, and came up with using bald cap material. Bald cap material had been stuck on people for years so we knew it was safe, and we knew you could stick it on with all the glues that were commonly available. You could soften it too.”So the bald cap material became, for Elsey, what he used to hold the more translucent silicone.Mike Bates, the MUFX supervisor for London’s Hybrid Enterprises, was also part of the silicone zeitgeist: “The Holy Grail (is that) the prosthetic Gel Filled appliance must have perfect feather-thin edges to blend to the actor’s skin, and also adhere with normal prosthetic adhesives, and be able to be colored with standard prosthetic makeup colors.”In comparing the silicone frontier to the latex terrain behind it, Bates notes that “unless foam latex is shot well under sympathetic lighting conditions it can appear quite synthetic. Silicone, being a translucent material, is able to be pigmented internally (or intrinsically) to a very flesh-like level,” making the encapsulated fake flesh more “life-like as it is far less painted and has a natural translucency.”Hybrid’s ersatz epidermis will be seen in the BBC sci-fi comedy Hyperdrive and in an upcoming UK TV production of Sweeney Todd, where Hybrid helps facilitate the throat-slitting. Bates is convinced that the new technique is ready for its close-up now, especially in the high-def age: “HD prosthetic makeup needs to have blending edges which vanish into the skin. A good silicone prosthetic, properly applied will work very well in HD.” Tatopoulos puts it even more starkly: “As far as HD is concerned, it’s an unforgiving mistress. It shows everything! “He also bottom-lines the excitement over silicone’s new applications in the MUFX world: “We are constantly still discovering the pros and cons of new makeup materials. While foam rubber will always be a part of the Special Make-Up Effects artist’s toolbox, silicone materials have provided some amazing new looks previously unrealized with foam rubber latex.”But then, he even allows that “when it comes to makeup effects, the skill of the makeup artist is more at issue than the materials being used.”

Written by Mark London Williams

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