By Scott Essman
On a January night in 2000, Stage 16 at Universal Studios was packed with makeup artists, hairstylists, and several dozen residents of Whoville, for the final character duties for the Ron Howard film Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Given his previous successes with such prosthetically based character makeups, Rick Baker and his Cinovation Studio was charged with creating the many “Whos,” nearly all of whom wore complete prosthetic makeup. As it was the last big production night on the show, Baker addressed his team, only some of whom previously worked on projects with him. “When this movie began, I was concerned about handing over so many makeups to other artists,” Baker said. “But I’m glad that it worked out all right.” Why would he say this? Was Baker merely being the perfectionist who had won five previous Academy Awards? Or was there something more to his comments?
Many of the makeup artists working on Grinch were among the best in the business, including Bill Corso, Kevin Haney, Kenny Myers and Ve Neill, all of who created principal Who makeups. “However,” one observer mentioned, “we had to train many of these other people in the makeup application process for the Whos.”
But aren’t the best makeup artists in the makeup union? “Yes, but many of the best prosthetic makeup artists aren’t in the union,” the observer said. “There are many people in the union who aren’t skilled in this type of makeup.”
There are over 1,000 members in Local 706 Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Guild, and many of them regularly work on movies and TV shows. But there are also many skilled makeup artists in the Los Angeles area who are not in the union. Many of them are relegated to working in various makeup studios around town, places where the prosthetic makeups are created, often separately from the artists who apply them. Of the aforementioned artists, Corso, Haney and Myers are skilled in this type of “lab work,” including the lifecasting of actors, the sculpting in clay of makeup appliances, the moldmaking process for a sculpture, and the final manufacture, seaming and prepainting of a makeup appliance in foam rubber, silicone, gelatin and other materials.
An artist like Neill, who does not have her own personal lab, will actively oversee the creation of the appliances she uses on her own makeup films. Nevertheless, many Local 706 members, including many who worked on the Grinch team, are not actively involved in the creation of the makeup appliances they apply. More often than not, that is a separate group.
Clearly, most makeup lab artists aren’t typically in the makeup union, including some immensely talented artists, such as Steve Wang and Matt Rose, who, among many makeup projects, designed the Predator creature at Stan Winston’s studio. Other artists help to design makeup characters from their earliest pencil sketches through the modelmaking and sculpting stage. Baker, Winston and Greg Cannom operate large makeup studios and are 706 members themselves, but their employees are often not in the union. These people rarely get to go on the sets of films they work on. They’re only able to apply makeups on set if the movie or TV show they’re working on is a non-union project. The union does not allow them to apply makeup on a union set.
One Academy Award-winning Local 706 artist who preferred anonymity described the experience of working on a makeup show in Canada. “One of the big differences up here,” he said, “is it seems like most of the guys who worked so hard in the lab are actually makeup artists, or were able to be permitted to be makeup artists temporarily for a show. And it’s a nice feature. You know, in L.A., you don’t get that. If you want to take your stuff to set, you’ve got to get your ass in the union, or you aren’t going to ever go.”
Some of the L.A.-area “lab” workers may be lacking some of the mandatory skills to get into the makeup union. Yet it appears that many of them are skilled in the area of prosthetic makeup application but were unable to go to set for movies like Grinch even though they were desperately needed. This reality implies that a significant percentage of 706 members are skilled in different areas—period makeup, character makeup, beauty makeup, laying beards and mustaches—but are not the best that Los Angeles has to offer in prosthetic makeup application.
By Scott Essman