Costumes and Makeup: Activity 5

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Makeup: Creating Character

Makeup artists and hairstylists do more than make actors look attractive. They work closely with costume designers to visualize the complete character. Like costume designers, makeup artists try to reflect the time period, lifestyle, and social status of the characters.

For the film Moulin Rouge (2001), makeup artist Maurizio Silvi studied paintings by Degas, Picasso, and Toulouse-Lautrec for images of 19th century bohemian Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec’s vibrant palette inspired such choices as the cabaret owner’s red-orange hair and the bright blue hair of another character. When creating tattoos and body paint for Apocalypto (2006), set in the ancient Mayan Indian civilization of Central America, makeup artist Vittorio Sodano and hairstylist Aldo Signoretti limited themselves to colors that could have been created from the vegetable and mineral dyes available to the Mayans at that time.

Like costumes, makeup reflects social status and emotional or psychological changes. After Jennifer Hudson’s character Effie loses her money in Dreamgirls, hairstylist Camille Friend simplified Effie’s look to reflect her new circumstances. Instead of the glamorous wigs the character wore in earlier scenes, Friend created a more natural style, using Hudson’s own hair.

Filming a movie typically takes many months. Scenes that are next to each other in the finished movie may have been shot days or even months apart. During that time, actors may catch a cold, show the effects of a late night, or develop a blemish. Makeup artists and hairstylists use their skills to make sure that no matter how much time has passed, the actors’ appearance is consistent from shot to shot. The script for the film Suspect (1987) called for Cher to be struck over her right eye, an important plot element in the story. When she accidentally injured her left eye—the wrong eye— makeup artist Leonard Engelman not only had to cover the damage to her left eye, but had to create fake bruises and swelling around her right eye.

Beauty and “street” makeup employ cosmetics such as foundation, contouring powders, mascara, and lip and cheek color to enhance or correct an actor’s features. Character makeup transforms actors using prosthetics, appliances and more complex makeup techniques. Special makeup effects use mechanical devices and computer graphics to breathe life into imaginary creatures or to create an appearance of injuries, diseases, and deformities. Period makeup, a combination of beauty makeup, character makeup, and sometimes special makeup effects, re-creates a historical look.

As people age, their skin changes color and sags into bags, jowls, and pouches. Natural expression lines deepen, and bones become thinner. Teeth stain, bright eyes dim, and hair thins. Hands develop prominent veins and discolorations.

A simple age makeup might involve thinning and graying the hair, using a bald cap, and applying an oldage stipple. Old-age stipple, developed by George Bau during the 1950s, is a mixture of ingredients that when dry, can be stretched to produce realistic wrinkles and rough skin textures. For more extreme aging, prosthetics, appliances, contact lenses, wigs, hairpieces, and false teeth are applied. Age spots and veins are painted in at the end.

For the opening scene in Frida, which features a very ill, 47-year-old Frida Kahlo, makeup artist Judy Chin put a light age makeup on the then-thirtyish Salma Hayek. In the next scene, when Kahlo is 16, Hayek wears no makeup except for the artist’s distinctive eyebrow. To create this feature, Chin painted very fine hairs on the inner area of Hayek’s own eyebrows and then used a small lace hairpiece between them to complete the effect.

Special effects makeup artist Rick Baker handled a much more complex aging in the 2006 movie Click, bringing the characters from 18 to 80. To make the actors look older, Baker applied gelatin, silicone appliances, and old-age stipple. He made some appliances from the thinner material ordinarily used for bald caps, because its translucent quality looks more realistic on screen. Some of the actors were also made to look younger than their actual ages by using lifts hidden in their hair to smooth and firm their faces, and adding wigs to re-create teenage hairstyles.

Generally, special effects makeup involves the most elaborate and time-consuming procedures. It includes creating blood, knife wounds, bullet wounds, and other grisly effects, as well as deformities, monsters, and otherworldly beings. Often contemporary special effects makeup involves digital enhancements or manipulations. Animatronics—remote-controlled systems that use mechanical devices to produce a lifelike performance from puppets or models—are sometimes part of special effects makeup.

In Pan’s Labyrinth, the 2006 Oscar winner for makeup, makeup artists Montse Ribé and David Martí use many of these techniques to create two monstrous characters, the faun and the Pale Man, both performed by actor Doug Jones. As the faun, Jones wore a full-body makeup of foam latex. The creature’s nose, eyelids, eyebrows, and ears were controlled by small motors in the faun’s horns. The Pale Man latex suit was made to hang in folds, as if the creature’s skin had stretched out from gaining and losing vast amounts of weight. The legs of both creatures were produced by a combination of
traditional makeup and computer graphics.

Because wounds must seem to heal gradually during the course of the film, appliances have to be made for all stages of injury, from wounding to recovery. For Cinderella Man (2005), the story of boxer Jim Braddock, makeup artist David Anderson built a library of bumps, contusions, and cuts that could be applied to actor Russell Crowe’s face as the story required.

Appliances are designed to look as realistic as possible, but no design will be successful if it interferes with the actor’s performance. When Crowe complained that the stiff gelatin appliance ears he wore during his fight scenes were painful, Anderson substituted a more comfortable dense foam rubber appliance.

Through research, makeup artists and hairstylists designing a period makeup learn what type of makeup, if any, was used at that specific time. Victorian women, for instance, did not wear makeup unless they were actresses or prostitutes, so the makeup for a movie set during that time would strive for a natural, nomakeup look.

Hairstyles and facial hair also vary depending on the historical period. During the 18th century, powdered wigs were worn in public, while during the 1970s shag hairdos were popular with women and men alike. Beards were common during Victorian times, but rare in the 1950s.

Show your students two movies that cover similar subject matter. Some suggestions are Walk the Line and Ray; Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love; Emma and Pride & Prejudice; The Chronicles of Narnia and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Ask your students to consider the similarities and differences between the two films and have them discuss the ways that makeup and hairstyles are used to create the atmosphere of the scenes and reflect the mood and time period of the film.

Supplemental Activity

Show your students a contemporary movie. Choose, or have them choose, one main character and one secondary character to discuss. Ask them to list the details that reflect and reveal each character’s personality and character traits. Discuss the differences in the makeup and hairstyles for each character and ask why they think the artists made these choices.

Ask your students if the makeup and hairstyles for these characters are different from or similar to those of other characters in the film. Have them consider how the makeup and hairstyles might have been influenced by the rest of the production design, including the film’s style and color palette. Ask them if the makeup and hairstyles changed during the film and why they think that that did or did not happen.

Costumes and Makeup: Character By Design

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Costumes and Makeup Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: Costumes: Telling the Story
English Spanish

Activity 2: Costumes: Creating Characters
English Spanish

Activity 3: Costumes: Painting the Frame
English Spanish

Activity 4: Makeup: The Beginnings
English Spanish

Activity 5: Makeup: Creating the Character
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