In the Makeup Chair: A Behind the Scenes Look at Hollywood’s Most Impressive Prosthetic Transformations

We’ve all seen films where the stars undergo extensive character transformations that leave them barely resembling what we’re used to seeing. But what process does it take to get them there? We’ve ransacked the film and TV library to find incredible character transformations and behind-the-scenes footage of actors mid-prosthetic dressing.

At Popular Everything, we’re taking a look behind the smoke and mirrors to reveal the best makeup and prosthetic technicians at work on some of our favorite movie stars. From silicone face masks to hyperrealistic hairlines, we guarantee you have not seen these Hollywood heavyweights like this before!

Prosthetics Turn Johnny Depp into an Irishman

Oh yes, you needed reminding of this. For 2015’s crime drama Black Mass, Mr. Depp made his onscreen debut as Irish-American crime boss and drug lord James “Whitey” Bulger. Once director Scott Cooper was set on Depp playing the lead role, they had to do more than give him a few highlights to have him look the part.

They also had the challenge of portraying Bulger in different stages of his life, meaning Depp needed a variety of face and head masks made. Yes, head masks – rather than touch Depp’s A-list locks they opted to put a bald cap on him and then glue a receded blonde hairpiece on top. His whole head was covered in prosthetics. The icing on the cake is the steely blue-eyed contacts; a sure-fire way to completely change someone’s look.

Character Design That Takes Several Weeks to Build

Creating realistic and livable prosthetics is an art in its own right. “The process of prosthetics is something I don’t think people are aware of how extensive it,” revealed prosthetic designer Barrie Gower. “It’s such a complex department, and the builds that go into these things is quite time-consuming.” The reality is, making cosmetic additions is a process that requires a lot of skill and patience.

For Richard Brake’s character as the Night King in Game of Thrones, the design team made detailed head casts and face molds that took between four to six weeks to prepare. On top of that, actors would often have to sit through hours of makeup before shooting the scene.

Horns, Lipstick, Cheekbones: Check

Disney revealed the magic behind creating Angelina Jolie’s ultra-sculpted look for Maleficent. Villain to the Sleeping Beauty Aurora, they lifted the lid on what it takes to look so wicked. We see them tightly braid Jolie’s real hair into high-set plaits before fastening on four separate pieces, which make up the body of her nefarious horned headpiece.

Her face isn’t without supernatural structure either. Prosthetic makeup is slowly stretched across the high points of her cheekbones, giving them that razor-sharp edge. On top of that, she applies fangs to herself after the makeup team gives her a diffused smokey-eye and some signature red lips. All the ingredients to make a chilling villainess.

Advanced Prosthetics in a ’90s Cult Classic

The Terminator series was undoubtedly ahead of its own time as well as our own. So there became the challenge of creating realistic human/robotic prosthetics for film scenes where Arnold Schwarzenegger was less than a whole. In a series of photos that look more like surgery than prosthetic dressing, we can see a glimpse of the work and skill that went behind the terminator’s look.

After taking casts of Schwarzenegger’s face for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, they assembled the detailed “metalwork” on to a skull cap that they then attached to only the right side of his face. Despite the preparatory work, the actor was in the chair for hours. Even Schwarzenegger’s stunt-double was subjected to the prosthetics team as they recreated the Austrian’s unique bone structure on to him!

The Anti-Nose Job

Funnyman Steve Carell underwent a complete transformation to fulfill his role as peculiar billionaire John du Pont in the 2014 wrestling drama Foxcatcher. His nose was what garnered the most attention, as the prosthetics team fashioned a prominent snout to mimic du Pont’s eye-catching schnoz.

Seamlessly rendered, the nose wasn’t the only change to complete the character. The makeup artists opted for spraypaint to discolor Carell’s skin with age spots, varicose veins, freckles, and sun damage. The outcome was flawless, making it impossible to tell where Steve Carell ended and du Pont’s facial features began. The actor even noted that “once all of that makeup was on, people reacted and responded to me differently on set.”

Depicting Stephen Hawking’s Physical Progression

At the beginning of The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne played a young and healthy Stephen Hawking. The film then needed to depict the astrophysicist as the effects of the motor neuron disease progressed and changed his appearance. For this, they engaged in the services of makeup and prosthetic expert Jan Sewell.

“I was looking quite closely at how to change the shape of his face and what the disease did to his body,” Sewell recalled. She added “[Those with motor neuron disease] don’t use their muscles so they don’t age in the same way. It was important that we knew what he would look like at 21 and in the last stage. Then I would be able to work out the timeline.” She utilized varying ear and mouthpieces to portray various stages in his life, to make it look like he was “starting to shrink.”

Nine Separate Silicone Prosthetics Were Needed to Create Deadpool’s Head

“Ryan Reynolds’ transformation started with gluing his hair down and hiding it under a tight-fitting skull cap,” revealed Corso, the makeup and prosthetic designer for Deadpool. He explains further: “A ghastly skull and veined under paint was applied [over the cap] that would show through the thin, translucent silicone [mask] appliances, which were painted to match examples of extreme skin disorders.”

The secret to Deadpool’s realistic disfigurement was in the layers, which helped to add depth to the skin texture. “The closer you got, the more detail under his skin you could see. Ryan wore nine silicone prosthetic appliances when just his head was exposed.” No expense was spared by Marvel to create the perfect look for the antihero.

Not the Youthful Looks You’d Hope For

The supernatural horror sequel, The Ring Two used stuntwoman Kelly Stables to depict the terrifying little girl named Samara. But she’s no girl – Stables was in her mid-30s back when filming. However, her small stature (standing at 4.9 feet) and skillful body contorting made her perfect for the role.

When watching the film, there is no way you would have recognized her; she was covered in creepy prosthetics. As well as her entire face, her hands, arms feet, and neck were plastered with the state-of-the-art material. This was designed to give her the appearance of puckered skin, left in the water too long. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know why…

Dicaprio Endured Seven Hours of Makeup

For the 2011 biographical drama movie J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio wore prosthetics in his portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover in his later years. The makeup team gave DiCaprio fake teeth, eye contacts, a skull cap and wig and latex body parts on top of his facial prosthetics. On these days he would be in the makeup chair for six to seven hours.

“Layers of prosthetics are like acting with a paper bag on your face and Leo had to learn to exaggerate his expressions so they would show through the appliances,” admitted the makeup artist. Nonetheless, the detail was impeccable. DiCaprio even wore two sets of colored contacts at the same time – one brown and one yellow – to make the whites of his eyes appear older.

A Toxic Disease Inspired Depp’s Mad Hatter

In Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland, Johnny Depp portrayed the eccentric Mad Hatter, adding to the character his unique nuances. Interestingly, he had a lot to do with the character design, too. “There were these weird little cryptic bits that Lewis Carroll dropped in there… I found this thing called The Hatter’s Disease… this very toxic substance to glue the hats together, which ended up poisoning them heavily,” explained Depp.

He continues: “Some would develop Tourettes style syndrome, some would develop a personality disorder… some would get darker. So, I just thought ‘yeah.'” This substance also accounts for the Mad Hatter’s hair color, as Depp claims, “there was also an orange tint to the actual stuff, which is where all the orange bits come from.”

Carrey’s Expressions Shine Through Prosthetics

For Jim Carrey, arriving on set for the filming of 1994s The Mask meant four hours of makeup and prosthetic fitting beforehand. Biographer to the actor Mary Hughes wrote that “Carrey remembers that the long and involved daily makeup sessions just about drove him insane – which may or may not have prompted his Mask co-star, Cameron Diaz, to comment that working with Jim was not unlike visiting an insane asylum.”

Director Chuck Russell admitted that due to Carrey’s talent for distorting his face, they managed to save huge sums of money on special effects. “The guys at ILM said they figured I saved about a million bucks once I got Jim, just on what he was able to do, versus what we intended to do originally,” he admitted.

Jennifer Lawrence Puts It All on the Line

Jennifer Lawrence one-ups Jim Carrey’s makeup time by having to endure seven hour-long paint sessions before each shoot as Mystique in the X-Men franchise. Painting her whole body took six makeup artists to complete, with Lawrence defeatedly asking “why don’t you just dip me in a bathtub with blue?” There was no CGI added to give her that infamous blue skin.

And wearing all that pigment was without huge risks. “I love these movies,” Lawrence asserted, adding “It’s just the paint… I’m like, ‘I can’t even pronounce this and that’s going in my nose? I’m breathing that?’” Celebrity makeup artist Melissa Rogers clarifies that the paint used can be toxic for the skin: “Body makeup is in the special effects category. Generally, special effects cosmetics are loaded with chemicals.”

Gandalf’s Big, Fake Nose

Theatre veteran Ian McKellen underwent extensive makeup and hair to make him appear adequately wise and weathered in The Lord Of The Rings. Unknown to most, facial prosthetics were used for his role as Gandalf. They gave him a fake nose despite having a large nose of his own, as they believed with the hair, beard, and makeup his features looked much smaller.

Co-star Christopher Lee, who played Saruman the Wizard, also wore a prosthetic nose. But McKellen revealed in a personal blog post his request for a smaller honker. “I had requested a smaller nose than last time,” McKellen explained. “The WETA sculptors were making new noses anyway, silicone replacing the old sticky gelatine which tended to slide around if the wizard sneezed or shouted.”

Living Every Metalhead’s Fantasy

Ian Scott, guitarist to thrash metal band Anthrax, was lucky enough to score himself a role in Game of Thrones as one of the fearsome White Walkers! He lifts the lid on what it feels like for him to be in prosthetics and makeup: I love it. It’s really cool to be able to become someone else. I’m not an actor, so this is like Halloween coming around every day, man. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

He also pays the artists their dues: “I’ve been fascinated with learning how they make the effects in horror and fantasy since I was a kid. It’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do, but to see the artists do it is amazing – because they truly are artists. They make the effects that are so crucial to the movies I love, so to be a fly on the wall is incredible.”

Only Perlman’s Eyelids Were on Show

Ron Perlman, star of Hellboy, personally hired makeup artist Jake Garber for his character transformation. After all, Garber is also involved in animatronics, puppetry, art direction, and even stunt work – it’s easy to see why he was pushed for. It took about four hours to fix the prosthetics on to Perlman, which covered every inch of skin except for his eyelids. He had fake hands, dentures and even contact lenses to cover up the real actor.

Painting Ron was also time-consuming, despite looking like a straightforward paint job. Garber tells us that “even though he [Hellboy] seems ‘just red,’ there were about four or five additional colors to break it up and get a little bit of shading in there to not make it look like a toy.”

Up to Ten Hours a Day in Makeup

John Hurt wore 15 layers of prosthetics to become the “Elephant Man” in the 1980 historical drama of the same name. Up to eight hours were spent in the makeup chair applying the prosthetics to Hurt, with an additional two hours at the end of a shoot to remove them. The actor was heard to remark “I think they finally managed to make me hate acting.”

Of course, taking on a project to recreate the late John Merrick was an arduous task in itself. He was born with severe deformities in the 1800s for reasons unknown. He spent his life on exhibition at a “freak show” as the “Elephant Man,” a derisive name that came out of his skeletal and soft tissue abnormalities.

Those Famous Eyebrows Are First to Go

John Depp’s prosthetics and makeup took one hour and 45 minutes to apply for Edward Scissorhands. In the 1990 cult Tim Burton film, Depp plays an artificial man whos construction never made it to completion and therefore, he was left with scissors for hands.

Aside from his confusing weapon stubs, his face was kitted out with keloid scars. They would paint makeup on his face first, adding sheets of ready-made scar effects on top and blended in with the white base product. They had to be especially meticulous, as the pasty white complexion would easily show any carelessly laid latex strips.

Eddie Murphy’s Most Impressive Transformation

In this amazing transformation, Eddie Murphy is reconstructed into Saul, the elderly Jewish barbershop customer. Covering every inch of his real skin, Murphy’s prosthetics were designed by makeup artist Rick Baker, who created the other prosthetics for Murphy’s various characters throughout the film.

In a test run of the character, the director John Landis recalls that Murphy was “astonished” by how hilarious he found himself as the character. Its the transformation Rick Baker admits he worked the hardest on and was most proud of. “It’s the best makeup in the movie,” he asserts.

The Curious Case of Aging Brad Pitt

For The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Brad Pitt had to portray a man who entered the world as an old man, getting younger in appearance throughout his life and “aging down,” while retaining his chronological mental age. “I was so impressed with the detail. It wasn’t that uncomfortable. in the end, it was surprising how it could tell the story better,” Pitt recalled.

He notes his admiration for the detailed work that went into the prosthetics and makeup: “They sculpted each age that we wanted to portray in the film. They had to keep track of pieces that were so minimal, you’ll just feel the gradual progression throughout the film because of its such a seamless transition.”

Val Kilmer’s Transformation Into the Father of American Literature

Batman actor Val Kilmer underwent heavy prosthetics for his 2012 one-man show Citizen Twain, in which he portrays American author Mark Twain. Kilmer revealed how he came up with the live performance: “I was looking for a story that would represent me personally, so that’s how I came up with this idea of Mark Twain and Mary Eddy Baker and how he was obsessed with her for the last 10 years of his life.”

The transformation process before the show would take around two hours from start to finish, in which the silicone parts would be attached alongside his hairpiece, makeup, and signature Twain mustache. The actor also took to posting jokey selfies on social media of himself at various stages of the transformation process, proving himself ever the showman.

Bilbo Goes Beyond Eleventy-One Years Old

The special effects team for The Lord of the Rings trilogy did some of the most ground-breaking prosthetic work ever seen. Aside from the Orc/Uruk-hai supernatural silicone and makeup, impressive and heavy-duty prosthetics were used for the ultra-realistic aging of some characters, such as a very elderly Bilbo Baggins.

Portrayed by celebrated English actor Ian Holm, Bilbo was depicted at various stages of aging in the films. The WETA Workshop in New Zealand was responsible for creating most of the prosthetics, in a process that could take up to four hours to put on the actors. Considering how many actors were involved, it’s easy to see where the films’ considerable budgets were spent.

Tim Curry Wanted to Keep It Simple

Tim Curry’s iconic role as Pennywise in It was a chilling film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror story. Emmy-nominated makeup artist Bart J. Mixon was snapped up to design the clown. He recalls, “I started out designing Pennywise by doing lots and lots of research into various clown looks.”

But once Curry was cast in the role, he had to pair back on the special effects. “Tim wanted to wear as little prosthetics as possible, so we tested two looks for Pennywise. The first was just the nose and headpiece and a paint scheme that Tim contributed some ideas to,” Mixon asserts. The second test was with more of Mixon’s contributions and heavier prosthetics. In the end, they opted for Tim’s preferred “light” makeup, still keeping Mixon’s “battery-acid” touches.

The Most Expressive Eyebrows in the Business

Nick Dudman, the makeup artist for Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 film, Batman explained his design process in the film. It comes as no surprise that Nicholson was extremely involved in that process.”I went to Burbank to get Jack’s lifecast. I took one smiling, one neutral, plus plenty of pictures to see how he smiled. I then sculpted five different looks from subtle to extreme and showed them to Jack. Luckily, he chose the one I hoped he would.”

The depressions in his face were made with prosthetics, but Dudman admits that “the hardest thing was arriving at a “white” that worked on a dark set next to a guy dressed in black rubber. That took some testing. In the end, we heavily shaded it with a metallic gunmetal.”

Refreshingly Positive About the Transformation Process

What a sight it is to witness Naomi Grossman portray Pepper in American Horror Story. Surprisingly, however, she doesn’t find the process of transforming very arduous. “The process of doing the makeup is a blast,” Grossman exclaimed. But she acknowledges, “I know that’s not a conventional answer, sitting still for hours and hours…”

She recognizes the work and skill of the prosthetic artists, acknowledging their playfulness tendencies as “really fun.” And in her eyes, she’s luckiest of all. “What a prize of a part any actor would want to totally transform one’s self,” she shares. In contrast to many others in the business, she’s acutely aware of her coveted position.

The Grinch Wasn’t Just Green

Jim Carrey raised a few eyebrows over his method acting in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, claiming to have “lost control” as the lead antagonist. His change in personality was so dramatic it led to accusations from accomplished makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, who claimed to have “check into therapy” after working with the actor.

Head makeup artist Rick Baker described the complicated process: “First thing you’d do is clean the skin so the glue works, then we’d put a protective coating on to help preserve their skin. [Then] the appliances are glued on with a medical adhesive [and] each piece is individually put on.” He continues, “We have a basic green coat that goes on first but then there’s purple and yellows and different layers to make it look more real and translucent. And then the hairpieces go on…”

Brando’s Makeshift Prosthetics Landed Him the Role

It’s hard to imagine in hindsight, but the studio was against the idea of casting Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. That changed once they saw the tape of his audition. Director Francis Coppola recalls: “We went to his house on Mulholland Drive and it was early, he wasn’t up…the door opens, and in walks this beautiful man with long blond hair. He did it up himself in the back, and he took shoe polish and he made it black.”

“He took some Kleenex,” which Brando proceeded to shove in his mouth as he wanted the character to “look like a bulldog.” Coppola continues, “And then he started acting but not saying anything.” The footage of Brando’s performance aided by makeshift household items changed the studio’s mind.

Some Days Required Two Prosthetic Changes

“I used every trick in the book,” admits makeup designer Greg Cannom. He was tasked with transforming Christian Bale into Vice President Dick Cheney for 2018’s Vice. “I used a special rubber-mask grease makeup that you could use on rubber and appliances. It holds up really well, and it gives a translucency to it that looks very real. I’d use different colors of bases, and the very last thing I’d do is I’d go in with reds to pop the reds in his face to look really natural.”

He continues, “Sometimes we shot two different makeups a day, so we’d have to take him out of that and redo the whole thing at a different age. I was very concerned with Christian sitting that long for the makeup, but he never had a problem with it. While we were doing his makeup, he’d be researching Cheney photos and videos.” Bale definitely proved his dedication to his performance, also putting himself through drastic weight gain for the role.

Margot Robbie Is Bald With Boils

For her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Mary Queen of Scots, Margot Robbie sat for up to four hours to be completely set-dressed. Each day shooting would start with them wrapping her real hair before putting on a bald cap and wig. “Surprisingly, the quick part was the white makeup,” she disclosed, “and the heavily drawn-on blush, eyebrows, lips.”

But there was a prosthetics team involved. The real Queen Elizabeth I had smallpox scars, which they recreated with silicone. “With smallpox, you are left with a very badly scarred face, and your hair falling out,” revealed the hair and makeup designer Jenny Shircore. “I used that route to try and change Margot Robbie’s features, by placing the boils of smallpox along her bottom lip. It would mean that there were scars left there, which she’d need to cover, which would mean she wore a thick white makeup.”

Vision Was Pink or Red, Depending on the Light

The hardest thing for makeup artist Jeremy Woodhead to figure out in the Avengers franchise was Vision’s color. “The red color was actually the hardest thing because we didn’t want him to be a bright scarlet, which would look slightly absurd, so we ended up with a color that’s hard to describe,” he explained. “In some light, it looked pink and in others, red. It was a light-dependent thing, which necessitated a mix of colors and layers.”

He also described how minimal prosthetics were used for maximum freedom to move: “We originally tested facial prosthetics as well, but Paul has delicate features, so any prosthetics on top would take away from them, so we just ended up with a prosthetic forehead, back-of-head, and neck, leaving the face free, which I painted to match the prosthetic.”

Skarsgård Becomes a Child, of Sorts

We’ve sure come a long way since Tim Curry’s Pennywise in It. Bill Skarsgård transformed into the terrifying clown for the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, sporting Director Andy Muschietti’s design. He revealed that keeping child-like qualities to the character was essential. The prosthetics team fashioned fake cheeks for Skarsgård, to give them a fuller, more youthful appearance.

But much of the child-like qualities came through in the acting. And interestingly, Skarsgård admits to having studied footage of wild animals – particularly hyenas and bears – to prepare himself for the role. But wherever possible, they favored prosthetics and makeup over CGI. Even those demonic yellow eyes were contacts.

Jared Leto’s High-Maintenance Joker

Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad was the most high-maintenance of all the Jokers, taking three hours to apply from start to finish. Makeup artist Alessandro Bertolazzi would apply “six or seven” layers to Leto’s skin, giving it more depth and detail. Such attention to detail would have also helped Leto get into character – something of which his costars attested to him never breaking.

“We had a special makeup department only for Jared,” Bertolazzi admitted. “When he arrived in the morning, he’d come straight to the makeup department.” When we compare Leto’s three hours to Heath Ledger, who took an hour in the makeup chair, and Joaquin Phoenix, a quick 15 minutes, we can see the painstaking efforts that Leto went to.

Post-Production Edited out the Detailed Paintwork

Special Effects company Studio ADI was hired to work on the 2011 film X-Men: First Class, of which makeup artist Alec Gillis revealed behind the scenes details. “Director Matthew Vaughan really gravitated towards the more lion-like versions of the Marvel Comic Beast. He wanted a clean break from the Kelsey Grammer version. Fur was in, hair was out. Any version of Beast that featured human head hair was too ‘rock star.'”

Gillis continues. “so ADI and Dave and Lou Elsey kept the palette to the feline textures.” But something changed in post-production: “Some warm tone break up was introduced to make the skin tone less monochromatic and more alive. The studio stepped in during post-production and digitally removed the naturalistic color break up in favor of a more straight forward blue.” Despite the detailed shading, Beast was digitally edited to a flatter color.

Long Hours in the Chair Were Almost a Deal-Breaker for Gimli

John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, initially didn’t think the franchise would be successful, and almost didn’t take the role. “I didn’t want to spend three years in prosthetic make-up on a film that was going to fail,” he conceded. He was well aware that such a part would be taxing even before shooting started!

You’re unlikely to have noticed Gimli’s prosthetic finger, the real one of which the actor lost in his childhood. But it was put to good use on set, with Rhys-Davies using it to prank Peter Jackson by smothering it in fake blood and calling out, “Boss, I had an accident!”

Nicole Kidman Is Unrecognizable

For Nicole Kidman’s role in 2018’s Destroyer, she underwent a dramatic makeover to get her looking worse for wear. “We always knew that what we wanted her to look like was a real middle-aged woman with a past that she wears on her face. With sun damage and sleep deprivation and stress and rage, just in her whole physical body.”

Kidman provided the acting, but the makeup and hair artists brought the effects. They kept prosthetics to a minimum, too, for Kidman to act the part effectively. “[She] wears her ugliness on the outside, all that smallness and bitterness,” director Karyn Kusama explained.

Brad Pitt Refused to Kiss Her

Angelina Jolie hides her character’s identity as Evelyn in the 2010 action movie Salt. She also hides her gender, as she undergoes a prosthetic transformation to make her a man. Among other disguises she takes throughout the film, this sex-swap is the most notable.

It was especially unnerving for her family, Jolie revealed: “I invited Maddox to come and say hi and didn’t tell him who I was. He hung out with me for a while until I said ‘Mad’ – and when he realized it was me he was just freaking out.” She also added that then-husband “Brad wouldn’t kiss me either, he wouldn’t go there.”

Robin Williams Had Incredible Stamina

1993 comedy-drama Mrs. Doubtfire saw Robin Williams receive many accolades for his hilarious role as a father undercover. He donned heavy prosthetics to turn into the loveable nanny; a role he assumed so he could see his children every day. “The makeup on a good day would three and a half hours, on a bad day four and a half,” Williams disclosed.

He wore eight overlapping foam latex pieces on his head, “all made fresh, weekly, so we don’t have a problem with shrinkage,” the makeup artist explained. They wanted to shoot with him for at least ten hours a day, on top of the prosthetics, makeup, and hair time. At the end of the day, he would sit for another hour as they removed everything.

Food Coloring and Mouthwash Makes Great Bile

Danny DeVito played the role of Penguin in Batman Returns, which required heavy prosthetics to turn his friendly face into a caricature. DeVito bitterly remembers “that first cold brush of glue all around my nose.” That would be the first step in the process of adding prosthetics, with the makeup artist admitting she needed to start there as her anchor or everything else would be out of place.

The head makeup artist recounted: “Danny wore false teeth, uppers and lowers, and then I mixed up a concoction of mouth wash with red and green food coloring in it… we decided it was some sort of bile.” DeVito himself recalls that “I would always take a big mouthful of that and let it ooze out… when I was feeling adventurous!”

Skin That Defies the Laws of Nature

Josh Brolin became a silver fox for his role in Deadpool 2, where prosthetic items were applied all around his bare body. He played the character of Cable, which the makeup designer Bill Corso admitted was “more complicated than the Deadpool makeup, and it kept evolving as we started shooting.”

Cable’s body was morphing from a natural matter to a bio-mechanical body, which posed quite a challenge for the design team. “This makeup is not like the Terminator,” Corso noted, explaining that “it’s a disease that’s growing on Cable that’s turning his skin into metal. So it’s gotta look like metal, but there’s a lot of skin involved that’s been mutated, and it’s kind of messed up.”

Wes Anderson Wanted More Liver Spots

The Grand Budapest Hotel hired Mark Coulier for the task of aging up Tilda Swinton into an 84-year-old Madame. As the resident makeup artist for the Harry Potter films he was plenty qualified for the task, but that didn’t stop him from learning on the job. He opted for “a very soft silicone rubber that’s encapsulated in a plastic barrier that dissolves into the skin,” for Swinton, adding that “every time you learn from what you did last time and you make improvements.”

Alongside hairstylist Frances Hannon, Coulier received an Oscar nomination for his work. He credits Hannon with the idea of applying the lipstick on Swindon “like an old lady,” while also recalling Swindon’s involvement. “She was very involved in the look of her makeup when we came to actually applying it on the day,” he remembers.

Creating Relatable Ape Prosthetics

Planet of the Apes is an iconic film, not least of all because of the unprecedented use of heavy prosthetics and makeup on all the cast members. John Chambers was the head makeup artist who wanted the actors to be clued in on the long process before committing. Fellow makeup artist Tom Burman remembers: “They were afraid that actors would not wear the make-up because of the length of time it took to apply, and they had to wear it all day long.”

A lot of actors did, in the end, pass up the experience. For the ones that agreed to it, producer Arthur Jacobs instructed Chambers on the degree of realism he wanted: “John, we’re having famous actors play these parts, we want to see them through the make-up, we don’t want to go so ‘ape’ that the audience can’t relate to them.” In the end, Chambers created a stylized version of chimpanzees and orangutans for the film.

Mila Kunis’ Upper Lip Is All You’ll See of Her

You won’t have recognized Mila Kunis is the 2013 fantasy adventure film Oz the Great and Powerful. She plays young and naive witch Theodora who is tricked and betrayed, leading to her transformation into a hideous and wicked version of her former self. Makeup Artist Magazine went so far as to describe the movie “one of the biggest American makeup shoots in years, employing an army of union makeup and hair artists for the better part of a year.”

Makeup artist Howard Berger explained: “She’s pretty much covered in appliances. The only part of her skin on her face [that isn’t] is her upper lip. Everything else is a combination of silicone and foam rubber. Then she’s completely painted, her shoulders are painted, her chest and back and neck and everything because her costume reveals so much.”

Nailing Beetlejuice’s Moldy Look

Tim Burton’s 1988 film Beetlejuice was a fantasy-comedy-horror that reached cult status. Burton hired acclaimed makeup artist Ve Neill to realize his ideas. Michael Keaton excitedly recalls Burton requesting “hair that looks like I stuck my phone in an electrical outlet.”

Keaton continues remembering Burton’s direction: “I want mold somewhere because the character lives in the rocks.” Ve Neill managed to create a convincing artificial mold that she applied to various crevices of Keaton’s body, including his hairline and hair!

Emma Thompson, Warts and All

Emma Thompson paints quite a picture as Nanny McPhee, the snaggle-toothed au pair to five preteens. From eyebrows to warts, the makeup and prosthetics team thought of everything they could to make the character as conventionally unappealing as possible. And she tasked the best in the business for the hideous transformation: Mark Coulier.

She even wrote the scripts for both of the Nanny McPhee films (2005 and 2010) which gave her a different perspective when sat in the makeup chair for hours. “In a sense, putting the costume on is the reward for having sat on my own for a few years writing the story,” she confessed.

Heath Ledger’s Fake Bottom Lip

Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker may have looked like a vagrant, but of course, was the culmination of careful consideration. Prosthetics supervisor
Conor O’Sullivan described: “I was never given a concept or reason for the scarring before I started on the design of the Joker’s scars. Once I had it in my mind that it was going to be scars, rather than a fixed smile, I immediately thought of the punk and skinhead era and some unsavory characters I had come across during this time.”

It wasn’t a particularly long process to transform Ledger into the Joker. The late actor noted, “It’s pretty quick. They’ve come up with a new technology for the mouthpiece, as the scars are made out of silicone not prosthetic. My whole bottom lip is fake.” Costume designer Lindy Hemming added, “Luckily for him, the character wasn’t meant to look too put together as a back-story for him that he really doesn’t look after himself,”

Ralph Fiennes Lost All of His Nose

Ralph Fiennes’s portrayal of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films was a long-awaited viewing after the first three films. And the makeup they applied to him was only part of the process it took to transform the actor. They digitally edited his nose out through the use of brightly colored tracking dots, positioned all across his face.

They opted for slits in place of nostrils to give the character a less human quality and make him more snake-like. However, aside from the nose, most of the magic was created with makeup. The team used ‘eyebrow blockers,” fake teeth, fake nails, and vein tattoos to give his skin that translucent look.

Creating Years of Abuse on Creamy, Poreless Skin

Charlize Theron donned subtle prosthetics for her role as Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 film Monster. She was committed to the role, as the set makeup artist Toni G remembers: “She’s got this beautiful face, but she’s a very brave woman because you’ve got to have the weight in order for the jowls to look right … You could never do something like that with an actress who isn’t totally willing to go for it.”

They completely reconstructed Theron’s eyebrows and made up some discolored dentures. But Toni G still had more work ahead of her: “We had all those things together but she still had this creamy, poreless, gorgeous skin. With makeup, I had to create the years of abuse to her skin – all the freckles and capillaries and sun damage – either through hand-painting or working with an airbrush.”

The Four Hour Churchill Transformation

Joe Wright’s 2017 drama Darkest Hour starred Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, for which he needed to undergo a major prosthetic transformation. And it wasn’t just the makeup artists who suffered because of it: “He’s so respectful of our craft, he would sit still in the chair for four hours,” said makeup supervisor David Malinowski. 

He continued: “He wouldn’t sleep in the trailer – lots of people they fall asleep and there’s either the impression of their iPhone on their face or a pillow, you know, you get red lines, all sorts of stuff. But Gary didn’t want to sleep. He didn’t eat and if he did he would just have really small bits of food. So a lot of it is down to Gary, it’s not just us looking after it, it’s him looking after it for us.”

Karen Gillan Shaved Her Head

Karen Gillan starred as Nebula in The Guardians of the Galaxy films, but you’d have never recognized her. Makeup effects artist David White described her prosthetics as the “most complex and interesting” of all the characters he worked on in these films. He goes on to say that “The five-piece prosthetic was a puzzle of butt joins and blend offs, all on the same pieces.”

It required quite a commitment for Gillan, too: “I was told even before I auditioned that the actress who got this would have to shave her head, and I didn’t think I was gonna get it. So I was like, ‘absolutely, I will shave my head! Sure!’ Then, like three screen tests later, [I thought], ‘oh God, this might actually happen.'”

Contractually Obliged Limited Makeup Time

Transforming Brendan Gleeson into Harry Potter’s Mad-Eye Moody took approximately two and a half hours. “We did Mad-Eye Moody, a major multi-piece silicone prosthetic makeup for Brendan Gleeson, with an animatronic, radio-controlled eye.” makeup artist Nick Dudman explained.

But Dudman revealed a little insider information about the industry: “If an actor is well known, his contract usually stipulates the hours he can work and that limits the time in makeup. So at the beginning, I spend time thinking about how we can get that time down.”

Hours of Dedicated Craftsmanship

To transform into Thorin, the brave leader of the dwarves in The Hobbit, Richard Armitage would have to endure the chair for three hours. “About an hour and a half for the face and 45 minutes for the hair. If we started shooting at eight o’clock we would have to be in the chair at 4.30 am. That’s over 270 film days,” Armitage recounted. No detail was spared, even down to the detailed eyebrow design.

Armitage explained, “Each piece had a price tag on it that would make you balk. They cost about $2000 each, you only stick them on once because they’re so delicate, and once the day is over you throw them in the bin. Our prosthetic artist would spend each night punching eyebrow hairs into the mold, being so meticulous about it. It’s a whole new world of skill.”