American Horror Story: Hotel | Photo by Frank Ockenfels/FX Networks
American Horror Story: Hotel | Photo by Frank Ockenfels/FX Networks

As the old saying goes, you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression, and with American Horror Story, that means creating some of the creepiest opening-title sequences ever seen in television.

For Season Five, which falls under the umbrella title Hotel, the show’s producers brought back award-winning title designer Kyle Cooper, who earned two previous Emmy nominations on the series.

Having used a fascinating combination of stop-motion and CG animation on Freak Show the previous season, Cooper returned to live-action for his Hotel titles. That meant enlisting a team of veteran make-up effects artists, including Mark Garbarino, Greg Funk and Richard Redlefsen for a two-day shoot. As Garbarino recalls, “I got a call three days before they were supposed to start independently shooting the title sequence, and Kyle Cooper had this basic vision about the story and its characters. It takes place in a downtown L.A. hotel, which is [inspired by The Cecil Hotel]. So the idea was to recreate this hotel in downtown L.A. that was full of ghosts.”

With just a few days before the Hotel title shoot, Garbarino and the other make-up artists had to hurriedly grab whatever prosthetics they could get their hands on. “Kyle sent us a bunch of photos and said, ‘Make me something from some of them!’ but we had no real heads-up. Greg bought some stuff from Goosebumps, and he even had some stuff going back to his Optic Nerve 20 years ago, so like me, he went to his garage and said, ‘What have I got?’ and brought it along.

 All photos courtesy of Mark Garbarino


“I had a couple of prosthetics, like raccoon eyes and brow blockers, and I even found an old pig face from back in the day. I also brought in some pieces I had made for an old age make-up I did for Jet Li, in the last movie I did in China.

“The [Hotel] shoot itself was complete improvisation, with each make-up artist trying to create a bunch of striking characters without very much time or money. I think we came up with some pretty creepy images,” claims Garbarino. “Kyle had these big-breasted ladies in 1800’s garb, smearing lipstick all over their faces, and weird, skull-headed women, and we did make-ups for all of them. Kyle was this easy-spoken guy, so in terms of our stress level, he was a dream to work with. He would just say, ‘Just make her look really fucked up,’ and we’d say, ‘Okay, we can do that!’

All photos courtesy of Mark Garbarino


“There was one balding … lady, who looked like she was from the Pang Brothers film, The Eye, where a door would open and you would see a real freak shaking her head, but you didn’t really know what you were looking at. I just used those raccoon eye prosthetics and we put a bald cap on her and she was ready.

Photo courtesy of Mark Garbarino

“I felt really horrible about doing this, but I actually did a make-up on a 4-year-old kid, with his mom saying, ‘Oh, he can do it!’ We were asked if we could make his eyes look really old, so Greg and I looked at each other and said, ‘What can we do?’ We tried to do some old-school old-age stipple on him, which of course wasn’t going to work on a 4-year-old. I did make him look really weird, with a white face and some old, creepy eye wrinkles.”

Garbarino hopes the work his team did on the Hotel title sequence is in keeping with the overall aesthetic created by the show’s regular make-up team. “Those guys have done some really cool, crazy work,” he declares, “and they’re still doing it. And this season has some really weird stuff; that doesn’t come along every day for a make-up team!”

American Horror Story: Hotel airs on FX Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

Make-Up Artist magazine’s Issue 117 features interviews with American Horror Story make-up chief Eryn Krueger Mekash discussing AHS, American Crime Story and Scream Queens; as well as Mark Garbarino talking about his work on The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.