Jeremy Woodhead, Nik Williams bring Paul Bettany’s Avenger to life

One of the notable additions to this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron was the character of Vision, a red-skinned android played by Paul Bettany. Originally introduced in the Avengers comic book back in 1968, the big-screen version became an instant hit, with many reviews citing Bettany’s briefly seen character as a film highlight.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Vision make-up: Jeremy Woodhead and Paul Bettany
Jeremy Woodhead touches up Paul Bettany as Vision | Photo by Jay Maidment © 2014 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

But designing the crimson-hued character proved challenging for make-up department head Jeremy Woodhead and Nik Williams from Animated Extras. As Woodhead explains, “The red color was actually the hardest thing to figure out, 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. In some light, it looked pink and in others, red; it was like a red cabbage or beetroot color, a purple-pinky red. It was a light-dependent thing, which necessitated a mix of colors and layers, so depending on the light, it would either pick up the red or pink.”

Coming up with an overall make-up design was complicated as well. “We did an early concept for a full-body suit,” recalls Woodhead, “but it was decided that production would go with a costume with a muscle suit underneath rather than a full-body prosthetic, while we just concentrated on the head and arms.

“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. I also put on the tracking markers so the visual effects people could add digital sculpting to those areas in post-production.”

Aevngers: Age of Ultron Vision make-up: early body-suit sculpt
Early body-suit sculpt for Vision | Photo by Nik Williams, courtesy of Marvel

“The make-up went through a lot of stages,” agrees Williams. “… In order to make the lines absolutely perfect, as though he was born from a computer, we actually ‘sculpted’ the make-up in 3-D over a cyber-scan of Paul’s head and printed out in clear plastic. Normally you would get a cast of Paul’s head and sculpt the make-up in clay or plasticine over the top of it, but this look lent itself perfectly to a 3-D design and print.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron Vision make-up: early head-cowl sculpt
The make-up team used early sculpts to zero in on the final look for Vision. | Photo by Nik Williams, courtesy of Marvel

Finding a silicone with the right translucency for the prosthetic pieces was another challenge. “Plat Gel has a certain translucency,” notes Williams, “but it’s not crystal-clear, so we had to find something that could be stuck on and was skintight but flexible enough for an actor to wear without feeling like his head was encased in resin, and was crystal-clear, so it took ages to find the right material.”

“I was very keen that rather than painting the pieces on the surface,” continues Woodhead, “they would actually be under-painted to give a translucency to them, as well as really embedding the color in them, so that involved trying out new materials until we found a clear silicone in the States that we could under-paint to have that effect.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron Vision make-up: test shot with effects dots
Paul Bettany in a test shot for Vision make-up, with special effects tracking dots | Photo by Jay Maidment © 2014 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Woodhead and Williams would do Bettany’s two-hour make-up together, starting with a bald cap. “We would paint over the cap with PAX and Reel Color,” Woodhead elaborates, “to get a base coat of that pinky-red color. The prosthetic was basically a big cowl piece that went on after the bald cap and paint, and was glued down all over the face. I would do the face and hands with a combination of greasepaint and a lot of M.A.C. blusher to bring it up to that level of slight iridescence and metallic feel that the prosthetic had.”

With the Vision make-up now a bona-fide hit with moviegoers, its creators look back with a combination of relief and pride. “I’m sure the process we went through will come in handy on future projects,” reflects Williams.

“I will admit the pressure was on at the time,” adds Woodhead, “because there were millions of people around the world who all had a vested interest in the character, so the responsibility was huge, but the fans seem happy, the critics were happy and Paul was happy, so we appear to have got away with it!”