Editor’s note: In a Make-Up Artist exclusive, The Lone Ranger make-up department head Joel Harlow shares how he and his team created the Tonto age make-up that appears in the beginning of the film:

Among all the challenges that I faced during the filming of The Lone Ranger, creating the Jack Crabb-inspired old-age Tonto make-up was arguably the most difficult. I had read the script and had numerous discussions with both Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski about the look. We wanted it to be endearing: Old Tonto needed to appear frail and forgetful, yet noble and proud.

Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up: Joel Harlow sculpting
Joel Harlow sculpting

The process began a mere two months before principal photography commenced. Considering we were in the midst of prepping an entire film populated with unique characters and make-up-driven effects, two months is not much time at all. So, working from an existing lifecast of Johnny, I jumped into sculpting the prosthetics for his head and shoulders, drawing inspiration not only from actual old Native American people, but also from some of the great old-age make-ups that our community has produced, such as Dick Smith’s Crabb make-up for Little Big Man and his Salieri make-up for Amadeus, as well as many of Greg Cannom’s beautiful age make-ups for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Bicentennial Man. (continued below)

What makes this make-up unique is the fact that it is a full upper-body aging, something that has rarely been attempted. Since Tonto appears shirtless, we also needed to generate his aged arms and torso.

Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up: Application on Johnny Depp
Application on Johnny Depp

My crew and I worked very closely together so we could maintain a consistency among sculptural styles. Mike Smithson began sculpting the chest on a body double of Johnny, as scheduling conflicts didn’t allow us the opportunity to lifecast him. Knowing we could only get a double close to Johnny’s size, we opted for a full prosthetic glue-in rather than a suit. This assured us that the silicone skin wouldn’t bunch or buckle. Once the sculptures were finished, they were turned over to my shop foreman, Steve Buscaino, who molded and cast a set of test prosthetics.

Our first test of the face was done on a double as well. Not ideal, but it was enough to persuade Gore that a practical make-up, as opposed to a digital aging, was the way forward. The first test we did on Johnny was the full make-up (17 prosthetics), including face, chest and arms.  After nearly seven hours of prosthetic work, we marched him out onto the temporary set.

Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up: Tonto final
Tonto final
Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up: Tonto body prosthetics
Tonto body prosthetics

As any make-up artist knows, lighting is as crucial to the success of a make-up as coloring or sculpture. This was the first time we saw what the lighting conditions were going to be: the light was beautiful but unforgiving. The lighting simulated a diorama environment, illuminating every detail. We were met with applause from the film crew, and it would have seemed that the make-up was successful, but Mike and I knew that there were elements we wanted to improve.

When filming relocated to Albuquerque, we jumped into a second round of sculptures, incorporating all of the necessary alterations. For logistical reasons, this make-up was at the top of our shooting schedule, so our prep time was incredibly short, roughly three weeks before it needed to be on camera. The lab had to work around the clock to accomplish all of the syntactic mold work and run the silicone prosthetics. From this point I had pre-painted and resealed all of the pieces before handing them over to Khanh Trance to punch facial and body hair. Meanwhile, Cristina Patterson had painted several aged-eye contact lenses. I wanted to stack two lenses in Johnny’s eyes to force his lids out, giving him the look of a drooped lower lid.

I am incredibly happy with the final make-up, due in no small part to the wonderful performance that Johnny brings to it. I think artists will always find elements of their work that they feel could have been done differently, but film is not a vacuum and there are many factors to take into account when viewing any make-up.

None of this could have been accomplished without the dedication of my crew: Mike Smithson, Kenny Niederbaumer, Steve Buscaino, Lennie MacDonald, Gil Liberto, Cary Ayers, Khanh Trance, Lynne Watson, Brian Perkal, Corey Welk, Pedro Valdez, Jesse Rodriguez, Julian Bonfiglio and Brenda Salamone.

For more on the make-up work Harlow and his team did on The Lone Ranger, see Make-Up Artist magazine’s Issue 103.

Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up: Mike Smithson sculpting
Mike Smithson sculpting
Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up
Close-ups on hand prosthetics


Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up
close-up on chest prosthetics
Exclusive: Tonto Old-age Make-up
Tonto Old-age Make-up