Editor’s note: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 came out on digital HD March 8 and will come out on DVD/Blu-ray versions March 22. So Alchemy Studios founder Glenn Hetrick has shared his behind-the-scenes experience of working as special make-up effects creator/designer on the final two installments in the series. (Text has been edited from the original.)
[Make-up designer] Ve Neill and I were tackling all of the effects for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, parts 1 and 2, as one prolonged build in L.A. And what a build it was! The first week of shooting contained a sequence in which explosions obliterated one of the districts. Alchemy Studios built hundreds of sets of wounds, burns and trauma make-ups for these sequences, bringing our entire Hunger Games wound/trauma prosthetic count into the thousands.
Just organizing this build for application days was a huge task. We created, fabricated, painted and prepped the pieces, then assigned character numbers to the sets. Each set was pinned to huge foam-core boards and tagged before we shipped the boards to Atlanta, where Ve and make-up department head Nikoletta Skarlatos led a small army of Atlanta- and L.A.-based make-up artists.
Meanwhile, tons of hero burns and severe trauma make-ups worked in closeup. Dave Dupuis and Conor McCullagh had applied these types of make-ups on the first films and came on to help handle the massive amounts of make-up during principal photography for the last two. We also created more than 200 burnt, decimated corpses for the background, as well as a few hero silicone bodies for disaster sequences.
We also had leads who wore demanding make-ups every single day they worked. Cressida (played by Natalie Dormer) was covered from head to fingertip on one side of her body in custom tattoos. We produced hundreds of sets. During testing, we had to create a modular tattoo set that would work on Natalie without getting to lifecast her. Messalla (played by Evan Ross) had extreme piercings and sub-dermal implants that required him to wear prosthetic ears for every shot.
By far my favorite make-up of the series—and one of my favorite of all time—was Tigris! Ve and I met with actress Eugenie Bondurant, discussed the make-up and got her take on it before we set to work. We started with some rough designs and concepts from Alchemy’s concept designer, Neville Page. This all happened while Ve was shooting in Atlanta, so we had our creative conversations by phone while she was on set and I was in the shop. Neville worked out a great approach straightaway and Ve showed them to director Francis Lawrence. After a few conversations and notes, we made some tweaks, then moved on to specifics of the patterning.
While that was happening, poor weather conditions affected our schedule and
suddenly we had to shoot Tigris almost six weeks earlier than we had anticipated! We immediately started producing the huge tattoo sets that covered her arms, chest, neck and upper back. The sculpt was masterfully crafted by lead sculptor Mike O’Brien; after Francis and Ve signed off, we got to work on the tribal patterns. This was tricky stuff, because I was adamant about creating a sunken tribal scarification look to really make her patterns unique and compelling. We applied the transfer tattoos to the sculpt and had Alchemy sculptor Hiroshi Katigiri carefully carve in the facial tattoo pattern.
To make the facial tattoos, we created a paper pattern based on the form sculpt and then scanned it. We then digitally rendered all the tattoos, laid them out in Photoshop and worked on them there. I have a set of custom brushes and filters I use in all of my tattoos (many of which I built while working on Heroes and Lady Gaga’s Telephone video). They basically create a subtle variation in the tattoo ink tones and include some fallout—spots where the ink is not as saturated. I’m covered in real tattoos, so I had a handy reference when I designed our tattoo transfers. I always try to reflect the reality of ink in skin: I hate it when tattoo transfers look like they are drawn on top of the performer’s skin.
We got a test date on the books, then started running two or three Alchemy crews per day to expedite the molding and casting process. Once we had some silicone test skins of the facial appliance, we figured out how to best apply the facial tattoos to the indented scars. This gave us the perfect realistic tattoo look with the transfers, as opposed to painting the tattoos on each piece. Ultimately I ended up doing a skin tone pre-paint to about 75 percent finished, then Erin Draney applied all the tattoos on a piece. I completed the paint job, allowing some of the translucent skin-tone finish layers to pass over the tattoos, which made them look even more synthesized into the skin.
We tried multiple materials for the metal whiskers, ending up with a nice thin silver wire. Each prosthetic included 10 Iwata Custom Micron Airbrush nozzle tips embedded into the silicone around the upper lip as a receptacle for the whiskers, lending it a cool industrial-piercing look. I decided on this approach because I thought it was important to feel like she could remove or unscrew her whiskers at night. I’m a huge fan of little details that add to the utilitarian aspect of a design.
As soon as we finished painting, I was on a plane to Atlanta. Ve, Dave and I applied the make-up for a camera test the day I arrived and started shooting her the next day! We started by applying all the tattoo transfers to her arms, neck, chest and back, followed by the facial appliance and the prosthetic ears. Lastly we added the whiskers, teeth and lenses. Then she was off to hair and wardrobe—both of those teams were a huge part of the success of this character.
It’s the shows that push your boundaries and deliver rewards that make all of the insane hours worth it. In fact, the whole series pushed us into new realms of prosthetics, 3-D design and printing. Over the course of the four films, we expanded and even rebranded the shop—which had been called Optic Nerve—as Alchemy Studios.
Special thanks to Erin Draney, Ken Culver, Mike O’Brien, Neville Page, Rich Mayberry, Jamie Grove, Brad Palmer, Dave Smith, Mike Ross, Hiroshi Katigiri, Nicole Michaud, Aaron Romero, Steve Winsett, Lois Kiss and everyone else who helped us bring effects for the Hunger Games films to life over the past five years!