As the 2017 TV season unfolds, one show is generating a lot of excitement in the fandom world: FX’s Legion. Based on a Marvel Comics character that debuted in 1985, Legion is actually just one person: David Charles Haller—the mutant son of X-Men professor Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller. More antihero than superhero, David has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and confined to a psychiatric hospital. His illness leads him to take on different personas, each with a unique power all its own. It also results in his constant questioning of reality. With Dan Stevens as David, the series also stars Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin and Jean Smart.
Of the many images playing tricks with David’s mind, the one generating buzz is “The Devil With the Yellow Eyes.” This towering, ominous figure with glowing eyes and bloated facial features has been haunting the title character since episode one. As the story unfolds, it appears he’s another foreboding member of the Marvel Universe.
Series creator Noah Hawley called upon MastersFX (MFX) to bring The Devil With the Yellow Eyes to life. “All of us are pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the character and the show in general,” says Todd Masters, Legion’s special effects make-up supervisor. “This one was definitely a favorite of ours and also kind of a mystery meat. We didn’t really know what the hell it was. We put our shoulders into it, like we do every show, but the team here really knocked out a unique character. It’s great to see the reaction—total watercooler conversation.”
Confessing that he’s not a big comic-book fan, Masters didn’t even realize he was delving into the genre when Hawley approached him to do the effects. In fact, to keep the project under wraps, Legion was developed under the title Clubland. The shop was in the final stages of design when Masters learned the origin of the material. As a result, the character was completely conceptualized by Masters and shop designer Sarah Pickersgill.
“At one point, Noah and the production company gave us an image of an overweight guy,” continues Master. “And that was really the only thing we got. There wasn’t a whole bunch else. It was really a matter of circling until we found something that seemed to hit.”
To do that, Masters began picking Hawley’s brain. He knew the image was in there somewhere. The key was asking the right questions to draw it out. Once he did, Masters created some preliminary sketches.
Hawley indicated a concept he liked and Masters gave it to Pickersgill to run with.
“I’m similar to Todd in that I don’t come from a superhero fandom background. I have more of a horror sensibility,” says Pickersgill. “I came at it from a dark angle, not knowing at that point what the feel of the show was going to be. I just thought I’d try and make [The Devil] as creepy and disgusting and sinister as possible.”
“Sarah took it into Photoshop and really hammered it home,” adds Masters. “She was able to make that thing believable. I think that was the breakthrough because it’s not supposed to be a believable character. It’s supposed to be this figment of an imagination. But it needed to be better realized and more organic.”
Based on the Photoshop images and a clay sculpture that Pickersgill created, MFX was given the green-light to do the make-up. The only requested change was to reverse an earlier choice to make The Devil look more sympathetic. Instead, the producers decided to amp up the sinister.
A lucky fluke was key to making the effect work. One day, in a comic-book store of all places, an MFX employee spotted Quinton Boisclair. At 6 feet 10 inches tall, he was hard to miss. Sleek and lanky, Boisclair’s frame was custom-made for creature design.“We pitched him to production and when they saw him, they were ecstatic,” says Lori Sandnes, who coordinates Legion’s make-up effects for MFX. “He had this perfect physique to build our creature onto.”
Although Boisclair had no acting experience, he agreed to become The Devil With the Yellow Eyes. And much to everyone’s surprise, he embraced the character. “He took direction really well. And he took the make-up well,” continues Sandnes.
“I think we were surprised at how much expression he gave out, considering how much was on his face,” adds Pickersgill.
“And it’s funny because Quinton is not a super expressive guy. But when he was put on camera in make-up, he actually was quite expressive.”
The commitment meant sitting through a four-hour-plus application. The process begins with a cowl that encompasses Boisclair’s head and sets the tone for the character’s exaggerated facial features. Cheek, chin and forehead pieces are layered over it. All are made of foam latex and each piece was pre-painted using Illustrator.
“We would have liked silicone, especially for that nice translucent feel. We ended up going with foam just out of practicality,” explains Pickersgill, who does the application along with Harlow MacFarlane. “Silicone would have been really heavy and quite uncomfortable after a long day.”
They faked a translucent look by layering colors, adds Pickersgill.
Boisclair wears a fat suit, but to increase the surreal nature of the character, it doesn’t cover his arms and legs; they are body painted. At first, Pickersgill used PAX Paint, but switched to European Body Art’s Endura to save removal time.
To complete the look, the make-up team stained Boisclair’s teeth and inserted contact lenses to give his eyes their yellow color. Except for a little computer trickery to make his eyes glow, the effects are completely physical.
As soon as The Devil was unveiled, the MFX team knew they nailed it.
“We brought him into the room for a test and as everyone came around the corner, you could see them just look up and start smiling,” says Sandnes.
“Noah is not known for big reactions, so if you get a little bit of a smile out of him, you know you’ve done a good job,” says Pickersgill.
The producers asked for some last-minute tweaks, such as adding eyebrows to The Devil and bumping up the color of his skin so it wouldn’t look so pale. But it was obvious to all that the producers liked what they saw and wanted more screen time for The Devil. Shooting days for the character continually increased as the first season evolved. Negotiations for a new WGA contract slowed the start of Legion’s second season. But all indications are that the character will play a prominent role in the plotline.