Entering the Harry Potter creature effects workshop at Leavesden Studios is a bit like entering Hogwarts itself: You never know what you’re going to find around each corner. Over the past decade, Nick Dudman and his team of artists and technicians have built every imaginable character from house elf to hippogriff.
As a visitor soon discovers, the latest film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is no exception to that wide range of work. On this particular morning, one member of Dudman’s department is working on a double for Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, while another is testing fur for the werewolf character, Fenrir Greyback. Next door, several artists are painting a pair of zombie-like creatures called Inferi, which will ultimately get cyber-scanned and turned into digital creatures. (continued below)
In terms of actual make-up, Greyback is the film’s biggest creation, which Dudman and his team have designed as a seven-piece silicone prosthetic. “He’s a character with a great deal of fine hair all over him,” Dudman explained. “In the old days, if you were doing a werewolf, you would just lay loose hair on an actor, but nowadays the camera would pick that up, plus it’s such a coarse technique, it would be different every day.
“What we’ve done is punch fine goat hair into the pieces and pre-paint them, so when we apply the make-up, it won’t take as long. Because the hair has been punched, there’s no glue, so the movement will be freer. The reason we use fur is because it’s tapered and very fine. If you use human hair, yak or any other hair, because it’s been cut, it’s the same length at both ends and has a coarser flavor, whereas fur sits nicely close to the skin.
“The reason we’ve designed the make-up in seven pieces, including the ears, is that if it was just two pieces, maneuvering the silicone into position and gluing it accurately would become very difficult, so you choose sizes that you can manipulate and to allow a time frame that makes the make-up practical.”
With so much work going into Greyback, Dudman is justifiably pleased with the way the character has turned out. “I think he’s the prosthetic showcase for us on this film,” he said. “Plus it will give us some practice for the next one!”