Ed Harris in The Way Back
Ed Harris

In Issues 87 and 88 of Make-Up Artist magazine we took a look at some of the possible contenders for the 2011 Academy Award for Achievement in Makeup. On Jan. 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the list of seven films, along with the artists, competing for a spot on the final ballot. We continue our Oscar Watch coverage below, with a spotlight on The Way Back.

The Way Back, released this January, caught a few people by surprise, including make-up department head Ed Henriques, who began working on it in 2008 and only recently saw the finished product, due to distribution delays.

Oscar Watch 2011: The  Way Back
Ed Henriques (right), Yolanda Toussieng spraying hair, Kathe Swanson (background left) and Robin Beauchesne | Photo courtesy of Ed Henriques

Based on the book The Long Walk, the film tells the story of a group of political prisoners who escaped a Soviet gulag during World War II and walked 4,000 miles to safety, from Siberia to India, via Mongolia and the Himalayas. That arduous trek gave the make-up department plenty to work with.

“It’s a real make-up artists’ movie,” said Henriques. “It uses make-up to tell the story because it’s an escape and survival story.” In addition to make-up simulating injuries, disease, extreme weather and starvation, there is also period make-up.

Oscar Watch 2011: The Way Back
Jim Sturgess

Henriques had some elements in place when he arrived in Bulgaria to start shooting: Matthew Mungle made him prosthetic swollen legs for one character, and he got gulag inmate tattoos from Rick Stratton. Henriques and his second, Greg Funk, had a month to set up shop in Bulgaria, aided by local artist Yana Stoyanova. (“She knew everything we needed to know there,” Henriques said.) They took impressions and made silicone Bondo 3-D transfers for mosquito bites, cuts, scratches and scars. They also sculpted toes for frostbitten feet.

Oscar Watch 2011: The   Way Back
Ed Harris and Saoirse Ronan

Hair, overseen by Yolanda Toussieng, began with bald caps and shaved heads in the gulag; the half-dozen principal actors, including Ed Harris and Colin Farrell, had full beards, plus wigs supplied by Irwin Kupitz and Renate Leuschner. At one point in the film, the characters cut their hair and beards with knives so that they look less like criminals—extensions were used to suggest their amateur haircutting skills.

Oscar Watch 2011: The Way Back
Mark Strong

Mungle’s swollen-leg prosthetics simulated edema. The crew also created Vac-U-Form teeth (there is tooth loss in the film due to scurvy), although teeth were also painted after some of the actors complained that veneers impeded their speech. The bulk of the make-up needed to convey the ravages of the elements: snow, wind, dust and sun exposure.

“We used tanners layered with alcohol-based colors, powder dirts mixed with glycerin, that kind of thing,” Henriques said. “When they come out of the mountains, we used silicone cheek appliances to make the eyes look even deeper sunk.”

The Way Back was directed by Peter Weir, for whom Henriques worked on Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Weir is the kind of director who, Henriques said, “wants to use what you give him. He’ll cut a shot just to show the make-up work you’ve done.”

Oscar Watch 2011: The Way Back
Cast of The Way Back

Despite the limited resources and sheer hard work, Henriques said he was gratified by the experience: “Ed Harris said it best: ‘I didn’t walk 4,000 miles, but it felt like it.’ I think we all felt that way. It was a challenging labor of love.”

Oscar Watch 2011: The Way Back
Ed Harris