When it comes to werewolves, Dave Elsey has become a bit of an expert. His collaboration with Rick Baker and actor Benicio Del Toro on The Wolfman in 2010 led to an Oscar award. And now Elsey has lent his talents to Wolves, a coming-of-age horror film from director David Hayter. It follows Cayden Richards (Lucas Till), a young werewolf who finds himself in a town called Lupine Ridge and an impending civil war between two clans of shape-shifters.
Ironically, Elsey initially had second thoughts about taking on another werewolf movie but was intrigued by certain aspects of Hayter’s script, notably the idea of creating an attractive female werewolf for the first time. “I’ve always been disappointed by female werewolves in movies,” he admits. “There’s something about women and facial hair that don’t really go well together, so I was a bit curious to see if we could overcome that.
“I said to the producers, ‘Instead of doing a bunch of designs, I would like to do a make-up test of what my version of a female werewolf would be, and if you like it, that will be the direction the make-up should go.’ They said OK, so I locked myself away for two weeks and came up with what I thought was a pretty cool-looking female werewolf and sent it off to them, wondering if they were going to hate it, but they were ecstatic about what we had done.”
Elsey’s biggest area of responsibility was the werewolf characters played by Till, Jason Momoa (who plays Connor, an alpha male), John Pyper-Ferguson (an eccentric character named Wild Joe) and Merritt Patterson (Angelina Timmins, the town bartender, who Cayden falls for). “They were the bulk of the work,” says Elsey, “so I was most concerned about getting them right, because the success of the movie, to some degree, would hinge on them.”
The look of each ‘hero’ werewolf was largely dictated by the actor’s unique personality and features. “Jason Momoa, for example, had some great scars on his face, that we translated directly into his werewolf make-up,” Elsey says. “We also copied the tattoos on his arms and put fur over them, so when he transforms, you can still see the tattoo patterns beneath.
“With Lucas, we really went to town on his muscle suit and built him up so he looks tough when he transforms, but David also wanted him to look like a ‘leading-man werewolf,’ so we took all of that on board with his character.
“For John Pyper-Ferguson, I wanted him to shave his beard to make it easier for the make-up and make it more fun when he transforms, but he said, ‘I look like a pussy without a beard!’ so I talked him into shaving it into an interesting cut with a Wild West-style mustache that joined to the sideburns and really defined that werewolf. His character has lost a few fights, so he’s got scars and one blind eye and even some missing teeth that have been replaced with silver fangs on one side, so we had a lot of fun with that look (PHOTO 4).
“Merritt’s character (PHOTO 5) is meant to be a rock ‘n’ roll chick, so we had Gwen Stefani in mind during our initial make-up test, but Merritt has brown hair, so everything we had in mind for the character went out the window. She also has a fantastic bone structure, so Joey Orosco spent ages on her sculpture, taking it in a bit here and there. Her appliances were incredibly thin, almost impossible to glue on, so I knew if we screwed it up, we had to throw away the piece and start again, but we managed to get them on, and I think she looks really good in the make-up.”
The final make-ups the four main werewolf characters included three large facial pieces that were pre-punched with fur, hands that were tipped with soft urethane claws and a body/muscle suit underneath. “We did as much of the hair work as we possibly could before we glued the pieces on,” notes Elsey, “but we still laid tons of fur on the actors while they were in the chair, including all the refined stuff that goes up their cheeks and transitions into their cheekbones. All of that is laid on, because it was too difficult and delicate to do that beforehand.
“One of the big decisions we made was the use of fur instead of hair. David was very keen on the idea, because it would be a big change from what we did on The Wolfman. I’m lucky to be married to Lou Elsey, who’s amazingly good at fur work. Lou does a thing she calls ‘painting with hair,’ where you can literally go in and add shadows and highlights by laying slightly different colors and textures of hair on the face, and it’s a really great process.”
Although Wolves is a relatively modestly budgeted film, Elsey is proud of the work his team did. “I’ve always said that low budget doesn’t mean low ambition,” he says, “so we thought if we were going to do it, we were going to make a really good bunch of werewolves. That’s what we tried to do, and hopefully we were successful in that.”
Wolves opens Nov. 14. See more photos and the trailer below.