On Dec. 19, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the seven films that will remain in competition for the 2018 Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar. The films in the 2018 Oscar Watch are: Bright, Darkest Hour, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; I, Tonya; Victoria & Abdul; and Wonder.

On Jan. 6, the make-up and hairstyling teams for each film above will present and discuss their work to members of the academy’s Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch—in what’s known as the “bake-off.” The top three finalists will be announced Jan. 23.

Here, writer Joe Nazzaro analyzes notable make-up trends for 2017, and how the seven films heading to the bake-off rose above all others.

Welcome to our 2018 Oscar Watch coverage, a time for us to highlight the candidates up for awards consideration, as well as some of the notable trends into which they fall. Whether they’re odds-on favorites or obvious long shots doesn’t matter, as the experts will eventually make the final decisions. And so will our readers …

Inspired by Real Events

Always a favorite category. Basing a film on the life of one or more real-life characters not only entails some of the period details mentioned above, but the actors also have to resemble their historical counterparts. That can involve something as simple as a nose tip to a complicated prosthetic make-up

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

The front-runner at the moment has to be Darkest Hour, in which Gary Oldman is transformed into British prime minister Winston Churchill (see Issues 129 and 130). The challenge of designing that transformation was enough to lure Kazuhiro Tsuji out of make-up effects retirement, before handing off the final application to David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick. “It’s by far the best make-up I’ve ever been involved with,” declares Malinowski, “and Gary is one of the nicest actors to work with, so him asking me to do the film was a big part of doing it.”


Other candidates cover a wide range of historical and popular figures, ranging from I, Tonya (Deborah Lamia Denaver as make-up department head and Adruitha Lee as hair designer) to Wonder (make-up department head Naomi Bakstad and key hairstylist Alisa MacMillan, with special make-up designer Arjen Tuiten) and Victoria & Abdul (Daniel Phillips as make-up/hair designer).

“In all honesty, there are no whistles or trumpets about the big make-up elements in [this],” he claims. “There are no big prosthetics to whoop about; just strong, solid creative hair and laying-on facial hair, along with well-thought-out character make-ups. As with the majority of films I choose, they’re about re-creating a period look that is relatively true to the era, but also enhanced just so for a modern audience.”

Jacob Tremblay (Auggie) and Julia Roberts (Isabel) in Wonder

“In regards to I, Tonya,” mentions Lamia Denaver, “I think this is one of those films that both make-up and hair helped tell the story. The looks were all based on capturing the essence of Tonya Harding, re-creating and helping to create the vision of being there.  As well as the make-up and hair being a great area to reflect the time and place that they were part of. Our job is just that: to help tell the story hand in hand. The make-up, hair, costumes, sets and locations all take you to a place where these characters live and brings one in so that we can know the characters, therefore enjoy the film and be entertained!”

Four-Color Fables

Comic-book-based films have become major projects for make-up in recent years. While other films in this category made a strong effort (Logan, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Thor: Ragnarok), the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 prevailed under make-up department head John Blake and hair department head Camille Friend, with half a dozen prosthetic characters (and a score of Ravagers) by the team at Legacy Effects.

Dave Bautista as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

“We’ve been working with Marvel since the first Iron Man film in 2008,” notes Legacy co-chief Shane Mahan, “so I think they had predominantly started thinking of us as a hard surface effects company, doing technical things like the Iron Man suits. It’s been a long time since we did the Ice Giants for Thor, so I’m very pleased they gave us the chance to do a large organic prosthetic show like this again.” (See Issue 126 for more.)

Sci-Fi Sagas

Science fiction is always a popular category, with most films in the genre requiring imaginative make-up/make-up effects work. The sci-fi galaxy was crowded this year, and on Dec. 19, Ghost in the Shell (make-up co-department heads Jane O’Kane and Sarah Rubano, with make-up effects provided by Weta) earned a spot at the bake-off.

Ghost in the Shell was a highly ambitious project,” claims Rubano. “Jane and I feel as though we successfully created a colorful and unique aesthetic while honoring the original Manga source. The body of work was immense: innovative prosthetics, wigs, tattoos, gore effects, dentures, scleral lenses and body painting. Our aim with make-up and hair was to create an authentic and eccentric look by mixing both traditional and futuristic elements.”

Scene from Ghost in the Shell

“This was a place inhabited by cybernetic androids and humans that were enhanced at all levels,” continues O’Kane, “from individuals at Hanka to the gritty underground characters on the streets. That called for a broad spectrum of procedures in all areas of make-up, hair and prosthetics to realize that vision onscreen. With multiple complex prosthetic make-ups, innovative wig work, hairstyling, body art and make-up design, I feel we met the artistic demands of this feature.” (See Issue 126 for more.)


Fantasy films always deserve a second look. Netflix is making sure they’re at the top of the list. With streaming video here to stay as an awards-worthy source, Bright could have a future at the podium. The crew featured make-up designer Alessandro Bertolazzi; Christina Waltz, make-up department head; Fernando Navarro, hair department head; and Christopher Nelson, make-up effects department head. “I think what makes it work,” Nelson reflects, “is our goal to put what our director, producers and Netflix wanted onscreen. You can have some rough days, but that’s fine as long as you’re doing your job to the best of your abilities and you have each other’s back. If you treat people with kindness and respect, they’ll deliver for you, so that’s what we did. We all looked out for each other, and that made this incredibly intense and difficult job a little easier to manage.”

Final Thoughts

If there is one thing that is certain about the nomination process, it’s that nothing is certain. Just when you think you’ve got that short list figured out, there’s always a film that comes out of left field and leaves prognosticators re-checking their lists. And while we at Make-Up Artist remain non-partisan about these things, we do wish all nominees, whoever they turn out to be, the very best of luck.

Return to makeupmag.com for our ongoing Oscar Watch 2018 coverage, including highlights from our Hollywood Awards Celebration.