Oscar® ©A.M.P.A.S.

By Joe Nazzaro and Heather Wisner

Over the last year, Make-Up Artist magazine has covered many potential candidates for the Achievement in Makeup Oscar®. Our predictions for the 2010 awards show, based on industry buzz among professionals, proved somewhat prescient, although there were a few surprises. Here are the seven finalists (which will be reduced to three on Feb. 2) and a brief summary of what the artists told us about the films:

Photo courtesy of Indigo Film

Il Divo, released April 24, 2009

“Everybody wears prosthetics and wigs in this movie—everybody,” said Il Divo make-up designer Vittorio Sodano. He called the story of longtime Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti a difficult movie for make-up and hair, a sentiment echoed by hair designer Aldo Signoretti: “It’s not easy: it’s not glamour, it’s much more subtle. It’s people that have been seen every day on TV, so the characters have to be recognizable,” Signoretti said. “It tells of 50 years of Italy, in a way.”

As Andreotti, actor Toni Servillo was transformed with lots of thin silicone facial prosthetics, but Sodano had to take a different approach with the actress who plays Andreotti’s wife after she protested that she looked too much like her grandmother. For her, Sodano used small silicone prosthetic transfers under the eyes and on the neck, and a technique he described as “liquid silicone blended with thinner, then airbrushed. Then my assistant was by my side after me, drying things. The edges of the pieces were blended the same way as old age, with liquid silicone in the airbrush. We waited until it dried, the edges disappeared and everybody was really happy—me too,” Sodano said.  (Heather Wisner)

Star Trek, released May 8, 2009
(Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures/Joel Harlow/Barney Burman; Right: Barney Burman works on Doug Tait; Left: Richie Alonzo works on a Romulan)

One of the year’s early attention-getters in terms of make-up was director J.J. Abrams’ big-screen revamp of Star Trek. The workload was divided between department head Mindy Hall, Barney Burman at Proteus FX and Joel Harlow’s Harlow Designs. “It was a monstrous task,” said Burman, “that had to be done in a ridiculously short amount of time and with a laughably small budget. We had a 13-week prep when the scope of the project called for at least six months. My crew and I worked tirelessly for that 13 weeks and continued for the five months of shooting.

“Also, because of J.J.’s keen eye, we made everything in silicone, and those that had hair had to be all hand-punched. I knew J.J. wasn’t going to be happy if anything didn’t have that hint of translucency that silicone provides.”

“Aesthetics were the biggest challenge in re‐imagining the Romulans for Star Trek,” added Harlow. “J.J. was adamant about not wanting to see any edges or lace; anything that would take the audience member out of the experience. We had to change Nero and crew enough so that they were clearly alien, yet I still wanted to make sure they looked ‘real.’ Ultimately, with a very talented team of prosthetic make-up artists, we were able to give J.J. what he wanted: no edges and no lace.” (Joe Nazzaro)

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, released May 8, 2009
(Photo courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Robin Williams got his bronze on thanks to Drac Studios, which made him up as a kind of Teddy Roosevelt bust. Drac Studios Director of Operations Harvey Lowry and creative directors Todd Tucker and Greg Cannom did a head and teeth cast for Williams, then created a silicone make-up along with painted dentures to make his teeth look bronzed and full scleral lenses to make his eyes looked bronzed. They also created a green-screen suit for Williams. The make-up itself was a combination of foam latex and Drac’s proprietary silicone make-ups; Cannom applied the make-up on set. (Heather Wisner)

District 9, released Aug. 14, 2009
(Photos courtesy Sarah Rubano/Tri-Star Pictures; Left: Sarah Rubano puts works on star Sharlto Copley)

A Weta Workshop-designed project in which the make-up effects could be overshadowed by the film’s digital work was the summer’s surprise sci-fi hit, District 9. Sarah Rubano and Joe Dunckley supervised the arduous South Africa shoot, which included a wide range of alien artifacts, as well as actor Sharlto Copley’s transformation from human to alien. “Joe’s focus was the alien technology,” said Rubano, “alien carnage, a bio-lab alien autopsy, alien eggs, human carnage, gore rigs, blood/goo/slime/vomit and Wikus’ alien claw mechanics. My focus was Wikus, who goes through many stages of physical transformation, which, depending on the extent of his make-up, took anywhere from half an hour to six hours. Neill [Blomkamp, the director] wanted everything to feel realistic and gritty, so dirt, sweat, goo, slime, bruising and blood [were] a constant.” (Joe Nazzaro)

The Road, released Nov. 25, 2009
(Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company)

Department head Toni G. declined to comment on the film, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic survival story.

The Young Victoria, released Dec. 18, 2009
(Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment)

A veteran of such period films as Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, make-up designer Jenny Shircore had to recreate the world of another British monarch in The Young Victoria. “I had to do several looks for that period,” she said, “because Victoria [Emily Blunt] reigned for so long and the 1830s are quite different from the 1870s.

“With somebody like Prince Albert, who was portrayed by Rupert Friend, everybody knew what he looked like, so we had to try and get as near to Albert as possible. We also had the Duke of Wellington, who had a big hook nose and black eyebrows and hair, so they were lovely characters to do and to try and get them as accurate as we could.” (Joe Nazzaro)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, released Jan. 8, 2010
(Photos courtesy Sarah Monzani; Top to Bottom: Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus, Lily Cole in stage make-up and Monzani does a touch-up.)

In The Imaginarium, make-up and hair designer Sarah Monzani turned the elegant Christopher Plummer into a scraggly, long-haired immortal. Plummer doesn’t wear appliances in the film; his look was achieved through aging skin make-up and old-school techniques. “It was like going back to my roots as a make-up artist, which was kind of nice,” Monzani said. The real trick was arranging a second beard on top of a hand-laid beard as the doctor morphs from old to ancient.

Lily Cole, as the doctor’s daughter, sported make-up looks, wigs and extensions to play a grungy teen, a greasepaint-wearing carnival performer, a sophisticated political wife and even her own mother. And rocker Tom Waits became a pale, flame-haired devil with tufted ears and broken veins under Monzani’s care.

Her strangest challenge, however, was turning three actors (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law) into the same character after Heath Ledger, who was originally cast in the role, died midway through the film.

“The make-up design for Heath had gold make-up with black eye liner and a Venetian mask, but to make our three artists look more like Heath, I used wigs and hairpieces, so when he went through the mirror, although he became a different person, he maintained a similar look.” (Heather Wisner)