Most superhero films are not make-up-intensive, but not Deadpool, where the lead character’s terminal cancer is held at bay by an accelerated healing factor that also leaves him badly disfigured. The task of transforming Ryan Reynolds into unsightly antihero Wade Wilson/Deadpool fell to Oscar winner Bill Corso, with the help of Andrew Clement’s Creative Character Engineering.

Corso started researching the original source material, only to discover that Deadpool changed appearance depending on the artist who drew him. “There were many different interpretations,” he explains, “ranging from a couple of squiggly lines on his face, to full-on rotting corpse with a scattering of Freddy Krueger in-between, so there was a huge breadth of design to draw from.

“What I was afraid of was the studio saying, ‘We’ve got Ryan Reynolds, so we don’t want you covering him up; just put a couple of scars on his face!’ I had discussion with Ryan and Tim Miller the director, who were both gung-ho about doing it right, so Andy Clement and I each sat down and sculpted two different make-up concepts from scratch, each one totally different from the other so we could see what they looked like physically.”

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Bill Corso (LEFT) and Andy Clement work to transform Ryan Reynolds into Deadpool

“One of the things Bill and I toyed with early on was a really translucent multi-level make-up that you could actually see through,” adds Clement, “but it looked as though it would involve double the work, so what we ended up doing was some really translucent pre-painting, and maintaining that translucent look all the way through.”

“For the final make-up,” offers Corso, “Ryan had a full back-of-the-head piece that goes behind his ears, two giant halves of his face, a separate forehead piece, an upper lip, a lower lip with a chin and two different necks. There was one neck when he was wearing the costume and took the mask off, and when he wore a T-shirt or was naked, he had a full neck that overlapped the chest piece, and then multiple arm and hand appliances.”

Deadpool
Pre-painted prosthetics

Corso continues, “I had a great crew of people helping me with the make-up, including Mike Fields, Geoff Redknap, Chris Nelson, Megan Harkness and Kevin Haney, with Monica Huppert acting as Vancouver make-up department head. Once we got the face and head done, some of the guys would spin off and start doing the arms and hands if they had to be done for the scene. The head would take three hours and 15 minutes, but when we did the full arms as well, it would top out at four hours. Everything was pre-painted with a lot of detail, and I would add a lot of Premiere Products glazing gels, because I didn’t want to add a bunch of paint on top of what I had done. Using these glazing gels was like glazing over a painting, you could adjust different areas, but everything stayed translucent.”

Deadpool
Bill Corso transforming Ryan Reynolds into Deadpool
Deadpool
Bill Corso transforming Ryan Reynolds into Deadpool

One of the problems with doing a paper-thin translucent make-up on Reynolds was that the actor had to maintain his beard stubble to shoot earlier scenes of a healthy Wilson, and that stubble showed through the silicone. Clement’s solution: flesh-colored tattoo transfers that could be applied under the prosthetics. “Gluing down a thin appliance over a beard is really hard,” he explains, “because the silicone picks up everything. You end up getting shadows that read through, so we ended up making tattoo transfers with a good amount of pigment in them that were able to cover the beard.”

The trickiest sequence in the film proved to be a fight scene with a near-naked Wilson as he attempts to escape the lab he’s just destroyed. “Our lead actor, who’s scarred from head to toe, is basically in the buff,” says Corso, “which meant we had to do a full-body appliance make-up on Ryan. He’s also being thrown around a room that’s on fire and full of debris, so that was a hell of a three or four-day shoot.”

Deadpool
Deadpool make-up

Faced with the prospect of adding seven hours to an already lengthy application time, Corso had to find a way of cutting down that time. The answer was a thin and stretchy dancewear fabric, onto which the appliances could be glued and blended off. “It looked amazing, and you literally could not tell it was on raw skin. It easily took three or four hours off the application time, because everything was prepped in advance, so Ryan just slipped the shirt and pants off, we applied the arms and head and blended everything off, so it was pretty awesome.”

“Ryan absolutely got Deadpool,” insists Clement. “He got the sense of humor and the whole Deadpool universe, and was like, ‘Let’s make this as crazy as possible, and take Deadpool as far as we can go!’ so he was up for anything.”

And that’s just what the film’s make-up team provided. “There’s zero disappointment on my part,” Clement declares. “I haven’t heard a single person say, ‘That’s not Deadpool!’ Make-up has become such a tightrope nowadays, trying to keep so many people happy, from the audience to the comic book fans. Everybody has something to say, but I haven’t heard a sour note yet, and that’s fantastic.”

“We were trying to do something a bit more eclectic,” claims Corso, “and a little more outlaw, so we hope the fans who love the character and were responsible for this film getting made will enjoy it and that we’ve given them what they want. So many times, you get on these movies and they’ve changed everything that was good about the characters in the first place.

“In this instance, we were all fighting to get Deadpool on the screen. The script is great, the performances are great, and I really hope it turns out well for Ryan, because he was so passionate about it and so good in this movie. I think anybody who likes this character is going to enjoy it.”