In Issue 122 of Make-Up Artist magazine, we featured an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the making of Star Trek Beyond. Special make-up effects artist Joel Harlow and make-up effects artist Richie Alonzo have a chance to be nominated for the 2017 Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar for their work on the film. As part of our continuing Oscar Watch 2017 coverage, we present the original article here in its entirety. To hear Harlow and Alonzo discuss their work, watch our exclusive bake-off clip here.
I was shooting Black Mass in Boston in 2014 when my producer friend Jeffrey Chernov approached me to head up the make-up and prosthetic characters for Star Trek Beyond. Having worked on the 2009 reboot of the franchise, I knew immediately it was a project I wanted to be a part of.
Not only does the Star Trek world offer the make-up and hair departments the chance to indulge in a little aesthetic nostalgia, it also promises an opportunity to create completely new and exciting characters. The latter was especially true of Star Trek Beyond. When we set up our initial shop in Burbank and started the build on Feb. 12, 2015, we were prepared to create a lot of characters, but we never dreamed we would wind up with 56 separate alien races and multiples within many of those races.
The first and most important step was assembling the right crew. I knew we would only have about two and half months in Burbank before we needed to relocate to Vancouver, B.C. for location shooting. My plan was to finish the lion’s share of sculpting and molding before the move; afterward, I would hire local crew members to work with the scaled-down L.A. crew I’d be bringing with me. This crew would be tasked with running, pre-painting and finishing the characters.
I enlisted artists Carlos Huante, Allen Williams and Don Lanning; they and I designed nearly 100 aliens among us during preproduction. There is a strong alien aesthetic in the Star Trek universe that separates it from other science fiction films: these aliens are primarily humanoid and make-up driven, and we designed with that in mind. Director Justin Lin picked his favorites from these and additional designs by Neville Page during weekly meetings, assigning them to various scenes. This gave us dozens of approved concepts to start building at the outset.
A crew of more than 25 artists and technicians helped us finish the first part of the build. Everyone shared a feeling of excitement in the shop: this Star Trek was shaping up to be a massive practical make-up show. Joey Orosco, Richie Alonzo, Norman Cabrera, Matt Rose, Mike Rotella, John Wrightson, Miles Teves, Don Lanning and I jumped into sculpture as soon as head casts became available. We broke down the sculptures so that almost all could be applied as generic make-ups to actors we wouldn’t see until Vancouver. Gil Liberto headed the mold shop; under his supervision, Bryan Blair, John Halfman, Todd Bates, Chris Baer, Pedro Valdez and Johnnie Saiko got everything molded before we left Burbank.
We needed three semis to relocate all of our molds, materials and equipment to Vancouver. Once there, I staffed our new shop with another 30 artists, in addition to the nine crew members I brought with me from L.A. Steve Buscaino headed the casting of silicone prosthetics, aided by Josh McCarron, Tegan Colby, Raj Mariathasan, Matt Aebig and Jeff LeBlanc. The workload was so massive that we wound up using 650 gallons of PlatSil Gel 10. Since we were creating alien characters, the finishing was far more time-consuming than a typical flesh-tone prosthetic make-up. Patterns, iridescent colors, translucent membrane accessories, spines, horns, mechanical elements, teeth and lenses from Eye Inc. FX all factored in and all needed to be replicated on a massive scale.
I was floored by the creativity and artistry of our Vancouver crew. They took beautifully executed sculptures and made them even stronger with amazing paint and finishing work. I am convinced that the alien make-ups would not look as good as they did without the skills of artists including Werner Pretorius, Mike Fields, Felix Fox, Lance Webb, Caitlin Groves, Amelia Smart, Bronwyne Sloley, Kyle Huculak, Toby Lindala, Erin Peters and Holland Miller. Two crews in two countries, working together, proved that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
During the build, we had the opportunity to experiment with materials that had never been used for make-up. Lennie MacDonald developed a color-shifting make-up that combined powders safeguarded by the U.S. government, released to him only for this film, allowing him to replicate the color shift that only appears on our currency. From our first test make-ups, it looked extremely alien, unlike traditional iridescent effects. Lennie is the master of uncharted make-up ideas and will do whatever it takes to bring something truly amazing to a project.
Our workload extended beyond prosthetic make-up characters into the non-humanoid. Tim Ralston built mechanical puppet effects and arm extensions for us, while Pedro Valdez’s satellite crew created silicone background masks and arms which Tim mechanized, fleshing out an alien world with a vast amount of characters. We also built full-body shriveled corpses, replacement heads, digital scanning models, insert puppet effects—too much to mention in one article.
Then we started filming. The volume of prosthetic characters was so large that I needed to focus on them entirely, so while Monica Huppert handled the make-up on the human characters, we handled the aliens. Naturally we had our hero prosthetic make-up characters. Spock, as a Trek icon, was as challenging a make-up on this film as he was on the 2009 reboot. We played around with ideas for laying his brows in more time-efficient ways, but nothing could top the single-hair-at-a-time process. We also sculpted two new sets of ears, picking our collective favorite after actor Zach Quinto’s camera test. During the shoot, Felix Fox and I handled his make-up while hair department head Anne Carroll applied his wig.
In the station next to mine, Richie Alonzo and Shelagh McIvor handled Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella). Richie had sculpted the facial prosthetic back in Burbank, based on a Neville Page design, and we determined that raising the black-line element slightly in the sculpt would give us a visual guideline to insure a consistent application. Translating a two-dimensional design into a living, moving make-up takes a mountain of skill, and Richie climbed that mountain flawlessly.
We had designed her hair to transition from her skin as seamlessly as possible. Khanh Trance tied a beautiful wig that gave the impression of alien anatomy continuing past the hairline; after Robert Pandini applied the wig, we continued the transition by adding a fading-off of the black-line design.
In contrast to the elegance and beauty of the Jaylah make-up, there were the four stages of make-up for Krall (played by Idris Elba). This character was perhaps the most challenging on a conceptual level, involving lots of designing and redesigning. The idea was that he had once been human but was now alien, due to the genetic material he had been transfusing to sustain his life. We tackled the most extreme look first. I had done 18 maquette studies in preproduction, Carlos Huante and Allen Williams had also turned in dozens of concept illustrations. Justin Lin chose the maquette that became the basis of the full make-up. Even as Joey Orosco beautifully translated the design onto a lifecast of Idris, the look continued to change. Roughly two weeks before filming, Justin and I decided to completely redesign Krall. I think there’s a point in any design process when you pour so much into an idea that you lose the magic of it, and that’s what had happened to the first pass on Krall. The second was stunning! In two days, Joey delivered a make-up that was powerful and structurally brilliant.
There are so many other make-ups in the film that deserve mention. Wadjet, the lizard alien sculpted by Joey Orosco, was the first we started. Norman Cabrera designed and translated Syl, our “face hugger” homage to HR Giger. Don Lanning designed Quills, the lumbering, walrus-like scavenger with mechanical arm extensions. Then there was the duel puppeteer-operated elephant slug, which we created because producer J.J. Abrams wanted to see something non-humanoid. I sculpted and applied Reptilicus, one of the three aliens that attack Scotty, while Matt Rose sculpted Satine, a Venus Flytrap-like character. We also had Boggs, a birdlike character that we mechanized; Loleeki, another mechanized alien based on one of Carlos Huante’s early designs; Shazeer, an alien control tech; Throgg, a giant toad-headed alien; Pesca, a teacher in Yorktown Base; Enterprise crew members Jin and Jeanine; a newly sculpted Keenser (played by Deep Roy) and too many more to list.
One character that deserves special mention is Natalia (played by my stepdaughter, Ashley Edner). She started as a combination of an Allen Williams illustration and a sculpted maquette designed by Don Lanning. Joey Orosco took these images as a basic idea and translated them beautifully to a fully realized head and torso make-up. Together with arms sculpted by John Wrightson and a stunning pre-paint by Bronwyne Sloley, we created a character that extends beyond the hands and head. On the day of filming, Werner Pretorius and I spent six-and-a-half hours putting Ashley into this full upper-body make-up in the midst of the dozen other make-ups my department was doing on our last day of shooting in Dubai, where we wrapped up filming.
From Burbank to Vancouver to Dubai, I was lucky enough to have some of the best artists I have ever known working to deliver characters worthy of the rich Star Trek tradition, while pushing the aesthetic toward the future of the franchise.
Star Trek Beyond opened July 22.