Part Western, part sci-fi adventure, Syfy’s new weekly series Defiance takes place in the near future, where Earth’s landscape has been transformed after the arrival of seven alien races and a 30-year war. With that war now over, the human and alien citizens of Defiance—built on the ruins of St. Louis—coexist, but not without inevitable conflict.
Starring Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray and Graham Greene, Defiance was released simultaneously with the Trion Worlds video game of the same name. The make-up work on the Toronto-based TV version was divided between make-up department head Colin Penman and Paul Jones, who took on the show’s ambitious make-up effects.
“The daunting thing was trying to make the characters as close to the game as possible but still be practical,” said Jones. “The game designs were fantastic but very impractical. We couldn’t digitally widen an actor’s eyes in every episode for example, so there were certain looks where we had to compromise on the design.”
For the TV series, executive producer Scott Stewart hired veteran concept artist Chet Zar to create a series of character designs that were handed over to Jones and his team to build. “Once I got the designs,” said Jones, “I could say, ‘Can we move the corner of the mouth, or make the nose slightly smaller?’ We were literally getting down to the nitty-gritty of where edges would be and what kind of paint we were going to use. (continued below)
“The only characters that became an issue were the Indogenes, which are artificial beings, like Doc Yewll [played by Trenna Keating]. Chet had done a great design, but it would have been tough to do without manipulating part of the make-up digitally, which would have been quite expensive. I was able to convince Scott to make it a more humanoid face and give Trenna camera shutter-like contact lenses that mirrored the hexagonal pattern of her skin. When we went to series, I said to the producers, ‘I’d like to make the Indogenes more translucent,’ so they let me play with that a bit too.”
In addition to the synthetic Indogenes, Jones was also responsible for creating the warlike Irathients (including Leonidas’ character, Irisa); the towering ape-like Sensoth; the diminutive, fur-covered Liberata; and the gigantic, powerfully-muscled Biomen.
“For Irisa, we tried to create a make-up that looked like part of her skeleton,” explained Jones, “so the edge of the silicone piece runs under the eyelid and blends across the bridge of the nose, back up the other side and extends about an inch and a half underneath the wig, so it’s one big forehead. The male Irathients have a slightly larger brow, plus we gave them a bit more cheekbone, so the edge wouldn’t just end at the corner of the eye. They’re always making very big expressions, so I wanted to bring the edge around to help with their expressions and keep a feral look to the make-ups.
“For the Sensoth, I got to have a lot of fun doing a big mechanical mask with oversized dentures and lips. I spent a couple of years early in my career doing nothing but animatronic masks, so I had a good grounding in those techniques, so I wasn’t worried about it at all. The way it was designed, the forehead was a prosthetic, while the muzzle was animatronic, so the forehead piece was glued on with a blending edge, and then the muzzle went on under the bridge of the nose. The brow was obviously the actor moving his own forehead, but the lips were me operating them remotely off-camera.
“The Liberata were foam latex. We ended up changing actresses between episodes, so that make-up was originally done for one actor and switched to another without re-sculpting it. She’s also wearing a muscle suit, gloves and a full neck piece.
“The Bioman originally looked more like a shop mannequin, but we ended up using Rob Archer, one of our stunt performers, who’s six-foot five and 290 pounds; he’s almost like a cartoon Superman, so we only ended up adding a couple of inches of clay to his lifecast to create his neck in foam latex. The only thing he’s wearing is a forehead appliance to give him a generic Cro-Magnon brow and a wraparound neck that blends along his collarbone, across the top of his back, around and under his chin and up into his head. We added transfer serial numbers across his chest and the rest was just body paint.”
With Jones and his team handling the prosthetic-based aliens, Penman was responsible for the pale-faced, light-haired translucent-skinned Castithans, not to mention the remaining human cast members. For the Castithans, which included Curran and Murray’s characters, Penman wanted to create an ethereal but distinctly alien look, with a bit of high-fashion influence thrown in for good measure.
“Using Jaime as an example, instead of just painting her pale or near-white, I let some of her skin show through as a shadow color,” said Penman. “So it was mainly about picking up the high points on her skin and then sculpting the rest by hand.
“I used an Armani base mixed with a white pigment from [either] Kryolan or Ilamasqua, which had a lot of shimmer, so I mixed that into the foundation, and I had a powder from Visearts, which has a light shimmer as well. We bought every shimmered product we could, but this one had just the right amount, so it didn’t reflect too much flare off the lights. And then I used bronzing powders to subtly shade in some of the areas, just to give shape to the face. We had contact lenses, of course, and I used a white eyeliner pencil to pop in fixed reflections, just as you would do with a painting, putting in little hits of light, so that worked really well.”
Penman’s overall aesthetic for the series was 1800s frontier with science-fiction elements added for good measure. “It’s kind of a frontier town, but with bits of technology and alien influence in there,” he says. “You’ve got the McCawleys, who are a mining family, so they’re a bit more contemporary, and then Grant Bowler plays Nolan, the handsome lead, so he’s got that perma-stubble going on, a military tattoo and a couple of scars; there was some good fun stuff to do.”
Because Jones and Penman had already known each other for two decades, it was easy for the two departments to overlap in a seamless fashion.
“I would work with Paul’s team on Stephanie and some of the Irathian females,” says Penman, “so they would come in and I would do their eye make-up and some body make-up. Their bodies also had to be painted to match the prosthetics and they had the striped markings on the arms and legs, so depending on what was needed, I did that as well, so it was a really good team effort!”
Defiance airs Monday nights on Syfy.