Adam Savage—best known as the host of MythBusters—saw his life flash before his eyes this fall on the Discovery show Curiosity, thanks to Bay Area-based make-up effects artist Danny Wagner.
For the episode “Can I Live Forever?” Wagner and his team (make-up artists Marta Camer and Nelson Hall, plus hairstylist Yvette Rivas) aged the 40-something Savage to ages 65, 132 and 1,000. The idea was to explore developments in longevity science and how those might reshape how we look and live in the future. The episode is set in the year 2967, as the 1,000-year-old Savage explains how he has lived such a long life.
Wagner, a veteran of Industrial Light & Magic/Kerner Optical, got a tip from Kerner model supervisor Michael Lynch that Discovery was soliciting bids on the project. “We bid on a week of sculpting, two days to mold, two days to cast and a half-day to pre-paint,” Wagner said of the accelerated schedule.
To save time and money,
Wagner decided to forgo Photoshop or ZBrush designs. “We jumped right into sculptural design, which helped a lot,” he said. “Within a day and a half, I did a rough sculpture and [production] liked it. There were no snags, no ‘redo the forehead.'”
Inspired by photos of Savage’s father and a gallery of old-age make-ups (including Dick Smith’s make-up from Little Big Man), Wagner got to work, turning to Stephan Dupuis, Neill Gorton and Göran Lundström for the
occasional consultation. To age Savage to 65, Wagner applied old-age stipple, plus transfer and gelatin scars to simulate injuries Savage is supposed to have suffered in an earlier motorcycle accident. Savage’s 132-year-old look required a full-head silicone-encapsulated prosthetic (ears were sculpted separately and run in gelatin).
“I did a couple castings to get an idea of what looked good and the third one was the final prosthetic,” he said. This was cleaned and pre-painted with Skin Illustrator; gray hair and eyebrows were punched into it and a goatee from Frends was added.
For the 1,000-year-old look, Savage wore a bald cap implanted with computer-chip pieces custom-made by a model shop to give him a mechanized look.
In addition to the age make-ups, Wagner and his fellow artists were charged with straight make-up looks for the younger Savage, plus injury make-up and some general grime, or as Wagner jokingly calls it, “a little fashion dirt.”
The biggest challenge of all turned out to be the 132-year-old age make-up. Production wanted it done in three hours or less. “So I said, ‘OK I will try to do this within that time, but I can’t promise you anything,'” Wagner recalled. To make matters worse, production watched him through the window of the make-up room on the Kerner campus while he was working.
Despite the time crunch, the team met the deadline and production liked the results. “I’m happy and proud that I got it done in the amount of time,” Wagner said. And, he added, he enjoyed working with Savage.
“He is such a talented guy, so it was such an honor to do a nice make-up on him,” Wagner said. “He had been through the routine already and was really into it. It was a good situation for me.”
Planet Green will rebroadcast Curiosity: Can I Live Forever? on Dec. 22. Check local listings for show times.