Göran Lundström creates off-putting, but natural, creatures for Border.
If you’ve ever wondered whether a make-up can be both jarring and natural at the same time, just watch Border.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes and Sweden’s official entry for the Oscars, Border tells the story of Tina, an unusual-looking customs agent with the unique ability to sniff out someone who is lying or hiding something. In other words, she’s a natural at stopping smugglers.
With a protruding forehead, broad nose and pudgy cheeks, Tina believes she was just born ugly. Then, one day at work she meets Vore, who looks remarkably like her. Tina’s senses go on high alert. Wanting to learn more, she invites Vore to stay in the spare room of her home. As they grow close, Vore tells Tina the truth. They aren’t human. They are Trolls. With Vore’s help, Tina embarks on a journey of self-discovery to realize just how unique she is.
Without the right make-up, Border wouldn’t work. Its leads, Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff, needed to be transformed into characters that believably straddled the line between human and creature.
Göran Lundström, one of Sweden’s top make-up effects artists, was tapped to discover that line. Best known for his prosthetics for the TV series Genius, Lundström’s first challenge was determining what director Ali Abbasi thought a Troll should look like.
“He didn’t really know what he wanted to do with the make-up,” says Lundström. “Basically, I was told they were Trolls. They should look like Trolls.”
Lundström was instructed to keep the application to an hour. That meant the design had to be simple. He focused on the forehead. “I did some quick Photoshop to show a forehead idea to Ali,” he says. “I didn’t get an answer. I’m thinking, that’s probably not good. He doesn’t like it.”
Lundström learned Abbasi had never worked with prosthetics and wasn’t aware of what they entailed. Abbasi came up with a simple sketch. “It was basically a Neanderthal. I didn’t think he wanted that,” continues Lundström. “It was his way of saying he wanted something else—OK, you want grotesque and ugly.”
So Lundström went to work. He gave Tina animalistic features but strove to make her look feminine. He lengthened her ears and widened her nose just enough to still appear human. Most importantly, he made sure Melander didn’t get lost in the design. “I don’t want to put a mask on actors. I don’t want them to be an effect, which a prosthetic can be,” continues Lundström. “Cool, scary or whatever—the make-up has to convey emotions. You have to relate to the character somehow.”
As the design came together, Abbasi emphasized asymmetry. Imperfections would also make Tina appear more human. “I gave her eyelids and made one eye look bigger than the other,” explains Lundström. “I made it so her teeth pushed out her lips. This made the shape of her mouth look strange— asymmetrical.”
Lundström created nine pieces—a forehead, nose, chin, cheeks, eyelids and ears. They were initially made out of silicone encapsulated in Baldiez. But Lundström didn’t like the way the chin moved on Melander’s face. “When it’s an isolated piece and the skin compresses, you can get crinkles,” he says. “It really annoyed me because everything else looked really nice with the silicone.”
Lundström got the idea to make the chin out of gelatin. Though he had worked with gelatin prosthetics in the past, he had never used gelatin and silicone pieces together. But he felt strongly that it was the right material for a natural Troll chin.
“It moved beautifully on the skin and looked great,” says Lundström. The chin came out so well, Lundström pondered gelatin cheeks. Melander was all for it. “She liked the way it felt because it has fewer restrictions. It gets really soft from the body heat,” says Lundström. “So, we ended up doing the cheeks and chins on both characters in gelatin.”
Though Vore got the same nine pieces, Lundström was careful not to duplicate Tina’s design. “They’re the same species, but they’re not the same person,” he says. Known for his character roles, Milonoff’s features are more distinctive than his female co-star’s traditional Swedish look.
“I tried copying his chin because he has a really cool chin,” says Lundström. “We gave him the same ears as Tina and more of a forehead. I didn’t want to worry about the edges, so we made a half wig that blended with his own hair.”
With a longer, larger, pointed snout, Vore’s nose couldn’t be more different from Tina’s. “I gave him a sinister profile. He’s more of an evil character,” says Lundström. “I was really happy when I saw the film because Vore has this snarling expression and I think the nose complemented that. It emphasized what Eero was trying to do.”
Helping Lundström bring the Trolls to life were Åsa Sjölin, Robin Alderskans, Anders Bratås, Cristina Malilos, Thomas Foldberg, Floris Schuller, Natalia Aguilar, Oskar Wallroth, Hara Vasiliadi and Daniel Carrasco. Sara Lycke and Johanna Ruben made the wigs.
Denmark-based effects artist Morten Jacobsen was in charge of layering Troll body hair on Tina’s back and chest for scenes where she walks naked through the woods. He also devised an aroused Troll penis for a scene where Tina and Vore have a moonlit encounter.
Jacobsen also fashioned prosthetic nipples for Vore to make him look more feminine and created the lightning scar that appears on his shoulder. (Trolls are very susceptible to being hit by lightning!)
And speaking of sex, Border reveals how Trolls reproduce. Sweden-based Fixas – Lifelike Creations created two puppets: a Troll baby and a fetus-like Troll called a Hisit. Only the Hisit body made the final cut.
“I wanted the actors to have something real to act with,” says Niklas Hermansson, Fixas’ workshop supervisor. “So, for the Hisit puppet, I 3-D printed some really cool mechs that allowed the actors to poke the puppet and leave a dent.”
The Hisit was designed using Blender and a scale model was generated on a Zortrax printer. Fixas sculptors Fia Reisek and Wallroth made versions in Chavant Clay. After the creature was molded in silicone and fiberglass, Hermansson mechanized it.
“We wanted a translucent fetus look but needed to fit mechanics and rod attachments inside,” explains Hermansson. “I layered yarn in the core of the mold to simulate veins and needed a silicone that would flow easily and not trap air in the yarn. We normally use Ecoflex 00-10 for animatronic skins. But because of the way we needed to cast this and the time frame, PlatSil Gel-25 with 100-percent deadener did the job.”
During post production, Jacobsen was called on to work with the visual effects team to do a redesign of the Hisit’s head, which he also sculpted. His Hisit head appears in the film.
For creating the troll baby seen later in the film Jacobsen received a scan of the real baby, that he cleaned up. “After casting it in Acrylic One, I designed and sculpted the troll face for the small child. I cast it in silicone, did a paint scheme and punched hair into it. This was used to create a sort of digital prosthetic piece, that was used for the troll baby. I also designed the look of body hair on the Troll baby.”
Lundström knew Tina was getting close when they started trying on wigs. “Hairstyles are difficult. No matter how awesome it looks in Photoshop, a director is really not going to get it,” says Lundström. “With the test, we did different hair colors and lengths until we got the final look.”
It was at that point Lundström let the producers know it would take at least three hours to create the Troll each day. Abbasi liked what he saw and was willing to take the extra time to get it.
As Lundström had booked a second season on Genius, Pamela Goldammer made up the Trolls during the shoot. Erica Spetzig oversaw the make-up for the non-Troll cast members.
The schedule called for Melander to become a Troll for 38 days. In the beginning, Goldammer set the pieces in place and painted Melander’s face while assistant Inga Ross finished the edges, glued on the ears, placed the wig and painted the hands. When Milonoff joined the mix for 15 days, it got trickier. Goldammer would apply half of the Vore make-up before switching to Tina.
“We couldn’t let Eva wait as she had the busier schedule,” explains Goldammer. “Eero was sometimes sent to his hotel room or apartment in a half-finished make-up. On those days, I did seven hours of application time before going on set.”
Goldammer got some relief when Rogier Samuels was brought in to take over Milonoff’s make-up. Three weeks into the shoot, Pierre Olivier Persin helped Goldammer with Melander. Each applied one side of her make-up. This cut the process to under three hours.
The application wasn’t the only challenge. Border shot during Sweden’s wet and windy season. Goldammer remembers cold nights in the forest with Melander wearing only Troll body hair.
On colder days and for scenes where Tina and Vore swim in a lake, the gelatin cheeks were switched out for more durable silicone pieces. But they were wearing gelatin cheeks the night they shot the sex scene. “Eva and Eero were freezing,” she remembers. “The cheeks stiffened and were close to lifting off. I told Ali we couldn’t shoot until we replaced the cheeks. He said, ‘Fix it. You have half an hour.’ And we did.”
But what Goldammer remembers most are the transformations. Milonoff enjoyed becoming Vore, relishing the ominous persona he became as the make-up went on. “Once he got out of the chair, he was absolutely Vore,” remembers Goldammer.
Having to wear the make-up over a longer period, Melander had a more difficult time. “It was challenging at times to act through the make-up,” continues Goldammer. “It had to sit just right so it wouldn’t restrict her or push down on her forehead. We had some hard and intense days, but it really felt that we were all in this together and we pulled each other through.”
Knowing how difficult it can be to have to work with another artist’s design, Lundström has only praise for Goldammer’s work. “It was a really good collaboration,” he says. “Pamela was texting almost every day to make sure that I was happy with the make-up.”
And Lundström couldn’t be more thrilled with the final results. “We managed to transform Eva and not make her look strange. I started feeling she was a person and not a make-up,” he says. “Tina could pass for a person. She looks weird, but I’ve seen weirder people on the subway. If I saw her in the subway, I wouldn’t stare.”
Article updated with new information and photos on Nov. 5, 6 and 14.