Dear Make-Up Artists of 2012,
Part 2: Making up the Future
All great movie make-up requires the artist to understand and visually interpret a character. Most importantly, the make-up must elicit the desired outcome in the audience, be it horror, beauty, or anything in between. When the effect fails, the film's effectiveness usually follows.
Films exploit your craft to varying degrees. When the actor is completely disguised and evolves into another being altogether (like the Orcs in The Hobbit), the result is closer to a mask. The make-up artist's task in this case is much different than trying to preserve, enhance, or age a person's unique features. In 2012, special attention seems to have been paid towards the latter end of the spectrum. What follows is a brief description of how some of this year's films have contributed to the evolution of the trade.
Although there is some overlap, I've divided make-up techniques that require us to recognize and empathize with the original actor into the four main subsets - verisimilitude, aging, style and morphing.
Verisimilitude _- Every year, Oscar-bait roles are dangled to audiences in the form of the bio-picture. Great casting goes a long way for making a known actor look like another known person, but it's the plaster casting that often seals the deal. In recent years, Charlize Theron, Jaimie Foxx and Meryl Streep have all taken home statues for allowing the audience forget the line between them and the famous/infamous person they portray. But of course, their performance is enabled by near flawless work on your part. Now Daniel Day Lewis seems to completely embody _Lincoln _(2012), Sir Anthony Hopkins is being heaped with praise for becoming cinema's very own _Hitchcock (2012) and even Julianne Moore and Ed Harris had no shortage of genuine gotchya moments by disappearing into the once ubiquitous politicians Sarah Palin and John McCain in HBO's _Game Change _(2012). Their performances rightly deserve credit, but it's the subtle touches to a nose, a brow or a chin you apply that allow us to truly pull off the illusion. Make-up artistry continues to impress, and will be an important actor's ally for years to come.
Aging - Film critic Gene Siskel used to describe old-age make-up as the art of making young actors look like a turtle. Behold, Guy Pierce in Prometheus _(2012). Seeing ol' wrinkled-sskin doesn't just kill the audiences' "wow!" double take that Seiderman inspired for an aged _Citizen Kane _(1941). This big budget film is a first rate offender because of the director himself, Ridley Scott, who never uses Pierce at his natural age and simply steals a paycheck from any of our fine octogenarian actors. Yes, the ultra-rich zillionaire character is supposed to be unnaturally prolonging his life, but that's no excuse for taking the audience out of the film. The moment we see the make-up, our disbelief can no longer be properly suspended. We know it's possible - I was amazed by how much the Sally Field of today in _Lincoln (2012) looks like the aged Sally Field in Forrest Gump (1994). Unfortunately in this respect, the aging make-up of 2012 was not one for the ages.
Style - I have to assume that make-up artists never have more fun than when they are playing by their own rules. Splitting Natalie Portman's personalities in the Black Swan _or forcing _The Dark Knight to face his darker half in The Joker are recent examples of a make-up artist's chance to put a personal signature on a piece. This year, examples of war paint has been used in the subtle service of effeminate mob busters_ Lawless (2012), twisted television personalities in _The Hunger Games _(2012) and bold new takes on fantasies like _Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) or John Carter _(2012). But keeping it simple also worked wonders, from the chilling effect of white powdered walking spirits in _War Witch (2012) to the campy delights of Dark Shadows (2012) to preserving the perfect payoff in 21 Jump Street _(2012). Meanwhile, Rick Baker continued to show the world why your work still matters by beautifully blending aliens with the visual effects in _Men in Black III _(2012) and the team behind _The Cabin in the Woods (2012) took inspiration from every horror film of the past three decades to create their creatures. Even some abominable film entries had their best work done by make-up artists, such as the brain-faced nurses in _Silent Hill: Revelation _(2012). With so many sequels, prequels, reboots, mash-ups and remakes, 2012 didn't provide as many opportunities for flare as you might have liked, but at least you didn't let us down. In fact, you helped us finally look forward.
Morphing The future of make-up is here, in a process I'll call "morphing". One perfect example is Looper _(2012), where instead of banking on Joseph Gordon Levitt's face to sell the film, the strategy is to create a new character that is meant to evoke a young Bruce Willis. It was a high-risk gamble with unknowable returns, but most people agree the effort paid off. Much more controversial was the work in _Cloud Atlas _(2012), where over a dozen actors transform into new characters that span centuries. The battle to render the actor invisible, in this case, was not the ultimate goal. So while many audiences were reasonably distracted by playing connect-the-dots between actors and characters, the film was not trying to hide your work. For better or worse, recognizing who is underneath the make-up was actually important to the audience's interpretation of the film. The critically acclaimed French arthouse film _Holy Motors (2012) took the same approach to character morphing, giving the trend another important success in 2012 over the usual low-brow comedic treatment the effect usually gets in the faces of Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy.
Needless to say, the art of make-up has come a long way and has branched off into incredibly inspiring ways of enhancing storytelling. The praise you get is just far too patchy. As far as I'm concerned, you can tell Mr. DeMille you're ready for your close-up.
Caking on the praise,
Make-up and the Silent Film Era: http://kickshawproductions.com/blog/?p=499
Makeup and the Oscars: http://academyawardsformakeup.blogspot.ca/
Citizen Kane Make-up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCkYlCBFV6w