Makeup, by definition, means an assortment of things: the way in which something is composed or arranged, cosmetics applied especially to the face, and materials, such as cosmetics and costumes, that an actor or actress uses in portraying a role (“Makeup. “) Aside from normal cosmetics, theatrical makeup has been around for as long as 4000 BC. In the earlier years of theater, makeup was used in order to portray different ages, genders, and classes of society. This makeup had to be applied heavily on the face, in order for the audience to see the character’s expressions from far away.
Theater makeup was believed to have originated from Greece and became a worldwide tool in theater that many cultures, over time adopted (“Theatrical Makeup. “) The Kabuki Theater in Japan is a great example of how theatrical makeup spread to different parts of world. The Japanese makeup consisted of white face paint made from rice, called Oshiroi. Different shades of white where produced in order for the actors to depict different attributes of characters. However, in order for the makeup to stick to their skin, they had to apply a mixture of waxes and oils beforehand.
The Kabuki Theater makeup was also aided by the colors black and red to outline the performers lips and eyes, in order to express various expressions. White, black and red weren’t the only colors used in the theater. Japanese theater revolved around the culture’s folklore, so different colors of paint where needed in order to showcase the story’s characters. Thanks to an assortment of pigments found in nature, the Japanese created many colors such a dark red, blue, pink, green, and purple in order to depict gods, demons, and its heroes (“Kabuki Makeup. ) Makeup stayed in theater for centuries, but as time passed and the popularity of film grew, theater makeup turned out to be far to “fake looking” for cinema because of its pasty appearance on camera.
Notably, theater makeup has come a long way from being made out of white lead, red cinnabar, chalk dust, lard, and zinc (“Theatrical Makeup. “) But luckily in 1910, Polish cosmetician Max Factor, created a whole new type of grease makeup (commonly known as greasepaint) specifically for filming. This type of new makeup was lightweight and flexible, ideal for the hustle and bustle of filmmaking (“Makeup. ) Factor’s insight continued to influence the world of cosmetics, as he created more and more different types of cover, suitable for filming. In 1928, he introduced pancake makeup, which provided a thinker matte coverage, and because it was water based, actors where likely not to sweat it off during filming, a valuable property in filming (Finley. ) As previously stated, makeup can make a person flawlessly beautiful and communicate to the audience to whom that character is, but that’s not always the case in film.
Credit must go to where credit is due, because if it hadn’t been for one man, Hollywood wouldn’t have the monsters they are famous for. Born on April 1, 1883, Lon Chaney grew up loving theater; being a stagehand in his early years he became an actor in film, and later a successful makeup artist. Back in the in the early hours of cinema it wasn’t uncommon for actors to apply their own make up. So when Chaney hit it big as the phantom, “Erik” in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) he had a specific idea of what he wanted this character to look like.
In order to deform the phantom, Chaney inserted a device into his own nose (which was painful,) in order to flare out the nostrils, along with celluloid discs into his mouth to distort his cheekbones. False teeth and pale face paint where then added in order to complete the Phantom’s terrifying look. Chaney worked on many projects in his career, turning himself into different races, ages, and monsters, he soon became know as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” for his talent to turn himself into anything on the spot with his amazing makeup techniques and experience (“Smith. ”) Jack Pierce another master in makeup, picked up where Chaney let off.
Originally born as Janus Piccoulas, in the 5th of May 1889, Pierce immigrated to the United States from Greece. Pierce never had a mind to work in show business at first, but when failing to become a semi-professional baseball player for a team in California, he got a job in the film industry in the 1910’s as a stuntman assistant cameraman and even acted a little on the side. However, once again not finding his niche, Pierce started to work as a make up artist. By this time studios such as Fox and Universal started to get famous, Pierce became head makeup artist at Universal Studios (after Lon Chaney left to be a freelancer. Pierce got his big break, when Carl Laemmle Jr. decided to produce films of the classic horror novels of the 19th century. From 1930 to the 1940’s Pierce created some of the most iconic monsters in film to date (“Essman. ”) Evidently Pierce was known to research prior to creating any of his monsters, and thus states why he decided to flatten the Frankenstein monster’s head: “I did three months of research in anatomy, surgery, criminology, ancient and modern burial customs, and electrodynamics. My anatomical studies taught me that there are six ways a surgeon can cut the skull in order to take out or put in a brain.
I figured that Frankenstein, who was a scientist but no practicing surgeon, would take the simplest surgical way. He would cut the top of the skull off straight across like a pot lid, hinge it, pop the brain in, and then clamp it on tight. That’s the reason I decided to make the Monster’s head square and flat like a shoe box and dig that big scar across his forehead with the metal clamps holding it together. ” (Pierce. ) Research completed, the films star actor Boris Karloff, had to sit still for four hours, while Pierce applied layers of cotton and spirit gum to his face.
Though, its impossible to tell in a black and white picture, the monster was painted a light ghoulish green, on is face and hands, while the monster’s iconic neck bolts where attached to his skin through the help of an adhesive. Mortician’s wax was then added to Karloff’s eyelids in order for them to droop tiredly. Pierce quickly moved on to creating the cursed mummy in the 1934 horror film The Mummy, and is also responsible for the Bride’s iconic look in The Bride of Frankenstein. Despite being a brilliant man in his field, Pierce was know not to get along with all of his colleagues, one most notable was Jon Chaney Jr. Chaney’s son) Jr. was casted as the werewolf in The Wolf Man, and for his daily makeup he was required to sit in a chair for 6 hours (sometimes more) while Pierce applied thick yak hairs to his face with spirit gum and cotton. Jr. made his complaints heard every time he had to sit for makeup. Truthfully he had no business to complain, both artist and actor had to do something they hated for the movie. Pierce is a traditional sort of guy, and detested using prosthetics. But it was the last annoying piece of the puzzle that built up the Werewolf’s look.
The prosthetic nose for the Wolf Man was attached with the aid of spirit gum and was hidden amongst the thick yak hair (Pierce may have done it poorly out of spite because its clearly visible in the film. ) Like all things in life, techniques and supply quality improved, Pierce was being left behind as more and more studios started using rubber prosthetics for their films. Pierce still refused the new innovation and convenience, preferring the traditional art of building up layers for realism. Sadly the studios did not feel the same and fired Pierce in 1964.
The “Man Behind the Monsters” still got steady work in the movie business, working on B-movies till the end of his days in 1968 (“Jack Pierce: The Man Behind the Monsters. “) Since Pierce’s days, special effects makeup (now called FX makeup) has dramatically evolved. Prosthetics have taken the number one spot in FX makeup due to it being quicker, safer, and by giving artist a whole new medium to work with, many new creatures could be made and experimented with. But the realism the prosthetics offered comes at a price, the process in which to make a prosthetic takes just as long as it does to apply it. Kehoe. ) Being made of flexible latex, a life cast must first be made of a body part, (lets say a face) Algony (like the stuff used for dental impressions) is applied to face in order to crate a mold. Plaster bandages are then applied and set to harden, once removed the new “mask” is lined with plaster and set to dye again. The product is a perfect replica of the actors face. Plastosen (sort of like clay) is then molded onto the replica into whatever is needed for the movie (an alien, monster, wrinkles to age someone, scars, the list is endless! After plaster is sculpted to the movie’s liking, the sculpture is placed in water for near 2 hours, a releasing agent is activated so that it is easier to remove from the bust. After positive and negative molds are made with the plastered parts, gelatin is added between the two half’s, creating a flexible copy of the sculpture (“How It’s Made – Special Effects Make-up. “) The time taken to graph these prosthetics to the actor depends on the complexity of the prosthetic piece.
Case in point, the gore scars in Dawn of the Dead would take about an hour or two, where as Doug Jones’s transformation into Abe Sapien in the movie Hellboy took nearly 6 hours! Doug’s skin needed to be cleaned before getting into costume. Once that’s done the prosthetics are graphed onto his body in sections, the size of the individual prosthetics depended how intricate that specific piece was. For his character his whole body was covered from head to toe in soft latex. The pieces are then held in place with spirit gum, and airbrushed with a variety of colors to blend the “skins” together (Hellboy. ”)
Sadly, much of the hard work of even today’s FX artists will go obsolete. CGI is stating to take hold in Hollywood, no longer is there a need for hours of prosthetics if a 3D artist can program an other worldly creature out of thin air. Hopefully, the day will never come when all FX makeup ceases to make its appearance on the big screen. Since its yearly years in Greek theater, makeup has come a long way, and in manys opinion it still has an even longer way to go. Both Lon Chaney and Jack Pierce did their part to help the world look at makeup in a different way, and now its up to the remaining makeup artists to keep moving it forward.