Creaturegeddon 2015 with Oscar winning designer Mark Coulier
Oscar winning makeup artist Mark Coulier gave his first live character makeup demonstration in London, at the launch of the brand new special effects conference – Creaturegeddon.
Inspired by the legendary ‘Monstapalooza’ in the USA, Creaturegeddon was a hotbed of the best sculptors, creature designers and monster makers, with product launches, demos and workshops from the elite in the world of special effects (SFX).
Launched by SFX specialist Peter Tindall, who was previously lead lecturer on the makeup course at the Arts University, Creaturegeddon was thrilled to have two time Oscar winner Mark Coulier headline the event at the Renaissance Hotel.
MARK COULIER CHARACTER DEMO
Mark’s schedule is frenetic – his long list of credits includes Harry Potter, The Iron Lady and the X Men, to name but a few. So this was a truly unique opportunity to see the master at work, up close and personal, for the first time in an educational setting.
The atmosphere was electric in the packed conference room as Mark began to recreate a zombie prosthetic character design from the film World War Z, on creature actor Paul Warren.
Mark and his team of 53 makeup artists – crewed from all over Europe – worked relentlessly when they were called in to reshoot the last third of the movie, creating more than 5000 makeups in total. Mark explained; “It was an ambitious script and the budget was already stretched but it just wasn’t working, so it was a complicated and stressful scenario by the time we were called in. We went to Malta and Budapest to work on the re-shoots and with only five weeks prep time it was a huge challenge.”
As Mark applied prosthetic pieces to Paul’s face, he explained how he had to use flat moulding techniques to create smaller prosthetic pieces in order to meet the very tight deadlines. Prior to World War Z, Mark had been working on Zoolander II and he described the larger facial pieces they had designed for that production.
As he explained, those pieces could take up to three makeup artists, just to hold them in place. “They were massive pieces of silicone rubber. Sometimes it was like wrestling huge lumps of liver onto someone’s face, but we did it without any wrinkles. And makeups like that usually take at least three and a half hours to apply, with at least two people for each application.”
Using Telesis 5, which Mark loves, he achieved instant adhesion as he applied the prosthetic pieces during his demo. Telesis gives what he described as, “A little bit of play time if we should need to adjust the pieces. On set we have to work fast and don’t have time for slow setting processes. We have to get it done as quickly as possible and Telesis works every time.”
Mark was also brutally honest about the long days on set and the kind of stamina you need to work in the industry. He also talked openly about his early days trying to break into the business. “It was just an impossible dream at the beginning, there were no makeup schools as such in the UK and the careers teacher told me I’d never make any money studying art, so it was a real battle,” said Mark.
He stuck to his guns and went on to study an illustration course in Cambridge and whilst there he stumbled across a book which would change his life. “I found a book on 3D makeup in Cambridge market and started practising on myself. I also discovered my first copy of Fangoria. “Some of the makeups were really terrible in there and I thought wow! Maybe I can actually do this. I started sculpting and making masks and just loved all the techniques and the whole process.”
Inspired by the work of Ray Harryhausen and the now legendary makeup for Marlon Brando in the Godfather, he went on to study prosthetics at London School of Fashion.
When asked what he thought had changed the most since his early days in the industry Mark said, “The production time frames that producers ask for now are ridiculous. When I worked on Nightbreed we had three months to test and refine ideas. We’re lucky if we get six weeks before a shoot now.” Another crucial change is that often producers and directors now automatically opt for CGI in pre-production, “This is simply because they don’t know, at the time, how they actually want to deliver an effect,” Mark explained.
However this can have its advantages, “In the old days sometimes I’d read a script and think f*ck! How will I do that? But now I just say “digital” and turn onto the next page,” said Mark. Despite the reliance on digital in the business, he reassured the audience that the film industry still generates plenty of work to keep practical effects teams “very busy”.
Ultimately practical effects artists should not feel too threatened by digital effects. Mark believes we are still 20 years away from digital being cheaper than practical effects.
As Mark pointed out, during the work on the recent Bond movie, just one face replacement shot cost £50,000 in digital. Practical effects artists are still more cost-effective overall.
When asked what his favourite experience had been during his career Mark said working on Hellrasier III. “I went to North Carolina and worked for Image Animation with Steve Painter. I was earning really shit money but these were great guys to go to America with. We worked crazy hours and most of us earned less than trainees but we had SO much fun!” Mark said “To this day it’s all about the people you work with that make the job so exciting”.
Despite a second Oscar to his name, for his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mark laughed out loud at the suggestion that he could walk into any job he wants now. He described the brutal Hollywood selection system where it takes nearly two decades to get onto the ‘producers list’. This is the ‘list’ that top Hollywood producers review when they are looking to secure SFX designers for upcoming film productions.
Mark described how even with two Oscars and his extensive CV in front of them, that Hollywood producers had actually asked him his name and proceeded to ‘Google’ his credentials right in front of him, during meetings. Despite his tremendous success Mark clearly keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
Throughout the live demonstration he answered the wide array of questions from the audience with a warm and refreshing honesty; mixed with a delicious dose of irreverent humour. When asked how difficult it is to break into the industry today he replied, “It’s not difficult at all – if you’re any good.” Mark actually keeps a database of every talented hopeful who has ever contacted him, which he regularly refers to when he needs new recruits for upcoming projects.
As he explained, the challenge for the industry is that so many people have just come out of makeup school and are still at beginner’s level yet they expect to start sculpting straight away. Mark urged new entrants to take time to refine their skills in order to be taken seriously. Mark advised, “Develop your sculpting skills, learn to paint, practice life drawing – you need to develop your art skills in order to be taken seriously. It’s a very expensive risk to take on a new entrant, because we’re putting our name on the line when we do.”
These days Mark runs his own company Coulier Creatures . He said he set it up, “Because I wanted more design control. Also I used to run jobs for other people and I realised there was a big difference between what they were charging the production company and what I was getting paid.”
But before anyone decides to start up their own SFX company, Mark had a few words of wisdom; “Running your own company is fraught with disaster. I spend most of my time now managing other people, sending out invoices, dealing with broken heaters, blocked toilets and emptying the bins. If you’re into all that then by all means form your own special effects company!”
At that point the transformation of creature actor Paul Warren into a World War Z zombie was complete. There was a collective gasp from the audience as he stood up from the makeup chair. Paul was unrecognisable and he looked incredible.
Creaturegeddon had reached its climax but no one wanted to leave. A surge of bodies headed towards Mark, eager for a few personal moments with the maestro. To his eternal credit he greeted them all one by one and spent time with each of them, doing his best to look at all the portfolios that were thrust, hopefully, in front of him.
And the wonderful thing is that now you know that every name he took will be added to that list he keeps. And maybe one of those lucky individuals might just get a call one day!
Mark was kind enough to talk with me after the live demo – whilst he and his team removed the zombie makeup – watch the interview here:
If you missed Creaturegeddon this year worry not, because it will be back – bigger, scarier and even more ‘monstrous’ next year.
Hope to see you there.
All photography and video production by Peter Cooper – www.petercooperstudio.com
Coming soon – more interviews from Creaturegeddon 2015!