IMATS 2014 – PENNY DREADFUL – NICK DUDMAN & SARITA ALLISON INTERVIEWS
If you’ve never been to IMATS London then you’re missing out.
The International Makeup Artist Trade Show brings together professionals from fashion and film, including Oscar and BAFTA winners, as well as the best products the industry has to offer.
Thousands of makeup artists, exhibitors and enthusiasts gathered at the ‘Mecca of Makeup’ in Olympia last weekend. It was packed full of new product launches, demonstrations and seminars with industry leaders.
The outstanding highlight for me was the Penny Dreadful panel discussion with award-winning makeup effects designer Nick Dudman (Harry Potter, Alien 3, Return of the Jedi.)
I was also very privileged that he agreed to meet with me in person for an interview.
Nick Dudman, along with his crew members Sarita Allison and Barney Nikolic shared design secrets from their work on the new Sky Atlantic, Victorian horror Penny Dreadful.
Written by John Logan (Skyfall and Gladiator) and produced by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, Penny Dreadful stars Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett. It is a dark Gothic horror full of vampires, zombies, mummies and literary historical figures including Jack the Ripper, Dr Frankenstein and Dorian Gray.
One of the most fascinating creations was Rory Kinnear’s character – Frankenstein’s Creature. The panel talked through the design process:
When designing for Penny Dreadful we tested a huge array of products and samples – it took a lot of test runs to get the look just right. The makeup needed to photograph well without having to use a lot of white slap. The texture, look and product took time to find. It was a lengthy process of test, apply, watch it on camera, test, apply, watch; again and again.
Nick Dudman explained that having time with your principle actors to test makeup prior to filming is crucial but challenging.
Everyone’s schedules are always pressing, especially your lead actors’. If you get told they are not available you have to talk straight.
When asked exactly how he did that, Nick replied:
I tell the producer straight – if you don’t give me the playtime it will look like shit!
You have to work with the actor’s face. We had photos of Rory Kinnear prior to meeting him and of course Mary Shelly’s description. But we wanted to create a subtle makeup that was all about the performance instead of imposing a rubber mask on Roy. As a result the makeup enhances the performance rather than dominating it. Throughout filming we were going for brutal realism at all times.
Sarita and Barney described how during some of the mortuary scenes even some of the crew members felt unwell. They had 100 bodies cast in a week and got through 400 litres of fake blood in just one day of shooting.
Sarita detailed more of the work:
The Vampire makeup was a colossal job – it was a 6 hour makeup including contact lenses, false teeth and nails.
Eva Green’s makeup during the scenes in the Asylum was also very challenging. At one point she was power-hosed against a wall and then trepanned.
We had to create a bald cap for Eva that was punched with tufts of hair and we broke up the surface of the bald cap with blood soaked cuts to make it look really brutal. It looks disgusting but worked a treat on camera.
They filmed on location in Ireland where they all fell in love with the Guinness.
It’s a stunning country and Dublin is just beautiful” said Nick.
We were there for 6 months at Ardmore Studios. The biggest challenge was getting supplies, it took weeks to arrive and stuff just kept getting lost – some even ended up halfway to Thailand. At one point we phoned a local supplier and asked for 150 kilos of Epoxy Resin and they told us ‘Oh you can’t have that this week because so-and-so is building a canoe, maybe week after next, IF it comes in.’
What was wonderful about Penny Dreadful though, were the very happy working relationships on set which made it a fantastic experience.
I haven’t had so much fun in years – the script is truly original and the writer John Logan is a genius. His material is amazing – after all this is the same guy who wrote Gladiator and Hugo.
NICK DUDMAN – PROFESSOR OF PROSTHETICS
Nick Dudman generously took time out of his hectic schedule at IMATS to talk with me.
I am nervous and slightly in awe. He is relaxed and genuine. With his glasses and speckled grey at his temples, after decades in a relentlessly tough industry, he looks like a wise professor – a professor of prosthetics.
He was the visionary makeup effects genius on Interview with a Vampire, Batman, Judge Dredd and Fifth Element, for which he won a BAFTA. He spent 10 years on Harry Potter and was Oscar nominated for Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Part 2.
And he hails from a generation of gentlemen who were pioneers in prosthetics and makeup effects.
Nick Dudman originally studied film and TV production at college but at the time of his graduation there were very few places for trainee camera men in the industry.
He had always experimented with products and was fascinated with effects. Just after his graduation a traineeship came up with one of the fore-fathers of British film industry makeup effects.
In 1978 Nick won the traineeship with the legendary Stuart Freeborn on the Empire Strikes Back.
I ask Nick what his mentor was like;
He was a gentleman, an inventor and a genius. He was endlessly curious and an explorer of the art – he took prosthetics to a whole new frontier.
Nick assisted Stuart Freeborn in the construction of the very first Yoda puppet, which would later be used in Return of the Jedi.
Nick is very humble as he retells the experience;
I just followed Stuart’s instructions to the letter. I learnt at the feet of the master.
Nick continued as Freeborn’s apprentice for four more years.
In a career that spans decades and countless box office hits I ask Nick if he has a favourite character from all of his creations.
That’s a tough question to answer. I think I’d have to say there are three that really stand out for me. Bib Fortuna from Return of the Jedi because that was the very first character I created by myself. The Joker from Batman – Jack Nicolson was one of my heroes, a tremendous actor with a razor sharp wit who became a friend and was just a brilliant man to work with. And Grip Hook on Harry Potter- that was a real favourite especially as I’ve known Warwick Davis since he was a boy.
I ask him where he finds his inspiration and how he continues to create original characters after all these years.
I’m a voracious reader and you have to know every interpretation of the characters that have gone before. It’s a process of elimination. You have to know what has gone before so you don’t repeat other’s work. You have to know your references. These days I get to work with concept artists to come up with a unique vision of a character or a new interpretation of a classic.
What skills do you believe make a great Makeup Artist?
You need to know more about how each department functions, their skills and unique set of challenges that they each face on set. Learn their job descriptions – understand more of what they do so you can work better together as a team. Learn about CGI, cameras, lenses, processes, costume department, sound – learn as much as you can about the whole industry – it’s crucial because this is a collaborative creative process. Essentially you need to know how to work with others, relate to the challenges they face and learn how to cooperate.
As our time is drawing to a close I ask, if he could go back, what advice would he give himself when he was just starting out?
Know your materials – make notes on everything – you never know when that product might be exactly what you need on a project. Keep abreast of new technologies and know your products and materials inside out.
Learn the history of the industry and know the body of work that has gone before. Learn from the legends of prosthetics and understand how they did it.
Listen to everyone’s opinion! If the camera man says ‘that looks a bit too green on camera’ make sure you listen. Pay attention to all the opinions you are given and consider them. You are creating a character or effect for an audience after all, not just for your own creative pleasure. So if the cleaner says ‘that looks weird’ look at the work from their perspective and consider the opinion you’ve been given. It’s all input after all – you need to step back from the work and see it 360 degrees – that’s the key.
As we shake hands and say goodbye, I want to pinch myself. Nick Dudman is a complete gentleman and a creative genius. I am immensely grateful for his time and wonderful words of wisdom.
SARITA ALLISON – POSTER GIRL OF PROSTHETICS
Sarita Allison is prosthetic’s rising star and Nick Dudman’s ‘eyes’ on the Penny Dreadful set.
As Nick said,
Sarita has the same ‘eye’ as me and she’s got my back. She won’t let anyone go on camera unless they look absolutely right.
Sarita is unique in the traditionally male-dominated makeup effects and prosthetics world. She is neither a horror junkie nor sci fi addict.
Stunningly beautiful and effortlessly cool, Sarita looks like the lead singer of an indie band – a cross between Sharleen Spetirie of Texas and Siobhan Fahey of Shakespeare Sister.
She studied Art and Design at the prestigious St Martin’s College and went on to work as a model for five years in the fashion industry. But Sarita always knew she wanted to get out before she burnt out.
It’s an industry that has a viciously early expiration date and it just wasn’t enough for me. I was looking for a more creatively fulfilling challenge. I had always dabbled in makeup and I really wanted to learn more.
Sarita is self taught. She read Vincent Kehoe’s classic makeup artist text and many more. She studied and practiced and began targeting record labels and photographers. She knew exactly who she wanted to work with, so she boldly contacted them.
Sarita went on to work with record labels on music videos with stars such as Bjork and on photo sessions for designers, including Vivienne Westwood and Alexandra McQueen.
But she wanted to push herself even further. She took a short course in prosthetics at Greasepaint Makeup School where she studied with the wonderful Shauna Harrison.
I knew I wanted to work with Nick. I telephoned his workshop every week for 6 months. I had regular conversations with the guys in the workshop and was on first name terms with many of them before I ever met them. I’d have to rev myself up. Every time I called, I willed myself to believe this would be the time I finally spoke to the man himself. Even though within 10 seconds I knew that today was not that day.
Sarita was cycling in Camden High Street when the call finally came.
I’ll never ever forget that call. I almost fell off my bike with shock.
Nick Dudman invited her to Shepperton Studios to come and work on Judge Dredd.
I thought I’d be assisting, you know, holding a pot of glue and getting the chance to observe. But when I arrived there were three makeup stations set up and Nick told me to take a place. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I was literally shaking. But I do remember thinking to myself am I going to crash and burn here or am I going to step up? So I stepped up and I survived. I was also very lucky to have two very talented makeup artists either side of me. I worked at a pace that was just one step behind them all the way – I was so lucky, as I had a guide.
I am so impressed by Sarita’s laser-like precision in setting her goals and relentless pursuit of them. Certainly it is this remarkable tenacity and strength of character that has made her so successful. She is a rare breed indeed.
I ask her if she knows why the prosthetics and makeup effects industry is so male-dominated.
The hours can be brutal, the constant travel and filming schedules consume you. It’s not exactly conducive to having children and family life. But it can be done. Make sure you take time out for yourself and prioritize what is important to you.
Sarita has gone on to work as both a film makeup designer and prosthetic specialist in her own right.
I ask her for some final words of advice for all aspiring makeup artists:
This business is highly competitive so you have to be fiercely passionate. And you have to have the skills so practice relentlessly. Never stop learning. But most of all believe in yourself and never stop pursing your dreams – you have to believe that anything is possible.
As we say goodbye I am exhilarated – a little bit of Sarita’s magic has rubbed off on me and I feel inspired.
I hope you do too!