AMERIKA: a notebook in three parts

•May 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

AMERIKA: a notebook in three parts is a feature film project in development by Arcanum Productions. AMERIKA follows a young Japanese woman on her journey to the United States in search of her father and, through her experiences and encounters in America, questions traditional views of the nation’s history and identity.  It is something that I have been involved with as a makeup and special effects artist for the past six months, and its creators have been working on for years. A series of websites, blogs, and trailers for the project went live on Monday, May 17th, so I decided to write about my involvement with it in a series of posts. More information, as well as the trailers with subtitles in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic, can be found at http://amerika.arcanumproductions.com/en/ .

I became involved with the project through director Mika Johnson, a graduate of Oberlin College, and his collaboration with the Cinema Studies Department. Mika came back to Oberlin seeking the support of the college and to give cinema students the chance to gain film production experience and to learn about green, sustainable, community-based filmmaking. He set up a Winter Term project that would allow students to work in key positions on the production, and allow him the opportunity to shoot promotional trailers to raise awareness about the project.

Winter Term at Oberlin takes place during the month of January and is intended to give students the opportunity to learn and gain field experience in areas that they may not have the chance or time to explore during the course of the traditional semester. For those of us involved in AMERIKA, it gave us the chance to work collaboratively and intensely on an independent film production in design positions, without the need to divide our attention between the film, classes, and other projects. My involvement as the makeup designer for this leg of AMERIKA’s development  allowed me to spend the fall semester before Winter Term concentrating on pre-production design work. Mika and I met regularly to discuss the aesthetic and message of the piece, budgetary and logistical considerations, and the characters of the film. Coming soon: design breakdowns for the film as a whole, as well as several key characters, and process documentation for my construction of a silicone severed head.

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The Lone Wolf

•April 20, 2010 • 3 Comments

The Lone Wolf is Jacob Coburn’s senior cinema studies thesis film. The main character is a young college student named Alan.  He is not particularly impressive or manly in any way, but there does not seem to be anything wrong with him either. He has a pretty girlfriend named Lily, but he is quiet and very insecure, especially about their relationship. Lily is good friends with Todd, an outgoing and athletic classmate. Alan is extremely jealous of their friendship to the point of paranoia. The film follows Alan as his jealousy and paranoia grow, and he has an increasingly violent recurring dream about a creature attacking Lily and Todd in the woods at night. Throughout the film, Alan has a bandage on his arm, covering a dog bite that is mysteriously slow to heal. He believes it is actually a werewolf bite and that the creature in his dreams is the werewolf. He tries to talk to Lily about this, but the idea sounds crazy and only makes her feel uncomfortable. As the dreams progress, the interactions between Lily and Todd become more romantic, and the attack they suffer becomes more violent. Alan begins lashing out at Todd in real life, but Todd is the better athlete and Alan is easily beaten. In the final dream, Alan disappears as spectator, and we finally get a clear look at the creature.  The werewolf is masculine and animalistic, but it is unmistakably Alan. Todd and Lily recognize him just before he bites Todd’s throat with his sharp wolf fangs and slashes Lily’s with his claws. He awakes alone in bed, rips off his bandage, and sees that his bite has healed, leaving only a faint scar.

Alan in The Lone Wolf

Alan in The Lone Wolf

Lily in The Lone Wolf

Lily in The Lone Wolf

Jake and I spent a lot meetings discussing what he wanted his film to say, what tone he wanted to set, and what the werewolf meant to him. We both agreed that it would be most interesting to focus on the psychological aspects of the piece, using the werewolf as a metaphor for suppressed and unrealized masculinity and violence. His jealousy of Todd brings to the surface his most basic and animalistic tendencies, but the constraints of society and of his body prevent him from fully realizing these inclinations. He is not physically capable of effectively unleashing the full force of the rage he feels on those he perceives as deserving of it, so he plays out these violent fantasies subconsciously,  whether he is actually losing power over his body to the animal or merely dreaming about it. The violence is enacted by an uncontrollable and powerful creature within him, not the socialized and educated young man he is to his classmates.   This raises the question of violence being excused as “masculine” or “boys being boys.”  In order to focus on this problematic repression and excusing of male violence, and to emphasize that the animal is still the man, I wanted to approach the makeup more as an  exaggeration of Alan’s masculine features, rather than a transformation of him into something categorically other. It was important that he look wild and dangerous, yet still be recognizable as himself.

I did a few sketches to work out how to approach the werewolf design. I knew that I did not want to go with a full face wolf mask, or even to have him necessarily look like a wolf. I decided that one of the most distinctive markers of exaggerated masculinity is strong bone structure. By emphasizing the brow, the cheek bones, and the jaw, and widening the bridge of the nose, I could make the actor look more masculine and animalistic without completely hiding his features. The wide bridge of the nose would also give his face a distinctly canine appearance without having to extend his face into a full wolf muzzle. Thickening and extending the eyebrows, hairline, and facial hair would also serve the purpose of making the actor appear more masculine and canine. Robert, the actor, already has somewhat exaggerated canine teeth, so I decided to emphasize that by making some acrylic tooth caps for him. I would also give him acrylic nails, shaped and painted to look like claws, and add hair to his ears to give them a pointed silhouette. The werewolf scenes were to be shot in the woods and at the edge of the woods at night, so much of the footage would be dark or almost silhouette. Because of this, I had to focus on creating shapes more than colors or even textures.

Werewolf sketch from The Lone Wolf

Werewolf sketch from The Lone Wolf

Werewolf sketch with teeth from The Lone Wolf

Werewolf sketch with teeth from The Lone Wolf

The first step after the design was complete was to do a lifecasting session with Robert. I would need a plaster cast of his face and teeth before I could begin sculpting the facial prosthetics or tooth caps. Robert and Jake came over to my house for the session. First, I did the teeth. I mixed dental alginate with water to form a paste, which is then scraped into a dental tray. I then put the tray in Robert’s mouth, pressed his teeth into it, and waited for it to set (about three minutes). Once the alginate mould was removed, I quickly mixed some labstone to make a cast of the teeth. I could not afford to wait until the lifecasting session was over because alginate begins to degrade after about an hour and waiting can compromise the integrity of the mould. I repeated this process for his lower teeth as well. Once both sets of teeth were cast, I began to prepare for the face cast. I had decided to use alginate for this as well. It is not as true to form or as durable as a silicone mould-making material would be, but for a student film the nicer material was prohibitively more expensive and unnecessary. I prepared Robert’s face, especially his eyelashes, eyebrows, and hairline, with a release cream to ensure that there would not be any difficulty removing the mould. When everything else was ready, I began to mix a large batch of alginate. I used an industrial mixer attachment for my drill to speed up the mix time and ensure even distribution. After mixing, I let the alginate firm up a little until it was at a spreadable consistency, then applied it to Robert’s face, taking care not to cover his nose so as not to impair his breathing. Once the alginate cured, I applied plaster bandages to create a mother-mould to give support to the flexible alginate mould. When the plaster was set, I removed the moulds, helped Robert get any remaining alginate out of his hair, and cast the plaster into the alginate mould.

Alginate

Alginate for lifecasting

Mixing alginate

Mixing alginate for face mould

Applying alginate

Applying alginate

Finished face mould

Finished face mould

After giving the plaster time to set and sealing it with several layers of shellac, I started sculpting the facial prosthetic. Using plasticine non-sulphur clay (sulphur inhibits the cure of the silicone that I used to make the prosthetics), I sculpted the positive form of the prosthetic onto the positive cast of Robert’s face. The sculpt created a flat plane connecting the bridge of the nose to the forehead, widened the bridge of the nose to be even with the nostrils, exaggerated the brow bones, and furrowed the brows and the bridge of the nose into a scowl. Once the sculpt was finished, I added a layer of petroleum jelly and several coats of release spray to ensure that the second half of the mould would not bind to the first. I then built cardboard walls around the plaster cast, sprayed them with release spray, and poured the plaster negative mould, building it up in progressively thicker layers. When the second mould was set, I carefully pried the two apart, removed the clay, and washed the moulds. I then sealed the negative mould with shellac.

Clay facial sculpt

Clay facial sculpt

Preparing to cast

Preparing to cast silicone

Two part mould

Two part mould

The next step in the process was casting the silicone prosthetics. I decided to make a gel-filled piece, which would move with Robert’s facial movements and react more like real skin than would a fully-cured silicone piece. I painted both halves of the mould with a mix of isopropyl alcohol and dish-soap to ensure that the silicone could be demoulded. I then mixed a small batch of platinum-cure silicone rubber and added a tiny amount of pigment and red flocking. I used very little pigment because this silicone was to serve as the top layer of skin and the encasement for the gel filling. If it was too opaque, it would be very difficult to make it look realistic, as skin consists of translucent layers through which you can see undertones of flesh and veins. I painted this silicone in a very thin layer onto both halves of the mould, and then sped up the cure time with a hair dryer. Once this layer was set, I mixed a larger batch of silicone: one part silicone, one part catalyst, and three parts slackening agent, plus pigment and red flocking (more than was added to the first batch). The slackening liquid gives the silicone a gel-like consistency and makes it less dense than regular silicone, allowing for more movement. I poured the silicone into the negative mould, starting at the lowest point, then pressed the positive mould into it. This presses out any excess, and leaves what remains in the negative space between the two moulds where the clay had once been. The result is a prosthetic that fits perfectly to the actor’s face and on the front has the shape of the clay sculpt.

Silicone curing in the mould

Silicone curing in the mould

I allowed the cast to cure for six hours. I pried the mould apart to release the suction and then carefully peeled the silicone piece off of the mould, powdering it so it would not stick to itself. Once it was removed, I trimmed the excess silicone from the eyes, cheeks, and under the nose. Next, I began adding the hair. Adding hair to a prosthetic is a time consuming process that involves punching hair directly into the silicone using tiny hair punching needles. This makes the hair look as if it is growing from the prosthetic, as opposed to having been glued onto it. I would have much preferred to use natural human hair for this part of the process, but due to budgetary and resource restrictions it was necessary to use wool crepe hair. It is not the best product for this project because the color and translucency is not the same as human hair. However, considering the way the scenes with the werewolf were going to be shot, color and translucency would not read as much as texture and shape, so the wool hair would work well on camera. I left the painting of the piece until the application process, so that I could paint the Robert’s face and the prosthetic together and make certain that they blended.

De-moulded silicone piece

De-moulded silicone piece

The next part of the process was to make the tooth caps. I sculpted the teeth onto the positive casts of Robert’s teeth and made and alginate negative mould of the teeth with the fangs. I mixed dental acrylic and monomer into the fang cavity and pressed the positive cast of the teeth (with the clay removed) into the mould. This created tooth caps in the shape of the sculpt with space for them to fit over Robert’s natural teeth. I shaped and polished the teeth with a rotary tool.

Shaping teeth

Shaping acrylic teeth

On the day of the werewolf shoot, we decided to break up the makeup into two sessions: one for the acrylic claws I would be making directly onto Robert’s nails (think of an acrylic nail manicure, but werewolf claws instead of french tips), and one for everything else. We met for the nail session around 3pm and finished around 5. I glued nail tips onto Robert’s nails, extending their length and shaping them into pointed claws. I then layered acrylic over his natural nails and the tips to create the nail. I made  the acrylic thicker in the middle to give the nails a more curved claw look and, once it set, I filed the top of the acrylic to give it a more rough and ridged texture. Once the shape and texture was finished, I painted the claws with a yellowish tone and a darker shade near the nail bed to make them look more like the claws of a creature who had been running through the woods.

Werewolf claws

Acrylic werewolf claws from The Lone Wolf

We took a break for dinner and reconvened for the rest of the makeup around 7pm. I began by applying the prosthetic with a silicone adhesive and smoothing over any seams. Once that was finished, I painted the whole look with my alcohol activated makeup palettes. First, I layered translucent reds to give the prosthetic a more natural, uneven texture. I then used a variety of shades of browns, greys, and fleshtones to emphasize the shape of the look, blend the prosthetic with his face, and masculinize the whole look. I lightly shaded the sides and end of the nose, around and under the brows, under the cheek bones, under the jaw, and under the adam’s apple. I stippled some stubble on the cheeks, neck, chin, and upper lip. I added crepe hair to the ears to give them a furry and pointed silhouette and to the forearms, starting thick at the elbows, and gradually thinned it to the hands (the actor wore a long sleeved shirt with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows). Finally, I added the tooth caps, affixed with denture glue.  The whole process took about two hours.

Werewolf from The Lone Wolf

Werewolf from The Lone Wolf

Still from werewolf scene in The Lone Wolf

Still from werewolf scene in The Lone Wolf

Werewolf bites Todd in The Lone Wolf

Werewolf bites Todd in The Lone Wolf

In addition to the werewolf makeup, I did the basic makeup for the other characters and any injury effects. Todd was made up in the style of a handsome leading man, Lily was a pretty and normal college girl, and Alan a normal college guy. For the werewolf bite that Alan has throughout the film, I sculpted the bite in clay, made a mould with liquid plastic, and then cast the piece in silicone. For the dream sequences, I altered Todd’s leading man style look to make him look more afraid and as if he had been running for his life. He was a little paler, had scrapes on his face from tree branches, and was sweating. When the werewolf kills him, he bleeds from the throat and mouth.

Werewolf bite from The Lone Wolf

Werewolf bite from The Lone Wolf

Bite scar from The Lone Wolf

Bite scar from The Lone Wolf

Werewolf attacking Todd in The Lone Wolf

Werewolf attacking Todd in The Lone Wolf

Cyborg Fiction

•April 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Cyborg Fiction is an experimental piece by Natalie Greenberg, completed as part of her cinema theory work on the cyborg. The piece takes a confessional structure, and addresses the multiplicity of voices and identity of one person. To address this, Natalie takes on different personas, changing her appearance but remaining herself. In each persona, she portrays a different woman from cinema, in her own words confessing to the woman’s actions and experiences in each film. In Natalie’s words, “by interacting with the films, and enacting the films, [she] question[s] the position of the audience, and also address the ways in which we understand our own subjectivity in terms of cinematic narratives and characters.” In taking on these inauthentic roles that, as a non-actor, she was not able to fully embody, Natalie found that she freed herself to tell her own stories through the characters. For my part, I interpreted the looks of each woman from cinema that she chose to take on and made her up in that interpretation. Here are some highlights:

Natalie as Kim Novak in Vertigo

Natalie as Kim Novak in Vertigo

Natalie as Bette Davis in Now Voyager

Natalie as Bette Davis in Now Voyager

Unspoken

•April 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Unspoken is the senior thesis film by Elllington Wells. Ellington’s film is a very intimate story about a young African-American college student and her struggle with the discovery of an unintended pregnancy.  The young woman, Margaret, is very isolated and the film follows her as she goes through her day unable to share her struggle with those around her. She tries to tell her mother over the phone but stops just short of saying it aloud. When she finally does tell the father, her boyfriend, she does so simply by moving his hand to her abdomen.  Margaret’s boyfriend, James, is a large, imposing man who speaks very little and holds a lot of aggression, which is sometimes directed at Margaret. As attached to him as she is, his unpredictable nature is a significant factor in the decision she makes at the end of the film to not continue the pregnancy.

Ellington wanted her film to have a very real aesthetic, intimate but almost documentary style in its look. Her characters needed to look natural and imperfect. She had the idea that James’ character be associated with fire and steam. We decided that we could keep both characters natural yet still emphasize their differences by focusing on texture. James would always be moist, as if he carries too much heat in his body and is always perspiring. Margaret would be smooth and natural. She is not spending much time on her appearance, but she feels like she has something to hide and must “put on a good face” and appear to be alright. I decided that she might do this by wearing lipstick. Lipstick is easier and less time-consuming to apply than eye makeup, so a woman who wanted to appear “normal,”  but who was struggling too much to really be concerned with her appearance might put on lipstick to mask what she is going through.

Margaret in Unspoken

Margaret in Unspoken

James and Margaret in Unspoken

James and Margaret in Unspoken

For James’ look, I simply applied a thin layer of petroleum jelly over his skin, and sprayed a mist of a 50/50 mixture of water and vegetable glycerin. This made him look as if he was constantly sweating. Margaret’s look required a little bit of concealer, a thin line of black eyeliner in the upper lash line, and dark red lipstick.

Ellington’s film also includes a series of dream sequences in which we see Margaret in a field, by a tree, and in a river. For these scenes, she appears very natural, no eye makeup or lipstick. One sequence required that the tattoos on the actress’ back be covered and two fresh cuts from a whip be added. To do this I covered the tattoos with layers of compressed makeup, and then painted the cuts with alcohol activated makeup and fake blood.

Cuts on Margaret's back in a dream sequence from Unspoken

Covered tattoo and cuts on Margaret's back in a dream sequence from Unspoken

A College Student’s Guide to Stealing Art

•April 19, 2010 • 1 Comment

Patrick Willems’ senior project is a heist film entitled “A College Student’s Guide to Stealing Art”. Inspired by having watched too many heist  films, and by their anxiety about life post-graduation, a group of college seniors plans a heist to steal a painting from their college’s art museum as one last college stunt before being forced out into the “real world.” The film takes place primarily during the night of the heist and includes a series of flash-backs of the planning leading up to it. The heist itself has two parts; the first half is an exciting action sequence as all unfolds according to plan, and the second becomes more like a slasher film in which the team leader is chased by an unrelenting police officer after they set off the alarm.

In speaking with the director, we both agreed that there should be a distinct aesthetic difference between the scenes depicting the bored and anxious college students talking about the heist, and the scenes of them living out their film-fueled heist fantasy. In the flashback scenes, they should look like the normal, stressed, average, soon-to-be unemployed college graduates that they are; in the heist scenes, they should appear to be the slick, cool, even bad-ass, team of professional art thieves from the films they are emulating.

Leo before heist

Leo before the heist in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Leo during heist

Leo during the heist in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

As they delve deeper into the film fantasy, they become less real, more like the action movie versions of themselves. Their skin gets better, their hair more precisely styled. Each character also had distinctive elements to their look. Charlie, the one woman on the team, gets makeup that becomes progressively more precise and unrealistically perfect. Leo, the team leader, always maintains a leading-man kind of aesthetic, but it progresses from charming college boy with tousled hair and an earring, to slick and suave Hollywood blockbuster-style heist team leader. Jack, the team’s resident cinema geek and reconnaissance man, starts out as an unkempt and bespectacled college guy and transitions into a slick thief with combed and side-parted hair, contact lenses, and spotless skin. Ben, the bearded and brutish, heavy metal-listening, astrophysics major-turned-getaway driver, changes the least; he must maintain his “hard-core” edge while still becoming more put-together. His hair and beard become more carefully coiffed, and his skin becomes smoother and more even.

Jack, pre-heist

Jack, pre-heist in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Jack during heist

Jack during the heist in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Once we had a basic idea of the way the characters would have to change , I did a script breakdown to determine how many looks each character would need, and in what scenes they would need them. All four characters would be in their final, most stylized look for the entirety of the heist scene, as well as the “suiting up” montage as they prepare for the heist ( all characters traded their jeans and t-shirts for black suits with white shirts and colorful ties during the heist). Charlie, Ben, and Jack would appear in two flash-backs, meaning they would have three looks. Leo would be in all of those scenes, as well as an additional flashback that takes place just days before the heist, and a chase scene after the heist takes a turn for the worst. There would also be a police officer, serving as the villain in the slasher-film inspired chase scene. Patrick and Director of Photography Jason Outenreath would shoot the officer primarily in silhouette, emphasizing his imposing stature and intimidating 70s-style cop mustache. Because of the way this character was going to be lit and filmed, I could go even more stylized with his makeup, giving him a large fake mustache, and shading under his brow- and jaw-bones to emphasize and exaggerate the masculinity of his bone structure.

After completing the script breakdown, I arranged makeup tests with Patrick and the four main actors. I tested each look to ensure that they would look good on camera, but also that the progression we wanted would be readable on screen. I also used this test to refine the designs for Leo’s post-heist chase scene look, and for Charlie’s heist look. During the slasher portion of the heist, Leo still has to look as if he is in a film, but the genre has changed. He has to go from leading man in an action film, to potential next victim in a slasher flick. At this point in the film, he has been running, has had his nose bloodied by the officer’s night stick, and is terrified. He is sweating from the adrenaline and physical exertion, but his face is slightly paler, making him look weaker and afraid in comparison to the police officer.

Makeup test for Aaron Profumo

Makeup test for Aaron Profumo, aka "Leo"

Leo, post-heist chase scene in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Leo, post-heist chase scene in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Police officer in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Police officer in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

As for Charlie’s heist look, I had a relatively extensive conversation with the director and the actress, the lovely and very talented Sam Bergman, about the implications of her character being the only woman on the team, and what different makeup looks would indicate about that. In heist films, there is almost always exactly one girl, and she is often there primarily to look appealing to the target straight-male audience. I wanted to be conscious of this and find a way to portray her character as an integral part of the team, not to make her up as eye-candy, but not to de-feminize her either.  I wanted her to be an intelligent and important character and still a girl (not the cliched nerdy or masculinized one-of-the-guys woman sometimes seen in films), without objectifying her.  Patrick had not totally considered these implications as they relate to the makeup design, but agreed that he did not want her to become a cliched eye-candy girl. We decided that the look should be a version of a typical college girl’s makeup, except more precise and artificial. At least at Oberlin, the typical college girl doesn’t really wear any makeup, so I went with concealer and a little bit of brown eyeliner and mascara for the flashback scenes. For the heist scene, I  gave her skin a more airbrushed look and switched the eyeliner to black and applied it in a very thin, neat line right along the lash line. I added a little subtle gold eyeshadow on the lid, with a dusky rose pink in the crease to add a little depth. The one element I wanted to really look as if she had purposefully changed was her lips. I have always noticed how women in action films somehow mysteriously have shiny, perfectly applied lip gloss in every scene, no matter what is going on, or how long it’s been since she has had access to said gloss. (Any woman who has worn lipgloss knows that this is not how it behaves, especially over the course of several hours during which she has more important things to do than re-apply). Since the characters are emulating these films, and the style of Patrick’s film is somewhat of a take on these genre conventions, I thought it would be fun for me to give Charlie this mysteriously perfect lipgloss as a bit of a poke at that phenomenon. It would be a way for her look to follow/ be a take on genre conventions, without turning her into the sex-bomb stock woman that one so often sees.

Charlie before heist

Charlie before the heist in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Charlie and Leo prepare for the heist

Charlie and Leo prepare for the heist in A College Student's Guide to Stealing Art

Empty Handed Fists

•April 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Empty Handed Fists is part of a senior project by Jason Outenreath. Jason’s project, like mine, consists of a number of different elements including cinematography for other films, a primarily spanish-language film he made during his study abroad in Mexico, and Empty Handed Fists, a short film using only non-student actors.  Since Jason only returned from Mexico at the start of spring semester, we were not able to spend the fall semester in pre-production as I had with the other filmmakers. Due to the short notice, and the type of makeup required, I agreed to join the project as the Special Effects Makeup Artist.

The most important element of the makeup was a prison tattoo worn by the main character, visible throughout most of the film. The tattoo had to look like it was done in prison, but serve as a reminder to the character about his past life, which he was trying to change for the sake of his young daughter.  I found out about Jason’s first shoot and the tattoo on the day of the shoot, and had just a few hours to research, design, draw, and make a stencil for the tattoo ( to ensure no continuity errors in later shoots).  I researched prison tattoos for content and style. A prison tattoo has to look improvised and hand-drawn. They are primarily done with ink from pens, giving them that distinctive blue color, and are often very linear in form due to their amateur nature and the time constraint of having to work on them when the guards are not looking. Many prison tattoos are intended to show pride in what one is imprisoned for, commemorate the lost time, or show gang affiliation. Since the character’s time in prison was a turning point in his life, an experience that inspired him to change his life and try to realize his dream of becoming a police officer, it was important that the tattoo convey an almost opposite message to what is typical.  It needed to serve as a reminder of his time in prison without glorifying it. I decided to go with a simple cross; religious symbols are not uncommon in prison tattoos and the cross could be to remind the character that God is watching and that he must stay on the right path. Once I settled on this, I drew a quick design in my sketchbook, traced it on wax paper so I would have a way to ensure that the dimensions would be exact for each shoot. To apply the tattoo, I sprayed the actor’s arm with alcohol and pressed the tracing up against it to give a bit of an outline of the tattoo dimensions. With the framework in place, I mixed a translucent grey-blue color in my Stacolor alcohol-activated palettes and painted on the tattoo. The translucent nature of the paint allowed the color to look as if it was coming from underneath the skin, as opposed to having been painted on top of it.

Tattoo in Empty Handed Fists

Tattoo in Empty Handed Fists

The other effects for the film were fairly basic. When the main character and his boss were in the kitchen of the restaurant where they work, they had to look sweaty. The lead also injured himself twice- an on-screen cut from the knife he was washing, and bloodied knuckles from punching a wall. I also did a little tromp l’oeil-style painting to make the smooth white wall look as if it had been punched hard enough to make the man’s knuckles bleed (I used makeup to do this, of course).

boss in empty handed fists

Boss in Empty Handed Fists

Out of Nowhere

•April 17, 2010 • 2 Comments

Out of Nowhere is a film noir-inspired short by Jay Nolan. Jay and I spent quite a bit of time over the course of this year talking about the design aesthetic for his film. He was drawing his inspiration from the close, dark, and gritty cinematography of film noir, so I chose to follow similar cues, looking at both noir films and neo-noirs, such as Blade Runner and Chinatown, for inspiration for the gritty look. The film was to be shot on HD and then converted into black and white in post-production. For me, this meant that the looks I designed would have to be more about depth and texture than color, and that they would have to be gritty while remaining subtle so as to not be overwhelming with HD’s unforgivingly high image quality.

The story follows an unassuming, milquetoast blogger named Matt who finds himself in the midst of a Russian mob-related shooting. In order to escape, he drives off in the first car he sees; this car just so happens to belong to the mobster, and in it sits his tied-up and beaten girlfriend and the case of money she attempted to steal from him. The entire film takes place around 4 am, so the characters are tired and disheveled.

The first character I designed for this film was Natasha, the Russian mobster’s girlfriend, played by actress Marina Shay. The character is with her boyfriend because she has little other option. She left a bad situation in Russia for one in America. Her boyfriend, Dimitri, treats her like a commodity, but she has clothes, money, food, and a place to live. She approaches her relationship almost like a job; she has to look good for Dimitri.

She presents herself in the way she knows will impress Dimitri and his fellow mobsters. Her dress is tight, and she wears more jewelry and makeup than she might if she were dressing just for herself and not for a group of men with a particular idea of what female beauty is. Her makeup is harsh and sexy, but it is also faded from the hours since it was applied and from the blood, sweat, and tears left on her face from the beating Dimitri gave her. Her eyeshadow is creased with the oil from her skin, and her eyeliner is smudged from tears. She has a fresh, dark black eye.

To create Natasha’s look, I did a full beauty makeup (leaving concealer off of her left under-eye), then strategically deconstructed it to show the time and trauma that were supposed to have passed since it was applied. A thin layer of petroleum jelly over her skin gave it a more gritty texture without compromising her youth and beauty. I used a little more petroleum jelly to wipe off and crease her eyeshadow. The black eye was painted with alcohol activated makeup, with a concentration more on depth and range of color value (rather than color itself) to ensure that it would work in black and white.

Natasha

Natasha in Out of Nowhere

Matt and Natasha

Matt and Natasha in Out of Nowhere

Dimitri and Matt had to look tired and fit into the aesthetic of the film. I used alcohol activated makeup to stipple thin translucent layers of reds and browns to give their skins a subtle imperfect texture, and slightly accentuated the dark circles under their eyes to show their exhaustion. I kept the looks subtle; Matt had to look unassuming, and Dimitri had to be sleazy, but as the wealthy nephew of the mob boss he still had to look suave, so I did not want the makeup to be too intense. They also each got the thin layer of petroleum jelly to make them appear more “real” and “raw” and less airbrushed.

Matt

Matt in Out of Nowhere

Dimitri

Dimitri in Out of Nowhere

The last character had a smaller role. He was a latino gang member who had conspired with Natasha to steal from Dimitri, and who had to suffer with Dimitri’s wrath as a consequence. He was a lower ranking member of his organization than Dimitri was, so he had to appear to have lived a hard life, and had probably served time in prison. I textured his skin with the alcohol activated makeup a little more than the other two men. I used the same palette to paint a bluish tear-shaped tattoo on his cheek, and used a combination of the paint and rigid collodion to create a scar near his mouth.

Latino Gang Member

Latino Gang Member in Out of Nowhere

Latino gang member

Latino Gang Member in Out of Nowhere