Monday 20 April 2015

Make-up Effects in the movies

As regular readers of my blog will know (and if you don’t, this thread might interest you), I have a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts that go into the making of a film, everything from matte paintings to miniature work and all points between.  Following on from my post about Rick Baker (which you can read here), I decided to have a look at more special effects make-up that helped spark my interest in the art as I was growing up.

In 1974, Twentieth Century Fox decided to move away from the films and shifted the Planet Of The Apes saga to a weekly TV show.  Apparently it hit the UK screens in October of that year so I would have watched it in either 74 or 75.  I was six and loved it, embracing the whole she-bang - for years, I had a plastic ape mask that my parents picked up somewhere, which for a long time was one of my most favourite things ever and I was also an avid collector of the bubble-gum cards.  That Christmas, I was bought the Brown Watson annual (which I still have) and read it eagerly.  In addition to the usual 'kids annual' fare of comic strips, prose stories and biographies, there was a section at the back called ‘How To Make A Monkey Out Of Roddy McDowall’.  Hold on a minute - Roddy McDowall was a man?  Well, that was a surprise.  So the apes, chimps and orangutans in the TV show weren’t really apes, chimps and orangutans - they were people, made up to look like them!  My six-year-old mind was blown. 

John Chambers & Roddy McDowall pose
for a publicity shot
John Chambers (September 12, 1922 – August 25, 2001) was born in Chicago, Illinois and trained as a commercial artist, starting his career designing jewellery and carpets.  Following service in World War II as a medical technician, he worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Hines, Illinois, repairing faces and making prosthetic limbs for wounded veterans, in addition to training under Ben Nye, who was then head of make-up at 20th Century Fox.  Starting out as a special make-up effects artist, he created Spock’s ears for the original “Star Trek” TV series (in 1966) and worked on “The Munsters”, “The Outer Limits” and “Mission: Impossible” before winning an Oscar in 1968 for his work on “Planet Of The Apes”.  He worked extensively in films (“Slaughterhouse Five”, “Superbeast”, “Sssssss”, “The Island Of Dr Moreau”, “Halloween 2” and (uncredited) “Blade Runner”) and retired from them in 1982, though he continued to assist and mentor new artists.  In addition, Chambers was awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for his involvement in the ‘Canadian Caper’, wherein six American hostages escaped during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.  The film “Argo” (2012) covers this and Chambers was played by John Goodman.

This image shows the process in detail.

Roddy McDowell (who played Cornelius in the original "Planet Of The Apes", as well as Galen in the TV series) was famed for his home movies.  This one shows him being made up (by Don Cash) for the film and also includes some footage of the production on location.  I love the apes in shades!

Jump forward a few years (to the very early 80s) and I picked up a make-up book (which I would love to find now, for a reasonable price) from the library which featured, amongst many other greats, the wonderful Lon Chaney and I was staggered at the illusions he was able to create.  Later (but still in the early 80s), BBC2 began to show old horror films around teatime (can you imagine that happening now?) and once I found out "The Phantom Of The Opera" was going to be shown, I was a dedicated fan of their programming thread.

The film features Lon Chaney as Erik, The Phantom and following the success of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923), Chaney - who was skilled at the art of make-up and didn’t seem to mind the discomfort he put himself through in achieving a certain look - was given the freedom to create his own make-up.  Taking his cue directly from the description in the novel, he painted his eye sockets black (to give them a skull-like impression), pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the overall look.  When audiences first saw The Phantom, they were said to have screamed or fainted at the unmasking scene with Christine - even watching it today, there's a real frisson to the piece (and the make-up) that makes me think it must have been great fun to see this in a cinema in 1925!

Leonidas Frank ‘Lon’ Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930) was an American stage and film actor, director and screenwriter, who is regarded as one of the most versatile actors of early cinema.  He excelled with tortured, often grotesque characters and was also a highly skilled dancer, singer and comedian whilst his groundbreaking artistry and development of special effects make-up earned him the nickname ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’ (which was the title of the 1957 biopic starring James Cagney as Chaney).

Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado to deaf parents, he quickly became skilled in pantomime and began a stage career in 1902, travelling with popular Vaudeville and theatre acts. In 1905, he married the singer Cleva Creighton and they had one child, a son called Creighton Tull Chaney (who, as Lon Chaney, Jr., would go on to become a horror actor in his own right).  The marriage soured, with Cleva attempting suicide by swallowing mercuric chloride - she survived but it ruined her singing career - and the scandal (and subsequent divorce) forced Chaney out of the theatre and into film.  From 1912, he spent five years doing bit parts though his skill with make-up helped his chances.  In 1915 he married a chorus girl called Hazel Hastings, a union which lasted until his death and Chaney finally gained custody of his son.

He continued to work in film with his breakthrough performance - for both his acting ability and make-up skill - being ‘The Frog’ in “The Miracle Man” (1919).  He played an amputee gangster in “The Penalty” (1920), Quasimodo in “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” (1923), Erik in the aforementioned “Phantom Of The Opera” (1925) and a carnival knife-thrower called Alonzo the Armless in The Unknown (1927).  Also in 1927, he co-starred with Conrad Nagel, Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the Tod Browning film, “London After Midnight”, now considered as one of the most legendary and sought after lost films.
from left - "The Phantom Of The Opera", "London After Midnight", The Hunchback Of Notre Dame"
He spent the last five years of his film career from 1925-1930 working exclusively under contract to MGM.  His memorable performance as a tough drill instructor in “Tell It to the Marines” (1926), earned him the affection of the Marine Corps, who made him their first honorary member from the motion picture industry. He was also widely respected by aspiring actors, to whom he offered mentoring assistance.
Two shots of Chaney with his fabled make-up kit, which is still occasionally shown to the public
Chaney developed pneumonia whilst filming “Thunder” in the winter of 1929, was diagnosed that same year with bronchial lung cancer and picked up a serious throat infection caused by artifical snow used on the film (made from cornflakes).  He died of a throat haemorrhage on August 26, 1930 in Los Angeles and his funeral, on August 28 in Glendale, California, was given an Honor Guard by the US Marine Corps.

Also part of the same BBC2 strand that year was "Frankenstein" (1931), featuring the now legendary combination of Boris Karloff's wonderful performance and Jack Pierce's iconic make-up.  I watched that monster lumber across the screen with wide eyes and until I saw "The Creature From The Black Lagoon", he was my favourite.  Pierce's design (it's not clear how much input anyone else had) was both horrific and as logical as it could be, within the context of the story.  The scar and seal come from Henry Frankenstein accessing the brain cavity and the bolts on the neck - which everyone remembers - are electrodes, to carry the electrical charge needed to revive what is, in essence, a stitched-up corpse.

Jack (Janus Piccoula) Pierce (May 5, 1889 – July 19, 1968) was a Greek born emigre who, in the 1920s, worked as a cinema manager, stuntman and actor, building an interest and ability in make-up that culminated in his  transforming Jacques Lernier into an ape in “The Monkey Talks” (1926).  Impressing  Carl Laemmle, then head of Universal Studios, with his work, he was hired full-time after creating the rictus-grin face of Conrad Veidt in “The Man Who Laughs” (1928).

Although he had a reputation for being bad-tempered (he and Lon Chaney jr especially didn’t get on)  he enjoyed a good relationship with Boris Karloff which is just as well, since the Frankenstein make-up took four hours to apply.  As head of Universal Studio's make-up department, Pierce designed and created the now iconic make-ups for “Frankenstein”, “The Mummy” (1932) and “The Wolf Man” (1941) (plus their various sequels), utiliising ‘out of the kit’ techniques - building facial features out of cotton, liquid plastic or nose putty.  During the 1940s, as moulded foam latex appliances - cheaper, quicker and more comfortable for the actors - were used more often, Pierce found it difficult to adapt to modern methods.  With the old guard at the studio gone, he was ‘let go’ from Universal in 1946 and his last credit is as make-up artist for the TV show “Mister Ed” (from 1961 to 1964).

The following video link (which is, wonderfully, a slightly ropey VHS copy of an American TVB show from 1981) helps to explain the process and also features Dick Smith and Rick Baker (with his superb "An American Werewolf In London" make-up).
For my next mini-essay in this thread, I'll look at special make-up from the 60s, 70s and (boom-time) 80s!

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