Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, January 2007. Special Make-up Effects for HD: What HD Won’t Hide by Todd Debrecenilt’s. Pages 34 – 36.
High Definition Television is not going to go away, and may someday even replace the use of film at all (I hope not). The first question that comes to mind is, ‘Is there really a difference between creating straight makeup and creating makeup effects when it comes to HD?’
There are a couple of schools of thought on make-up for HD and they are:
• HD is unforgiving in detail, clarity and resolution, so everything must be perfect; a single strand of hair out of place in a close-up will stand out in a very noticeable way.
• And, if you’re working in film, there really isn’t going to be a significant difference between the work for film and the work for HD. That is, HD Standard = Film Standard. Personally, I think that depends on how tight a particular shot may be.
HD has 4 times the sharpness and clarity of conventional SD (Standard Definition) recording; therefore make-up for HD needs to be blended extremely well. Shooting in HD puts new demands on all departments, particularly make-up. What is happening in the industry is a greatly increased use of airbrush for make-up application. The airbrush allows the artist to disperse a fine layer of make-up foundation to the face – or elsewhere, producing a natural result in both skin tone and texture. There are numerous sources for airbrush make-up, as well as the airbrush equipment itself. Kett cosmetics, Temptu, Dinair, and Stacolor are among the top-used airbrush make-up foundations, and airbrush systems are also available from Dinair, Kett, Temptu, and Iwata. Other airbrush brands that are used extensively are Paasche, Badger, and Thayer and Chandler.
A good starter airbrush setup kit consisting of a double-action gravity-feed airbrush, hose, and a quiet compressor can run you anywhere from $200 – $400, and a one or two ounce bottle of airbrush foundation may cost $20 -$30. It can add up fast, but is well worth the cost, given what can wind up on screen.
When it comes to painting prosthetic appliances for make-up effects, amazing artists like Matthew Mungle (X-Men: The Last Stand, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Ve Neill (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), Bill Corso (Click, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), Mike Smithson (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Planet of the Apes) and the late Richard Snell (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) have been using airbrush for years to make their work indistinguishable from reality, even up close, in person. Their artistry is incredible.
We just finished a project for a live-event in Europe that was going to be projected in HD in which we had to convincingly put an actor’s face on a stuntman. We had the advantage of it being a night shot and not in close-up, but it still had to read believably on camera, and possibly to the naked eye. The only way we could accomplish this was with airbrush and a well-made appliance. What we didn’t have was time. There’s a business adage: Good. Cheap. Fast. Pick two. Its pretty infallible, and clients need to understand it.
Ideally, if we had the time, the appliance would have been appliances… overlapping in specific areas so they would react more believably with the stuntman’s facial movement, but since we didn’t have much time (not quite a weekend) and the stuntman wasn’t going to speak, we could cheat the construction, but it still had to look real and match the actual skin that was going to remain visible.
This could very easily have been a project that could take a couple of weeks to do. The process for creating an overlapping make-up made of several pieces requires the initial sculpture to be separated and each piece re-sculpted onto a new mold – in this case, it would be of the actor’s face. If we were going to make a multi-piece make-up based on our actor’s face, we would likely create a separate forehead, nose, upper lip, lower lip, chin, and both cheeks. That’s six pieces, which means 12 mold pieces – 6 positives, and 6 negatives. What is important to remember at this point is if you are going to be creating either cold foam or hot foam appliances with these molds, and if they are stone molds – that is, molds made from ultracal 30 (which is much stronger than plaster, or even hydrocal) – then it is imperative that they be free of moisture before casting the appliances. If you are making foam latex pieces (hot foam) your pieces will fail because of steam pockets created when you heat a mold that still has moisture. By the same token, moisture in a mold using foam urethane (cold foam) will fail as well; the foam will collapse. If you can dry the molds sufficiently prior to casting, you shouldn’t have any problems… You may even get lucky using a freshly made mold; it’s a crap shoot. But is that a risk you’re willing to take, or one you have to take? When I’m making foam urethane appliances, I like to have at least part of the mold – the negative – be made of silicone on the inside. The mother mold, or outer support shell can be made of ultracal, fiberglass or another suitable material. I often use ultracal because it’s easy, I’m familiar with it, and when I happen to be cooking foam latex, it stands up over repeated heating and cooling, as well as withstanding the noxious fumes the foam releases when you cook it better than hydrocal or plaster. I haven’t used fiberglass molds much, but am getting ready to for an upcoming project.
But no matter what material you are using, HD will pick up all edges and will highlight any imperfections in an appliance; this will require improved skill and additional time for accuracy. Appliance edges must be even more invisible, which pushes the attention to detail back to the design and sculpture phases of the make-up, not just application. All of this extra time means higher cost.
Shooting in High Definition puts new demands on all departments, particularly make-up, but it comes back to the formula: HD Standard = Film Standard. In an article about make-up for TV in the Washington Post, Oscar winner (and one of my Mentors) Matthew Mungle said he thinks HDTV will force the industry to produce better artists. “You’ll have to watch what you do more, watch how much paint and makeup you use, and be more artistic,” he said.
Being in a hurry to complete a make-up task should always be avoided because it invariably results in mistakes that will ultimately cost you even more time than if you had slowed down and done the work carefully. Obviously, the more experience you have with a particular kind of make-up application – whether it is straight make-up or a make-up effect – the faster you’ll get. For HD applications, more time must be budgeted into the schedule to allow for the increased attention to detail. Every blemish, acne scar, etc. will be accentuated by HD, so a longer time in the makeup chair will ensure that standards are maintained on camera. The use of micronized setting powder will help make skin surfaces appear smoother.
In HD, colors in red part of spectrum are interpreted more vividly and strongly than on film, SD video or to the naked eye. Most skin and hair tones are well tolerated and appear similar to SD and film. Men may require more time in make-up to allow for an application to mask potential beard shadow and shine. Because of the added time, as well as a need for the use of an airbrush to create a seamless finish, this will be an additional cost consideration for both the make-up artist and the production.
On productions with the budget for testing, do it. Just as cinematographers will test various film stocks in different lighting conditions to see how each film will portray colors in an array skin tones, wardrobe, etc., make-up tests should be done for HD also for the very same reasons. Wig and facial hair lace will be more difficult to hide, needing finer quality lace-front hair pieces and experienced personnel to apply them.
Blood and special effects can look over-accentuated with high gloss. Red dominates in HD, and on set maintenance will need to be vigilant to counteract shine and to maintain the makeup more thoroughly throughout the shoot.
As I just mentioned, HD will pick up all edges of an appliance if they’re not created correctly and applied with great care. This means spending your own time and money practicing. And practicing. And practicing.
In order for us to raise our game to the HD level, we need to become involved in the preproduction process as possible, without overstepping protocol boundaries, which can occasionally be tenuous. Questions to know the answers to early are, ‘What is the make-up budget?’ ‘How much of that is for make-up effects?’ ‘How tight will the make-up be shot?’ That way, you can plan well and execute well, without cutting into your profit margin.
Todd Debreceni began his career at PBS and has worked for TBS, 20th Century-Fox Television, Warner Bros. and Disney. His credits include “Contact” and “My Favorite Martian.” Todd has created makeup effects for numerous theatre productions, and also conducts regular seminars, workshops and private classes in special makeup effects for film, television and theatre. Todd is an adjunct professor at the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver.