With the drastic improvements in CGI and other digital special effects editing, the standard of realistic looking FX in films has never been more difficult and more competitive.
The skills required to build realistic and visually stunning special FX make-up on screen has never been more pressurised and the skills, tools and designs used to create monsters from the faces of beautiful actresses and old men from twenty-something year olds, have never been more stunning.
We’ve put together 10 of our favourite special FX make-up filmsthat we feel have stood out from the madding crowd…
So, in no particular order we have:
1. The Fly
Director Cronenberg’s films have often feature pretty awesome special FX make-up, but The Fly is really on a whole different level from previous productions.
Not only is the make-up incredibly important to the progression of the storyline, the film won an Academy Awardfor artist Chris Wales and his teams’ work in transforming Seth Brundle into an incredibly hideous and disturbing man/fly hybrid. Focusing on making him seem fragile and ill to begin with, the make-up artists then had to shift their efforts to making him a grotesque and pitied creature that would haunt the dreams of viewers for years to come.
2. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
This magical trilogy would not be even half as impressive without the use of insane special FX make-up across all characters. What if the hobbitsdidn’t have those delicately detailed furry feet? (1800 hobbit feet were made for the first film alone). Or if the Orcs didn’t each have distinctive and creepily humane features embedded underneath their blue skin? What would LOTR be without the elves glowing faces?
Special attention was given to scars, dirt and prosthetics that had to be recreated again and again over the filming period and in a huge variety of different locations. The make-up helped the characters fit into their middle earth environment, helping to keep the enchanting nature of the film alive in every scene.
3. Planet of the Apes
This is hands down one of the greatest transformations from man to beast in film history. The make-up and prosthetics used to turn humans into our closest genetic relatives was seriously impressive and one that inspired a generation of make-up talent.
Make-up artist Rick Baker who was the FX master of An American Werewolf in London and Men in Black, said that “Planet of the Apes is one of the most important make-up movies ever” and whilst it took an absurd amount of time to to apply the make-up so that it would stay on all day, famous actors still opted to to play lead roles despite initial concern that they wouldn’t because of this reason.
4. Star Wars Episode III
Although this was the only one of the Star Wars films to not get nominated for Best Visual Effects, it did get a nomination for Best Make-up.
The fictional characters built by special FX make-up in this episode were a step up from previous episodes which resulted in more realistic and characterful species that created a more believable out-of-this-world experience.
5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This one of a kind fantasy drama won Oscars for Best Make-up and Best Visual Effects. The transformation achieved by Brad Pitt and the hard work of all the make-up artists was outstanding.
Without the talent and hard work behind this character, the film would have lost its realism and the film’s credibility would have plummeted. Outside of the Academy, this beautiful and visually stunning film gained another 20 Awards, the majority of which were related to make-up and visual effects (as well as Brad’s performance, obviously).
6. Pan’s Labyrinth
Whilst films now rely heavily on CGI for special FX, make-up is still a vital factor in creating a believable and magical fantasy. Some directors will rely more on the power of make-up than others, and one director in particular who appreciates the art of special FX make-up more than most, is Guillermo Del Toro. In his fantasy masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, the complexity of special FX make-up is sublime and surpassed by few. The creation of Faun and the Pale Man give the film unique characters that are still timeless and beyond our wildest imaginations.
7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Goblet of Fire was one of the first HP films to really grab special FX and run with it. The Triwizard Tournament is infamous for its bizarre and incredible mythical creatures that boast realistic features with beautifully magical twists that are both endearing and somewhat repulsive.
None of the Harry Potter films would have been able to grasp and reflect the world in JK Rowling’s mind without the use of digital special FX make-up. All six films are renowned for their breathtaking visuals and enchanting characters; all of which would not be possible without the efforts of talented make-up artists.
8. Batman Returns
Whilst the whole of this film uses pretty awesome make-up throughout, the one character we want to focus on is Danny DeVito’s ‘The Penguin’. Make-up artist Stan Winston, was tasked with the challenge to design and build make-up for The Penguin. Director Tim Burton wanted to create an over the top Burtonesque look whilst still keeping DeVito’s somewhat distinctive features.
The process it took to achieve this was long and full of experiments. From initial concepts of creating DeVito’s face just with a pointy nose, to creating a whole beak, it was trial and error coupled with Winston’s desire for perfection which led to the oh so famous final look.
We’re all aware of the terrifying IT clown - it’s a haunting character that terrifies adults and children alike. Derived from Stephen King’s novel, make-up artists had a pretty vivid description from which to go on, it was now just about making this fictional, nightmarish character into something real.
By using a mixture of prosthetics (for that absurdly large forehead), fake teeth and simple paint, the clown’s look was executed perfectly and is instantly recognisable as King’s creation. Commonly used as a halloween costume, IT is a timeless special FX make-up character.
10. The Mask
Much to the surprise of many viewers, Jim Carrey’s The Mask, was in fact not a mask at all, but a creation built from the hard work of special FX make-up artists. The intention was that special FX should be used alongside the impressive full face make-up, but due to Carrey’s natural ability to contort his face into bizarre expressions, he was able to save the team thousands of dollars on digital special FX.
The fake teeth worn by Carrey were originally used as a visual only, but as usual, Carrey broke expectations and learnt to talk in them, again, slashing the budget for digital effects.
Below is a video of the design and production of The Mask, demonstrating the effort that had to be put in every day to create Carrey’s eccentric and manic character.