Monday, March 21, 2011

By "George" - It's Zombies, but not Zombies

My most recent film experience took me to the zombie short film "George", directed by Gabriel Rosenstein for The Spitting Image. He had a very specific idea in mind for his zombie story. His tale was one of a man's survival in the midst of the ruins of society. Gabe wanted zombies, but not zombies; to impart the feel and atmosphere of a world over run with despair, but without tipping the hat to the walking dead we've all come to instantly recognize. Gabe didn't want any facial appliances, or any effects that would detract from the humanistic look of his actors. He was insistent on the visual interpretation that any one other than his title character could or could not be a zombie. This would prove to be quite a challenge. What was asked was to not go overboard with gore either, that the story was to drive the visuals and I could certain respect that. I knew that this would be an out-of-kit build for effects and one of open interpretation. I regarded it as "paint me a picture, but only use these colors" kind of project, which I could definitely dig, especially in only 2 days of shooting. A couple of things to factor in were a bite mark on the main character's leg as well as a bullet hole in another's head. I was definitely up for the challenge.

Upon arriving to our holding, I met Mary Czech who would be doing hair and make-up as well. She's a very funny woman, and a lot of fun to work with as we shared similar tastes in films, comic books, and make up style. This is more important than you can imagine when working with someone in such an enclosed space for hours on end. Mary is quite the professional and a treat to work with, especially when referencing Midnight Movies. You can check her out on Twitter @ rockindaspandex and see her talent at Glam Dammit.

In preparation for the bite mark I took some oil based clay and bit into it, making an impression of my top teeth and my bottom teeth. I then mixed up some Ultracal to pour into these small molds to pull out my solid positive. Once I had those two pieces I gave it a couple coats of liquid latex and had my very own custom appliances for the zombie bite. I even made an extra set of bite marks just in case. I was a Boy Scout once upon a time, and their motto is one of the best in terms of zombies; Be Prepared.

DAY ONE: Here's one of the pseudo-zombies. My idea was to make him dirty looking, with brown and darker cream colors. I imagined that these characters would be left to the natural elements, baking in the sun, and left to rot. A key element to remember is that in terms of the script it was meant to remain unclear how our zombies came to be the way they were; from radiation, a virus, space aliens, whatever. Any effects would have to be perceived as either being from their existence AND from their condition.

I thought a two tone color would visually suggest that there was something initially "off" about this individual, and yet they still look feasibly normal. I like to think that something is wrong on the inside first, before it appears on the outside. This idea was accomplished by usually augmenting one feature of each actor we would encounter.

Mary took on this actress utilizing "Scarlett Red" for the eyes and blending out the skin to a deathly pale. It helped that the actress had been locked away for most of the Winter and hadn't seen any sun. I used a blue eyeliner to pull out some of her veins in her arms as we applied white cream to take the color down (though it's probably too faint to see in this photograph alone). The idea that I enjoyed was that whatever had created these zombies, that they might have a different affecting look between the sexes.

A closer look shows how the make up extends even to her chest, drawing the eyes into the arms and continuing the illusion.

Mary worked on the make-up of one of George's encounters, another human trying to survive as well.

His look is straight forward and gritty; meant to be as natural as his environment. Notice the similar make-up application between his face and his hands.

Our friend has an encounter that ends poorly, with him gun shot to the head. In approaching this my idea was that all of the trauma should be on one side of the face so that when the actor looks from left to right (or vice versa) that it would be a reveal of his injury encompassed in the look giving much more options in terms of camera angles. The bullet wound is sculpted from scar wax and coated in liquid latex. Once that was dry it was layered with some color, a dab of bloody scab and some blood though not too much. The other abrasions are meant to look like scrapes from his fall. It's a combination of liquid latex, some color, and bloody scab.

Here's a closer look. He's slightly dirtier, which was something that we played with in terms of colors to invoke a visual understanding of death in the film.

DAY TWO: For an insert shot, Gabriel wanted a set of zombie hands to reach in front of camera. He said he just needed one so Mary and I each took a hand of an actor and decided to do two versions to give the director a choice. An effective make-up artist gives the director as many options as they can deliver within time and budget, something we had limited amounts of with this. The one thing that we had to consider between each of our artistry was to have a somewhat similar look between both hands in case Gabe wanted to use both in the scene. You don't want one person with two radically different hands and kill the flow on set by sending the actor back to fix a mistake.

Here's my version of the hand. This actor had some crazy veins in his hands so I decided to play with those by incorporating them into the paint up. I used some liquid latex, and cream paint and some bloody scab. I think it looks disturbing without being too out and out gross; a nice happy medium.

Mary did a great job with her hand adding a bit more color and giving a real sense of shadow.

So my actor from the previous day returned and I had to match his make-up from before. Gabriel said that the actors for the day would be for his "zombie horde", though they would be seen largely from a distance. To compensate for distance I amped up the browns and creams in his make-up to deliver a look I wish would have pushed forward earlier. It's a bit more powerful and distinctive without being too radical from what had already been captured on camera if any matching were to be done in post-production.

This look I needed to do super quick and dirty. I gave my actor the Freddy Krueger treatment in some picked over liquid latex skin abrasions on the cheeks and forehead. I went with a more purple-ish/brown hue that I also used to accent his eyes rather than blood and other reds.

Since he was so fair skinned I extended some of the brown to his jaw and neck to connect the dirty sunburn kinda look we were working with. The purple-ish hue would also compliment the colors used with our female zombies.

Here's his complete look DONE in under 10 minutes. He still looks kinda normal, but there's something certainly off going on here.

We had another actress for our second day and I wanted Mary to recreate the Scarlet Red eyes of our female zombie the day before. Again Mary worked on the skin tone as I added a latex abrasion/giant popped blister to our actress's cheek. She had crazy long cheeks that really made this effect stand out. The goal was to not make anything too involved or particularly recognizable, but definitely distinct.

Mary did a great job shadowing along the clavicles giving a nice sunken look with the same skin tone as our other actress. This was important in creating a continuous color palette throughout. I particularly enjoy the runny mascara as well to balance the abrasion on the other side of her face.

Some of the other actors arrived all at once and a bit later than expected. We dug in and pushed through. Here's Mary's take on of the zombies. Bruised and discolored, he looks to be a zombie, but also just to have had one bad night out.

Here's another actor I took on giving him the same treatment as my first actor to match. I kinda like the dirty Jersey Shore look he's got going on, but you have to admit; while you might not imagine zombie right away, you're definitely creeped out.

 Here's the bite mark applied and colored. Gabriel wanted it kind of green, but still somewhat bloody. This was the latex piece I made, some cream and some bloody scab. The secret is all in knowing how to blend, but still make it stand out. His specifics were that he wanted it to look as if it could have occurred that day or 2 weeks ago. This was the two separate pieces applied with Pros Aide. I wanted to make sure that it would stick in place and not shift or fall off as it rubbed against the actor's pants, ESPECIALLY since he would be falling and crawling around leading up to the scene that reveals this wound.

I was really really happy with the placement of this piece. It was like a perfectly positioned tattoo. It bent with the curvature of his body and was easily seen if he was sitting feet up or when he slouches into a butterflied position. I also like the slightly upward turned angle that makes one envision that some may have grabbed his leg from the ground and bitten out a chunk. When they were ready to begin filming I added a small bit of liquid blood to the center of the wound, which was just enough to accentuate the effect as it dripped out from a seated position. Also on set I was asked to place 4 bright green dots surrounding the wound so that in post-production they could digitally alter the effect as well.

Here's my spin on Mary's make-up of the lead character, George. She had made his hair greasy and given him a splashing of blood with dried really, really nicely. For my part I went in and gave him a bit of the darker brown and cremes around the edges as well as a subtle blend of purples around the eyes. Basically I wanted to combine the two looks of the male and female zombies we had done earlier into one cohesive look. The challenge was to not overpower Mary's previous work, especially by not upsetting the blood work. It's subtle, but you can see that something is definitely amiss.

All in all the actors all sat like champs and the collected group of filmmakers were really fun to work with and very professional. They stayed on time and definitely rolled with the punches of a tightly scheduled production. I think the looks are dynamic without being overpowering, giving a colorful look that's unique and distinctive. I really liked how the gore wasn't overboard, but more reserved for the more dramatic moments of the story. I hope for my next round of zombies I can deliver something a bit more visceral in terms of gore and carnage, but it was really nice to realize that sometimes it's not how fast or hard you swing your sword, but rather just how you swing it. It was a very enjoyable exercise in restraint and I feel I was able to help deliver the look Gabriel had in his mind to film.

I'll be sure to share more details of "George" as it comes out of edit and available to the world.

The Devil is an Awkward Creation

A little while back I was contacted to do the effects make-up on a short film titled REGIFT DEMON by director Adam Brown for Yellowline Pictures. The basic storyline is that a recently separated couple must decide who will take the responsibility of their pet Demon. The director wanted a classic fire engine red demon, the iconic representation of Hell. Adam wanted some exaggerations to the human form, but still have the characteristics of the actor (played by Adam's father) to shine through. It was to be a unique challenge, but one that proved to be quite fun.

 Here's my setup - I got a nice bottle of bright red bodypaint that was really easy to work with, applied with a paint brush. I knew that cream based make-up would be the way to blend this project and forge ahead. The appliance pieces I had were to be used as a means to enhance the look, not stand as the look itself. The bane of it all was that damn hair. It's stage hair that I colored with black hair spray you find just about everywhere come Halloween. I would use the K-Y Jelly as snot for added effect.

 I started with a foam latex facial appliance. It was initially a full face piece I picked up for a Witch, but the look of it was great enough with plenty of room for interpretation. The director wanted it to be more about the actor so I cut off everything south of the nose bridge and somewhat improvised from there.

 I ended up using another spare Witch's nose I had in my kit from before. This one was a lot more subtle, but still with a distinct look. The ears I chose to use are actually Werewolf ears as I wanted something more exaggerated than just Elf or Vampire ears. I bridged the gaps from the appliance and the nose with a bit of liquid latex. I had two sets of horns for the director to choose from, his choice being shorter more fawn like of my offerings. His idea was definitely for a more comical version of the Underworld. It helped a lot that my actor was bald as I placed the horns further up his head than if I would have just attached them on at the forehead. This was all about combining several elements into one cohesive delivery.

 Here you can see a side view of the foundations I'm applying. You can see how these slight alterations to his profile are what I will build on.

 All the appliances were adhered with Pros Aide which sticks a bit stronger than just liquid latex. I wanted to make sure with the physical performance my work would stay in place.

 For the face I used red cream based make-up as I wanted more control over it rather than just the body paint. I applied my base coat and would go back in later for shadow, blending, and finishing touches.

 Here you can see the make-up in the first steps of coming alive and the features of the actor as they begin to transform.

 The body paint was easy enough to apply, just simply brushed on. It glided on and dried within about five minutes per section.

 Here's the Demon's make-up about mid-way through. I started the blending with more brown cream paint rather than just simply black to offset the color. The shadows would come from the minimal lighting on set (they used a lot of natural daylight), I just wanted to push it in the direction I wanted. I would do this on the actor's neck, chest, arms, and hands.

 The make-up even included my actor's feet which I would further blend after this. They were done with the red body paint and brown cream paint. I then glued down some of that hair with some liquid latex, but then finally Pros Aide. It was like nailing Jell-O to a tree, but I managed and got it on.

 Here you can see the actor really getting into his character thanks to the make-up. The director wanted the Demon hairy as well. This meant gluing hair to the shoulders, the armpits, chest and even crafting a uni-brow to be glued on to the forehead appliance.

 Here's a closer look. I particularly like how the uni-brow is like a mirror to my actor's mustache that I colored in black. Distinctly you're not quite sure how old this guy is and he totally let himself get lost in the make-up.

Here's some screen shots from the short film itself.

All in all, it was a fun flick to work on and the actor really brought the make-up to life as an extension of his character. Ideally this was an odd version of the Devil to pull off, but it was an interesting take on a classic look.

Here's my favorite photo of the session.

The film is currently on its way around the festival circuit so be sure to keep an eye out. I'll post any details of upcoming screenings.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Joe Cool - Dawn of the Picture Show

A little while back I held a contest on my other blog where the winner would receive a piece of original artwork. I've held this contest before and it's always a fun challenge to interpret what the winners want into an original piece of artwork. Joe O'Connor, the man behind Oduction Production's Midnight Time Warp, won the last prize I offered and wanted something that combined his two cinematic loves - DAWN OF THE DEAD and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. I thought long and hard about how to approach the piece, of possibly combining characters in a scene and the appropriate ways to initiate a cross-over. Ultimately I decided to channel the iconic imagery used to market these films into one cohesive product.

I sketched out the head over the horizon piece from DAWN OF THE DEAD and its stencil like font and decided to implement the lips and drippy font from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. This was all done on Bristol board. The idea was to meld both pieces into an almost movie poster look. You can see little "R"s and "BL"s on the face to help me discern which areas would be painted red & black. I found this to be a big help, almost like my own paint-by-numbers kit.
I decided to use watercolors for a nice blended effect to capture a photo-realism with the lips and to give a warbled hue for the top of the piece as well. I used shade of brown for the inside of the mouth as black would make it look lost in the background later on.
I chose purple for the background to off-set the red that I would use to tie the piece together. I knew that working with a limited color scheme was the only way to truly make the piece "pop".
I went in with India ink and a brush to drop a layer of true black across the piece. This was a little tricky with the lettering, but I managed to pull it off. I doubt the piece would be as eye catching if I had just used black watercolor.
All inked up, you can see my horizon line is a bit wonky. Such is the peril of drawing straight lines without a ruler. To fix this I laid a strip of blue painter's taper across the piece and pressed firmly so that no ink would bleed out. I then took my brush and leveled out all my uneven areas.
After I finished with the ink, I went back over and erased my pencil lines, and the segments where I had marked for color. The thing I didn't account for was that the water color over top of the pencil made it a little more difficult to remove. Once I rubbed out the pencil marks, I had to go back over some areas for color, but this added a nice element of shading to it all. Notice the gradient of purple from top to bottom.
Here it is, all done up. I particularly enjoy how the lips seem to be a part of the zombie head. The horizon line plays a trick on your eyes as it attempts to separate the two images that I have juxtaposed. The flash from my camera picks up the brush strokes from the ink, but they're unnoticable to the naked eye. I think the combination of text and fonts plays a really nice role in the overall aesthetic. I sincerely hope that Joe enjoys the piece as it gave me more exercise with watercolors and inking. Be sure to check out for future contests!