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Immersed in Movies: Assessing the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar Race

Immersed in Movies: Assessing the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar Race

You couldn't find three more diverse choices for makeup and hairstyling than in "Hitchcock," "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," and "Les Misérables." A portrait of Hitch that effectively blends Anthony Hopkins with the Master of Suspense; a far more complicated and detailed use of prosthetics and wig and beard styling for the iconic characters of Middle-earth in keeping with the greater demands of 3-D and higher frame rate viewing; and elaborate and ever changing 19th century looks to make us believe in characters on the verge of transformation and a society on the verge of revolution.

While "Les Mis" won the BAFTA and remains the Oscar favorite for hair and makeup, don't be surprised if the "The Hobbit" wins based on the extensive and hand-crafted nature of the work. And even though "Hitchcock" is the dark horse, you can't discount the total transformation of Hopkins into Hitch, which should have particular appeal to the dominant actor's branch.

The Oscar-winning SFX makeup wiz Howard Berger makes us believe in the illusion almost immediately. That's because he goes for a less is more approach, creating a believable physical resemblance while at the same time allowing the actor to deliver a sly performance about the making of the legendary "Psycho."

Berger admits it took a lot of trial and error to get the blend just right and reaching a consensus with the producers proved difficult during a series of screen tests. But Berger prevailed with an old school approach of minimal prosthetics. They stripped away more and more: smaller nose, smaller ears, less of a center brow line. Then finally the night before shooting they lost the lower lip, once the wily Hopkins pushed his lip into a wonderful pout.

Berger did the work with his KNB EFX Group in collaboration with hair department head Martin Samuels (also nominated along with makeup specialist Peter Montagna). They stripped away more and more: smaller nose, smaller ears, less of a center brow line. Then finally the night before shooting they lost the lower lip, once the wily Hopkins pushed his lip into a wonderful pout.

"The makeup consisted of four silicone appliances," Berger explains. "The biggest was the horseshoe piece that included the chin, the neck, and the sides of the face that wrapped around under his ears and along the back of his hairline. Other appliances were earlobes, nose tip, and brown contact lenses. There was also makeup to blend Hopkins' skin to the piece."
For "The Hobbit," Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater, and Tami Lane performed the most painstaking work on the 13 dwarves, a wild and engaging group that endeavors to take back its homeland. In a departure from Tolkien's descriptions in the novel, the long wigs and beards were individually styled and colored so that we may distinguish one from the other.

After a series of show and tell sessions where King and his team came up with the dwarf designs, they were inspired to use real yak hair (not synthetic, again, because of the 3-D and higher frame rate). That is, except for leader Thorin (Richard Armitage). He dons human hair to help him stand out from the rest of the clan.

Meanwhile, to make Gandalf (Ian McKellen) look younger, they added more color to his face while darkening his beard. But for Cate Blanchette's Elf Queen, King conjured a special light-reflective powder to make her look even more luminous.

Finally, for "Les Mis," Lisa Westcott's biggest challenge wasn't just verisimilitude and adjusting to a nearly 20-year time span; it was providing four different appearances for Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean with assorted wigs and light prosthetics. In the stirring opening, there's the demeaning convict look followed by the humble convent look, the elegant mayor look, and the transcendent dying look.

Working with fellow nominee Julie Dartnell, Westcott's most intense concentration was placed on Valjean's convict look: After giving him a scraggly beard with added hair and color, they shaved it off and added scarring and shackle-mark prosthetics around the collarbone, wrists, and ankles. Reddish-looking contact lenses and yellowed dentures completed the picture of a downtrodden figure. (Given the highly publicized decision to sing live, the actors apparently were neurotic about their teeth.)

Of course, we've heard all about chopping off Anne Hathaway's hair to portray Fantine as a prostitute, but they also provided splotchy face makeup and let the Oscar frontrunner for best supporting actress paint her own teeth to fulfill the transformation.

For comic relief, there's the Thénardiers, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who change appearance every time we see them as part of their con artist shenanigans. This necessitated a host of bizarre costumes, wigs, and makeup. Best of all, Westcott turns him ginger, which comes through amid all sorts of creative disguises.

More than anything, all three nominees demonstrate the organic synergy between makeup and hairstyling. No wonder the Academy finally combined them into a single category for Sunday's 85th Academy Awards.

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