The Oscar 2018 trio of makeup and hair nominees are marked by memorable and effective transformations: Best Actor favorite Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” nine-year-old Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) suffering from a rare facial deformity in “Wonder,” and Judi Dench as withering Queen Victoria restored to joyful grace in “Victoria & Abdul.”
In all three instances, the sculpting and applications provided believable looks that never detracted from superb performances. Oldman and Dench don’t resemble Churchill and Victoria, yet their appearances captured the essence of these historical figures. And while Auggie’s Treacher Collins syndrome appeared less severe than in the best-selling novel by R.J. Palacio, the effects of the deformity were very realistic.
“Darkest Hour” (now available on Blu-ray/DVD from Universal) remains the heavy favorite, of course, but “Wonder” (also on Blu-ray/DVD from Lionsgate) and “Victoria & Abdul” are worthy competitors. All three are testaments to the power of the human face.
Read more about these nominees, ranked in order of their likelihood to win:
“Darkest Hour” (Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, and Lucy Sibbick)
Oldman lured Tsuji (Oscar-nominated for “Norbit” and “Click”) out of retirement for “Darkest Hour,” and the makeup master responded with the greatest achievement of his career. The reason he became a makeup artist in the first place was his admiration for how legendary Dick Smith turned Hal Holbrook into Lincoln. He applied the same philosophy to Churchill, fusing the two faces by working from the inside out, which he learned from fine-art sculpting.
Since their faces were very different, Tsuji had to find a balance. “I tried to put the essence of Churchill in a sculpture, and apply that on Gary without hiding him too much,” he said. “But he was amazing and his acting disappeared inside Churchill. I never experienced that before.” The key to the prosthetics, though, was pushing the likeness of Churchill’s cheeks and the use of European baby hair to get the right texture.
“Wonder” (Arjen Tuiten)
Dutch-born special-effects makeup designer Tuiten found himself in unfamiliar territory after standout creature work on “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Maleficent.” But director Stephen Chbosky wouldn’t make “Wonder” without him: He had faith that Tuiten could pull off the realism of Treacher Collins syndrome. Yet it was the first time that a child in full prosthetics had a lead role, and Tremblay had to carry the movie with less prep and shooting time because he was a minor.
“From his shoulders up, everything was covered and we had to design it in a way that came together rapidly and comfortably,” said Tuiten. Tremblay had prosthetics on the chin and nose, along with fake eyebrows and teeth. But the key were tiny eye bags connected to a wire mechanism to avoid a droopy look in concert with contact lenses that enlarged the irises. After being mentored by Rick Baker, Tuiten learned to trust the inner whisper of how to get the work done.
“Victoria & Abdul” (Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard)
Phillips and Sheppard went lo-tech with no prosthetics on Dench in Stephen Fears’ biopic about Queen Victoria’s friendship with Muslim clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Through a gradual change in monochromatic makeup and wigs, they literally restored the color back in her life. “At the beginning of the film, she had to look completely bored and worn down by the weight of the world,” said Phillips. “We had to show that in her face, and then she had to blossom through the story.”
First, they removed Dench’s makeup and eyebrows, and aged the skin. Then they repainted shadows and lines, emphasizing facial creases and eye folds, making her look old and pale. They added a steel-gray wig to increase the severity. As she grows fonder of Abdul, they applied a softer tone with warmer colors and a lighter wig. “It was great to convey the pain in her life and then the joy,” Phillips said.