Eye on the Oscars: Art Direction, Costumes & Makeup

As Vera in writer/director Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” actress Elena Anaya spends a fair amount of time naked, but her epidermis is far from completely exposed.

Makeup artist Karmele Soler and two assistants spent three hours each day applying subtle scars and discolorations over her body, the result of character Vera Cruz’s extensive reconstructive plastic surgery.

“Firstly, we had to draw the pattern on her skin, like the seams when sewing, and then we had to create and apply makeup to the scars and the skin,” Soler says. “It was very delicate work. I used Pros-Aide (makeup adhesive) for the texture and a thin brush to draw clear and precise scars. Then for the color we used alcohol makeup to obtain the desired skin tone.”

While some might find it uncomfortable having a team labor over their naked body for hours at a time, “Elena was always very patient and showed no problem about her nudity,” Soler says.

Almodovar enlisted French haute couture designer Jean Paul Gaultier to create a second skin in the form of a bodysuit based on those worn by people who’ve had skin surgery after suffering severe burns.

Gaultier also created a tiger costume for the unhinged criminal Zeca (Roberto Álamo) that, while whimsical, speaks to the character’s darker impulses. “(The idea) was to create an exotic creature, an animal,” says the film’s costume designer, Paco Delgado.

The tiger costume contrasts starkly with the tailored suits and conservative cardigans worn by Antonio Banderas as obsessed plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard.

“We were trying to portray a professional guy who was successful not only in his job, but also socially,” says Delgado. “An elegant look but with a certain coldness. We want him to wear suits like an armor when in public and softer approach when he was at home.”

The film contains some extreme special makeup effects created by David Marti and Montse Ribe of DDT, Oscar-winners for their work on “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006). The effects include the horrific burn makeup for Ledgard’s wife and the white silicon mask worn by Vera as her face heals. But the key plot twist — Vincente’s (Jan Cornet) gradual transformation to Vera — is communicated via a more subtle, almost transparent collaboration between hair, makeup and costume.

“We did a number of hairdo tests to avoid a sharp change in the character, and we softened the hairstyle to (strengthen) the feminine side that would enable the subtle transformation of Jan due to the several operations that the character went through to become Vera,” hair stylist Manolo Carretero explains.

The final brushstroke accentuating the completion of the Vincente-Vera transformation is provided by a simple Dolce & Gabbana floral dress.

“Pedro talked of having a dress that should be the essence of femininity,” Delgado remarks. “This dress had it all. (It) created a very feminine silhouette and embodied an idea of a woman newly reborn.”

Eye on the Oscars: Art Direction, Costumes & Makeup
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