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F/x Take Off the Years

Shops digitally fix bad makeup, wig lines, prosthetics

Stars already have their own makeup artist, personal trainer and hair stylist on the pic payroll. Now add digital cosmetic enhancement.

Such digital f/x work can turn acne to peaches-and-cream, put six-packs on flabby abs, even rehabilitate a face marred by cosmetic surgery.

And if some of those who perform such enhancements have their way, their work could become a required expense for studios enlisting top stars to their pics.

There’s already more digital enhancement going on than most people realize; f/x companies that do the work are sworn to silence.

But a flashback sequence in this summer’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” shows just how effective digital cosmetic enhancement can be. Lola Visual Effects “youthened” stars Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen by at least a quarter-century.

Most of Lola’s work, though, is not intended to be noticed. The shop, whose credits include “Poseidon,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Superman Returns,” digitally fixes problems ranging from bad makeup and visible wig lines to prosthetics melting in the sun.

With costs for a shooting day easily running to a quarter-million dollars on major films, it’s cheaper to erase an acne breakout in post than to shut down production until it passes.

“Lola and the vfx business is by the shot,” says Art Repola, exec VP of visual effects and production at Disney, which has used Lola’s services on “Sky High” and “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” “To do a reshoot for this kind of thing would just be giant multiples of what it would cost to do these fixes.”

Also creating demand for such fixes are new high-def cameras, says Repola, because “they show every pore on an actor.”

Stars concerned about their onscreen appearance may insist on tweaks in post. And even if the studio feels the fixes are unnecessary, they may do them to keep stars happy.

That’s where Lola has spotted an opening.

Company is pitching reps for major stars to make Lola’s services part of their standard studio deals.

“This makes it possible for an actor to manage their look over the course of their career,” says Thomas Nittman, a Lola owner and producer. “Why not?”

Disney’s Repola wants no part of a contractual requirement to use any specific shop. “I could understand how certain stars might want that,” he says. “(But) I don’t think we would agree to it. … These guys aren’t the only game in town.”

Indeed, while DCE work is Lola’s specialty, ILM has done it and so has Sony Pictures Imageworks. Neither, though, counts it as a big part of their business.

Nondisclosure is vital. When Lola gets a call from a studio, it’s typically required to sign a draconian agreement before it can even learn what the job is.

So the next time a critic wonders if an actress is incredibly well-preserved or just has had a lot of work done, remember: There’s now a digital third alternative.

Does she or doesn’t she? Only her vfx supervisor knows for sure.

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