The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was long a Hollywood problem child, its central idea of a man who ages backward deemed for years too difficult for even the best makeup artists or visual effects tricks to convincingly pull off.

But director David Fincher, who has finally adapted the F. Scott Fitzgerald story to the screen with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett starring, solved the film’s thorny technical and aesthetic issues by giving his crew the resources and hours they needed to pull it off.

“I had the time to do it right, which I usually don’t on a film,” says Greg Cannom, age makeup creator and applicator on the film. “We did very intense tests for two weeks before shooting and started off with every age, and just did makeup after makeup. The makeup had to work or the film wouldn’t work.”

Laboring a personal-best 18 months on the film, Cannom says collaboration was essential for his crew to successfully integrate their makeup with costume, hair and vfx.

“I always had to know what Brad was wearing, what Cate was wearing,” he says.

Costume designer Jacqueline West says she earned her job on the film by impressing Fincher with extensive research into the many eras the film covers. “I came with a huge portfolio of photographs, and David said they were exactly what he had been looking at,” West says.

Dressing Pitt’s character was a unique challenge because he “has to be both old and young at once,” she says. He also is a character always out of sync with his surroundings, prompting West to tap into the clothes of each era’s screen rebels. “I used Gary Cooper in the ’40s for my inspiration, Marlon Brando in the ’50s, Steve McQueen in the ’60s,” she says.

West appreciated the director’s choices of the right people for key jobs. “David puts people together that he thinks will be on the same page and have a similar vision,” West says. “He likes to look at a lot of choices and pick, but he’s also interested in what your favorite is and will often go for it.”