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Prosthetics shape up ‘Cloud Atlas’

Eye on the Oscars: Art Direction, Costume & Makeup

The transformative power of special makeup effects — the ability to alter an actor’s appearance using prosthetic materials, facial painting and additional hairpieces — is on full display with the myriad characters brought to life in the Wachowski siblings’ and Tom Tykwer’s sprawling, centuries-spanning “Cloud Atlas.”

The film stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Ben Whishaw — all in multiple roles. Sectioned off into six intertwined storylines, the filmmmakers dealt with the sheer enormousness of the project by dividing the production into two independently functioning crews: one led by the Wachowskis, the other by Tykwer. Each team undertook three stories and had its own makeup units.

While the Wachowskis brought aboard Jeremy Woodhead to supervise their sequences, Tykwer enlisted the skills of Daniel Parker. Further complicating an already ambitious project, the makeup teams’ preparatory period evolved over time, with makeup concepts being added to the film as shooting progressed.

When Woodhead began work on the project he did not have access to the actors, a crucial aspect for a makeup artist, to take lifecasts of the thesps and sculpt makeup concepts. He ended up borrowing lifecasts from other productions, creating drawings in order to get the character concepts approved.

“The characters were signed off when we started sculpting prosthetics,” says Woodhead, who used prosthetics company Animated Extras, which is based at the U.K.’s Shepperton Studios. “I sent my drawings from Berlin to Shepperton, and they did test sculpts. Then they molded them, cast them and send them to me in Berlin. We used a mixture of gelatin and silicon, depending on what faces we were using.”

Throughout principal photography, Woodhead received a daily delivery of boxes of prosthetics from a team of six at the Shepperton shop. However, his schedule was complicated — jumping from makeups for a sequence set in 1849 to another set in the 23rd century. “There was no sense of daily continuity,” he says. “It was anything goes every day, changing men into women and women into men. Most of the time, we had to make sure that the actors looked like the actors.”

Parker was brought aboard the film late into the pre-production process and he quickly established makeup facilities in Berlin, London and Budapest, hiring the best prosthetic artists he could find across Europe. Often testing new makeups at the same time as creating previously approved makeups for camera, Parker would frequently use detailed painting techniques instead of applying prosthetics. “You can do an enormous amount of highlight and shade and color,” he says. “You can sculpt with paint.”

Parker says the entire makeup team enjoyed the intense challenges.

Eye on the Oscars: Art Direction, Costume & Makeup
All the film’s a stage | Shopping meets showbiz at the Grove | Prosthetics shape up ‘Cloud Atlas’ | Re-creating the ’50s on a budget | Masters of the craft

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