The artisans who transform our beloved characters through makeup and hairstyling weren’t always part of Oscar history. It took the Academy over 50 years to recognize achievement in makeup with its own category starting in 1981.
Prior to that date, only two honorary awards were handed out: one to William Tuttle in 1964 for “7 Faces of Dr. Lao” and the other to John Chambers’ “Planet of the Apes” in 1968. But when the Academy snubbed makeup designer Christopher Tucker’s imaginative work on 1980’s “The Elephant Man,” the craft pushed for a change and a competitive category for makeup was added. Hairstyling joined the category title in 2013.
In the past two years we’ve seen major motion pictures go up against little-known films. While 2015’s “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” did not win, its nomination surprised everyone. This season, “A Man Called Ove” has claimed the spot with nominations for the same two artists: Eva von Bahr and Love Larson.
The Swedish husband-and-wife team admit it might be a little bit unfair going up against films with generous budgets, but it’s still special to be nominated. What captured Oscar voters is the realistic palette created for the character Ove, a grumpy old man played by Rolf Lassgård. “It was the biggest challenge for us,” says von Bahr. “Ove is this balding, older man and Rolf doesn’t look anything like the character. He actually has a full head of hair and is quite youthful.”
A prosthetic piece helped to “remove” Lassgård’s hair. Colored contacts and makeup distinguish the different ages of his life in the film. Larson and von Bahr further drove the sense of believability by brushing characters with subtle, realistic makeup to match the feel of the small-town neighborhood in which they reside.
During flashbacks, when Ove is younger, the team wanted the look to be more glamourous and dreamlike. “We were only a four-person crew,” says Larson. “We were able to spend time prepping and dressing the wigs before each day of shooting, but on a film like this we cannot afford to do digital cleanup so what you see is what you get.”
The nominated team of Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Nelson behind “Suicide Squad” referenced the original comics to design character aesthetics. “We didn’t want to make an exact copy, but rather find something different, something real,” says Bertolazzi.
It took three hours to complete the look of The Joker, played by Jared Leto, using a mixture of silicon- and water-based paints. “These are all sick people,” Bertolazzi points out. “There’s more than the color white in The Joker. It’s blue, it’s green, it’s dirty, and it’s pain. He’s a completely disgusting character, but at the same time fascinating. He’s a poet in love yet completely out his mind.”
For Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), colors were chosen so she wouldn’t look like a clown or a zombie, and she was covered head to toe with tattoos. The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) had her skin layered with foundation, clay, and gold leaf, and wore wigs that included mop strings dyed and glued together.
For more complex creations like Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) the team relied on prosthetics for the head and shoulders and painted the body. “We didn’t look to CGI and instead used organic pieces, working deep in the skin to change the perception of the character,” Bertolazzi says.
“Star Trek Beyond” had a number of challenges for nominees Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, one of which was creating 56 different alien races, with multiple subdivisions within each race. “When we started designing in October 2015, we had no idea we would be making that many different species,” says Harlow.
Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) was created with a seamless blend between makeup and hair. “Her character may read white against the black lines on her face, but it’s not,” Harlow says. “There are five different colors in there. She’s iconic and needed to come across in a way that instantly set her apart.” To add to her silhouette they inserted pieces to raise her wig to further convey the power of the makeup.
Their biggest test was Krall (Idris Elba), who transforms from having a creepy, scale-like skin back to near-human form. “His most extreme stage required us to test various densities and required Idris to express more of his performance through all the makeup,” Harlow says. “Then from there, we worked backwards.”
Dozens of makeup artists and designers worked on the film and Harlow feels he may never again come across so much diversity in makeup.