“Logan,” released by Fox on March 3, has surpassed expectations, raking in more than $500 million dollars in its first four weeks at the global box office. The latest installment in the massive 10-film “X-Men” franchise (with many more to come), which includes the titles “Deadpool” and “The Wolverine,” wowed audiences with its dark story and decaying protagonist, Logan, played by Hugh Jackman.
Key to the film’s aesthetic was Logan’s distressed physical appearance, created in large part by makeup and prosthetics artist Joel Harlow, a three-time Oscar nominee, including a win for 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot.
Although Harlow hadn’t worked on the previous “X-Men” movies, he’d witnessed their evolution over the years. When he joined the “Logan” team as makeup designer, he discussed some preliminary concepts with director James Mangold, but after the first makeup test with Jackman, they decided to change course.
“We completely shifted our line of thought,” says Harlow, “and moved away from our preconceived notions.”
In the story, Logan’s body is rejecting its metal-infused skeleton, and the self-healing power he once possessed that kept him ageless is failing. Harlow played up the character’s suffering through physical trauma on the body. This included scarification highlighting gunshot wounds, stabbing, and fight wounds, as well as emphasizing the character’s troubled mental state and alcohol addiction through a weathered, jaundiced appearance.
“Our marching order was that everything had to look real,” Harlow says.
To research the makeup designs for Logan and other mutant characters in the film, Harlow turned to his personal library of biology books, and searched the web. He zeroed in on trauma studies to aid in creating the charred, burned skin of Caliban (played by Stephen Merchant), the scaly skin of Parker Lovein’s Lizard Boy, and the seeping sores on Logan’s knuckles where his retractable metal blades continually tear through his skin.
“To do this kind of visceral makeup without being respectful of what lies beneath the skin can be hokey,” Harlow explains.
To ensure that his team would be able to perform the labor-intensive, realistic makeup effects, he began by breaking down the script, noting where scenes took place in each character’s timeline.
He took mug shots and body shots of the actors, and photographed every stage of makeup application. He carefully monitored such details as the look of Logan’s beard. While Hugh Jackman’s natural facial hair formed its base, its length and coloring were constantly adjusted. Special bloodshot, yellowed contact lenses were created for Jackman to further enhance the authenticity of his physical decay.
Creating Logan’s wounds, refining makeup that aged Patrick Stewart’s dementia-addled Dr. X, and overseeing many other applications were right in Harlow’s wheelhouse. However, the intensity needed for an R-rated feature was fairly new territory for him. Early in preparation, he discovered he was approaching wound-creation with too much constraint.
“I hadn’t done a film like this,” he says. “The graphic violence propels the story and makes it real.”