Based on the New York Times best-seller, Lionsgate’s “Wonder” chronicles the story of Auggie Pullman, a boy born with facial differences who enters a mainstream elementary school for the first time. Jacob Tremblay — who blew audiences away in “Room” (2015) — stars as the 9-year-old with Treacher-Collins syndrome, which results in some bones and tissue in the face being undeveloped. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson play his parents.
Special makeup effects artist Arjen Tuiten was tasked with transforming Tremblay into Pullman. At 37, Tuiten is well-known for having created the likes of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, the creatures in “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the characters in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman of production company Mandeville Films approached Tuiten to do the special makeup effects two years before shooting began. They wanted him because the job was specific and complex.
“This type of makeup is extremely hard to pull off, especially when it involves a 9-year-old boy,” Tuiten says. “We had nothing to [refer to] when it came to other movies. Others that young have been in prosthetics before, of course, but never in a full lead role and completely transformed for 40 days.”
To begin his research into the genetic disorder characterized by deformities of the ears, eyes, cheekbones and chin, he corresponded with Dr. Pravin K. Patel of the Craniofacial Center in Chicago. Tuiten had studied under seven-time Oscar-winning makeup designer Rick Baker (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Men in Black,” “The Nutty Professor”), but this was new ground for the Netherlands-born artist.
“I also got references through production and studied them,” he says. “[We] were in touch with several families who have children with craniofacial differences. During filming I got to meet several of the families.”
To get the makeup applied, Tremblay would have to sit in a chair for an hour and a half every morning. Tuiten eventually honed the process to an hour and 15 minutes, which was important for director Stephen Chbosky. “[Stephen] only had so many hours a day to get the shots he needed, with all the kids being on the clock,” Tuiten says. “Jacob sat very still and often watched movies or a documentary that would count for his school hours.”
It took Tuiten and his team two months with tests and re-sculpts to perfect the look. One key team member, he says, was Robert Pandini, head of hair on the film.
Tuiten calls Tremblay an “absolute professional,” “I was so impressed with him,” says the makeup chief. “He not only was covered from head to shoulders in silicone prosthetics, dentures, contact lenses and a wig, but underneath all that he also wore a mechanical under-skull cap that would allow us to pull his eyes down to make them appear droopy. This is a lot for any actor to go through. Hats off to him.”