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How Makeup Artists Created ‘Bright’ Looks That Lured Millions of Online Viewers

Italy’s Alessandro Bertolazzi and Giorgio Gregorini form part of the trio that worked on “Suicide Squad,” winning the 2017 Academy Award for makeup and hairstyling. They continued to work with director David Ayer on Netflix’s “Bright,” released online Dec. 22; the streaming giant has already greenlit a sequel.

Loved by consumers and mostly panned by critics, the film, which was budgeted at about $100 million and, according to Nielsen, pulled in 11 million viewers in its opening weekend, is set in an alternate Los Angeles where humans live alongside orcs, elves and fairies. Will Smith teams up with the LAPD’s first orc cop, played by Joel Edgerton. Netflix claims the movie to be its most-viewed original film during launch week, and also the No. 1 movie on Netflix globally.

“Crusty critics didn’t get it,” says makeup maestro Bertolazzi. “But the youth audiences got it right away, and that made me very happy.” Bertolazzi considers “Bright” the first time his work is so well represented by the finished product.

Bertolazzi and Gregorini both credit Ayer, who had director’s cut, and Netflix with giving them a great amount of creative leeway in how they approached the “Bright” characters.

Unlike the comic-book universe of “Suicide Squad,” the challenge this time was “exploring a new world that also adhered to reality,” Gregorini says. For inspiration, Bertolazzi went to L.A.’s roughest neighborhoods, to the city’s museums, to its most expensive malls, to areas “where billionaires live.” “I looked at the faces,” he says.

Arriving at Los Angeles Center Studios, he immediately set up a “laboratory,” with tables and boards hanging from the walls. Then he gathered material from “the internet, from books, from Home Depot, from the street — you name it!” Ayer would stop by in the evening. “We would chat and start building this world,” Bertolazzi says. “That’s how I like to work.”

The film had two units within the massive makeup department, roughly 90 makeup and hair artists in all. A prosthetics division featured two artists for every actor; it took at least two hours in makeup for each orc — three for Edgerton. Another unit handled characters such as the ones played by Smith and Noomi Rapace, who each spent an hour to an hour and a half per day getting ready.

The makeup designer is particularly proud of the facial tattoos he painted on Enrique Murciano, who plays Poison, the rabid wheelchair-bound Latino gang boss. “Some people said they were too much: I always say there is no such thing as too much in cinema, as long as it’s done right.”

Gregorini has his own point of pride — the hairdo he gave Veronica Ngo, the dagger-wielding Tien: “[It’s] her asymmetrical two-tone cut,” he says, which “absurdly makes her look like Darth Vader.”

What does the “Bright” director favor? “David likes four things: blood, mud, night and rain … all at the same time,” Bertolazzi says. “And he’s right: Throw some mud and blood on actors, and then place them under the rain at night, and you’ve already created a great image!”

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