TV has no shortage of series that rely on massive explosions, fire-breathing dragons and mystical creatures. But many of the most impressive special effects on TV today are happening in the hair and makeup departments of shows such as “Pose,” “This Is Us” and “The Man in the High Castle.”
“When you create a fantasy character, you’re telling the audience what they look like,” says “This Is Us” makeup department head Zoe Hay. “But when you create age makeup, everyone knows someone old. We have to be able to withstand incredible scrutiny.”
Hay, who works with prosthetics designer Stephen Bettles, routinely has to age the ensemble cast members of “This Is Us” both up and down — star Mandy Moore, 35, has covered a range from age 16 to her 80s. In addition, this season the show introduced a flashback taking place during the Vietnam War, which required period-specific facial hair, appropriate tattoos, and even skin coloring to reflect the suntan one might have gotten while in country.
“I didn’t want to do a TV version of Vietnam,” she says. “I wanted it to look real.”
In the real-life fantasy world of “Pose,” the looks are fierce. But makeup department head Sherri Berman Laurence says her job is bigger than just making the actors look glam.
“We have to get the period right, and within that period there’s the ballroom community, and within the balls there are even different categories,” she says. “We wanted to do that justice and authentically.”
But as with “This Is Us,” “Pose” has a flip side: the show takes place during the emerging AIDS crisis, and at a time when trans women were injecting themselves with hormones that often made them ill.
Meanwhile, “The Man in the High Castle’s” hair department head Caroline Dehner created an alternate reality version of America that was influenced by its Nazi Germany and Japan occupiers. That meant hairstyles that were “very angular and clean and rigid,” she says.
“We stylized them more in season three than before, adding lots of pieces and patterns that built the hair up higher,” she adds. “There were lots of wiglets.”
But dealing with a large cast (and extras) in a storyline that unspooled over three weeks — while taking nearly seven months to film — meant hair always needed special attention. “We calculated that we did about 2,000 haircuts over the season,” she says. “We have a full-time barber.”
Each season on these shows has been an education — and in Hay’s case, a teaching one: “Old age makeup has become a trend,” she says. “I get calls about it all the time. Everyone has really stepped up their game — it’s an HD world now.”
But for Laurence, crafting the fantastical special effects of the looks for “Pose” has given her a chance to really look within.
“Working here has taught us so much more about ourselves and our place in the world,” she says. “It’s changed me in many ways, well beyond makeup.”