Makeup and Hairstyle Artists Juggle Tech, Time Shifts to Deliver the Right Look

If there’s one story dominating the makeup and hairstyling category this awards season, it’s the instance where makeup wasn’t actually used.

Oh, there’s plenty of makeup in “The Irishman,” as department head Nicki Ledermann can attest — she had to craft looks that spanned multiple decades and a physical cast of more than 200 actors — but it’s the de-aging visual effects on Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino that’s stealing a lot of the thunder.

Still, Ledermann says she’s not worried for her profession’s future. “De-aging is a helpful tool, but it’s hard to achieve with makeup,” she says. “It’s probably cheaper to age people with makeup than do it digitally. Besides, you want a makeup person present when the de-aging process happens on a computer, to make sure the anatomy is correct. It’s not just going in and erasing wrinkles.”

Meanwhile, “Rocketman” hair and makeup designer Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou isn’t enamoured with the de-aging results in “Irishman.” “It took me out of the film,” she says. “Also, I know actors moan about makeup taking too long, but it helps them get into character.”

Yianni-Georgiou aged star Taron Egerton (as Elton John) and many others in the “Rocketman” cast the traditional way, along with multiple prosthetic pieces, designed with Emmy winner Barry Gower: sets of eyebrows and wigs, sideburns, crow’s feet, eye bags, nose-to-mouth labial lines and jowls. But the real challenge was to make sure all those changes kept the audience anchored in the shifting time periods.

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“I didn’t want so many looks that people didn’t know where he was in the story,” she says.

Prosthetics were key in “Bombshell,” transforming actors John Lithgow, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman into their real-life counterparts: Roger Ailes, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson. Oscar winner Kazuhiro Tsuji (“Darkest Hour”) used 3D scans and life casts to take on the delicate work necessary to create even eyelid prosthetics for Theron.

“Hiding pieces on John was easy, but Charlize and Nicole’s skin is so smooth I couldn’t do too much,” he says. “It had to be really subtle and the pieces very small. Changing the eyelid is particularly difficult, the movement of her eyelids changes so much whether the eyes are open or closed.”

Anne Oldham returned to “Downton Abbey” as the makeup and hair designer after having spent the first two seasons on the TV version. For her, the issue was in transforming the looks from the small to the big screen.

“On television you don’t have as much time, and you can get away with things, but on a big screen every hair and lip line shows,” she says. “It was nice to have the time to be accurate.”

On “Downton,” Oldham crafted looks for the titled class in 1927 England, but also wanted them to have an air of normal, everyday life. “We wanted them to look as they would having breakfast at home,” she says. “Not too fashion-oriented.”

Meanwhile, Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) stylish bob had its own issues. “With shorter [hair] styles, you have no room to cover anything,” Oldham says.

Ledermann also had one other notable project this year: “Joker,” which was almost entirely about a single look done a dozen different ways. “He’s not a professional clown, so his look had to be super simple, but also reflect the mental illness he has,” she says.

Since the film was shot out of sequence, the homemade look had to be re-created multiple times during the day between takes. “We had to do it fast in the chair,” she says. “It was a real mental exercise to let things go, and just trust the ability.”

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