When people go to the movies, it’s easy to be in awe of the actors on the big screen, as well as the soundtrack blaring in the background, the witty dialogue being recited and the special effects creating the world in which the movie takes place. Most of the time, it’s easy to notice these things on the smaller screen as well.
I feel that most times because of these bigger and obvious aspects of film and television, make-up sometimes gets overlooked. Make-up is such a powerful tool, particularly in an industry that is a lot about appearance. Of course, the way a person looks can be altered by lighting, and in post-production but the biggest way to manipulate the way a person looks is through the use of make-up. Here are some ways that make-up has been used and some examples of the magical quality that make-up can have as well as some make-up mistakes seen throughout Hollywood productions.
Revealing the Character: Peggy Olsen, Joan Holloway from Mad Men
The make-up used in Mad Men is extremely important for two main reasons: the first being that it sets the tone to the era in which the show takes place. It is also used as another prop on the show—along with the wardrobe and set-design. It creates a particular atmosphere and defines the time.
Make-up is also particularly important on this show because it reveals the characters—particularly women. Anyone who has seen a single episode of the show knows the differences between Peggy and Joan. While Peggy is more focused on her career and intelligence then her looks (this is true of the earlier seasons), Joan is quite the opposite and believes that she can achieve any goal through her appearance. As you can see above, Peggy’s make-up is subtle and natural. Her character’s focus isn’t her beauty, which is certainly the case with Joan. Joan is a bombshell and is quite sought in the office where she works. Her red lips and lined-eyes represent sexuality and confidence as opposed to Peggy’s, which is very simple.
Bringing Fantasy to Films: Twilight's Mistakes and X-Men
One of the biggest miracles that make-up can do is create characters and creatures that don’t exist in real life. Make-up has the incredible ability to bring these creatures to life—everything from vampires and werewolves to villains like Freddy Kreuger. Here are two examples, one great and one not-so-great…
One of the biggest problems that Twilight has (among many) is its make-up. It must be remembered that everything on the big-screen is a million more times noticeable than it is on a computer when you are editing it. The vampires of Twilight had an awful case of thick and pasty make-up that caused viewers to snap back to reality because it was so poorly done. In addition to its chalky consistency, the make-up artists also focused on the face too much and often left the neck a different color—even if it was shown during the scene. There was a lack of consistency and attention to detail when it came to make-up during this film, which in my opinion, is inexcusable. The film had an incredibly large budget and these mistakes shouldn't have occurred.
The make-up artists that worked on X-Men did a wonderful job of creating Mystique’s unique skin color and texture. It was absolutely amazing to see Rebecca Romijn transform into Mystique. Although we know that it is not real—the artists did such a magnificent job at creating the illusion that it is real, making it easy for viewers to believe (unlike Twilight.)
Transcend Race & Gender: Tropic Thunder and White Chicks
A great ability that make-up has is it’s ability to create the illusion that a person is paler or darker than they really are. It’s done so often on a daily basis—girls want to seem a little lighter or a bit tanner—so there’s foundation, bronzer, tanning lotion etc,. This is also done in films and sometimes it’s believable, while other times…not so much.
One of the greatest racial transformations that I’ve seen recently in a movie was in Tropic Thunder when Robert Downey Jr. was transformed into a Black man being played by a White actor (both in the movie and in real-life.) I recall watching it and waiting for Robert to show up on the screen, not realizing that I had already been watching him for about ten minutes. The make-up artist transformed Downey into a completely different person—that’s what I call skill.
However, the artists of White Chicks were not so skilled. Granted, it was a comedy and I believe that it was done with the intention to have a not-believable make-up job, but it is still pretty terrible.
Another great power of make-up is its ability to have characters become older or younger. This is used often during flashbacks and especially during films that feature a character throughout his or her entire life. Recently, it was used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in that famous last scene. You can see below how the characters were made-up to appear as if twenty years had gone by. It was a particularly hard job to do since the actors were in their twenties and had to suddenly transform into their late thirties and early forties. I believe that for the most part, it was done pretty well, but I am secretly hoping that they age better than that in real life.
All in all, I just wanted to touch upon how important make-up is to any production—even if it’s something simple. Make-up can go a long way and without it, we wouldn’t have such believable or beautiful characters.