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Looks are Everything – Part I
The Star Wars universe is filled with countless species, each with its own unique appearance. Several departments work together to create these otherworldly looks, and make-up is one of them. Chief Make-Up Artist on Episode I, Paul R. A. Engelen brings to life the faces of the heroes and villains of the new Star Wars movie.
“It goes back to 1970,” says Engelen, “when I first started in art school. I thought I would perhaps end up being a designer, but it turned out differently. A good friend of mine with whom I was in college persuaded me to go with him watch his father, who was doing the make-up on the play Oliver Twist. I ended up working myself, on the crowds, doing hair and things like that. Then Thomas Nick, another great make-up artist, asked me if I would like to assist him on a film shoot, and I jumped at it. So I did my apprenticeship when I started working,” says Engelen with a smile.
This unexpected debut was the beginning of a career that would allow Engelen, over the years, to explore different aspects of his art, from period work like Much Ado About Nothing and monstrous effects in Frankenstein, all the way to the action-packed adventures of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and the elegant simplicity of Seven Years in Tibet. “Producer Rick McCallum actually called while I was working on Seven Years in Tibet,” says Engelen. “Right out of the blue – it was my first contact with Lucasfilm. We discussed the upcoming movie, and I was brought on board.”
Episode I was an interesting mix of challenges for Engelen. The sheer number of characters demanded a wide variety of make-up designs, and the presence of alien creatures meant that unorthodox techniques would apply. “My background allows me to be comfortable with both bare skin and prosthetics,” says Engelen, “and I like to be involved in both sides of make-up. But when the prosthetics are done and the shooting begins, I prefer to concentrate on the actors. I love to be on the floor with them. Fortunately, there are those, like Nick Dudman, who are able to immerse themselves completely in the prosthetics side of it. We made a good team.” This type of collaboration would prove to be helpful in the realization of the many make-up designs produced by the art department. Some of those designs, very imaginative, required careful planning and creative thinking to be brought to life.
The make-up of Darth Maul was one of the more complex designs. “I have not seen anything that looks remotely like the Darth Maul character,” says Engelen. “And that’s fascinating.” Every day that Darth Maul was required on set, Engelen had to accurately reproduce Maul’s tattoo design on Ray Park’s face and head. He also had to make sure that it would withstand the intense activity the martial artist-actor would engage in. “I just had to make sure that somehow we could keep this design on,” Engelen says. “There was so much activity and fighting going on, that the heat was a constant threat. We tried different things, and I ended up using a paint mixed with a rubber solution, which adhered nicely to the skin. [A close-up on Darth Maul]It worked well, up to a point. As long as you didn’t push it too much, it didn’t run or bleed away like normal make-up would have done.” No matter how good the make-up held, it had to be removed each night and put back on the next morning, and Engelen needed to make sure that his markings would look exactly the same each time. “For the head, I used a stencil,” he says. “But for the face, it couldn’t be that easy. I had to note the marks on his face – a little mole here, a wrinkle there – and use these as sort of landmarks from which to draw the various shapes of the design.”
The various make-up designs for the Queen, although not destined to bear the pressure of lightsaber combat, were still very delicate to realize. “Many influences were combined for the overall look of the Queen,” says Engelen, “but I’d say that most of the time it’s an Eastern look. The costumes and the headdress designs were all very intricate and elaborate, creating strong images.” Engelen explains that while the make-up has to go in the same direction as the rest of the elements that compose the Queen’s look, it also needs to take away some of the heaviness of the whole design, and underline the features in a very light way, acting as a kind of counter weight. “It was an almost white base color, very oriental-looking,” Engelen continues. “An almost naïve kind of markings. Red dots on the cheek, a very accentuated red mouth, and some black eyes. I think it worked: it ‘pops’ the face amongst all of this incredible, ornate headdress and costume. It all seems to balance quite well.”
Engelen’s job goes beyond making up the actors every morning. Someone needs to remain on the set, brushes ready, and keep an eye out for any character that might require some touching-up — and Engelen loves to take care of that himself. “It’s basically a question of maintaining the actors’ looks from one shot to the next,” he says, “and making sure they look the same in the afternoon as they did in the morning.” However, to Engelen, being on the set serves another purpose as well. “I think seeing the actors work their characters out really helps me. It allows me to be conscious of the character’s personality as I make the actor up, and maybe change a few little things to better match that personality. They’re really small touches, and they don’t make a marked difference. But they’re important to me.”
Engelen’s mastery of various make-up techniques allowed him to meet the different challenges that awaited him on Episode I. However, a new technique is emerging: digital make-up. More and more, computer artists can re-create make-up effects with touch-less strokes from their virtual brushes. “The computer effects are much more acceptable and believable nowadays,” says Engelen. “The range of distortions and additions that they can do now with faces – with my area – is impressive. I have to admit it’s a bit alarming. But elaborate make-ups are inconveniences for the whole production, not least of which the actors.” While computers might solve certain problems and provide a few welcome short-cuts, nothing will quite be able to completely replace the touch of a human hand weaving a delicate tapestry on bare skin. “I think there will always be a place for people like myself,” concludes Engelen. And his work is an eloquent testimony to the fact that, indeed, there will always be a need for the human element.