Movie Makeup and Costume Innovations

Posted on 17 Oct 00:00


Over the years, we have watched our favorite actors and actress assume roles that could not have been achieved with their natural physique and overall appearance. We have not only seen fine actors play the role of monsters, but we have also watched men disguising themselves as women in rare movies.

How is this possible, you may ask? The answer is makeup.

It turns out that you can transform your physical appearance, to feign the appearance of any character you choose; From having a horn on your head to having deteriorated skin on your body; the potential results are almost endless. With a good makeup artist and an endless supply of makeup materials, you can look like anybody you want.

Here’s how makeup artist of the Hollywood golden age transformed actors and actresses to fit their role perfectly.


1)  Frankenstein (1931), Director: James Whale

Frankenstein is one of the Universal pictures most renowned horror movies of all time and arguably the best horror movie of the Hollywood golden age. The movie centered on Frankenstein’s monster – the murderous invention of a brilliant scientist, Prof Frankenstein. The movie director James Whale used makeup creatively to achieve the monstrous Character that the movie is based on.  The character was portrayed by Boris Karloff, after undergoing a trans-formative makeup alterations at the hands of Jack Pierce. The scary face of Frankenstein, that threw a scare in the hearts of serious movie buffs and horror movies aficionados; was achieved with simple, but imaginative makeup techniques. Jack Pierce, toiled for four hours; painting and plastering Boris Karloff’s face with polish. Karloff underwent intense physical discomfort playing some of his most famous roles, especially this one.  The Frankenstein Monster costume involved boots weighing about 32 pounds together. While filming Bride of Frankenstein, his costume was so stifling that he lost 20 pounds in sweat. But according to Mark A Viera’s Hollywood Horror: from Gothic to Cosmic, no other role was more torturous than Imhotep in The Mummy. The agony of having the spirit-gum make up removed from his face after a day of shooting was “the most trying ordeal I have ever endured,” Karloff said. Conversely, he once benefited considerably from his Monster get-up: during the scene beneath the destroyed windmill in Bride of Frankenstein, Karloff slipped and dislocated his hip, but the braces he wore as part of his costume kept the broken bone in place until it could be set by a doctor. The long hours in painful monster make-up Karloff endured led him to become a founding member of the Screen Actor’s Guild union.


2)  The Wizard of Oz (1939), Director: Victor Fleming

Often touted as one of the paramount classic movies in cinema history, this musical fantasy film

Portrays the story of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a sweet little girl that found herself in the land of Oz, where she would need the help of the wizard of Oz. That's if she was ever going to find her way back home. Jack Dawn, being the leading makeup artist on the set, used his inventiveness to create – what will, later on, become the prime feats in pictures. Jack used foam latex to create the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man that made the movie popular among die-hard movie buffs. This goes without saying that he created the 350 munchkins, The Wicked Witch of the West, and those scary flying monkeys that were portrayed in the movie.


3) The Fly (1986), Director:  David Croneberg 

Indeed, Chris Wales did an amazing job in this sci-fi/ horror movie, directed by David Cronenberg. As a matter of fact, the makeup effects of this amazing classic movie won an Academy Award, and the makeup disguise took Chris Wales 3 months to achieve. Protagonist, Seth Brundle, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum, was reformed physically to feign the totally gross out appearance of the Brundlefly hybrid. Seth Brundle’s metamorphosis into a full-blown Brundlefly Hybrid creature was to happen in 7 different stages. Consequently, Chris had to make Jeff Goldblum look more hideous and deteriorated for each phase of the metamorphosis, and he succeeded! Even today, moviegoers require a strong stomach to handle the makeup and special effects in the movie, The Fly.


4)  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Director: William Dieterle

The hunchback of Norte Dame is a William Dieterie’s (director) classic film-adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, titled, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The story is about Quasimodo (the hunchback) portrayed by Charles Laughton, the celebrated classic movie actor and a favorite of die-hard movie buffs. In order for Laughton to assume the Quasimodo character perfectly, Warner Bros Makeup artist, Perc Westmore strapped a hump on Laughton’s back. Laughton wanted it to be heavy so that he could feel physical pain of walking.  He also had an inch added to the sole of his left show so one leg would be shorter that other creating a natural limb. This made it difficult for him to walk or do anything else throughout the filming period. Aside from that the fact that the costume was unbearably hot for Laughton, it was also uncomfortable to put on. Laughton also wanted his face lop-sided, so a mask had to pull the right side of face up and the left side down. A false eye was placed on his cheek and Laughton wore a colored contact in his right eye to make it look cloudy. As a matter of fact, Perc toiled for hours every day just to get Laughton dressed for the part.  


5)  Tootsie (1982)

Tootsie is one of the most engaging out of print DVDs of the golden era.  In this movie drama/comedy, world-renowned actor Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey/Tootsie), is a broke actor and a master of disguise. Dorsey can't find a job as a man, and decides to transform his physical appearance to feign the appearance of a woman to get a part in a soap opera. Surprising, his female impersonation of  the female, Dorothy, was very effective with all the much deserved credit going to Allen Weisinger, the inventive markup artist for this movie.

Movie make up artists are masters of their profession, and thanks to them, we can experience the illusion of movie magic!

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