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Hollywood Special Effects Show | Lighthouse Poole

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Special effects make-up artist David Brown has built up a wealth of experience working on productions such as Game of Thrones, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Dark Knight Rises. You can see just how he does what he does as part of the Hollywood Special Effects Show which arrives at Lighthouse on 27 October. For now, here’s a Q&A with the man himself…

david brown with masks

What first inspired you to become a make-up artist?

I had been working in costume for several years and had reached a point where I wanted a change. I was watching the special features of a movie and there was a section on make-up. I thought it looked interesting so I looked into courses.

How did you get started in the industry?

I began by taking Stuart Bray’s three day prosthetic course and then a two week summer school in Glasgow. That built up a few pieces in my portfolio and the rest was luck and hard work!

What have been your career highlights?

Meeting and working with Sylvester McCoy and Miriam Margolyes.

What was the first TV show/movie you worked on?

Les Miserables, I was a silicone runner for Kristyan Mallett.

What is involved in the preparation for film make-up artistry in the lead up to a shoot? I imagine it takes months of planning.

Depending on the size of film it can take months to prepare. As designer there is the job of script analysis and a lot of paperwork to get the ground work done. Meetings with the creative team of the movie will refine the designs and ideas to within the concept that the director envisions. Then it is into the workshop to take life-casts of the actors, sculpting the creatures, aliens, ageing onto the life-cast; moulding all of this in fibreglass and after some hefty cleaning of the moulds injecting it with silicone. Sometimes all this prep is done a few months before filming begins so that a stock of prosthetics can be built and then whilst filming happens more pieces are being made and painted ready for application at a later date.

How long does it take to apply the make-up on the day of a shoot?

Time is always an issue on set as every minute costs a lot of money, usually as a make-up artist who is applying you are given a time to complete the make-up, sometimes on smaller movies you are asked how long it will take. A small and very simple piece can be applied and painted in five or ten minutes, but the longer the better so you have more time to work on it. Full character make-ups can take up to six hours to apply, the start time for these make-ups will be early morning, 1am or 2am to get ready to begin filming around 8am until 7pm and then an hour or so to remove the make-up.

How does your relationship with a director work?

It is my job to translate what the director has in their head into a workable 3D creation that helps tell the story. Numerous meetings take place to ensure that what is being created will meet the director’s expectations. Essentially all the creative teams are there to tell a story and the director is the one who says how that story will be told.

Do actors often contribute into the creation of the look that you give them?

Yes, having a meeting with the actor is always beneficial when creating a make-up, especially if it is restrictive in some way. The movement of the character may inform how the piece is sculpted and thus how it is applied to allow the actor to perform without feeling restricted. We aid the actor in creating the character they are playing so a dialogue needs to take place to make this collaboration as effective as possible.

What is the most extreme make-up you have ever created for the screen?

I was part of the team who applied the Drax the Destroyer make-up on Guardians of the Galaxy. There were five people applying and it took five hours every day. There were some crazy aliens in that movie and I was lucky enough to have a hand in creating several of them.

What advice would you give to aspiring film make-up artists about starting in the industry?

Personally I think there is no easy way into the film industry - hard work and determination are your biggest assets. There are colleges which teach make-up to a high standard, research them and see if any of them are for you. If you are looking to get into special effects make-up specifically I would recommend taking some short courses (such as Stuart Bray’s) which will give you immediate practical skills and some experience and understanding of the processes involved in creating and applying make-up. Practice and build a small portfolio so that you have something to show, then contact workshops and designers offering yourself for work experience and if you’re alert, curious and respectful you will learn a ton of skills, tips and tricks from the people you meet. It can take years to build up a momentum in the industry so it is something that you need to have a passion for. If you have that, go get it!

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