Magazine article American Cinematographer


Magazine article American Cinematographer


Article excerpt

The art of special makeup effects (easily, the devil's art) has taken quantum leaps and bounds in the past five years. Burgeoned by a new wave of macabre films requiring explicit images, an oddball technology of prosthetics, foam latex appliances, inflatable bladders, hydraulics, and cable control has made possible the "on camera" transformation effect. Jekyll now becomes Hyde without relying on the old standby of lap dissolves, and cat people emerge from their human cocoons with a minimum of cheato's. Anyone who has seen ALTERED STATES and the remake of THE THING knows that there is virtually no limit to what can be done with this bag of tricks.

With understatement, Dick Smith is the pater familias of the field. Artists-technologists Rick Baker, Rob Bottin and the like owe their careers to his influence and guidance. During his 14 year reign over the NBC makeup department, Smith began using foam latex facial appliances for a TV presentation Of ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1955) and since then has honed it down to a science. Though largely recognized for his masterworks of grotesquerie as seen in the THE EXORCIST and THE SENTINEL, Smith's true metier is old age makeup. Sculpturally, he is peerless in that regard. Witness HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, LITTLE BIG MAN, THE GODFATHER, THE SUNSHINE BOYS, Hal Holbrook in MARK TWAIN TONIGHT!, to name only a few. Thus, when producer Richard Shepherd decided to put Whitley Streiber's THE HUNGER on the screen, Dick Smith became an immediate consideration.

The film revolves around the existence of an eternally beautiful woman (Catherine Deneuve) who is actually the matriarch of a race of vampiresque beings that feed on human blood to achieve immortality. Her presentday consort (David Bowie) is periled by the sudden rundown of his biological clock, and in a matter of days deteriorates from age 30 to 150 and beyond. Placed in a coffin, he resides forever in an attic with Deneuve's former lovers, who apparently remain in a limbo-death state. For THE HUNGER'S climax, the mummies are reanimated and crumble to bits when Deneuve is mortally wounded by her female lover (Susan Sarandon). Deneuve then decays into a ghastly, writhing horror.

"Frankly," says Smith, "doing the series of makeup progressions on Bowie was the main reason why I took the film, because that opportunity is so rare. I did it once before for a Sucrets commercial, where a dozen makeups were dissolved into a 30-second spot showing a man going from caveman to futuristic superintellect. But it was a quick job, and done rather badly. All of Bowie's makeups survive in the film, and I'm quite pleased with them. As far as the mummies are concerned, I had some theories on how to do this. Unfortunately, the theories didn't match the realities at all! That, really, is what put all the pressure on us. I thought the R&D stage would be done in a month, including film tests, But we didn't know where we were going until 2 ½ months later. And we plunged into everything at once."

Smith's contractual arrangements with producers are unique. Home based in suburban Larchmont, New York, all moldmaking and casting operations are done in his basement workshop. When the foam latex pieces are painted and ready, he flies to the location or studio (London's Shepperton, in this case) and applies them to the character, working closely with the director and the cinematographer, making suggestions to enhance the filmic appearance of his work. Such was the case with David Bowie, who spent many moments under a claustrophobic facial mold in Smith's "black museum."

The technique is fairly standard, with variations innovated by Smith. First, a two-piece mold is made of the actor's head and neck using flexible alginate. Hydrocal plaster is poured into the mold, resulting in a perfect bust of the actor. Aging features are sculpted in plastilene clay over the bust. Smith then employs a crucial intermediate step: the clay overlay is sectioned off with a blade and the whole head is dunked into a tub of cold water, enabling the clay pieces to harden and peel off intact. …

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