Don’t Forget Prosthetics!

We often forget how much work goes into making these films that we enjoy so much. Between the makeup and digital effects, there are so many behind the scenes jobs that go into making a convincing film. Prosthetic makeup is one major contribution to the film industry. With the emergence of advanced CGI, it makes it both easier and harder for prosthetic makeup artists.

CGI usually refers to images that were not suppose to imitate reality, but as CGI gets more developed, it is being used to replicate and represent realistic worlds and people. Films such as Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park used CGI to create worlds and realms that did not actually exist. The CGI used in these films was used to create what audiences had never seen before. In Stephen Prince’s book, Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality, he writes, “While the early 1990s saw an uptick in the use of computer graphics in feature films, Terminator 2 was the first blockbuster to feature extensive digital effects, but it was Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that galvanized the industry” (25). Where would one get a living dinosaur? Or where does one find the unimaginable physical abilities of the Terminator? With a combination of prosthetics and CGI, these films were made possible. Unlike the CGI used in Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park to create no fantastical worlds, The set of Boardwalk Empire uses CGI in order to create a realistic historical world. CGI can be used for both realistic and fantastical creations.

The reality television show, Face Off is an America’s Next Top Model-esque competition for who has the best abilities as a prosthetic makeup artist. There are themed challenges where the contestants use models to create impressive prosthetic costumes, masks, and makeup transformations. Here is a video of the transformations from one of the episodes:

It is interesting how CGI is used in order to show the transformations made from the actors with no makeup on to their prosthetic outcome. Although not used necessarily in the show, you can see through the video clip that CGI is used to show these transformations, and enhances the way in which we understand and see the transformations that the models have undergone.

What is a little unnerving is how much computers and CGI are actually capable of. It is almost as if we may not need the real thing for anything anymore. This video explores the art of Hollywood special effects makeup:

Princes mentions, “The concern for many people trained in the techniques of makeup and prosthetics, model making, and animatronics was that the demand for this type of workmanship would simply disappear altogether should CGI ever prove capable of stimulating the materiality of physical effects effectively enough to meet with audiences approval” (26). This prosthetic makeup artist, Matthew Mungle works for hours and weeks on special effects make up, only to have the image on screen for a split second.

It is a time consuming process, but Mungle really enjoys his work. In the Mummy, prosthetics were used along with digital animation. “it synthesizes the contribution of the actor, a prosthetic makeup artist, and digital animators and compositors” (114). This means that Mungle’s work is not necessarily useless. Although CGI is very effective, prosthetics is able to give a combination of contributors the ability to partake in the film.

Prince continues, “Few observes would deny that an actor performs a character when wearing a costume or a mask or elaborate prosthetic makeup. No one says that the mask replaced the actor. Digital extensions of these traditional tools do not undermine the actor’s craft, although they can make the boundaries between live performance and animation harder to discern and therefore more elusive” (143). Prosthetics for special effects make up a very large portion of the film world and does not seem to get the recognition it deserves. Although there is an Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, there is also an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. As CGI gets more advanced and more frequently used, the separation between these two categories becomes more indistinct.

Prince, Stephen. Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2012. Print.

Image from Creative Commons.


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