Monday, October 29, 2012

Is the Make-Up Effects Artist a Fading Craft?

Make-up effects may be a fading craft as technology advances.
An ape make-up I created while in high school.
I recently saw the movie Argo. A great movie, by the way, but after seeing John Goodman playing John Chambers, it got me to thinking: was John Chambers part of a fading craft?

For those of you who are not familiar with John Chambers, he was a great make-up artist during the second half of the 20th century. Amongst his other work, Chambers was responsible for creating the apes in the original Planet of the Apes movie franchise.

Is special make-up effects and the building of movie creatures going the way of flatbed film editing, being replaced by CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery)? It probably will - a lot of what they're doing is now so much more realistic than what was once done with make-up effects. Just look at the Planet of the Apes reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where all the apes were computer-generated. I predict there will always be a place in film for make-up artist, as long as there is a place for actors in film, but the way some of the memorable movie creatures are created is forever changed.

Sculpting a gorilla mask out of modeling clay.
A sculpted gorilla mask.
When I was younger, I had dreams of becoming a make-up effects artist, and had always been a huge fan of the likes of John Chambers, Jack Pierce, Dick Smith and Rick Baker. In fact a lot of the work I did in those days was heavily influenced by the work of Chambers and Baker, as evident by the ape make-ups I attempted. I had the book "Making a Monster: The Creation of Screen Characters by the Great Makeup Artists" and would often attempt to recreate the creatures created by the masters.

It's kind of sad, but technology replaces the old crafts when it becomes a more efficient way to tell the story.  Mourning the loss of the craft of Hollywood creature-making is a lot like mourning the loss of flatbed editors as the use of nonlinear editing systems took rise. It's hard to ignore the techniques that the tell the story more efficiently. But I'll still miss the pioneers and craft that started it all.

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