A MONTH OF MAGIC: Hero Complex is counting down to the Nov. 19 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” — the penultimate film in the history-making “Potter” franchise — with exclusive interviews, photos, videos and reports from the set. Today’s post: an interview by Patrick Kevin Day with makeup designer Nick Dudman, who has worked on each of the “Potter” films.
PKD: What of your work will be on display in Part 1 of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”?
ND: In Part 1, we actually had a series of challenges. One of the earliest, story-wise, was Dudley Dursley. The actor, Harry Melling, who hadn’t been seen since No. 5, turned up having lost half his body weight and was no longer this chubby, pugnacious kid. He was a skinny young man. So we had to do a complete body suit and prosthetic makeup for him just to make him look the way he did in No. 5, which was interesting because no one will ever appreciate what we did. It was an interesting challenge because it all had to be completely real.
We also had a fair bit of stuff to do with Hagrid. We had a very nasty sequence to do when Ron apparates and through a series of circumstances, he ends up splinched — which is a horrible thing that happens if you’re apparating from one place to another and something goes wrong and you get severely injured. He ended up with an upper arm and shoulder injury, which was a huge, deep thing. It had us quite concerned about what the censors would say, but I think it’s pretty much in there — a very nasty piece of work. We had some blood and guts things to do, which is unusual for “Potter.”
We brought back Fenrir Greyback, but we wolfed him up a lot. The idea being that a year has passed and he’s even less able to get back to being human, he likes it so much. So we increased the hair and made him much more bestial, which is fun. We had a series of makeups to do on Dan Radcliffe. Before Harry is caught by a bunch of snatchers, Hermione zaps him to disfigure him so they won’t recognize him as Harry Potter. This was a three-stage makeup on Dan. The first of which really did disguise him. Only one of his eyes is showing, the other is fake. Then different stages were applied as it wore off over two or three scenes. That was tricky because the camera is always on Dan and it had to be pretty faultless. We did a lot of research into finding something that disfigured him but made sure the audience still knew it was Dan and that they would believe the idea that the baddies in the movie could believe it wasn’t him.
I think the big thing near the end of the film was we brought in Griphook the goblin, which was a lovely job to do in that we had goblins at Gringotts in the very first film, which was 10 years ago. Technology has moved on a hell of a lot since then in regards to prosthetic materials, so we were able to do a lovely job with Warwick Davis. I really enjoyed doing it. In fact, it’s the one makeup in the movie that I applied myself the whole way through. And, of course, Voldemort.
PKD: At what point did Dudley Dursley and his body suit come into the picture?
ND: It was highly amusing. I had read the scripts and thought, “We don’t do anything to him. He’s just an actor in straight makeup. I’ll give it no thought whatsoever.” Until I got a phone call from David Barron, the producer, who sort of went, “Ahh! You’d better come up here right now.” He had just walked past Harry Melling in the corridor, who’d come in for a costume fitting. We were shooting in two or three weeks, and he said, “Oh my God. I’ve just seen him! He’s looking great, but not like Dudley Dursley.” I thought he was exaggerating. So I went up and went “Ahh!” Because this guy had lost pounds and pounds. He looked great because of his age and because he’d obviously been exercising. He’d gone to drama school and he looked like an extremely fit, tall, slim young man, whereas before he’d looked like a big, beefy kid who ate hamburgers. It was such a difference. One of my crew, Mark Coulier, is so good at approaching that kind of makeup, doing fattening makeups on people. I put it with him and he did a fantastic job.
PKD: On the last “Potter” movie, you had a huge crew of people working to hand-stitch human hair and yak hair onto the applications for the Fenrir Greyback makeup. Did you still have the army of people sewing yak hair?
ND: I thought I had an army on No. 6. That’s not true. It was a small platoon compared to the army I had on this one. In major sequences, we had nearly 200 people. It was an enormous logistical endeavor because I made the decision that you don’t use hair lace and stick fake mustaches and fake eyebrows on things. Every hair is strung with a needle, one at a time. It just looks real. And we needed a new set for every day of shooting for every character.
The beauty part is that [the producers are] prepared to let you do it. With all these things, there’s always a cheap shortcut and it looks almost as good, but not quite. I’ve always found, with David Heyman especially, he’s quite prepared to go that extra mile if it means that the actual level of detail, that level of quality that you’ve put into something is just that little bit more. That’s been the joy of working on Potter. [On other projects] you often have to compromise things for practical purposes, but the makeups we’ve done on Part 1 and Part 2, which I can’t discuss yet, are the best makeup work I’ve ever done. And that’s because I was given the freedom and the facilities to say, “OK, in a perfect world, how would you approach this makeup?” and then I was allowed to do precisely what I asked.
PKD: These movies have been continuously in some stage of production for the last 10 years, yes?
ND: Oh, yeah. The beauty of working on these movies, from a personal point of view, is that normally everything you ever build on a movie is a prototype, and you try it because you are likely to be able to solve the problems in the script or show something that hasn’t been done before, but you haven’t done it before either. So they’re just taking a gamble on you saying, “Yes, I can do something.” And usually you don’t get to revisit it.
The beauty of doing Potter is that you can do something then say, “Yeah, that was OK, but we can do it better.” And better materials come along so we can make it easier or quicker and improve the look of it or make it more comfortable. And that’s been brilliant because we’ve been able to refine techniques. And I’ve had the ability to train people. They started as trainees and they’re now fully qualified makeup effects artists in their own right because we’ve been here 10 years and they’ve learned to do things the way I like doing them. And they’ve become cleverer than I am and it’s been brilliant because we’ve ended up with a group of people who really are extremely good at what they do.
PKD: Did you get breaks at all between the films?
ND: I’ve had a few gaps as we’ve gone. There might be a two-month gap between two of them, in which case you just take the time off and collapse in a heap. There was six months off at one point and I went off and did a sequence for Alfonso Cuarón on “Children of Men.” I went off and did a movie called “Beowulf and Grendel“ just because I like the story. I was able to do small things, but you couldn’t do major work because they wanted you back on “Potter.”
PKD: Can you give me an example of a makeup effect you were able to refine over the course of the films to the point that it was near-perfect?
ND: I think the thing I’m most pleased about is, if you go back to No. 1 and you look at the goblins, and then you look at Griphook at the end of Part 1, you can see the difference in what we’ve done. We made it feel real. People said to me when we did the goblins on the first movie: “Wow, that’s fantastic. It’s really nice how you executed it.” They were nice makeups, but they were the very beginning of what we were doing with encapsulated gel makeups. They were an experiment and we got away with it.
What we’ve done now, we’ve taken it to a point where it’s working really well. It’s not just us — people all over the world are using the stuff far more than they ever did, and it’s great. It makes work look good. That’s really the thing that I’m most pleased about. We’ve got things to the point where I look at the rushes and I think, “That’s not half bad.”
PKD: Was there anything you nailed on the first try?
ND: No. I’m very suspicious of people who think they can. I just think it means they can’t see how it can be improved. And everything can be improved. Absolutely everything I’ve ever done, I’ve thought, “OK, that’s fine for now, but is there a way it can be improved?” And as I say, on most movies you walk away and there’s the end that is what it is. You may never revisit that particular trick or method or technique again. Whereas it’s been great on these films, because we always have a postmortem when we come back and think, “Everyone says this effect looks great. What was wrong with it? If we did it again, what have we learned?”
Because very often, it’s only after you get to the end of a whole series of processes, where you can’t change something because it’s going on set tomorrow and you’ve built the damn thing, you think, “Oh, god, if only we’d used that material instead,” or, “If only we’d molded it a different way or painted it a different way or hired a different person to do the final pass.” Then you have the opportunity to do it again and it gets better. But that doesn’t mean at the end of 10 years and eight movies I look and think it can’t be improved on. Anything I’ve done can be improved on next time, by me. But also by a whole host of other people out there.
PKD: Are you still working on the films?
ND: We are doing pick-ups and we’re doing a final packing and putting stuff away for the exhibition next year. After 10 years, there’s a lot of junk around. I’m sitting in a room filled with packing cases. We have to sort through stuff and catalog it, and you find yourself thinking, “Where did that air conditioner from ‘Harry Potter 2′ go?” It’s a huge logistical exercise. We’ve stopped doing anything creative at this point. We’re doing the housekeeping. I would like to say that it’s been organized. It’s just gotten bigger. We keep making these damn things and then you have to put them somewhere. You’ve got to put them in boxes. You’ve got to put them away. We have whole rooms full of stuff that are Warner Bros. assets and they’ve got to be protected and logged. Warner Bros. archive people will take them away and do whatever they do with them, and you’ve got to sort through them all. Some things after eight, nine years aren’t in good shape. Other things are fine. Everything that we make is molded. There might be 10, 15, 20, 30 molds created for just one character. And every one of those molds has to be found and checked. Is anything missing? What state is in?
PKD: Are the newer materials more durable? Do they hold up better than stuff made 20 years ago?
ND: Oh yeah, absolutely. In the past, prosthetic makeups were mostly created with foam latex rubber, which was great, it’s what I grew up with. Foam latex, over the years, if it hasn’t been washed out properly and perfectly mixed, there are chemicals left in it that basically oxidize it and make it slowly crumble away or grow very dark and very brittle, almost like a cookie-biscuit mix. Sometimes you create a piece and 20 years later it feels the same. Other times you’ll create a piece and later you pick it up and it turns to dust.
With the silicones we use now, they’re much more stable. We plasticize them, so they’re very soft and they’re encapsulated. The thing we’ve noticed: Three or four years down the line, they stiffen up a little. But that’s all they do. The early ones, from the very early movies, they used to yellow a lot. But even that’s stopped now. I’m not sure you’d want to use it for a serious museum piece, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was.
PKD: When all the items join the exhibition, will it be a relief to get your space back?
ND: My space is their space. It’s all in the studio. I hand the keys over and I drive out the door. And it’ll be a very strange feeling. Like everyone else in the film industry, I’m freelance. We’re used to going from place to place and you don’t fall into a pattern anywhere. But when you’ve been in the same place for 10 years, it’ll feel a little bit like being evicted when we leave.
PKD: Do you have any souvenirs? Anything you’re taking?
ND: No, no, no, no. You don’t get souvenirs. With “Harry Potter,” every single thing we’ve ever made goes into the archive. The security here, while we were making the movies, was extreme. It’s very interesting, because I’ve worked at Lucasfilm in the past, on “Star Wars” and things like that. They, at the time, were incredibly secretive. Filmmakers always want to protect their property when things come out, but the “Harry Potter” thing has been serious. Very serious. There were things you were told you cannot discuss. There are still things that are effectively embargoed.
PKD: Would you say the security around “Harry Potter” is greater than “Star Wars” ? Or about the same?
ND: I’d say it’s greater. Also, when we started at Leavesden — which is an old aircraft factory, it’s not a film studio — there were no other shows on the lot. It was always just us. And when they had a young set of actors, it was great. They could create a very protected environment for their cast, who they knew would be very famous, very tested and have to deal with celebrity. It was much easier to do that in a very, very isolated, controlled environment. And I absolutely think it was the right thing to do. It’s been brilliant.
PKD: Do you know what your next project will be?
ND: Absolutely not. I’m taking two months off. Having done 10 years, I thought it would be a good idea to go back home and remind my wife who I am. Meet my children. It’s been tough.
PKD: What are your hours like?
ND: On the early films they were brilliant because the children all had labor laws protecting them and we finished very early. As they grew up, we realized life was getting tougher. The hours got longer. It’s been very civilized, actually. If you go do a six-week movie somewhere, you accept you’re doing it at a run. You’ll work very long hours and it’ll be very tough, but at the end you can collapse in a heap and it’ll be fine. With “Harry Potter,” especially “Deathly Hallows,” I had to be very careful about how I worked my crew. Because they were going every week for two years to get both parts shot as one project. I couldn’t overwork them in the first six weeks or even six months because they just wouldn’t get to the end. And the producers were very aware of that. We had discussions at the beginning on how we would pace everyone because we had a 260-day main unit shoot.
PKD: Your shop was the biggest it’s ever been for the last two films?
ND: Biggest I’ve ever had, yes. During the major sequences in Part 2, we had around 200 people. And we had to bring people in from all over Europe. On one occasion we had 15 nationalities in one makeup room.
PKD: You applied Griphook’s makeup yourself. Was that out of necessity?
ND: I always try to fight to do something myself. The problem is when you have a very large crew and you’re making so much stuff while stuff’s shooting, saying to yourself, “I’m going to do all the makeup,” it’s just not logistically possible. You have to have a team of people you trust implicitly to do the makeups. Part of my day was checking those makeups. But I can’t spend my entire day doing that, so I went to the script and thought, because it’s going to be Warwick Davis, who’s Griphook. He’s an old mate of mine. I first lifecast him when he was 11 back on “Return of the Jedi“; I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to do that makeup?” It’s all very well to oversee a team of people putting on these wonderful makeups all day. But unless you do it yourself, they’ve had incredible practice for two years and you haven’t done anything. It’s very important to keep a hand in.
– Patrick Kevin Day
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