“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” won’t reach theaters until Dec. 14, but just Thursday, the movie’s visual effects team made the shortlist for Oscar consideration. Working in the non-digital realm, Academy Award winner Tami Lane supervised all of the prosthetic makeup that had to be applied for the films in Peter Jackson’s return trip to Middle-earth. It was a job that kept her in New Zealand for 18 months, but she knew the landscape well — Lane was a key part of the prosthetics team on both “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” The Peoria, Ill., native recently spoke with Hero Complex about getting the tale’s coterie of dwarfs ready for their trip to the Misty Mountains and beyond and how Jackson’s decision to use the groundbreaking 48-frames-per-second technology created specific challenges for Lane and the other below-the-line professionals.
HC: Were you excited about the prospect of returning to Middle-earth?
TL: Absolutely. I was quite flattered. When I was [in New Zealand previously], I was just one of many prosthetic makeup artists working and I was very flattered that they called me to come back and supervise. I got the call Thanksgiving 2010. [Production managers] Zane Weiner and Brigitte Yorke called me on speakerphone and they asked what I was doing for the next two years of my life. It was a very good phone call. It was amazing, it was on Thanksgiving and it was before I got too drunk.
HC: How would you characterize a typical day on set?
TL: A typical day, just on the prosthetics team alone, we had a core group of 16 people. The hair team had another 20 some people, it was a fairly large team. I’ve never done a show this big, having 14 main cast members in just about every day for over 264 days. It was quite a feat, very long hours. We would start probably around 4:30 in the morning, We’d have our first round in, we’d put the prosthetics on first thing in the morning, then we’d send them off. When I say first round, I’m talking about the stunt guys would probably come in first around 4:30 a.m. We’d do the same makeup application on the stunt guys, so all the stunt guys were wearing prosthetics as well. You not only had 13 dwarfs, we had 26 dwarfs just about every day. And that’s just for one unit. We had two or three units going any given day. We would start off at 4:30 in the morning and slap a bunch of rubber on these guys and then the nature of my team was I had to require that all my makeup artists be really proficient in hair punching and finishing because all the pieces — 11 out of the 13 dwarfs all had to have the eyebrows hand-punched into the piece, the piece would cover up the eyebrows.
HC: The piece being the prosthetic appliance?
TL: Yeah, the prosthetic appliances, it was a forehead and nose all in one. We would have to glue that on. Of course, we’d cover up [the actors'] own eyebrows, but these dwarfs have their own character eyebrows. So after we would finish in the morning and get them on the set, half the team would go to set and look after dwarfs and make sure everything continuity wise, dirt wise, sweat wise, whatever, [was correct], while the other half of the team stayed and punched the eyebrows on the pieces for the next day because we can’t reuse any of the pieces. Once they get taken off, they’re totally destroyed.
HC: How much time did you spend on each person?
TL: For prosthetics, each one was different. Our minimal time one was Kili, Aidan Turner. He just basically had a nose appliance, so his makeup artist Katy Fray would pretty much do his makeup in 20-30 minutes and then we’d send him to hair and he’d be getting his wig on for another 30-40 minutes. So he was probably a little bit over an hour total whereas Bombur, the fat guy, he had four prosthetic appliances and his makeup took about an hour and three quarters and that’s just for the prosthetics. Then he’d go and get another hour and 15 minutes in hair so all up he was looking at three hours in the chair.
HC: How did you go about designing looks for the dwarfs?
TL: Richard Taylor and WETA workshop had their design process in full swing before I was even hired. They came up with a lot of concepts, and of course ran it through [makeup and hair designer] Peter King as well to get his advice on how to execute these different looks because some of them are pretty outrageous. Nori is pretty outrageous design. By the time I stepped in, basically I was using the characteristics of the actors’ own faces and melding it in with the prosthetics and the sculpts that were designed at WETA to create the unified look. Nori, his hair design is pretty striking, it’s a great silhouette. It looks like a starfish. It’s just very distinctive. When we first saw the designs, I know Peter King went, “Alright, well that’s interesting.” It’s like Bombur, he has a huge braid of hair that comes off his mustache and creates like an O-shape around his chest, it’s really heavy. Trying to figure out, how are we going to attach that and make it last through all the antics that the dwarfs get up to through the movies, [was challenging].
HC: Is the makeup uncomfortable?
TL: These prosthetics are actually really comfortable. They’re all silicone prosthetics. The technology, we’re at a really good space to create really comfortable prosthetics because nothing actually covered up any of the eyes, the nose holes were all free so they were able to breathe. We didn’t alter anybody’s nasal passages or anything. The pieces themselves, some of them were a little bit heavier than others and would kind of weigh down on the brows. The only discomfort that these guys have is basically, throughout the day, it’s like having a light weight on your shoulders. After a few hours you start to get tired, your eyes start to get tired. We have a tendency to help them out by giving them some lifts under the wig, to try to help support the weight of some of these pieces. All in all, I think the pieces were comfortable. Most of the actors after a few hours didn’t feel it on their head really. Those guys were troopers for going through what we had to put them through.
HC: How did Peter Jackson’s decision to shoot the films at 48 frames per second impact you?
TL: We knew 48 frames for makeup is a nightmare. It just exposes everything, all of our little tricks that we used to get away with with 35 mm, all of our work is under a huge microscope. What we didn’t count on was the fact that working with the Epic camera, the colors transfer differently in the camera. So you’d look at the guys in makeup with the prosthetics on and seamless edges, the colors match perfectly. And then when we went to go look at it on the screen, we found out that the camera actually sucked out a lot of the red coloring in the prosthetics — and not just in the prosthetics but in the costumes and the set pieces and all that. We had to figure out how much red to kick back into the prosthetics in our paint job so it didn’t look yellow or jaundiced on screen. That was a huge learning curve. I don’t think the 48 frames was an issue, it was just how the color in the material transferred within the camera. I had to teach my crew to paint with that invisible eye. I was always in [cinematographer] Andrew Lesnie’s tent because there was only one color-corrected monitor on the set. It was a challenge every day.
HC: So, were the dwarfs the most difficult aspect of your job on these films?
TL: We had some challenges with some of the Orcs that we were doing, design challenges, paint challenges. It was always a gift when a new character stepped in and needed some attention. It was always a breath of fresh air to get creative again. Radagast, that was an interesting one we did. Sylvester McCoy, he’s a fun character to do. We’ve seen Gandalf as the wizard, but we hadn’t seen another — except Christopher Lee — and this guy was way kooky. He’s kind of the forest guy, so we gave him a crooked nose and a snaggletooth. He has such a great face you’d think he had more prosthetics on than he actually did.
HC: Did you work closely with the visual effects team?
TL: Not too much. The visual effects guys, they were always there but… there was no face replacement or anything like that. They were always good fun to talk to on set. Smaug is going to be unbelievable.
– Gina McIntyre
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