Below the Surface : The Secrets to Movie Makeup w/ Lydia Morales

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When we think about special effects technology we think about actors sitting in chairs for hours while an artist glues prosthetics onto their face and slathers on makeup, but there is so much more planning and technology behind famous looks such as we see in the movies. Today Dr. Hirsch sits down with Special Effects Makeup Artist Lydia Morales to discuss the behind-the-scenes of special effects and how the pandemic has affected the craft. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

Below the Surface
Each week Board Certified Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Dr. Elliot Hirsch, sits down with patients, celebrities and experts to go below the surface on topics within the field of medicine and current events.

Episode transcripts

Straw media. When we think aboutspecial effects makeup, we think about actors
sitting in chairs for hours long artistclues prospects onto their faces, but there
is so much more planning and technologybehind the famous looks that we see in
the movies. Today we'll discuss thebehind the scenes of special effects makeup and
how the pandemic has affected the industry. I'm Dr Elliot Hirsch. Welcome to
below the surface. I remember vividlywhen the movie Avatar came out. I
remember leaving the theater with my wifeand we both felt a little bit depressed
that the magical world that they createddidn't really exist. The locations, the
costumes and the makeup. They wereso engrossing. You really created a world
that we wanted to live in.There's so much that goes into designing these
characters. Actors aren't just sticking amask on their facers and going out to
set. We thought'd be interesting toexplore how characters are created with special effects,
and today we have special effects makeupartist Leadya Morales here to talk to
us about how this is done andhow the industry has been affected by the
Pandemic Lydia. Welcome to below thesurface. Thank you for having me on,
Dr Hirsh Yeah, my pleasure.You know, it's I have had
a lot of patients who are inthe industry and I've talked to a lot
of people in industry, but theone area that we've never really explored is
what you do, is as aspecial effects makeup artist. So I'd like
to start kind of tell me whatyou would do as a special effects makeup
artist on the show or a movieor when you're working. Yeah, Um,
you know, special effects makeup isactually a huge niche within the industry.
So there's a ton of, youknow, different types of facets that
go into special effects, which isSuper Fun and interesting to you can do
everything from prop creation, so inaction movies, guns, you know,
knives or syringes that are retractable forear shows. That falls under special effects.
But what I focus on primarily andwhat most of my work is is
creature creation. Okay, so mybackground actually I have a degree in design
and photography and I decided to utilizethat in sort of a way to manipulate
images and photos to create this creaturedesign. And so when I get a
job I'll sit down with the clientfor a short film, you know,
big production personal shoe a lot ofpeople hire even just for Personal Halloween parties
and such things like that. Andyou you hound out a character and then
basically the steps for special effects areonce you have a design, you have
to take a lifecast of the person. So you have your model or your
actor, actress, you know,sit for you and you take a mold
of their face and from that youcan sculpt the creature onto it. So
do you have a given artistic backgroundwhere you artist? Growing up, I
was an artist in a non traditionalsense. I think it's always been sort
of like, quote unquote, hoppywork for me. I never thought of
it as a serious industry in termsof passion to make money until, I
think, after I graduated college andrealize that the whole office, customer service
sort of design aspect that I hadbeen used to wasn't really right for me.
And it makeup was, funnily somethingthat followed me from when I was
a very young child. I wasdoing makeup for like dance recitals and then
proms and then senior formals and collegeand headshots and it couls just kind of
grew from there. But the kindof dark creature stuff, you know,
is like my film passion. Ilove Scifi, you know, like Lord
of the Rings, Beetlejuice, likes camp, is my, you know,
cream of the crop. So whenI realize that there's a niche within
the film industry for that, Ihad to deliver it in and specifically for
being able to create these creatures,taking what a screenwriter might have or a
personal client they have an idea intheir head, and bringing that to life
in real time for something that's practicalis really rewarding. Can we talk about
that process a little bit, becauseto me that's as you know, I
have a similar type of process withwhat I do when I talk to patients
about, you know, if I'mdoing a breast surgery or nose surgery,
when we kind of figure out waysto kind communicate, where also you bring
in picture, show me what youwant to look like and I'll tell you,
okay, if this is what youwant to look like, this is
why I have to do how doyou go through that process where maybe read
a script as describing some creature andmaybe the client has some idea in their
head, and then you actually haveto go from that to creating, you
know, a draft and then afully, you know, the full prototype
of what her actually look like,right. I mean actually, I think
my background did in design kind ofstep me up for doing that in a
very communicative sort of way, becausein a sense that is total customer service.
You know, you're you're creating adesign for a client, right.
So I learned how to kind ofhone in my communication skills as such,
and what I find the most beneficialis having a conversation more than just an
email, whether it's me a phoneor in person, because the tone of
someone's voice, how excited they get, I need to understand the expression and
the passion behind which parts of thecreature that they want to create. So,
and I'm breaking down a script,you know, I'm going to highlight
all these different things and kind ofask the director or whoever which direction they're
going towards, if they have anyimages to send me, because that'll cut
a lot of direction and, youknow, shooting in the darker way if
the director already has a kind ofimage in their head, and then what
you do is you can build offof that. I like to create mood
boards also in the back to theclients make sure everything is, you know,
inline with what they want. Thatway everything is kind of set,
including maybe like a photoshop rendition ofthe creature or sketch. That way,
before you even get into the lifecastme and you get into the sculpting to
make it come to life, you'reyou're all on the same board yet,
because once you get past a certainpoint there's kind of no going back with
the creature design. Yeah, Imean that makes sense and obviously you want
to make sure that the clients gettingwhat they want. Just like in surgery
we try to make sure that theimage that the patient has of themselves in
their head this is the same thingthat we're going to be able to deliver
exactly. So you have to beable to connect on that sort of you
know plane. Have you ever workedwith have you ever work with a client
who just was asking for just somethingthat was like just too much to accomplish?
Um, of course, but Ithink it's all situational. It might
be too much to accomplish in thevery short time that they wish to accomplish
it in, for instance. Soit might not be not doable, but
it might be unmanageable. But oftentimes, especially with the quarantine and all the
new procedures that are in place.With, you know, the virus and
the pandemic. A lot of timesbudgets are now being cut because they're,
you know, compensating in different waysto make sure the crew and the and
the film and the set is safe, which of course it needs to be,
but that also means that they're askingfor a tall orders with not a
lot of you know, fundamental financialstability to be able to carry those through.
Yeah, so in the past yearI've found that be a challenge.
But in terms of creature design,I think the main challenge is making sure
that it's wearable, it's going tolook the anatomy. I'm sure, as
you know, if you're you're creatinga design for someone, a sculpted knows
that you're going to do or somethinglike you have to think about the full
process and how it's going to lookand be wearable. Right. So it's
the same thing with creature design,how it's going to move, how it'll
fall in the face, making surethat when you're creating the anatomy of the
face or the shoulders or the backor whatever piece, it makes sense for
the creature and it's not going tomake. Ever, anyone who's watching the
movie say Hey, that kind oflooks weird, like that doesn't look like
it would be natural, because evenif it's supposed to be a natural you
want to make it look like it'scohesive. Is there? So, is
there a like a synergy between thespecial effects makeup and the actual like the
computer? Yes, yeah, actually, that is something that is definitely going
to be a huge push and itwould already become part of so many films.
Mixing Makeup with the CGI animation andgreen screen within it, you can
actually create some really awesome effects andadd some really nice internal movements, you
know when when you're adding the computer. But I do think that the marriage
between practical and CGI is the wayto go, because I think that's the
most believable versus some of the filmsthat I've seen that go the entire CGI
route for all the creatures and thenit looks kind of unbelievable. Yeah,
we've all seen that kind of asituation where you know, there's some of
the creatures just aren't they just don'treally meld that well. But yeah,
they don't do it for you.Yeah, uh, I always think like
for me, the the standard bearI think of thriller. Back in the
day, I love Thriller Hum andmore recently was Avatar. Yeah, yeah,
yeah, I love the way theydid the effects and Avatar. I
remember watching that, that movie inthe theaters of my wife. We were
like we want to go live inthat world. That was me. It's
nice spot growing up was, youknow, the Hobbit and Lord of the
Rings. So being able to seethose come to life and the big screen
when I was like Whoa, youknow what I mean. It's it's pretty
intense when you can mix two thingsto be create such a beautiful picture.
So did you find, I hopeto do. Did you find that the
Hobbit and Lord of the rings didthey kind of fit the ideas that you
had in your head where they prettyclose? Lord of the rings definitely was
more on part for me. Ithink the Hobbit it's a relatively short shorter
booking Yesson, so I think theyoverstretched it and added characters that are an
original. Fi'm a little bias,but yeah, Lord of the Rings,
the original anthologies definitely the trilogy's thebest. So I'm laughing because in the
operating room yesterday we were having thisexact same conversation. The hobbit is my
all time f favorite science fiction fantasybook and I gave a copy of it,
along with a copy of enders gameand Dune, to okay, yeah,
to when the text I work with, and he found the hobbit was
a little too dense, but hewas he can't, he's a couldn't put
enders game down. He's plowing throughit. And I said, you know,
for me I thought the Lord ofthe Rings trilogy the movies were a
rare instance where I actually enjoyed themovies more than the books, because I
found the book, yeah, drag, but the high it was. You
know, it's one book. It'sa quick little children's tale of adventure in
a treasure Huh. I just foundlike if they would have just edited those
three movies into one movie, itcut all the fleft through. was something
really cool in there, but itwas just, digree with you, is
just too stretched out. Yeah,absolutely, they missed the mark a little
bit, but the cast was good, so it's yeah, it's good,
but let's take a quick break andwhen we come back we'll talk about changes
to the industry during code. Tellme a little bit about that you mentioned
something before. They want to comeback to about what is happening in the
special effects makeup industry and, Iguess, the production in general now during
the covid pandemic, like, whatare you? What are you doing with
the I assume there is production goingcorrect? Yes, there and there's been
productions growing ever since, you know, the the laws came out, I
guess, in June, our Julyof this year, and I've been fortunate
enough to land a couple jobs ona few different sets, but it's definitely
from a personal standpoint. I've hadto put a lot of money into my
personal kit as a makeup artist tomake sure that I have the equipment to
make sure everything is separate per actor, you know, making sure everything is
individually wrapped. So I think thatwas kind of a feat that I had
to overcome getting back into the industry, as well as making sure that everything
is in accordance. You know,you're completely smacked up now. You have
not just a mask, you havea face shield and glasses. You're wearing
gloves that you interchange between every singleperson that's in your chair. You're not
allowed to use cloth chairs because they'renot easily wipeable. So the makeup directors
chairs aren't technically allowed. They're supposedto be vinyl or plastic, something that
you can wipe down. And inaddition to that, just being on set,
of course, because the actors haveto be protected as well as the
crew, they're continuing to put ontheir masks and their face shields and then
they're taking them off between every singletake. So you can imagine the work
on set is a little bit moreinvasive and intense because you're kind of doing
touch ups way more than you normallywould in a normal production. So you're
going through more product, you're takingmore time and I think projection in general
has kind of taken a lot oftime. But I have been fortunate enough
to be on relatively safe sets.You know, you get your temperature screen
before you're even allowed to enter thelocations. Everything is broken down according to
capacity, you know, disposables andindustry standard things like barbicide for makeup artists
released a set of rules and thesesort of things that you're supposed to follow
and accordance. So as long asyour productions able to facilitate what you need
budgetwise, it shouldn't be an issue. But but it's definitely is added a
lot more time, a lot moremoney and a bit more work, but
it's been working out so far.So I'll be interested to see what changes
in the new year, though,based on Los Angeles in particular, where
the hub of the world right now. Oh, yes, for covid so
we'll see how how we do intwo thousand and twenty one. It will
be. It'll be interesting development.And you know what I think of special
effects makeup and the amount of timeit takes. And he can take you
six, seven hours sometimes just toget everything for an application and then think
about removal at the end of thenight. Sure, and that's so.
It's a can be a large,large job, especially if there's multiple actors
that you are you know are underyour department and think so. They can't
be wearing masks during that time either. No. So everything has to be
properly ventilated in the room. Nothingcan be closed off every like all the
windows and doors are have to befans. There has to be proper circulation
happening. There only can be acertain number of makeup artists, who actors
in each room. So oftentimes ifthere's the department head and maybe there's two
or three makeup artists underneath them working. Because it's a larger scale film,
you'll have to be split up ontwo different rooms so that it's only one
actor and one artist per square footage. So it's just made things a little
bit more complicated in terms of quickcommunication m but I think that what I've
seen so far, at least onthe film sets, and I haven't done
TV as much, and on theregulated film sets it's been okay. It's
just definitely prolonged production for sure.Let me ask you a question about the
makeup process, because this is somethingI actually don't know. I mean there's
a lot I don't know about thethe filming industry, but like on your
classic set before Covid what what isthe process where the actor comes in and
you know, you put the makeupon, so they come in the room
and then, like if it's somethingthat's requires like casting and make up and
more intensive stuff, like if youhave latex applications on the what you're actually
doing? But they come in youthey just kind of sit there in the
chair a do you have one personwork on them? Is the whole team
that works on as the same teamevery day. Do you guys swap in
and out? It kind of dependson how large the creature or the application
is. If it's if, let'ssay, we're doing full large scale creature
design, you know, like shapeof water status, yeah, creature of
the Black Lagoon, you know you'regoing to have traditionally multiple makeup artists working
out of time, three to four. That way you're getting the actor isn't
sitting in a chair for ten hoursand they're going to work you know their
way and what makes sense for them, because you have to think about food
breaks in this and that for whenyou're going to be putting face prostics on,
with the meal times versus shooting.So it has to be very scheduled.
So they have a call time andusually they come in and you get
to work right away and you havea set amount of hours, but of
course, being on set, thatwill likely change to shore beer. So
you kind of have to have everythingprepainted, laid out, labeled, prepared
so that climb exactly. So thenthey're with covid when you you say you
have a limited number of makeup peopleon staff. Is that? Have you
seen a similar type of thing?But is it is almost like a pod
where you have the same two orthree people working on the one actor right
now, or is it still kindof all hands on deck? We I
get this long thing done? It'sstill kind of a pod, and then
it's kind of transferred into being havingmore makeup artists on set for touchups.
You traditionally it would just be maybelike one making sure in between takes and
resets that everything looks good, butthat includes all the background after and,
you know, the stars of thefilm as well. So maybe you have
to have an assistant doing that whileyou have two people working on the creature
and that sort of thing. SoI think in terms of Organization of Staff
and department it's been a little bitlike all hands on deck in that sort
of way. especially if you're shootingwith a an a team and a B
team in different locations. That meansyou have to definitely have multiple people on
your team who have walkies and arecommunicating the entire time. So it just
requires a lot, a lot moremassaging and making sure that there's communication between
the whole crew. Logistics. Yes, just six. That's what it is
and that's that's kind of the themethat that we've been seeing with the industries
that we've talked to you that arebeing more successful. Is Logistically you know,
what is it that you have toovercome to make those to work?
And everybody has something and it's justa matter of figuring out and figure out
your process and hopefully, you know, hopefully by the end of this coming
year, two thousand and twenty one, we're pasted it and back to some
sense of normalcy. Agreed. FingersCross. Yeah, they're kidding, Huh.
So tell me about the mission unstoppableshow that you're on. Yes,
so I was luckily enough to beasked on to the mission on stoppable fruit
show. It's produced by Litton entertainment, nd Hill philanthropies and the if then
initiative and it's a great it wasa great opportunity. I got to work
with the host, Miranda Cosgrove,and they had collaborations from the girls from
clever as well, and it's ashow that's targeting like the youth, the
younger generation, those specifically two femalesworking within the stem industries, kind of
making science feel more approachable and realizingand understanding it and showcasing that sciences involved
in a lot more industries than youtraditionally think, especially when you're just going
to school and you think of Oh, physics, chemistry, lab, this,
that the other thing. So theshow kind of brings on these different
types of women in the cutting edgescience industry. So can be anything from
like technology, robotics to like zoologists, astronauts. I mean, in my
case I was the special effects makeupartist, and it's just in hope that
we can instill a little bit ofinspiration through creating that link of communication and
with the younger generation that science isinvolved in so many things and you don't
have to kind of put it withinthat box. It's you know, it's
definitely a good gesture from the sensewhere the stem industry has traditionally been side
technology, engineering, math is it'sbeen a male dominated field and it's always
good to get that kind of pushtowards your towards younger audience, especially young
female audience, to help them understandthat you know this, these jobs are
out there. Everybody can do thistype of thing. In your in your
career up to this point, haveyou felt that you've had challenges to overcome
just based on being female? Inagain, it is stem type industry.
Absolutely, I mean, I thinkunfortunately I'm by racial my father being from
Puerto Rico. So growing up Idid experience a lot of racism, coming
from a concertive conservative town, andit's somewhat followed me into my professional career
somehow. And when I got outto la I found that within the film
industry specifically there tends to it's verymale dominated. A lot of the older
generation still are very much working withinthe industry and kind of have a have
definitely a long term hold on it. So I think that there's a sort
of, I've experienced a lack ofa pocket of the younger generation being able
to kind of break into that,and so that's been kind of my goal
moving forward in these industries to befocusing in of color, special effects,
makeup applications and creating a kind ofcrack that hopefully more artists will grab hold
of and we'll be able to openit up and create something that's new,
and I think that this show inparticular is is a great way to do
that. You know, and they'vethe first season was great. It was
nominated for the two daytime Emmy awardsand everyone a parents choice award, a
Gracie award, and like six tellyawards. So they're coming back for a
second season, which is awesome.So I'm really excited to see how,
you know, the team there grows. So I think it's a great initiative.
They've had a bunch of interesting guestson that show too. They've had
astronaut, HMM. And when youis it one person per show or is
it is everybody? Like how theyhave they sequence it out. They kind
of do multiple features. So noneof the segments are super long, which
I think is great because, youknow, the younger generation is very instantly
gratified. So the attention span ingeneral just and especially with quarantine, you
know, US just taking in somuch media right now via the TV and
the computer on our phones that Ithink the shorter segments have been working in
their reach. Has Really proven thattheir audience is there, and so I'm
super happy when I got the wordsthat they'll be coming back for a second
season on January. Second are youit's I mean that's great news. Are
you more involved instead of just beingprofile in the show? Are you still
working with this show? Are youdoing make up with them or how?
Are you still involved? Yeah,they would actually had me on a twitch
stream earlier in quarantine, maybe abouta month ago, where it was the
same sort of deal. They hada bunch of different women on for a
number of segments, you know,fifteen twenty minute talks about different parts of
the industry and and how they're succeedingand how they're, you know, creating
a niche for women within the stemsciences. So I tuned into that,
which was great. I got tolisten to all of these really, you
know, awesome stories and they're comingback for a second season, so hopefully
I'll be able to do something withthem this round too, so we'll see.
Yeah, well, we'll look forwardto seeing you on there. Yeah,
what question I did have for you, and this is something that we
talked with about all of our allof the guests I come on our program,
what is your all time favorite creatureor show or movie that you were
involved with? Boom, he hadto pick one. Maybe something that you're
the most proud of. Our justyou felt like everything really came together perfectly.
You know, I was lucky enoughto be asked by my very good
friend Madison Burger, onto a musicvideo shoot for an artist who's up incoming
his name is pink sweats and he'skind of alternative rb. He's actually really
great, greatly talented person. Buther task, she brought me on his
her assistant, was to create ateam of artists for this large scale production,
which was this is maybe two yearsago now, all including zombies.
So this was like during the BigZombie boom. Yeah, and Cinema,
you know, the end of thewalking dead and all of that. So
we got to put together a teamof like five other artists who we ended
up just like all meshining well withand collaborating with, and we got to
do all of these crazy, crazyZombie looks on the of these extremely different
looking type of people. So Ithink collaborating with a team executing it.
It was overnight shoots too, inthe middle of the desert, where there's
no heat. You know you're it'sit's a little bit tough in the desert
at night, gets really cold.So intense, yes, exactly, but
it was a lot of fun andI think I am I'm the type of
artist that enjoys working collaboratively with otherartists on set and in the lab.
So to be able to work withmy friends and create custom looks for,
you know, eight to ten zombiesthat we then got to apply and then
get, you know, see throughthe full production. It was it was
pretty awesome to take it from fullconception all the way to application. Yeah,
so I think that was one ofthe best. Yeah, that sounds
sounds like it was quite the quiteaccomplisher, quite the production. Just to
conceptualize something that actually, you know, I have the whole team of people
working at and then finally see theend result has been very gratifying. Yeah,
it definitely was. Definitely was.And what advice would you give to
any an you are yonger listeners outthere who are thinking about this as a
career? I would say you knownow, now you have everything at your
fingertips the Internet. You know,you can go youtube behind the scenes video
of how things work. So ifyou ever see a film, if you
ever see a makeup, if youever see anything that you find really interesting,
take the step to do the extraresearch behind it, because that's what
you have to do to realize,Oh wow, this is something that is
actually doable. It's not just somethingyou can see on screen for fun,
like. You can get into this, and so I think researching a kind
of way like get familiar with whatyou hope to learn, because I think
that's the best way. You canlearn so much just from watching and absorbing.
Very cool. And if we wantedto follow you on instagram or social
media, what's your what are yourhandles? Yes, you totally can.
I am on Instagram at Lydia MoralesDomu a perfect. Well, thank you.
Appreciate you taking the things to talkto me today. Yeah, thanks,
Dr Hersh. It's been wonderful,my pleasure. Thanks so much for
listening. That's it for today.If you enjoy this episode, click subscribe
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