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Talks By The Firelight 2.10: The Face Beneath The Mask

From the impeccably-rendered marines decked out in exoskeletons in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to the ethereal beauty of the Na’ vi in Avatar, Tegan Taylor has been on the cutting edge of her craft. As a Makeup Artist, she’s worked on critically acclaimed Hollywood chartbusters and has worked with renowned masterminds such as Steven Spielberg and James Cameron amongst others. Join us as we take a deep dive into what goes into the creation of her delicate yet intricate work of diverse depiction.

Q. What inspired you to become a makeup artist? Also, is it easy to enter this field?

I have been inspired and drawn to the arts since I was a very young girl. I started my training when I was in my early teens and studied diligently, so by the time I graduated college I felt confident enough in my skills to enter into the professional world of film, TV and theatre. What drew me specifically to makeup was my love of makeup! I love wearing makeup and I love the magic of how it can transform an individual into another character entirely.

I also love my career in makeup because the craft is full of endless creative possibilities. And when working alongside brilliant directors, award-winning producers and amazing high profile actors, it is a very exciting field!

In Hollywood it is very difficult to get into the Makeup Artists Union; to work on television shows and legitimate feature films, one must be a member of the Makeup Artists Union. It is also a very saturated field. There are literally thousands of union makeup artists in Hollywood, many more than the available jobs. So not only is it difficult to get in, it takes a lot of tenacity, grit and drive to actually succeed.

Q. How do you describe your rise in the industry: from being a makeup artist in 1994 to becoming the makeup department head of multiple magnificent movies. How has this journey been?

My journey as a makeup artist has been a very exciting and wonderful ride. I was fortunate early in my career to work with some very amazing producers, directors and actors. By being at the right place, at the right time, armed with the right skills and the right attitude, I was able to embrace the opportunities that came my way and turn them into a very successful and long-lasting career.

Seizing opportunities when they present themselves is paramount to success in any field. But it is especially true when working in the arts. Staying open to learning new things at all times and staying current with the evolution of the arts as well as the sciences has allowed me to remain flexible in a craft that has transformed greatly in the last decade.

Q. Was becoming a makeup artist your ambition or did you have something else in mind in your childhood?

When I studied theatre arts in school, I learned all aspects of producing a theatrical production. From building sets, to acting, to writing, to hairdressing , etc etc. But I was always drawn to makeup. So when I set out on my career, I decided from the start I wanted to be a makeup artist.

Zoe Saldanha in Avatar. Source: Pinterest

Q. Avatar was a film that relied heavily on motion capture unlike live performances by actors. What part did make-up play in such a technical spectacle? What did the make-up work involve?

When we first started production on Avatar, the products and tools we needed for facial capture did not exist, so I created them! My Lab “Mocap Fx” now supplies the facial capture paints used around the world for facial capture ( I worked in tandem with the visual FX artists to create the characters seen on the screen.

Initially for Avatar, all the characters seen in the film had to be created in their actuality. So we painted up our actors just as they were seen in the film, we created wigs for them as well as costumes, and then scanned them into the computers to turn them into virtual recreations.

For films such as this, a facial “grid” is created for each actor which needs to be painted on each day. It needs to be very meticulously matched from day to day, so each makeup artist must be very detail oriented. I assisted the visual effects team with the placement of the grid as well as the creative processes necessary for each production.

Q. How does one work on makeup after taking a look at concept art? Does anything change as the visuals transition from a sheet of paper to the character itself?

Transforming images from concept art into that of a living character is what the job of a professional makeup artist is all about. Depending upon the specific character, we can take the most outlandish concept and turn it into reality. This often takes weeks or months of preparation, but when working with teams of brilliant artists, we don’t stop until we accomplish our goals. We always have deadlines we must adhere to, so not only must we work with great detail, but also with speed to meet our production deadlines.

Source: Gameopedia

Q. Like animation and motion capture films, video games too rely on the magic of computer graphics and visual effects. How is the make-up work for such games different from that of movies?

Movies and high-end video games are similar but different in regards to the technologies being used as well as the production budgets and timelines. High-end features such as Avatar aim to bring as much of the living actor into the character as technologically possible. This takes a lot of money and a lot of time. Video games tend to rely less on the actual facial recognition of the actor, so they can be produced faster and more affordably than blockbuster features. But with every year, the gap between the two genres is being bridged, and the process of life-like facial recognition is getting faster, and more affordable to produce.

Q. What challenges did you face as a make-up artist in a very male-dominated industry?

Excellence at my craft has helped immensely when working in a male-dominated industry. I’ve always had to be as well prepared as I possibly can. And I personally always try to focus on what I need to accomplish, rather than on my obstacles.
Nowadays there are more and more female producers and directors, so slowly but surely the doors are opening for women in the visual arts.

Q. Describe a time when you made a funny mistake, but it all worked out in the end.

I always make mistakes! I truly believe that’s part of the creative process. But often my mistakes turn out not to be mistakes at all! So now I believe mistakes can be blessings!!

Q. What is your advice for budding make-up artists and what do they have to do to remain relevant to the ever-changing times?

Staying well-educated is the key to staying relevant. Always remain open to learning new skills and new techniques from everyone you work with. Think “outside the box” and always stay open to change!

Cortana from Halo 4. Source: YouTube

This interview was taken in collaboration with Abhishek Ramachandran, Vamsi Krishna and Festember’s Guest Lectures team.



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Antony Terence

Antony Terence

0.2M+ views. 5x Top Writer. Warping between games, tech, and fiction. Yes, that includes to-do lists. Words in IGN, Kotaku AU, SUPERJUMP, The Startup, and more.