Oscars 2012: 'Harry Potter' makeup: How'd they do it?
Each year, the Oscars recognize A-list talent we regularly see on screen, on the red carpet, and in tabloids. But the Academy Awards also reward those who work behind the scenes: the writers, editors, costume designers, and others who help create trophy-worthy movie magic. This Oscars season, we’ll be toasting those off-screen artists by delving into the hidden secrets that helped create the on-screen magic that we — and the Academy — fell in love with. For more access backstage during this Oscars season, click here for EW.com’s Oscars Behind the Scenes coverage.
The eight Harry Potter films were set in a magical world, with a wide assortment of fantastical creatures (and fantastically adorned humans) who all offered intriguing challenges to the makeup team. But the biggest challenge they faced came right at the end (Spoiler Alert for the one person who hasn’t seen/read/livedthe Harry Potter phenomenon) when the story flashes forward 19 years, presenting older versions of some of the most well-known characters in film history. “We had all sorts of goblins and weird-looking people, a real catalogue of makeup and makeup effects, but we always regarded that sequence as the one that would be the most taxing,” says Nick Dudman, the makeup effects designer who worked on all the Potter films. (Deathly Hallows Part 2 marks the first time the film has been nominated for Best Makeup.) “If you’re turning somebody into a goblin, it’s a fantasy character. If I say, ‘That’s a goblin,’ and you say it isn’t, well, that’s your opinion. If you say, ‘That doesn’t look like Dan Radcliffe,’ we’re in trouble.”
Old age makeup is tricky. “Ninety percent of the time, it attracts attention to itself,” Dudman points out. So the process of creating the scene was intense, with the team looking at the actors’ parents and their characters’ onscreen parents for clues about the aging process. Initially, the plan called for lavish makeup. “We made the girls more hip-y, more bust-y, with a little more tummy. We made prosthetics for the guys so we could take their hairlines back fractionally. And we made a whole series of prosthetic pieces: Eye-pieces, nose-pieces, cheek pieces, chin pieces, ear-pieces.”
Lisa Tomblin, the chief hair designer who worked on four previous Potters, notes that — when they originally shot the scene, “Dan Radcliffe had a gray wig. Rupert had a receding wig with little bits of gray in it. Emma had a short wig. But it didn’t really work. It’s very difficult to age somebody that’s 20. It’s not like you’re aging someone that’s 30 and has the start of wrinkles.”
Indeed, no one was particularly pleased with the first go-round on the scene. Director David Yates was unhappy with how he’d shot it (the production only had a couple days in Kings’ Cross). “We did go too far with the makeup,” says Dudman, “and the costumes didn’t feel right, the performances didn’t feel right.” At one point, they even debated whether they’d keep the epilogue in the final film. “The only reason you’re doing it is to satisfy the fanbase. It wasn’t really necessary to the story at that point. The movie ended so well with the battle.”
Ultimately, they opted to reshoot the scene… but this time, the old-age effects would be scaled back considerably. “We just tried to do too much in the beginning,” says Tomblin. “We simplified. Harry Potter always has his floppy hair in front of his face. Let’s take his hair away from his face! No gray, just change his glasses, and hey presto, he looked older! He looked more mature.” Jowl pieces and most of the prosthetics were removed. Intriguingly, Tomblin notes that aging the boys was actually more difficult than the women: “It’s so easy, when you’re aging guys, to go into caricature. You can make the girl seem much more mature just by changing her handbag.”
In post-production, the digital effects company Lola did some minor tweaks, thickening the actors’ earlobes fractionally. “What you see in the final film is an absolute mish-mash of practically every technique you can possibly use,” says Dudman. “What pleased me when I saw [the film] was that you’re not drawn to it. Every bit of makeup in Harry Potter had to be noticed, except for this.”
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