An Interview With A Movie Makeup Artist: Halloween Costumes, The Best Movie Makeup, and Practical vs. CGI
As the Halloween approaches and Shocktober takes up our airwaves, we thought we’d talk to a professional makeup artist about their favourite scary movies, some of the best makeup FX films out there and what makes great movie makeup.
Megan Fraser works in film and TV as a makeup professional and teaches the next generation of artists at Sheridan College. She also loves Halloween.
What got you first interested in makeup and working in films?
I started as an actor in front of the camera. It slowly turned in to “Oh, I’m not good at this, but I still really love the film world.” One of my friends was like, “You really like Halloween and you like making ridiculous Halloween costumes – why don’t you try doing makeup?”
I looked in to it and Sheridan had a really good SFX program but they also had a really good makeup program. I actually really enjoyed doing regular makeup as well as SFX makeup. They both have their place.
Have you always gone all out on Halloween costumes?
It’s funny because when I was a kid, my mom always said that I always wanted to do something like costume-y AND makeup-y instead of just one or the other. I know a lot of people just think of the costume, but I always wanted to have makeup.
In grade 9, I went as a Zombie, and I actually stood in the bathroom and I applied some store-bought Zombie makeup and I came out and people were like “UGH!” and I was like… “I did it!”
Having people not recognize me is always my goal on Halloween now.
Do you have an all-time favourite Halloween costume that you’ve done?
I think it might be Seymour from little shop of Horrors because people thought I looked like a guy. They said I looked like Jake Gyllenhaal, which was kind of true. I also made a puppet in a fake arm – Audrey 2 was actually a puppet. That was the first year where I won a contest.
I also went as Goldie Hawn, from Death Becomes Her. I put a mirror to make it look like there was a hole in my stomach. That was my first obscure-but-well-known-in nerd-circles, so people go “Oh yeah, I saw that movie when I was 8!” – that’s what I want to go as.
Obviously, movies influence your costumes and makeup choices. Do you remember the first time you noticed makeup in movies that really stuck with you?
I remember Hocus Pocus with Billy, it was the part where he cuts his mouth open and moths fly out. I learned later that Doug Jones actually had moths in his mouth. I thought it was neat how they were able to make the stitches snap – that was the first time where I was like “that just looks so real.” The breakdown of the outfit was great, and the makeup was great.
Hocus Pocus is good for general makeup too, right? The witches have very interesting but not creature-y makeup.
And the ghostly kid at the end! They had to suck the energy out of them so they had to make them sickly and gaunt – you probably wouldn’t have noticed it as a kid – it’s such a slight thing.
You’ve described both big creature-y makeup and more subtle stuff – do you have a preference in your own work?
I have done some kind of creature-y stuff or gory stuff. Just doing some subtle sickness, subtle breakdown… realistic wounds are probably more important to have than to do a huge creature. In the scheme of things, you should be able to do everything, but for realistic wounds, when those are wrong, those are wrong.
Are there any specific artists you idolize?
Louie Zakarian, the makeup artist for SNL. [At SNL] sometimes they don’t finalize a character until Friday night, and watching how they are able to do a full sculpting, moulding, and then the application. They sometimes get 5 minutes to do a full silicone appliance or even general makeup changes.
I think that’s my dream job. Because then it’s done and you’re like “We did it!” and getting that satisfaction from speed but also how good it is. They just won the Emmy – so good for them.
Do you like horror movies? And do you just watch for the makeup or can you enjoy them?
That’s what’s so hard now - when you start working in the business, it’s hard to break away from that and watch the movie just for what it is.
I do watch horror movies – give me a good 90s horror movie, because I feel that was the peak of how crappy they were but how good they were. Give me Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty – I love those. I love a good high school horror movie.
You said you enjoy Beetlejuice as a makeup movie
I think that’s the perfect makeup movie, because it had to be on the line of cartoonish but still real. Even Catherine O’Hara’s character had the slight cartoonish shaped hair, Lydia still had to have those little spiky bangs – they had to carry over from cartoonish. With Beetlejuice, Ve Neill created it, and she was given free reign to do what she wanted. Her first go at it, they ended up loving it, and it’s such a memorable character.
It seems like she continues to this day to work with Tim Burton…
She did Edward Scissorhands, and Charlie and The Chocolate factory… I think she’s done all of them.
Are you looking for a partnership like that?
If I could work with a director who trusts me – that would be the best job. Sometimes directors have their own vision and you have to give away some of your creativity to execute their vision – that’s like working with anybody. Tim Burton has his vision, but it seems like he trusts his artistic staff in hair, makeup, costumes, and art, because he keeps using the same people because they “get” him. That would be so much fun.
Beetlejuice also won Ve Neill her first Oscar.
Yeah! Also, this is how you know you’ve done a good movie – when people being that for Halloween costumes for years to come.
Even as Lydia – you can go as wedding Lydia… there are so many choices. It’s a perfect watchable movie
You also enjoy the Exorcist and the work of makeup artist Dick Smith. There are a few “looks” in that – what’s your favourite?
They aged one of the characters almost 40 years– Father Merrin. How Dick Smith created that was with latex stipple. He has his own recipe for this, he did that all without prosthetics.
As well as the character itself – very spooky, very scary. The spinning head was a practical thing. There was a raised wound which was also practical effects, which are so rare now. A lot of that was pretty cool.
It seems like that is the thing that wins you an Oscar – the only competitive Oscar Dick Smith won was for Amadeus. He was nominated for The Godfather and The Hunger which were all for aging.
You can only do so much with the Dick Smith stipple. To do a prosthetic in which you have to correct skin tone, correct anatomy, it’s so hard to do. I’ve done it pretty mediocrely in my opinion, but it’s one of the hardest things to get right – which is why he’s a God.
What do you think makeup can do that CGI can’t?
Some CGI just looks so bad, and it makes me so angry. Beauty and the Beast made me so angry. They could have done cool puppets for things, but they didn’t. CGI sometimes can look so unrealistic. I feel there’s a happy medium you can have, pairing CGI and practical, like on the Walking Dead.
I think Harry Potter did this as well. There are some things you can’t do with practical effects, like removing noses and jaw bones. That’s when CGI is great. It usually costs more money and takes more time for practical effects, but looking back, the horror movies that were really good, those were all practical effects. It makes movies more real, which makes them scarier.
If somebody is just starting out and interesting in learning more about makeup, are there any books or shows you can suggest?
I would say, YouTube is not your friend in this case. There are some good people like Stuart Bray, he has good moulding and sculpting – he teaches correctly and safely. A lot of YouTubers though are just applying latex and tissue paper which can be fun if you’re goofing around, but sometimes it’s not safe and doesn’t teach you much.
Also, learn your anatomy – why is the blood going that way? What would you see underneath it? If you cut your arm open, what would be underneath it – muscle, tendons, fat? How would the skin fold open? If something looks off or doesn’t look right, it’s probably that one small piece of anatomy is out of place.
Stan Winston has a really good book and classes as well. He was a genius. He didn’t even know how to make dinosaurs or do robotics before Jurassic Park. Look up legit makeup artists, and not just YouTubers that are known for effects. And be safe!