“Bill, there’s a scene where The Blob attacks a woman who’s in a ‘phone booth and it covers the ‘phone booth, it crushes the ‘phone booth and here and then it goes on the sidewalk and goes into a gutter and disappears into this sewer.”
I’m just looking at him and I go…”Okay.”
And he says “Figure out how to do that scene!”
I was, like “Well, what IS The Blob?”
He goes “I don’t know…you come up with something. Come up with 5 things and I’ll pick one.”
That was it. That was my first day
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Jim Carrey would count brush strokes while he was in the chair, and tell Bill “You didn’t do this yesterday…” and Bill would respond, “Well, I didn’t like what I did yesterday. I’m changing it. I’m an artist. I’m constantly evolving.” And then he’d add, “You know, by the last day, I’ll nail it. Until then it’s a work in progress.”
Bill who? Pardon our manners. We’re talking about Emmy and Academy Award winner, Bill Corso, makeup designer extraordinaire, whose credit list is mind-boggling. Bill and Todd had a Zoom conversation a while back before the three of us recorded this episode (Bill & Todds Excellent Adventure! Anyone?).
We commiserated about getting actors in elaborate makeup with early calls, and then the actor wouldn’t shoot his scenes until much later in the day, after meals, and sitting around for hours doing nothing but getting angry about having to get up so early and get into makeup. We acknowledged how much better the makeup looked when first applied compared to many hours later in the day.
Bill said he’s even had actors go for stunt rehearsals after he’d gotten them in makeup! Face Palm
Bill is a Governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and at the most recent Awards’ luncheon, Bill told the nominees at his table, “Look, guys, at this moment, everybody in this room is a winner. You’re all at the same level, there’s no stress, there’s no statute given out right now, at this moment you’re all equal. And you’re all the best. You’ve been told by your peers that you did the absolute best of anyone in the world last year.”
The five nominees are apples and oranges. You can’t compare them. They each have to stand on their own. They’re all deserving, and on Sunday night the Academy’s going to throw a dart at a board and somebody’s going to get a statue.
And they talked about the future of our industry, which is mainly what this episode is about. There are full-on makeups being done digitally now, but they’re being done by people who are not makeup artists. Bill’s push is that more makeup people do get involved.
Bill said that Jim Carrey loves the makeup, he loves the idea of it and what it does to him, but he said (Bill’s paraphrasing) “I just can’t sit there for two hours every morning, and the claustrophobia drives me insane… but if I could do it a couple of times practically and then you could do it all digitally, I’d be all over that!”
This is a special episode for us. C’mon, man! It’s Bill-fucking-Corso! Deadpool, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Bill and Ted Face the Music, Foxcatcher, Welcome to Marwen, Bombshell, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent… to name just a handful…
Bill is uniquely placed in the business – he’s been in the workshop, he works on set, aaaand he’s digitally proficient as well. Bill is about as in-demand as you can get. And Bill’s an astute manager; he has a knack for finding the best of the best to be part of his team, whether it’s in the shop or on set with him making the magic happen.
We discussed that there’s a certain amount of anonymity behind the scenes when it comes to creating the amazing work that is seen on-screen; some artists prefer it that way. Not everyone feels comfortable in the limelight, and Bill’s very good at making sure those who are not in the limelight but are doing exceptional work do get proper recognition.
Stu brought up the notion that if there are people who don’t know what it is that you do, they may not give you the right amount of time to do it. That is, if you do a good job of disguising or hiding something with makeup, it’s not always obvious what you’ve done, so the time needed to create the magic can be skimped upon when scheduling a makeup.
Todd mentioned that maybe Dick Smith wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for The Exorcist was because nobody realized Max von Sydow was wearing makeup as Father Merrin; everyone thought he was actually that old. Bill said there’s a lot of that and could be part of a bigger conversation…
It’s business… big business, and there’s a game that has to be played – getting everybody to respect your position and your work, right out of the gate. The difficulty is that artists are artists and don’t always wear the ‘business hat’ well. That isn’t to say that there aren’t artists who can work as hard on the business side as on the artistic side. There just aren’t that many, but Bill is one of those guys.
Set a standard from the beginning with the DP’s and the producers and everyone, and command respect. Stan Winston was one of those guys. So is Jeff Dawn. And Christien Tinsley. And Donald Mowat. These are ‘people’ people. Some of the most gifted artists in our business are not ‘people’ people. They just want to do the hands-on work and nothing more.
It’s a very small group of artists who are great supervisors and department heads. They’ll hire the best artists, artists who are better and will make them look good. A good supervisor is there to stack the deck in their favour.
It’s harder for the current generation. We started at the bottom. We got beaten down. We learned the right way to do things. We made mistakes. A lot of people in today’s climate think because they’ve painted a lot of faces they’re ready for The Big Time. They don’t necessarily understand the full process required to garner the respect of those who hire. It isn’t an indulgence where you get to work privately on your own time and in your comfort zone when you work professionally.
Number 1 is PEOPLE. Learn how to be with people. Carry yourself in a way that looks professional and that you know the business. A lot of that comes from experience, so maybe you have to work in a lesser position first and claw your way up to get that experience and figure out if you have what is needed.
Bill was the last sculptor hired on Gremlins 2 and he sculpted some ears, big ears, little ears, and all sorts of things to make the background gremlins different. He was in every department. By the end, Rick had made a deal that those in the shop who were savvy enough could be puppeteers for background puppets. He worked his way up to be a lead puppeteer. And from that, he was offered an opportunity to go off and do his own thing.
Bill wanted his own shop, and here was this opportunity to run a show, which in his eyes was a huge show with lots of creatures and prosthetics; it was called The Boneyard. It was horrible. He was 20 and had set a timeline for himself because Rob Bottin was 21 when he did The Howling.
This was his big chance. He was working for Rick Baker at the time, and Rick told him, “You don’t want to do this. You’re gonna hate doing your own show. Trust me, it’s not what it’s made out to be. You’re going to be miserable.”
And so, he did it. And truth be told, it was a nightmare. He loved half of it and hated the second half of it. His whole crew quit. He almost died from pneumonia. It was horrible, horrible, horrible. Probably as bad as it could get.
But yet, he learned SO MUCH. He learned maybe he didn’t want to run his own shop. It was an incredible learning experience, but a nightmare. When he went back to LA (from North Carolina) he admitted to Rick that he was right, it was a nightmare and everything he’d wanted was destroyed. Every clichéd thing that could go wrong went wrong.
Bill backed off of that dream for years. For the next eight years, Bill was at Steve Johnson’s XFX, painting, sculpting and doing shop stuff. Slowly but surely near the end, Steve let Bill run shows. He was The Guy. Running multiple shows, with lots of people, and here he was running a shop again and not really liking it.
The Stand came in and Bill got the opportunity to be on set. It was a wonderful experience. Then a year later The Shining happened and Bill realized he loved being on set, applying the makeup, so he shifted his focus.
Bill convinced the show’s director to let him ‘department-head’ the show on set and run it. And they won Emmys and it snowballed from there. We see a lot of questions on various forums asking things that they should already know if they’re taking a job. It’s our job – we’re problem solvers. Oh, and make it look cool and still serve the story…
We are constantly reworking things. It’s never really done until it’s in the can. And inevitably, it’s better.
Play well with others. The better we can (all departments) support one another, the better the result is going to be. It’s so important during prep to foster a collaborative atmosphere. The people who succeed are the ones who are great collaborators. It’s inspiring when you see it done well.
Having a genuine interest in what the other departments are doing, and understanding what each does can make the machine run more smoothly. Speak the same language. This led us to a discussion of the integration of digital into practical effects work. When makeup effects need tweaking and cosmetic correction, it makes far more sense to have that work done digitally by makeup effects artists who understand what the makeup is supposed to do and to look like; it’s far better than having VFX artists (no offence to VFX artists) who don’t have the eye for the makeup; they don’t see what we see. They’re not makeup people.
It’s beyond ridiculous to change hair and makeup effects digitally in post-production and have no idea about creating that hair and those makeup effects! Let makeup artists be the ones who dial it in to make it look right if it needs any correction. To do that, maybe the makeup people need to learn what the VFX people are doing first! Nobody is going to come and show you – you have to do some digging and hunt that information down, proactively.
Practical makeup artists who are still in training should know some digital basics, such as Adobe Photoshop. And Pixologic’s ZBrush. Do some research into digital photo retouching, there are great books and videos about how it is done for magazines. Photoshop is a key tool for a makeup artist to know – partly so you can design digitally, but also to follow the thought process and try the work that professional photo retouchers do as they are attempting to create the same illusions as an ideal makeup.
Bill explained how he does all his makeup designs digitally initially to burn through iterations and then apply things in real life once they have been approved, saving time and money BUT thinking about it as a makeup artist. Applying colours in the same way as a makeup artist would, so layering things as you would with paint and brush.
The cost of hardware such as scanners has gone down and will continue to do so. It, therefore, makes sense to play with the software and prepare your mind for when the hardware you want can become available rather than waiting until you can afford a scanner or something and then not use it whilst you get to grips with 3d work at that stage.
By getting involved, makeup artists can influence how digital or can be used
The Digital/Practical Divide
The pipeline used by visual FX is a totally different industry to makeup. This has meant a big divide in the way makeup artists think about a look compared to a digital approach. There are often proprietary software and processes involved and hugely expensive licences for software which prevent casual dabbling. How many makeup artists do you know have a few hundred brushes, and dozens of palettes and also know their way around Nuke and Maya?
It was for this reason that Bill wanted to create another entity which allowed makeup artists to be involved in the fixing of makeup which would otherwise be done by a visual FX department who are talented but they are not makeup artists. They haven’t studied or worked with skin and may not notice things as they are focussed on the light or compositing and do not bring the experience of 40 years of staring at faces and making modifications on them with makeup.
There are subtleties that are employed in makeup and on set that a makeup artist will know but isn’t anyone else’s.
Rarely are makeup consulted when digital modifications are employed which affect makeup so Bill has taken the step of formulating the Digital Makeup Group to address the absence of the makeup artist in the digital process.
That communication between departments and making them aware that what the department does matters and that it needs to be involved rather than quietly work without establishing your position. Start the show by having that conversation at the outset rather than accepting a lesser position.
When practical people start making inroads into digital processes, really interesting things happen. There are lots of examples of old-school practical folks who have learned to use computers to do some of their work and we see amazing results. Who knows better what CAD and 3D printing can help with than someone who has up to that point made physical moulds? You best believe they know the advantages of a printer!
What is our future going to look like? How will AI and Virtual Reality affect what we do? Deep Fake technology is getting scary good, and it’s all expanding and expanding, and technology that was impossible a decade ago is now a button push. What can be done with that belongs to those who can use it.
The future is going to be amazing. All we can do is be the ones who stay ahead of the curve and try to get involved and be part of it and help make those changes. Bill said, “I don’t want to get left behind. I don’t want to be the stills photographer who didn’t adapt to digital. I want to be at the front of that train.
God bless Dick Smith – that our generation is so open, is so willing to help somebody out. I have no problem calling somebody and asking a question and getting an answer. I love that about what our industry’s become!”
Bill mentioned the actor Terry Crews, and how he was an accomplished artist. Check his Instagram to see some of his work – he really is a dab hand with a pencil! https://www.instagram.com/terrycrews/
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