Special effects make up artists Howard Berger and Peter Montagna have two of the most fascinating jobs in Hollywood. Not only do the two makeup artists make magic happen in the special effects department every week on The Walking Dead, they’re the go-to guys for people like Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi when it comes to making directors’ artistic visions a reality. Berger has taken home and Oscar for his work on Narnia, and the two were also recently nominated for an Academy Award for their work on Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock, which comes out today on Blu-Ray and DVD (March 12). You can currently see their creativity on the big screen in Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful starring Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and James Franco. Real Style spoke to Berger and Montagna about the differences between working on a small film like Hitchcock versus a munchkin-packed cast like Oz and what it’s like to transform some of Hollywood’s biggest actors like Hopkins into iconic characters.
Real Style: You haven’t done a lot of period pieces up until Hitchcock. What was it like going from the fantasy world (Chronicles of Narnia) and the gore world (The Walking Dead) to doing Hitchcock, which is a period piece about a real-life person?
Howard: That’s a good question. KNB Effects, which is the company I founded with Greg Nicotero, we do a lot of things. We’ll do Hitchcock, Oz the Great and Powerful, The Walking Dead and Texas Chainsaw 3D. We mix it up, and we’re very diversified, and I think that’s why we’ve been around for the past 25 years. We’re the longest running FX company in the business. Lately, I’ve stayed away from gore, but I really love all the fantasy and character makeups. When Hitchcock landed in our laps, it was really, really great because it gave us the opportunity to do stuff we haven’t really done in the past, especially me. Peter’s done a lot of character makeup, but I never had the opportunity to do something like this, to create a portrait of famous director on a very famous actor. Everyone knows what Alfred Hitchcock looked like, and everyone knows what Anthony Hopkins looks like. Finding the happy medium where you create a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock on Anthony Hopkins was a very difficult task and one that was very scary. It took a lot of testing. We did a lot of test makeup, which is very rare. Nowadays, pre-production barely exists in movies. We were lucky enough that the producers and director Sacha Gervasi and Anthony Hopkins were up for it, and they gave us the opportunity to do six different makeups on Tony until we found what worked the best. That was really the big key that made it so successful.
RSN: Why is it better to do something that is a portrait of a person versus trying to do an exact likeness of a person when doing makeup for a period piece?
Peter: There’s no way we could have gotten him to look exactly like Alfred Hitchcock. It wasn’t feasible. There faces are just too different. In researching the makeup, we managed to get a life mask of Alfred Hitchcock, so it gave us a good reference in 3 dimension. When we studied it, we realized that their faces were vastly different. It was more important to catch the things that people were familiar with with Alfred Hitchcock: the fact that he’s bald and heavy, his lips…. those are the things we wanted to capture; the rest of it was Tony’s performance. Until we got him in hair and makeup, we didn’t know what it was going to look like. Like Howard said, we had the opportunity to do a number of tests, and the first attempts were to make him look exactly like Hitchcock. We realized that that wasn’t the way to go. We lost the way Tony looked, we lost Anthony Hopkins. At that point, it really could have been anyone in the makeup. We realzed that wasn’t the way to go. It’s Tony’s interpretation of Hitchcock; it wasn’t an attempt to do a mask that looked just like Hitchcock. In doing so, it made him look more human, it made him look more real.
RSN: Is there ever a fear on the actors’ part that they might get lost in the makeup?
Howard: Absolutely. It was interesting. When we began testing, we tried to give Tony as many tools as possible. He looked just like Alfred Hitchcock, but we had lost Tony. As we started to develop the makeup and Tony started to develop the character, we were able to scale certain things back. Tony thought he wasn’t going to be able to maintain that pouty lip, but after the end of testing he thought that he could. At the end of testing, we ended up not doing a lip appliance. It was Tony doing a pout. It’s always a concern. You don’t want to hinder the actor; you want to contribute. We look at it as a partnership. We bring X amount to the table, and then the actor brings the other percent and brings it to life. In this case, Tony brought 200% to the table.
Find out what Howard Berger and Peter Montagna have to say about having difficult celebrities in their makeup chairs after the jump…