To hear Peter Swords King talk, there's no such thing as " ...
making it up as you go along" while you're handling the make-up end of a major
And given some of the projects that Peter has worked on over
the past 15 years (i.e., all three of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films
plus "The Hobbit" trilogy. Not to mention Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean:
On Stranger Tides," "Into the Woods" and the just-released-on-Blu-ray-&-DVD
"Alice Through the Looking Glass"), this Academy Award-winner knows all too
well the huge amount of pre-production work that has to be done on a movie of
"Take - for example - 'The Hobbit.' I must have done over a
thousand drawings of the dwarves that were going to introduced in 'An
Unexpected Journey,' " King recalled during a recent phone interview. "It took
that long, that many tries to come up with a look for those characters that finally
met with Peter Jackson's approval."
Peter Swords King (right) works with an associate on a character make-up for PeterJackson's "The Hobbit" trilogy. Copyright New Line Cinema / MGM.
And even then - after all of those months of hard work that
went to the creation of the prosthetics, wigs and beards that would be used on
these characters - as soon as those dwarves went before the cameras, the two
Peters immediately encountered all sorts of problems.
"Now you have to remember that 'The Hobbit' was shot in HD
3D. So when we began doing camera tests for that movie ... Well, while those
make-ups looked great to the naked eye, as soon as they went in front of the
cameras, those make-ups began to read as bright yellow on the monitors," King
continued. "And I was like 'Oh my God. What's going on here?' "
What the two Peters eventually discovered was that -- in
order to get these make-ups to look good / read properly when they were being
shot in HD -- they first had to make a slight adjustment to that scene's
lighting. Go a bit more blue, which then counter-acted that artificial bright
yellow cast which the HD cameras caused. Once Jackson made that minor adjustment,
the dwarf make-ups that King created for "The Hobbit" looked just fine up there
on the big screen.
Copyright New Line Cinema / MGM
"But that's a problem that a lot of productions are dealing
with these days. Since so many movies are now being shot in HD and then being
shown on enormous screens once they're out in theaters, if just one hair is out
of place on someone's mustache, it then looks as though this huge wire is
jutting out from that actor's face. This is why - nowadays - the make-up for
every performer on set now has to be checked before every take. Just in case
someone's accidentally brushed their beard the wrong way. You don't want the
camera catching that," Peter stated. "You have to be extremely vigilant on set
these days. Which - when you're working on a shoot that went as long as 'The
Hobbit' did, 266 days - can get exhausting."
Which is why King always enjoys working with veteran
performers like Johnny Depp. Actors who are all too familiar with the
challenges that come with making a major motion picture and are willing
collaborators once they climb up into that make-up chair.
"Johnny's lovely to work with. I've actually done his
make-up on four films now. Just last year, I was down in Australia working on
Disney's next 'Pirates' movie, 'Dead Men Tell No Tales.' And when Johnny's in
the make-up chair, he's very, very cooperative. He gives you the freedom to try
and come up with new looks for his character," Peter said.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"Mind you, when you're working on a sequel, you can't change
things too much. Otherwise it gets confusing for people. But with characters
like Captain Jack Sparrow & the Mad Hatter, you can take some chances with
those make-ups because the audience already knows who Johnny Depp is. They're
familiar with how his face looks like," King continued. "Besides - when you're
a performer who's played the same role multiple times - it can sometimes get a
bit boring for them. And changing the way that a character looks, even making minor
tweaks for that particular production, can then help energize an actor who
finds themselves in a situation like that."
Of course, this wasn't really an issue on Disney's "Alice
Through the Looking Glass." Given that this James Bobin film is (SPOILERS
AHEAD) a time travel tale, Peter had the opportunity to create all sorts of
different looks for Depp's Mad Hatter. Take this Lewis Carroll character from
childhood all the way through to death's door.
"We obviously used the look that Tim Burton and Valli
O'Reilly originally created for 'Alice in Wonderland' as our jumping-off point.
We replicated that look. But when we first meet the Mad Hatter in 'Through the
Looking Glass,' he's in a far different place emotionally than this character
was at the end of the first 'Alice' film. The Hatter's very worried about his
family now. And the make-up and costume that Johnny Depp is wearing when the
Hatter & Alice first meet again in this new movie, even the way the Mad
Hatter's hair is parted in this scene tries to visually convey that information,"
And since the Mad Hatter is the character who really brings
color & vibrancy to Underland, James & Peter repeatedly used Johnny's
hair & make-up as a way to remind the audience how high the emotional
stakes were in "Alice Through the Looking Glass."
"That's what was really fun about working on this film. The
make-up actually helps to tell the story here. For example, we visually communicate
to the audience that the Mad Hatter had calmed down by changing that
character's hair color from bright red to ruddy brown. Conversely, when the
Hatter seemed to be lying on his death bed, we could let the audience know that
this character was making a rapid recovery by suddenly have color flood back
into his face. Having the Hatter's hair quickly go from being flat & grey
to curly & bright red," Peter stated.
"It's at that exact moment in 'Through the Looking Glass'
that the Mad Hatter finally becomes the character that audiences knew &
loved from the first 'Alice' film," King continued. "And I have to tell you
that - rather than just replicate the look that the Hatter had in that earlier
movie - it was genuinely fun to be able to collaborate with Johnny Depp on multiple
versions of this Lewis Carroll character. Give the Hatter all sorts of
different looks, make him be all sorts of different ages before he then finally
turned back into the same colorful, vibrant character that the Hatter was in
the first 'Alice' film."
So has Peter been doing the same thing with the most recent major
motion picture he did make-up on, "Star Wars: Episode VIII" (which was shot at
Pinewood Studios in the UK between February & July of this year)? Has King
perhaps been experimenting with the way that Mark Hamill's Luke and Carrie
Fisher's Leia look in this new Lucasfilm production? Since Peter is a guy who obviously
knows how to keep a secret, he politely steered our conversation back in the direction
of Disney's "Alice Through the Looking Glass."
"Let's just say that I always enjoy using make-up as a way
to illustrate how time can change a character. Like - on 'Looking Glass' - I
worked with Helena Bonham Carter & James Bobin to come up with just the
right look for a younger version of the Red Queen," King concluded. "That was a
lot of fun, finding all of the little nuances we could use to then differentiate
the younger version of Iracebeth from the one we met in the first 'Alice' film.
But again you can't change too much. Otherwise it confuses people."
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Wednesday, October 19, 2016