September 11th, 2013
He’s the man who designed the make-up for Game of Thrones, amongst many of the iconic entries on his CV. Warpaint speaks to Paul Engelen about blood, guts and the Kingdom of Westeros.
Paul Engelen’s credits are lengthy, including Empire of the Sun, Batman, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Gladiator, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince Caspian, and Robin Hood. His love of make-up came via a school friend, Peter Frampton, whose father Harry was a well known make-up artist, and whom he credits as his inspiration. Harry introduced him to Tom Smith (Ghandi, Charge of the Light Brigade) and his first break came soon after in the form of Alfred the Great. The love affair with all things ‘medieval’ has burned bright for Paul Engelen ever since.
His work as the make-up designer on Game of Thrones will mark one of his few forays into television, winning a Creative Arts Emmy Award for his endeavours on the second season of GoT.
So what was it about GoT, as the die-hard fanatical followers call Game of Thrones, that made the man far better known for his work on the silver screen jump over to TV? Well quite simply the team Paul would be working with. “I only became involved with Game of Thrones after the pilot was shot, and it was decided to rethink the look of the show, essentially to give it a more earthy feel yet still have elements of the other worlds portrayed in the stories,” Paul explained. “The costume designer, Michelle Clapton, was particularly inspirational for me and I soon found a collaboration with her, and indeed David Bennioff and Dan Weiss, the two screen writers and the acknowledged oracles of all things related to the world of Game of Thrones. I couldn’t say no.”
The books already had a cult following and so the challenge was to accurately translate the stories without losing too much of the imagery. One thing that GoT is known for is the violence. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of blood and guts in this ruthless world, and in particular scenes such as the Red Wedding. It was Paul’s sole intention to make the audience gasp, and to make the brutal deaths as realistic as possible. “I always prepare as much as we can beforehand, especially in something like the Red Wedding. We make the prosthetic pieces before-hand; throat slashes, for example. However, frequently time is short, and an effect has to be achieved in minimum time, so very often I will use a product that mixed together that will create a modelling medium that I can build onto the actor in situ, thus saving time, but giving very satisfactory results,” he explains.
Tricks no doubt he’d learnt from working with the best in the business. Paul credits prosthetics maestro, Nick Dudman, with whom he worked with on The Phantom Menace, as one of the best teachers. Both Nick and Paul had worked with Stuart Freebourn and Nick had served a great deal of his apprenticeship with Stuart on the original films, so was well rehearsed in this world which helped Paul a great deal. In the film, Paul’s main alien involvement was the character of Darth Maul, as well as the other human characters of Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson.
His collaborations are very important, and Paul views his career progression as a series of encounters with some of the very best in the business. He has been fortunate enough to learn from all of them, taking a little bit of magic to every job he undertakes. His collaboration with Daniel Parker led to an Oscar nomination for the design of Robert de Niro’s Frankenstein is a prime example. “Daniel and I decided from the outset that the monster was going to be a different take from Karloff’s design. Kenneth Branagh was very supportive of the evolution, as was De Niro, although the six hours he spent in the chair daily was a monstrous demand to make of him.”
It must be very hard to choose a favourite, but interestingly, it’s not a high octane, prosthetic-heavy fantasy that rates as one of Paul’s top jobs. “I really enjoyed the experience that was Cold Mountain and working with the late Anthony Mingella. He was such a wonderful man and so thought provoking, eloquent and inspiring. I would love to have worked with him again”.