October 21st, 2013
Emmy Award winning MUA, Todd McIntosh, has devoted 36 years to TV and Film make-up, designing numerous iconic looks including the dead bodies in Pushing Daisies and the geishas in Memoirs of a Geisha. As head of the make-up department on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Todd was instrumental in creating the vampire looks that helped make the show a cult classic.
WP: What made you want to get into special make-up effects?
TM: First I have to say that although I love monsters and make-up effects, I have always done beauty make-up as well. The two are not exclusive, at least to my way of thinking. The skills needed for each, blend and compliment each other. If you let it, making something horrific develops your eye to see what distorts beauty. Understanding beauty techniques vastly improves the subtlety and reality of your painting. To answer your question, back in 1968 when I was 7 years old, the original Dark Shadows series was on TV. It had vampires and werewolves and a stunningly beautiful witch. It fired my imagination and I began to play with make-up trying to reproduce those looks. Eventually a neighbour gave me a Leichner stage make-up book, which was followed the Corson book and Lee Baygan’s books. I learned better techniques and by the time I was 17 I was working in a TV studio. In my working life I’ve only ever done make-up.
WP: What is your favourite look that you have created for film or TV?
TM: That’s an almost impossible question to answer. I’ve been doing make-up for 36 years and that’s a lot of looks. I will say that Pushing Daisies was a great opportunity to create fun beauty and prosthetics both and its creator Bryan Fuller gave me such freedom to be inventive in our designs – it was a very rare opportunity.
WP: How have the developments in 3D and HD technology affected your work?
TM: Oddly HD has caused a real scare about make-up. The general solution has been to use less and less and thinner products because, if poorly applied, the camera sees the make-up. The truth is that you can still use enough make-up to do the job and even heavier product, but the application has to be fastidious. I mean perfect every time. All skin has to be covered since the camera sees the slightest shift in density. You can’t stop application at the neck and leave the chest exposed, as the camera will see where it stops. And of course eye shadow and lips have to be blended perfectly.
Knowing this about a beauty make-up, it isn’t much of a step to understanding how precise a prosthetic has to be. Any and all joins into the skin are the enemy since any colour shift will give it away as much as a thick edge or poor blend might. I think it’s clear that however easy foam Latex was to use, it cannot stand up to the camera the way the newer translucent products can.
Worse yet is the 3D camera. Once we enter that arena everything we once knew about prosthetic work goes out the window and that leads to the blend between computers and practical make-up we’re seeing so much now.
WP: What was your greatest inspiration for the looks on Buffy?
TM: I have been a vampire fan since I was 7 so Buffy and I married like high school sweethearts. I loved that show with my heart and my art. However, we must be clear that the prosthetics were designed and built by the talented guys at John Vulich’s Optic Nerve shop. The creatures were their creations. My job was to take what they made and apply and paint it; to make it fly on camera. In this way we were partners and a team, and John Vulich is an inspiration and a friend. I am often asked how I get inspired or what triggers creativity. That’s a question you could ask any artist in any medium. It involves switching from left to right brain – seeing things from that art-mind point of view. For example I used anything from winter squash in the grocery store to books on insects and dinosaurs to inspire my make-ups. One day I was really struggling how to make a new creature, so I went for a walk on stage and there I found a rolled-up carpet mouldering away in a corner. That was my inspiration – the pattern and coloration of mould.
WP: On what project were you given the most creative freedom?
TM: Hands down I would say Pushing Daisies. I loved inventing all those amazing death prosthetics. Every script I would look at what they had written and ask myself, “OK how would that look if it happened to Wile E Coyote?” It was very fun and very creative.
WP: What one thing would you not be able to do your job without?
TM: It’s a fallacy to think that tools or products make the artist. Give a wagonload of Armani to a 6 year old and he’ll still paint the walls with it! Our commercial society has created this never ending search for the new, hot thing, when we need to take a step back and understand that you could give me that 6 year old’s poster paints and I’ll give you a beautiful creature. The artist is the thing, but that takes work to develop and youngsters today don’t want to hear that, so the search goes on for the One Thing.
WP: Do you prefer creating the fantastical or the realistic, and which is the hardest?
TM: Well, all make-up is fun to me. I try not to choose on purpose. Let me answer that in reverse – realism IS always harder than fantasy. The specifications are more exacting and since people already know what reality looks like, they see your mistakes more readily and call out the fake stuff. Again, the paint work needs to be impeccable. With fantasy you are creating out of whole cloth so it is far simpler, though obviously creative in its special way. And *surprise* I like them both equally.
WP: Even though it ended 10 years ago, Buffy is still referenced heavily in pop culture and loved by fans and critics. What was it about the show that made it so special?
TM: If I were to assign any one element of the show the honour of being the reason it has to be Joss. Without his vision, drive, personal touch on every aspect, the show would not have been the phenomenon it was.
WP: You were reunited with Sarah Michelle Gellar on Ringer; did her involvement influence you to take the job?
TM: Sarah and I have remained friends and been in touch all this time. We worked together on a movie in Vancouver called Possessed with Lee Pace – and it was Sarah who suggested me for that job. My dear friend David De Leon did that with us and is her personal make-up artist. Then I went on to do Pushing Daisies with Lee and David was at my side for that. Later, David and I did Ringer and again Sarah asked for us, with me running the department and David doing Sarah’s make-up. I have also stayed friends with others from Buffy: Juliet Landau (Drusilla) and James Marsters (Spike) as well as Tony Head (Giles) and Amber Benson (Tara). We all see each other from time to time.
WP: What advice would you give to aspiring make-up artists hoping to work in the film or TV business?
TM: Become a producer! I’m joking and I’m not. If you just love make-up and can’t live without it then go for it. If there is even one iota of chance that you really want to be an actor or director or a vet then do that instead. It’s a hard career with lots of competition and you have to be incandescent with belief in your choice to make it out there.
WP: What is the next project you are working on?
TM: Well, David De Leon and I recently did The Anna Nicole Story for Lifetime. That was a great project with lots of beauty and lots of prosthetic breasts! Currently, I’m doing a TV comedy called Welcome to the Family with Mary McCormak, with whom I worked on In Plain Sight. After that it’s anyone’s guess!