December 11th, 2013
*PLEASE NOTE – due to the nature of Marcus’ work, some of the images of casualty make up and injuries are graphic*
Marcus Whitney is no stranger to the Accident & Emergency Room, having worked on BBC’s Casualty for over a decade. His talent for creating the perfect injuries and grisly gore also came in handy for the hugely popular supernatural series Being Human, as well as adding a touch of the extraordinary to comedy Stella, written by and starring Gavin & Stacey’s Ruth Jones. Warpaint caught up with Marcus to talk about werewolves, CGI versus make up, and his secret recipe for the most realistic-looking blood.
“I had always wanted to get into television and media make up from a young age,” Marcus explains, when asked what inspired him to pick up his make up palette. “Watching films like Labyrinth and Mrs Doubtfire had a huge influence on me. When I was about 13, my mum and dad got me a Hollywood horrors make up kit for Christmas, and that was that. After making up all of my relatives, I thought that would be fantastic to do as a job.”
For many years he worked on the BBC staple drama Casualty, creating all kinds of horrific injuries and complicated contusions. As a result, he knows the tricks to making the situations look as realistic as possible. “I’ve spent many hours sitting in medical meetings and chatting with medical advisors. My aim from the start was to make every injury look realistic. I hate it when I see fake blood on TV shows that doesn’t look real. Blood is a messy business, so I always try and be messy with it. The art department always end up going mad with me!”
When asked about his favourite character creations, Marcus’ passion for his work truly shows. Tasked with narrowing down hundreds of intricate designs, he settled on the overall experience of the supernatural. “One of the best shows to work on was BBC’s Being Human,” he explains. “That show had everything a make-up designer could dream of: normal, straight make-ups, tons of prosthetics, period hair work in flashbacks, werewolf transformations, vampire attacks, mass murders, fake teeth, ripped-open throats and chests, and even a zombie.” After some further deliberation, Marcus decides that the zombie make up was probably one of his favourites; as he’d worked closely with Neil Gorton from Millennium FX to achieve the look.
The layers of detail in Marcus’ work is astounding, as he describes the process of creating the zombie character he recalls so fondly. “Sasha the zombie died in a car crash, so first up I had those injuries to achieve. Then she was in hospital, having open-heart surgery. Then we had her in the morgue waking up to become a zombie – so far that was three different looks, all in two minutes of screen time.” Not one to shy away from a challenge then. But it was the collaboration between the team which adds the final layer of polish to turn the character into the extraordinary. “The script was so well written; as the episode went on they wanted Sasha to decompose more and more, with toenails falling off, hair falling out. But one of the best bits was when Annie, the ghost, decided to glam Sasha up and take her clubbing. She did this with super glue and poly-filler, and loads of beauty make up. In the end Sasha had about 10 different stages of make-up. It was hard work, but bloody good fun.”
With the increasing achievements in CGI encroaching on the territory of make-up artists, did it bother Marcus audiences might assume that some of the work he has slaved over is achieved with computer effects? “CGI is still very expensive. I prefer keeping things real, and I can always tell if a make up has been interfered with CGI. I know the American version of Being Human used CGI for their transformations, and I don’t think they looked half as good,” he admitted.
In the BBC version of the series, Marcus and his team went to great lengths to achieve the most realistic look they could for the werewolf transformations, which were mostly done with make-up, prosthetics and animatronics. “There were about 5 different stages to do with each actor that transformed. Those transformation days were very long. We would start with stage 3 and 4, which were full face, ears, chest, and hand prosthetics. The make ups would start about 4am. Then they would shoot stage 5, which was the full werewolf and animatronics suit, while we would take the actors back and de-rig the prosthetics and change them in to stage 2 and 1, which was teeth, contact lenses, veins, ear tips, extra hair, finger tips, blood etc. The whole day would be taken up with make up changes.” But all the effort was well worth it, looking stunning on screen in these multi-dimensional creations.
Talking about realism in TV dramas leads to Marcus discussing a project which was rather unique in the TV industry. “I worked on a show with make up designer Helen Tucker a few years back called Five Daughters. It was an amazing show to work on because every aspect of the show was real. Every actor went without make up, and the story was very traumatic and grief-stricken. It was so refreshing to see actors bare-faced. I have had actors in the past who want base, lips and mascara on, even when I explain to them that in the script her son has been killed, her house has burnt down – and she can’t even afford a lipstick. But no, they still want it… I had one case where in the script the actress had been kidnapped. She escaped, and was chased through a wet, dirty wood at night before she found help. I went in to do her checks, and she wanted her lipstick and wouldn’t let me put mud on her face. I do love it when a producer has to become involved. So I would say I prefer the more realistic jobs. That’s one good thing about working on fantasy shows though… Actors can’t complain too much!”
It’s a similar story of frustration when he is discussing his tips on making wounds and injuries look as realistic as possible. “Blood gets everywhere, don’t be afraid to put it on hands. If you had cut your head, the first thing you would do is touch it or hold it to stem the flow,” he points out. “Saying that, you have always got someone from the costume department standing there saying ‘Don’t go too mad with the blood, we have only got one shirt’, it drives me round the bend.
“It’s all about breaking down the skin, make it look messy,” Marcus insists. “For instance, if an actor has been running down a muddy lane and gets knocked over, I would make them muddy, sweaty and flushed just to start with. After they’ve been hit, I would apply a prosthetic to them – with blood splats. I always apply my blood with a screwed up tissue so that it doesn’t look even on the skin. I will apply a wash of dried, dark blood first. Then I take it off with a wet wipe, leaving residue around the skin. I hate it when you see stripes of blood down actor’s faces and they look clean. It’s all about layering make-up.”
With so much experience in the industry and in creating complex, multi-faceted injuries, there are certain tried-and-tested products which he always relies upon. “I do love working with skin illustrator palettes; it’s like doing a water colour on the skin. There are so many different types of blood on the market, but my favourite is ‘Pigs Might Fly’ by Nick Dudman. Other than that, I do have one secret ingredient, which I put into all the fake blood that I use: burnt sugar. It’s great for making blood look dried up. Not so secret now”
When it comes to looking to the future, it is anything but gruesome as Marcus looks forward to some well-earned time off. “I’m actually just about to take a few months off. I cannot wait. I start back filming a Christmas special of Stella for Sky in March – bring on the snow.”