July 27th, 2014
With the explosive popularity of the Marvel comic-book film franchises resulting in some of the biggest blockbusters of the last few years, you can imagine the hysteria which arose when it was announced than another comic-book universe was about to enter the fray. Guardians of the Galaxy launches this summer to enormous excitement and Warpaint managed to grab some time with the extremely talented Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou, whose job it was to create the new host of instantly recognisable characters.
This isn’t Lizzie’s first foray into the Marvel universe, having been the Make-Up Designer for Thor: The Dark World. “It gave me an insight into how Marvel work, what their expectations are and the way they want the characters looks to evolve,” Lizzie said of the experience. Insight which was surely hugely helpful when it came to designing the hundreds of alien characters which populate the Guardians universe; unlike the worlds of Thor, Captain America and Iron Man, which are human-based and familiar, Guardians is set in the depths of space and there are no limits to what can be created.
The process was collaborative with the various departments, it transpires. “Marvel has concept artists who try to design the characters in a similar way to the comic books, which in turn makes them recognisable to the fans. We evolved the main characters in the movie from these concepts in a way that kept them true to form, but bringing them to life and enhancing the actors’ own features.”
With a past repertoire of work which contains a host of period projects – from the swinging ‘60s of Made in Dagenham and An Education, to wartimes in designing The Deep Blue Sea, and working on Atonement and Saving Private Ryan – we wondered how this creative, otherworldly project compared. “It was actually very similar to working on period films,” she revealed, “as many of the characters looks were already established in the comic books – so, in a way, it was a much trickier task bringing them to life whilst remaining true to the comic book looks. The comic books have evolved over the years as well, so deciding on which look over time we preferred could sometimes be a challenge. However it was also great fun to have unestablished looks to play with, seeing them evolve and practising on the team with new inventive make-up techniques, hair textures and styles for the various alien races to create funky new looks.”
The same process occurred when creating each look, building up from the material and concept art onto the skin, until a final look was settled on. “We worked with Dave Stoneman to create unique products for the alien skin tones, in vibrant colours with the correct consistencies. We needed to try a lot of different products to get the coloured skin tones true to form, and there was a lot of airbrushing involved.”
Since the announcement of the film’s existence and release, each titbit of news has been greeted with fanatical interest by the fans – the casting choices, the crew, the long-awaited trailer. And then there was the shock moment at Comic Con, where the cast sat down for a panel and Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula, whipped off her trademark red hair to reveal a finely shaved head. “When Karen was cast I was given the task of taking that leap of faith and shaving her hair. There was even talk of filming the process for behind the scene footage, but it was decided against. However she embraced the look for the part, but as to not leak this bold look to the press I had a wig made for when she was out of character, which is the one she took off and revealed at Comic Con.”
Nebula was entirely the work of Lizzie’s opposite number in the Prosthetics department, Dave White. Based at Shepperton Studios, David works on many different projects, responsible for overseeing all prosthetic work, from design concept to final on-set application.
When it came to transferring the created looks from paper to face, we couldn’t help but wonder what sort of pressure Lizzie and the team must have been under – to please the die-hard fans, satisfy the actors, as well as placate the executives supporting the film. “We stayed true to the Marvel looks, but also with a touch of artistic licence, and so far the feedback from fans who have seen the trailers has been very positive.
“It’s always important to get the actors on board, and make sure they are happy with their look – incorporating their features and what they want portrayed for the character when deciding on the looks. This process always involves producers and directors as well. James Gunn [the director] in particular embraced the creative element with gusto and passion.
“All of the actors were involved in their final looks, but two that stood out for me were Benicio Del Toro [the mysterious Collector] and Lee Pace. Lee [who plays Ronan the Accuser, the film’s villain] was very involved in his character’s development we had to bald cap him and then apply layer upon layer textured products and specially developed tribal markings, which was quite an endurance test. Both gentlemen were a real pleasure to work with.”
The frenzy and speculation whipped up by the media was unreal, resulting in some sneaky paparazzi photos leaking Michael Rooker’s distinctive blue-skinned character Yondu. “When you’re on a project of this calibre the paparazzi are always going to try their luck and despite us covering them with black hooded capes on this occasion they were successful.” However it turned out to be yet another affirmation that the team were doing an incredible job: “The positive response we received from the fans was encouraging; it confirmed that the team had done an amazing job on his look. It’s all great publicity at the end of the day!”
So how did Lizzie reach the point where she is populating the far-flung reaches of space? Quite inauspiciously, it turns out. “I always loved hair and make-up, and worked at a salon all through school,” she said. After graduation she completed a three year training course, which covered everything from beauty therapy and make-up to hair dressing and wig making. “I went on to train at Vidal Sassoon before achieving a placement on a four year course at Thames Television,” she continued, allowing her to begin to climb up the ladder from junior to designer.
With a huge variety of projects under her belt, accomplished as both a hair and make-up artist, it’s little wonder she was unable to pick a single favourite experience so far. “Every project brings different highs, it’s difficult to choose one over another,” Lizzie mused, before drolly adding, “and a lady never tells!”
With her first credit to her name back in 1984, Lizzie has experienced first hand the technological boom which has completely changed the film and TV industry over the years, including the make-up. But it is a challenge which she very much relishes, rather than fears. “When the High Definition camera was introduced it meant that products needed to be enhanced to a level that could deal with such scrutiny. I’ve always prided myself on the finer details, so it was a challenge that I loved rising to and enjoy; I encourage those in my team to embrace HD!”
Having worked on such a variety of projects, we wanted to know who had inspired her as a young rising star in the industry. “I remember walking in on Joan Hill, who was creating a beautiful make-up look. The detail and creativity was completely outside the box; I’d found my niche, that was the level I wanted to be at,” Lizzie recalled. “I was inspired by the people who were breaking the moulds, doing both hair and make-up in film as well. I always look at a character as an overall image not just the hair or make-up. I took most of my inspiration growing up from art and photography, and still do.”
We were keen to find out what sort of products Lizzie loves, and she didn’t hesitate to reel off several of her favourites. “Le Maquillage make my hero sets, with six bases in one, it’s a must have. The HD palettes also by Le Maquillage – the cover cream bases and the original Maquillage bases are great for a rich blemish cover up. Not forgetting, of course, the Le Maquillage Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou foundation palette, which has a great range and texture for all skin tones and types.
“MAC Blotting Powder is great for dealing with problems caused by hot sets. Then I always have our specially-developed wig lace glue on hand. Skin Illustrator does some amazing palettes for all make-up requirements. I love MAC brushes, and the new ready-made bald caps. I also swear by Jurlique products, especially their moisturisers and hand creams. They’re brilliant, even on the most sensitive of skins. And, of course, the stable set bag must haves: L’Oreal Elnett handbag-sized hairspray, Evian face water spray, and face wipes or tissues.”
As an MUA, bombarded with the latest trends and products, we wanted to know which brands and products have stood the test of time, and earned their place in Lizzie’s kit over the years. “I am a huge fan of Jurlique, Crème De La Mer and MAC – I especially love their new eyebrow pencil in Stud, and their new prep and prime products. Paw Paw for lips is always nice, and a good BB Cream is a must have for any self-respecting make-up girl. Macadamia Healing Oil Treatment is a godsend for certain hair types and wigs, and both Joico and Bumble and bumble do amazing sea salt/beach texture sprays.
“The one beauty product I really miss is Maybelline Define-a-lash; mascaras that don’t clump are a must have and I never go to work without my Tweezerman kit, I am the eyebrow Queen”