December 22nd, 2014
Real-life tattoo artistry is one thing, and make-up another – yet Daniel Parker, the designer of such films as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Cloud Atlas, sought to bring these two disciplines together when he found himself faced with a unique proposition. Warpaint had the joy of chatting with the man himself about getting all tatt-ed up.
WP: Was there ever a time you didn’t want to be a make-up artist?
DP: I can’t remember a time – although we all go through several things which we want to be when we are growing up. I don’t think make-up occurred to me as one of those things to do… I just did it! When I told my parents that I wanted to work in movies, they said “So long as you don’t do make-up!”
My father [industry great Charles Parker, who worked on classics such as The Great Gatsby, Zulu, Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur] was a make-up artist, and he’d already felt that he’d done as much as he could do as a make-up artist, felt like he couldn’t push any further. It was a very different industry then – now you can try more things. I’ve had a go at a bit of writing, a bit of directing, and there simply wasn’t that freedom before.
WP: What was the most important thing you learned from watching your father work?
DP: My father died when I was only 16, so I was a bit too young to actually learn anything really constructive in the industry… However, he has been the biggest influence on my work simply for having seen what he achieved with just a paintbrush. He was one of the leaders in prosthetic make-up, but he never went there until all other options had been exhausted. This is something which I too believe in – there is so much that can be done with just paint!
WP: Were you formally trained? If so, where?
DP: When I started there were no make-up schools like there are today and so you sank or swam really. There was also far less competition, it was not such a popular career as it is today. In fact, the movie side of make-up was desperately in need of fresh blood! One learnt by watching others and by being inventive.
WP: You’ve had a lot of experience on supernatural and fantasy projects – what is it about these jobs which you enjoy? Do you prefer them to more realistic make-up jobs?
DP: My favourite type of work is actually the stuff you do not see, the subtle little things that can do so much but are not immediately apparent. The tiniest of additions can make such an impact sometimes. The prosthetic side of my work is fantastic, in so much as it gives me skills and opportunities to cover all types of make-up and to design some of the most diverse and interesting types of projects. However I don’t rely upon prosthetics; I purely look at them as another string to my bow as an artist. We are dealers in colour, shadow, highlight – and we should use every aspect to deliver.
A good example of this kind of subtlety would be my work with Ian McKellan in Richard III. As he is a schizophrenic, I decided to design a literal split face: one side normal, the other drooped and a bit misshapen and twisted. It was so subtly done that the Oscar board actually told me that if they had realised it was make-up, I probably would have been nominated.
WP: You were nominated for an Oscar for your work on Frankenstein with Robert De Niro- what was it about that MU which really set it apart do you think?
DP: There were so many things that set this make-up apart. Firstly that we created a full body prosthetic which actually resembled a human, which had never been achieved before, and then of course to redesign one of the most famous make-ups in film history; it was a massive challenge. For what we had available to us back then, I think we did a fantastic job, even looking at it now.
WP: Do you have a project, or a creation, which you are most proud of? If so, why?
DP: I think that the thing I am most proud of to date is TattooedNow! Yes, there are films and make-ups that I am proud of, but TattooedNow has been a completely new challenge and the results of the work and of the business are astounding, I am so proud.
WP: How did TattooedNow come about?
DP: I was in Serbia, shooting Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, where we needed a large amount of tattoos. I enlisted the help of two young Serbian artists and trained them to do my methods of tattoo work. We kept in touch after the film, and two years later they approached me with the idea of this company to create high-quality temporary tattoos, and asked if I would put my name to it and invest. Niki is a tattoo artist himself, and Igor is a potter and graphic designer – then with my make-up skills, I think we make a fabulous team and partners.
WP: Do you still have movie projects you work on, or are you focussed on TattooedNow?
DP: I do up to three movies per year. This makes it very hard work, but I love doing my make-up work and so we find ways to make it work. I seem to do a lot of films with tattoos these days…
WP: Do you have a best-seller tattoo/set?
WP: How long does it take to produce the tattoo transfers, from design to application?
DP: For our professional make-up designers we strive to get the turn-around as quick as possible, as we know there is generally not a great deal of time on TV, Film and Fashion work. We aim for about three days. For the shop it is more leisurely, and so we estimate about a week.
WP: What sets your tattoos apart from others?
DP: I think what sets us apart, apart from our excellent turn-around time and delivery record, is the quality. All of our tattoos are hand-printed, and the art work is without doubt the best.
Our custom-designed tattoos are also very special. For example, we got contacted by a woman who had been buying and loving our tattoos, and she got in touch to ask about a design to cover a scar on her shoulder from getting a real tattoo removed. She asked if we could make the rose design she had been using slightly bigger, in order to properly cover her scar. We said we would do her one better, and design her own rose for her! So we did just that, and produced 200 of them for her at cost price, and now she’s confident enough to go out with them covering her scar, which is a great thing.
WP: With such a wide variety of experience, is there anything you’d still like to try? Anyone you’d still like to work with?
DP: I always like to try new things but the best thing to do would be something no one has yet done. This is rare, but does happen… maybe a good Viking film would be fun. As for people I would like to work with, there are so many. I have already worked with so many fantastic people that I can only hope for the same in the future.
WP: What are your on-set kit saviours?
WP: What is your advice for making tattoos appear as real as possible?
DP: Tattoos tend to shine, so my best tip is to paint over with the Bluebird Matt Sealer. This, with our beautiful artwork, helps to sink the tattoo under the skin nicely and make it look much more realistic.
WP: Do you have any favourite tools or products which have changed how you work?
DP: I think that modern adhesives, alcohol-based paints and silicone have changed everything for the better, but I still us some of the old products and techniques depending on the job.
WP: Having worked throughout the technological boom from the 80’s onwards, what would you say the biggest change or challenge to MUAs has been? Do you have to work differently to how you did then, due to HD cameras etc? Or are things easier because make-up and prosthetics have become better too?
DP: Of course the biggest change has been the coming of the digital age. I actually find this exciting, and with the modern way of lighting in combination with the old lenses there is now a lovely clean 35mm feeling to most of the jobs I work on. It also enables us to do things beyond our skills when combined with graphics work – something I totally embrace and find most exciting.
However, HD is a problem. I find the biggest problem is that you don’t really know what the camera is seeing, as it pick up on more than we can with the naked eye. So you never really know what your work will look like on these cameras. It also sees colours that we cannot see, which can be difficult. The only thing is to be aware of all of this and make sure that the work is the best you can do, regardless of surrounding conditions… and always talk to the camera man!
WP: Do you have any advice for aspiring MUAs? What are your thoughts on teaching and mentoring new artists?
DP: I think one of the best bits of advice I can give is to learn how to use a camera yourself, and to learn about lighting. Practice with still photography to get a better understanding of how things appear on camera. Firstly this will give you a much better portfolio, and secondly you will be able to understand the work on set so much better. There’s nothing like being able to exchange technical lens talk with a camera operator. They will always be impressed, which is a good thing!
I really like teaching. Make Up For Ever have asked me to do some lectures in Paris, and I’m often asked to demo at events like IMATS. It’s something I really like doing! I prefer teaching more technical or advanced techniques, teaching the specifics rather than general entry-level. But I do find it very pleasurable, and I get a lot back from it. It’s always great to see amazing work from someone who you have helped to train. With Apocalypto, for example, I trained 120 artists to work on the crowd scenes. But it was good, because I enjoyed teaching a very capable crew, and I enjoy training my assistants.
WP: What do you look for in an assistant?
DP: They must be skilful as a make-up artist, first and foremost. But it’s also about character and other aspects which are important. I work with honest, good people who work hard.
WP: What are you currently working on, or excited about?
DP: I have a film coming up soon which is a Japanese zombie/ghost film, but it won’t be the classic ‘flesh rotting, staggering about’ zombies. It’s quite a special look, which was a lot of fun to design, using a good mixture of new and old techniques. Last year we got excited creating full-body Yakuza tattoos for the film Everly, which looked fantastic. Then earlier this year I worked on A Hologram for the King with the lovely Tom Hanks, which had a really fantastic team. That was really exciting to work on and watch; we filmed in the Sahara, dealing with sand and wind – not a great combo when you’re doing delicate tattoo work! But we’re very excited to see that come out.