March 10th, 2016
Duncan Jarman, along with Sian Grigg, was propelled into public consciousness as images of Leonardo DiCaprio’s bear-mauled body in The Revenant began to circulate the internet and win rave reviews. The detail and craft which he puts into all of his stunning work, ranging from war wounds to some of the best old age make-up we’ve ever seen, has seen him take the role of right-hand man for some of the biggest make-up designers on some of the biggest films for 20 years.
WP: What first sparked your interest in make-up?
DJ: I found a book in my college library called Making A Monster: The Creation Of Screen Characters By The Great Makeup Artists by Al Taylor and Sue Roy. It blew me away, I was hooked from that day.
WP: Where did you train?
DJ: I did a degree in fine art sculpture at Kingston polytechnic. I learnt everything to do with the creation of prosthetics from reading books and magazines. I spent my first few years at Bob Keen‘s Image Animation, and it was a great place to cut your teeth. I have been really lucky to work for and learn from some of the best prosthetic make-up artists around, including Daniel Parker, Mark Coulier and David White.
WP: How did you get your first real ‘big break’?
DJ: Me and some college friends would make our own horror movies and show them at film festivals. We met a producer that was working on a short movie where Neill Gorton and Steve Painter were doing the effects. I went along with my good friend and all-round awesome artist Dominic Hailstone, where I showed them my portfolio. They invited us to work for them on a movie called The Funnyman, and it all snowballed from then onwards.
WP: You’ve worked with certain directors and actors multiple times – what advice would you give artists as to how to cultivate successful and lasting relationships with cast and crew, especially when it comes to something as technical and complicated as SFX?
DJ: The old adage of “you’re only as good as your last job” is true. Be polite, keep your head down and do the work to the best of your ability. People will remember that and hire you again.
WP: You’ve worked on such a variety of genres – from ‘real life’ to historical features, zombies to vampires. What is your favourite genre of film to work on and why? Do you have a favourite project you have worked on?
DJ: I love doing old age make-ups, they are the most difficult to pull off. One of the ones I think worked the best was on Tilda Swinton in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I was working for Coulier Creatures; Mark Coulier and I stuck on the facial appliances and Stephen Murphy did the hands. I also sculpted the facial prosthetics.
WP: Sculpting has clearly remained a real factor in your work. At The Prosthetics Event last year, Don Lanning was a huge advocate for the art, and implied it was a skill which is being left behind with newer technologies. What are your thoughts?
DJ: Don Lanning is a truly awesome sculptor. I sculpt in clay, not digitally – not that I don’t want to, but I have a family and don’t have the time at the moment to sit down and learn it. I mostly specialise in sculpting prosthetics and at the moment that is still in the realm of clay. Other areas of sculpting, especially maquettes and large props, have definitely been taken over by digital sculpting programmes. 3D scanning of actors for bodies and head casts is still not as detailed and the printing not as accurate as doing real plaster and silicone life casts. Plus it’s still quicker to sculpt prosthetics in clay than it is to 3D print them, and the detail is still superior.
WP: What has been the biggest change to the way you work, in terms of how products, processes or technology has advanced, since you first started working?
DJ: The first movie I worked on was in 1993 where everything was foam latex or gelatine. A lot has changed since then; the use of silicone for dummies and prosthetics has been the biggest advancement. Plus the introduction of tattoo colours for colouring appliances.
WP: The Revenant has become infamous already for its intense filming environments. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome? Was there anything that proved surprisingly do-able which you were worried about?
DJ: The biggest challenge for me was the bear attack reveal. Leo was covered in prosthetics from the waist up – there were blood tubes going to the wounds in his back, shoulder and throat to make the blood flow, all operated off-camera. He had a prop leg attached to his knee with a dislocated ankle, resettable by magnets. All the wounds had to be stitch-able as it was shot with a real needle and thread. This all happens in minus degrees temperature, in the middle of a forest, all in one crane shot.
I haven’t worked with prosthetics in those kind of temperatures before, down to minus 30 in some scenes. I wasn’t sure how the different materials would react but surprisingly there was no difference to working in a usual UK climate.
WP: Delving into your kit, what are your trusted on-set favourite products? And what are your newest finds?
DJ: As a prosthetic make-up artist, the Skin Illustrator palettes and Telesis glue are a must. I have a set of plastic medical tweezers that I always use, they grip appliances really well and are dirt cheap from eBay. I also use watercolour brushes for painting prosthetics.
Not an onset product, but a prosthetics manufacture material, is PTM transfer material, it’s the best Bondo I have used and comes in a number of different colours.
WP: What advice can you give other artists and students on how to create the most realistic wounds possible?
DJ: Go straight onto Google search and download the images that you like and copy them. Everyone knows what a wound looks like, don’t try to make it up because it won’t fool anyone. If it looks fake then the illusion is lost.
WP: For our student readers, what advice would you give for those starting out in the SFX industry?
DJ: Persist, work hard, practice constantly and get along with your work colleagues.
WP: What makes a good assistant?
DJ: I’ve never really liked the term assistant, I prefer work colleague. Working with a person that can second-guess what you need just before you need it and who pays attention. When I double-team I like to have someone that is quite chatty, to keep the artistes entertained – it allows me to concentrate and get the make-up done quicker. But it’s also important to know to be quiet when the moment arises.
WP: What does 2016 hold for you, after the madness of Awards Season?
DJ: I have no idea! I was working on a project just before going out to the Oscars. The competition was tough, we were up against Mad Max: Fury Road and The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, both amazing beautiful work. The UK film industry is still going strong with a huge amount of movies in production. I will be phoning around when we get back, hopefully someone will give me a job!