Let me take you back, way back, to a simpler time. Let me take you back to October 2011, when myself and handful of online film writers were swept away by tornado to spend two glorious days on the set of director Disney's OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (which looked an awful lot like Pontiac, Michigan, but who notices such things), director by Sam Raimi. In my first set visit report, I walked you through the many sets contained in the massive complex, with still a couple more to go.
It's a little difficult to remember, but I don't believe we saw any actual shooting on Day 1 (we saw quite a bit on Day 2, which I'll get to). In addition to visiting the sets, we also popped into the massive costume department and the makeup "laboratory" of special effects guru Howard Berger (of KNB fame) and his team. Small actors in full Munchkin attire and makeup were zipping in and out of the room, so the tone was set.
It occurred to me that in all my years at Ain't It Cool News, I'd never been in an active special effects makeup room such as this (more like an assembly line), let alone in the presence of a legend like Berger. As a result, I couldn't stop staring at his personal work station, where I saw gloves that looked like green hands with black fingernails, clearly belonging to whoever is playing the Wicked Witch, a secret that Disney would very much like to keep a secret, but those of us in Berger's workshop clearly saw face molds of the actor playing the character made up to look like the film's villain. I'm not going to spill the identity, for the sake of the children.
Also, I've put a Spoiler box around this, but I'm pretty sure I redacted any references made to the Wicked Witch's true identity. Anyway, please enjoy our group interview with the creative genius Howard Berger, who was especially excited about an upcoming Halloween costume party he was planning on getting suited up for.
Howard Berger: Hello everyone, how are you?
Question: Quite well. What’s the biggest challenge you've had? Is it matter of magnitude or is it individual moments?
HB: It’s certainly the size of this project that’s overwhelming, and actually I can tell you this right now, we keep a track of every makeup we do on the show just to see where we are at, and I’ll tell you what our statistics are as of last night. There are these characters called “Winkies.” We have done 72 Winkies so far. Tinkers, which is the makeup that I just finished here, we've done 337 Tinkers. We have done 383 Munchkins so far, and we're not even halfway there as far as the scenes that involve these characters. So my projection is we will be close to like 3,000 or 4,000 applications. That also doesn’t include the witches and other hero make-ups through the course of the film.
Question: You also have a bag of fingers over there.
HB: We do. Yes, we have a lot of bags. There’s a face, some fingers and gloves. So yeah Peter and I handle makeup for the Wicked Witch of the West, and it’s a pretty involved makeup. When we first started designing of course, you always think “Okay, well they’ve hired [name redacted], the studio doesn’t want to cover her face, certainly Sam Raimi wont want to cover her face.” So we designed things that were like a chin and a nose and the green makeup and so forth. We did a bunch of design work and [she] took a look at it and said, “I think it should be bigger,” and Sam looked at it and said, “Make it really big and scary. It should be a big scary witch.” [Laughs]
So we ended up where she’s pretty well covered. The only thing that’s hers is just her upper lip and everything else is a full prosthetic makeup. She’s got what we call a “horse shoe piece,” which is cheeks and chin, and this whole piece is one piece and then nose and a whole forehead. And then she wears this thing called a “wimple,” which is this black hood thing that’s part of her costume that wraps around. Her dress is fairly low cut, so everyday we have to completely paint her chest and back and shoulders and full head and neck. It’s a big ordeal. We’ve gotten it down to about an hour and a half.
We are trying to do each makeup no longer than two hours just because there are so many characters. Today we have 90 prosthetic characters working between first and second unit, and I’ve got a team of 30 excellent makeup artists, actually some of the top guys in the industry and a lot of old-school guys. It’s really exciting, because I got to hire guys that I grew up admiring like Kenny Diaz, who worked on [John Carpenter's] THE THING and who is absolutely amazing. He worked on HEAVEN’S GATE and brought in a bunch of photos.
I’ve got a guy, Greg Nelson, who’s over there who has been doing Ronald McDonald for 36 years, so I want him to like a Ronald McDonald Munchkin one day, like, “Just make it look like Ronald!” But these guys, I literally have the monstrous arsenal I've never ever had on a film, but it needed that, because the scope of what our work is on this film is so gigantic. Today, I just finished my third makeup. I’ve got like two other makeups to do today, so the average is between three to five makeups per makeup artists, which is really absolutely ridiculous, and we have about a six-hour build prior to call, so Monday mornings when we have a 6 a.m. crew call, we're in here about two in the morning starting. Then as the week goes, it just goes on and on. So today is Thursday and I’m completely delirious.
Capone: Is it daunting like having to come up with a new idea for the Wicked Witch?
HB: The Witch was. The Witch was the most daunting because there were a lot of elements. We had to create a new iconic witch, and it had to be on [name redacted], who is by far one of the most beautiful women in the universe, and we also had to be very careful of not crossing over into the Margret Hamilton makeup, which was really difficult, and for about a month we kept going back and forth. For a while, the witch wasn’t going to be green, and I went “Well that’s never going to fly.” Literally, how can you have WIZARD OF OZ and not have a green witch? Disney kept saying, “Well there’s not going to be a green witch. She should be flesh and maybe do a little yellow.” So I tried a bunch of different makeup tests, and they never really worked and finally we found a green that Disney was happy with and felt we weren’t in any [legal] issue with the people who own the rights to other OZ products.
Question: So her makeup is like a two-hour process?
HB: It’s about an hour and a half. It started off at two and half hours and then I whittled it down to about an hour and a half depending on how jumpy she is in the makeup chair. Monday it goes fast, and by the end of the week she likes to get up and has tons of energy.
Question: I want to ask about these racks we can see behind us. Those aren’t hand sculpted, those are…
HB: Those are all for [name redacted], those are her lower face pieces. We basically start by bringing the actress in and we do a life cast--a cast of the actor’s head--so everything we build is custom, and from there there’s a sculpture that’s created and from that molds are created. So we have a negative impression of the sculpture, and we then run silicone or foam in those pieces, so every day there’s a brand new piece. Every day, we put a new piece on with any of the actors, and at the end of the day, they're cleaned up, and it’s all thrown in the garbage and we start fresh every single day. So we have thousands and thousands…a room full of those appliances for every character, and that’s a big task too.
I’ve got two people that are in charge of that, and that’s all they do all day is make sure we’ve got everything for the next day and it’s a big thing. Somehow, we always run out of noses for Munchkins. It’s amazing, but think about it, you do about 40 Munchkins a day, that’s 40 noses, so it goes fast. Back in LA at KNB, which is my company that I own with Greg Nicotero, they're 24/7 running Munchkin, Winkies, Witches, Tinkers and all of that crazy stuff.
Question: By “running,” you mean printing out the prostheses?
HB: Yeah, running in either silicone or foam rubber. There’s about a 100 molds they run every single day that are for all of those characters. So running in terms of running foam rubber or running silicone for the appliances, and then everyday we have shipments, boxes that go out from LA to here every single day. It’s crazy. We thought we were ahead of the game when we started prepping, but the scope of how many makeups are done are overwhelming.
Sam likes to do a lot of tests, so we did a tremendous amount of tests before we started shooting with the characters, and that blew through about 100 different prosthetics, so that bit into our supply, but you have to do that. You have to figure it out and let Sam figure it out. KNB started working with Sam back in 1986, when we did EVIL DEAD 2. That was the first time Greg and I worked with Sam, and it’s just been really nice. We've been able to work with him through the years on a lot of projects, and it was nice to come back to this one and actually shoot it in his hometown. We always said if Sam called us and said, “Listen, I want to shoot this monster movie in the backyard of my house, would you guys come?”, we'd be there in a heartbeat, because we love working with Sam so much. To us, this is like shooting a film in his backyard, although it’s a $250 million backyard film. The most expensive student film ever. [laughs]
Question: When did Sam first tell you, “Hey, I’m thinking about working on this OZ project and I’m thinking about prosthetics”?
HB: Right, well we caught wind of OZ and that Sam was going to be… I mean, Sam has been attached to 100 million projects through the past 10 years and we are like “Hey, how about…” The last thing we had done with Sam was DRAG ME TO HELL, which was the last film he had shot, and then he was going to go on to SPIDER-MAN  and decided not to do that and then got attached to this. So immediately we called Sam and were like, “Hey, you’re doing WIZARD OF OZ; I’m sure there’s something in there for us.” “Hey buddy, as a matter of fact there is!”
So we finally went ahead and got a meeting with him in November , we went and met with Sam and talked about our ideas and we had done some spec artwork, Greg and I had done some stuff, and he really liked it. They then asked us to elaborate on some of the concepts, mostly witch and Munchkin stuff and monkey--Finley the flying monkey. We went in with some sculptures and some other art and did a big presentation before Christmas. Then in January, we got the call that we were going to be on board, which was fantastic and we started right away. We just jumped right into it fast and furious. We always know that if Sam’s going to do a film, there’s going to be something in it for us you know, some sort of crazy monster stuff.
Question: What are you most proud of with this?
HB: I’m really proud of all of it, but I’m really, really happy with the Witch, and that to me is the most complicated and difficult makeup, and every day there is something askew about it. That that makeup is so complicated even though you think, “It’s just a green witch,” but it’s not. There are so many things that can go wrong, and every day there’s something like, “This didn’t go down.” And it’s a very smooth porcelain makeup, so you can’t hide anything, like if you are doing old-age makeup. We're doing a big hag makeup on [name redacted], aging her 400 years. With that, I can get away with murder, because there’s tons of wrinkles and it’s like if an edge doesn’t quite go down I can kind of fudge it.
There’s no fudging on the Witch makeup, and she plays for like 14, 15 hours a day. By the end of the day, it’s starting to look really ratty, because she is a very fun, energetic person, and her first thought isn’t “I’m going to be careful with the makeup,” it’s like “Hey, let’s go laugh and talk.” So I’m constantly chasing the makeup, and to me I think why I’m most proud of that makeup is because it looks really cool, and I think we have created, between us and the costume designer Gary Jones, a really fantastic iconic new Witch that people are going to go, “That’s really super cool.” And I do think it’s really super cool. There is so much about it that hasn’t been done before, and it’s just very fresh. It’s a sexy witch, but I mean you are talking to a monster guy who prefers a girl under monster makeup. A pretty woman makes me go, “She’s alright,” and then you make her up like THE EXORCIST, and it’s like “God, she’s so hot!”
Question: How many pieces of appliances does she have to wear?
HB: She has two pieces. She has a lower half, that horse shoe piece I was talking about, and then a forehead and nose, that’s one piece, and then she has gloves. Originally we were doing finger makeups, but that lasted like one day as I kept seeing her touching stuff and peeling stuff up, and I’m like, “Okay, we are going to make gloves.” We keep redesigning the makeup. It will always look the same, but the way our approach is always very different. So we just try to make things easy for her, so she can get in and out of things quicker. I mean always that makeup is on, and by the end of the day she comes in here just like, “Get this thing off my face.”
I taught her this lesson, I used to do Freddy Krueger back in the '80s, and Robert England, as soon as they would say “Okay, you are wrapped,” he would grab something and tear it off or rip his nose off, because there were so many times they'd wrap him, and then would go, “Oh, wait, wait. We’ve got another shot” or “Can you go to second unit?” But he tears his nose off, he can't. So I said, “When they say you're wrapped, rip your nose off right away.” So she always comes back with a ripped-off chin or a ripped-off nose, and everyday she lets somebody else rip it off. The other day, it was James Franco. She went up to Franco and just went “Tear my nose off, quick.” “Okay, you're wrapped.” Franco just went “Is it okay?” I went, “Tear it off, please.” He just goes “Rip!” and tore the nose off, and she came in missing half of her face. So she certainly knows her stuff, and I think the next show she does, if she ever is in prosthetics, she will certainly know everything. She’s very, very smart and understands the whole process and is really great in the chair about it and adores it all. She’s airbrushed with all of these colors, like five or six different colors that make up her tone, this green tone, which is almost like a Frankenstein tone, which is cool too.
Question: How does your process change with the film being 3-D shot?
HB: The 3-D is murder. The 3-D in HD is terrible. I can’t say how much I hate it, and if I could find "Mr. HD," I would stab him in the head. I’m a purest as far as film goes and I am not a fan at all of 3-D and definitely not a fan of HD. I don’t feel that it gives you the cinematic film quality that film does. Film has grain and digital is pixels, and pixels are sharp edged, and it is really, really hard.
I’ve done a bunch of HD 3-D films, but this one is really tough, because everything is right there, and you see everything, and I actually have to wonder “Is it worth the cost?” and weigh the issue of saving money letting the camera roll for 10 hours and never stop and there you have it, or go back and spend millions of dollars fixing and cleaning up things that even an actor who is not in a prosthetic makeup, that has blemish that could be hidden a multitude of ways if it was shooting film opposed to shooting digital. Then you have to go back and have to clean it up, and nowadays almost every single film shot on digital has to be cleaned up on some level, and they spend millions of dollars on it. It’s just frustrating to me, because I like film. That’s what I grew up wanting to do, and the whole new process, it’s a big change.
Question: Does Greg [Nicotero] have that same feeling about it as you?
HB: He does, but Greg’s really lucky, because he’s on "Walking Dead," and they are shooting super 16mm and he’s happier than all. I think we all feel that way. Certainly HD is not our friend on any level, be it us or costume designers or production designers. Everything looks different. It doesn’t look right. I can’t tell what I’m looking at on set; it looks great to me. On the monitor, it looks all right, and then there’s a booth I call “The booth of death” that really shows you what it looks like and that is horrifying beyond belief. I’m like, “That’s going to be in the movie?” You don’t need it to be that real; we're making a film. If you want to have real life, disconnect yourself and go out in the real world and go look at real people for God’s sake.
Question: "Walking Dead" is insanely popular. Can you talk a little bit about your take on the popularity of the show?
HB: That’s Greg Nicotero’s baby, "The Walking Dead," and we were hired to do that. Frank Darabont hired us, and Greg is of course the king of the zombies and growing up in Pittsburgh, working with Romero and Savini, and it was a golden opportunity for us to do a new take on zombies, and he has been 100 percent the mastermind behind it all, so much so that obviously Greg just finished directing his first episode. He directed episode 12 of season 2, and he’s now executive producer on the series. To me, it’s fantastic for my industry, for special makeup effects artists, because that is a gigantic leap and elevation for us.
We used to be heroes in the '80s like, “Hey, here comes the prosthetic monster makers,” and then digital came about, and then we were bums, like ,“Oh, here comes those stupid rubber guys.” And now we are back up to being heroes again, which is kind of nice. To me, Greg just elevated us even farther up that ladder, because he established himself and what we do as something that is extremely pivotal to the filmmaking community and to the success of a project. I think it’s really important. I’m super proud of him beyond words, and it benefits everybody, and it’s nice that Frank Darabont gave us all the opportunity to do that and do it old school. There are CGI elements to the show, but it’s all about practical and it’s all about storytelling, and we're able to integrate what we did into the storytelling of "Walking Dead," which is the most important thing.
I feel the same way about this. I think anything that we do--and the same with visual effects--has to work for the film. When digital effects became so big, they started to overwhelm films and the storytelling and they were just like effects. It was like a movie filled with just effects. But nowadays both departments--visual effects and practical makeup effects--work hand in hand towards the end product, which is a great film and for our stuff to be seamless, and that’s what I think is really important. You don’t stop and sit there as an audience member and go, “That was a really amazing effect” or “That CGI effect was great” or “That CGI effect was the suckiest thing I've ever seen.” Nowadays, it’s part of the film, and every film has visual effects, and KNB does tons and tons of films every year. Be it a film like this or be it "Walking Dead" all the way to that movie A DOLPHIN TALE, which is filled with mechanical dolphins, which you would never know. You go and see the film and you think that’s a dolphin, right? “How’d they get the dolphin on the beach?” “Well it’s a mechanical dolphin.” We're always reinventing ourselves and able to do everything we can for movies and facilitate a movies needs, and we try to do it as seamlessly as possible.
Question: I don’t know how consciously you were aware that you wanted to do this for a living when you first saw THE WIZARD OF OZ as a kid, but A, were you aware this was what you wanted to do for a living, and B, was there anything from the first film that really leapt out at you as a young fan?
HB: Oh, absolutely. It’s my dad’s favorite film, so we grew up on THE WIZARD OF OZ, and I loved THE WIZARD OF OZ and I wanted to be a makeup artist since I was 8 years old. I think it’s probably a combination of THE WIZARD OF OZ and PLANET OF THE APES. THE WIZARD OF OZ was the first film where they used prosthetics--foam rubber or prosthetics. They were created for that movie and had characters for the first time in makeup that had to follow-up continuity. So the makeup artists on that show, the Dawn Brothers, created a system that they could sculpt, mold, and run, so the makeups would always be the same every day. So that really was the big leaping off point.
For me, my favorite makeup in WIZARD OF OZ is the Lion makeup. I love the Bert Lahr Lion makeup. It’s just flawless and I love the suit and I love him in it, and that’s another example of fantastic makeup being brought to life by a great actor. You can have a fantastic makeup on an actor that’s not so great, and it doesn’t work. But on this show, we have actors that are in these crazy makeups, and they're fantastic in it and they really help bring it to life. I do 50 percent, they do the other half, and it works as a partnership and that’s really, really important. To me, the lion makeup was the stellar one for me, that was the clincher.
Question: Does the look ever change depending on, say if they are in the Emerald City and it’s green all around? Do you have to adjust the makeup for that specific scene?
HB: No. You would think I would, but I don’t and I should probably, [Laughs] from what I hear, but no we don’t. She certainly photographs differently in different sets. She’s green and she wears black, so the set we are shooting on now, the town square, she is like a cutout. I looked at her the other day as I was looking at photos, and everyone is very colorful, and she’s black and green and I love it. But then when she's in the throne room, her color changes. It’s really strange. She actually got lighter for some reason and she seems darker in this situation, and I haven’t adjusted it. So much of it I think is because I’m just not quite sure where to go with it, because of the digital, and I don’t have a point of reference on set. To my eye, it all looks right, but the monitors are all different. I don’t think each one is calibrated the same. Then of course we see dailies, and then I’m like, “I probably could have done this or that,” but at that point it’s too late. And I think there’s so much post production that ends up happening in the film, although I hate relying on that.
I was saying to Grant Curtis, the producer, because we were talking about that and I said, “For all I know you are going to turn her blue at the end of the movie, just crank up the blue dial, and I’ll see the movie and go, ‘What the hell happened there?'” That's the other thing with the HD, it’s out of my hands. It’s out of all of our hands, because some guy sitting at a board dictates what the film looks like and what you’ve shot can become a very different thing. It’s a whole new thing I’m learning. Like I said, I’m old school, I’ve been at this for almost 30 years and I know the way I like it. And the way I like it is not the way it is nowadays, but you roll with the punches.
Question: Does the shade of green that the makeup is have a name?
HB: Yeah, actually. I call it “[Can't reveal this either because it contains the name of the character],” so I have [redacted] one, two, and three, four, and five, because it’s kind of Frankenstein and her name is [redaced], so we just put “stein.” We mix up a whole bunch of colors. It starts dark and then gets lighter and lighter. We airbrush everything and splatter it and speckle. At first, when I was first doing the makeup, we were throwing a little red into it, and it just kicked. The red on digital was crazy. It looked like rouge and blush all over her, so Sam killed all of the red in it. She’s all green and grey, so Frankenstein. So it’s all based on the Frankenstein Jack Pierce colors.
Question: But that green is different enough from the one in the original film?
HB: Oh yeah, very. If you look at color photos of the Margaret Hamilton makeup, there are like purples and magentas and yellows. It’s really a crazy makeup. If you see the movie projected, you'll really see all of the different colors in the Wicked Witch, and a big thing for Disney was the mole on the chin. We tried a mole and Disney was like “No mole.” Also in the 1939 version. the Witch is Margaret Hamilton, and this version it’s [redacted], and I think there’s a little difference between Margaret Hamilton and [redacted].
Question: I’m not a scientist, but I believe there is as well.
HB: I agree. I think this is pretty well documented. I think we had a meeting with a bunch of legal, and they said, “So can you tell us what the difference is?” I said, “Well I would want to sleep with that witch.”
HB: And it is. I mean she's is beautiful and gorgeous and sexy and what’s great is there’s a progression. I keep saying that the [redacted] in this movie is the ultimate evil girlfriend, because she has interest in James and the wizard, and then when it goes awry, she just flips and is just crazier than hell and she just has these tirades, which are great. To me, that says she is the ultimate evil crazy girlfriend.
Question: How involved are you in the transformation?
HB: I’m not sure how Sam’s going to handle the actual transformation yet. He may use us. I don’t know if it’s going to be a physical transformation on film. It may be shadow play; I’m not sure really. We're still figuring that out. Originally, we talked about doing transitional makeups, but that kind of fell to the wayside, and I’m not sure how Sam wants to approach it. He’s brilliant and genius on every level, and I’m sure figured it out all in his head and will figure it out even more as he goes down the line with his editor, Bob Murawski. We haven’t shot that stuff yet, so I’m not sure. Sometimes it’s a big surprise on set, like, “Oh, that’s what we are doing.”
Question: Thanks Howard.
HB: Sure, my pleasure. Have a fun rest of the day enjoying the wonderful land of Oz.
Question: And what are you going to be for Halloween?
HB: Yeah, because I’m throwing a giant Halloween party. I’m so excited.
Question: Yeah, how do we get invited to that?
HB: Though you would think like monster makers would be crazy, but because we do this for a living, we understand that you don’t want to be in full makeup at three in the morning after getting drunk and falling into bed. You just want to “Rip!” So I think we're all going for very simplistic characters, but I actually am going as Walter Sobchak from THE BIG LEBOWSKI. I’ve got my wig and I’m all set. I've got to get my Folgers can. Believe me, the whole night is going to be me quoting Walter. I’ve got it all. I’m going to berate everybody.