Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek feature 710

by Steve Buscaino | Make-up Artist

ST team
The Los Angeles crew

It is rare these days, for a film studio to develop a project that showcases make-up prosthetics to the level of quality and quantity that is seen in Paramount’s new film, Star Trek Beyond. Of course, there are film and television shows that feature numerous make-ups but typically, they are not as extensive as this. The make-up designs in Star Trek Beyond were developed into 56 different alien races with multiple make-ups within those races, almost all of which were full head coverage involving intricate painting and detail. The challenge on this film would be to keep the complexity and quantities of the make-ups under control and get everything built in a short time frame while still pushing the aesthetic of the alien characters.

Star Trek front view
Star Trek alien Natalia

Not too many years ago, make-up budgets and time schedules were much larger and longer. Those were the good old days and are now long gone! So when producer Jeffrey Chernov asked Joel Harlow to head up the Make-up Department for the film, everyone viewed it as a huge challenge.

Designs were the first order of business. Joel hired designers Carlos Huante, Allen Williams and Don Lanning. Around a hundred different designs were made and set out before director Justin Lin. He would then pick out the ones that would get developed further. Designer Neville Page made some contributions as well, and both teams of designers strove to keep the designs in a Star Trek style.

The design team not only had to create new alien races, but it also had to “update” some of the already established characters. Don Lanning resculpted Keenser and Spock received new ear sculptures as well. All throughout production, new concepts were being developed. The attitude from production was always, “Let’s make them all happen!”

Suitable shop space was found in Burbank and the shop was set up and began working in February. Gil Laberto was hired to run the mold shop and mold makers Brian Blair, Todd Bates, John Halfmann, Chris Baer, Pedro Valdez and Johnny Saiko were brought in. Gil and I started life-casting people on a daily basis, while the mold makers started generating sculpting positives.  Joel then assembled a dream team of sculptors. In addition to himself, he enlisted the talents of Norman Cabrera, Don Lanning, Joey Orosco, Matt Rose, Miles Teves, Don Lanning, Ritchie Alonzo, John Wrightson, Lee Joyner and Mike Rotella. Everyone was extremely excited, and many of the sculptors felt that this was going to be some of the best work done in years. An annex shop was eventually set up at Make Up Effects Labs to accept the main shop’s overflow. Pedro Valdez coordinated this shop with the construction of our background masks and fiberglass molds. Scotty Fields, A.J. Menudo, Alex Noble, Josh Sacks and Josh McCarron all added their lab tech skills in both shops.


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The Burbank crew had a build schedule of 2½ months to sculpt and mold the majority of the characters. Then, we would send the molds to a new shop in Vancouver where a crew would be hired to run the molds in silicone and paint and prep everything for application. It took three huge semi-trucks to move our shop to Canada. We had a bigger shop with at least 40 people working full time on running appliances, pre-painting, assembly, dental work, etc. We still had several characters that needed development so Joel, Richie Alonzo and sculptor Joey Orosco tackled those in Vancouver. The other crew that came with us included Gil Liberto, Brian Blair and John Halfmann in the mold shop. Lenny MacDonald started painting and detail work on the Quills’ characters.

The local artists in Vancouver were simply FANTASTIC! They were all so well-rounded in skills that we could give them anything and they would do it all well, particularly painting. They would take those silicone pieces and give them really amazing paint jobs, which really elevated the make-up designs. I felt that with this Canadian crew and the American crew in Burbank, that this was possibly the best crew that I had ever worked with, anywhere. Several of the Vancouver shop crew were also used for make-up applications as well. The painting staff was comprised of these artists: Bronwyne Sloley, Werner Pretorius, Mike Fields, Felix Fox, Lance Webb, Caitlin Groves, Kyle Huculak, Erin Peters, Holland Miller, Daemon Cadman, Frida Norrman and Corrine DeBarry.

Lennie MacDonald and Joel Harlow
Lennie MacDonald (left) and Joel Harlow

The next big task was to run all of the silicone appliances. The challenge with this was that the appliances would be big, thick and heavy. They had to be soft but not too soft or they would distort. Fortunately, we had similar experiences with these problems on a previous show, The Green Lantern, where we developed foam inserts and reinforcement techniques to make large appliances work. We only had one test day per character and I would estimate how soft we should run the silicone, but often Joel would determine during the test that we needed to go even softer since he tested every alien character himself to establish the look. Since we were using generic appliances that were not cast on the actual actor, Joel needed a softer appliance in order to stretch the pieces to fit. I am also happy to say that we had no adhesion problems or delamination issues in spite of the weight. We used approximately 650 gallons of PlatSil Gel 10 and the silicone crew was staffed by Vancouver artists Raj Mariathasan, Matt Aebig, Jeff Leblanc and Caitlin Groves, and headed by Tegan Colby. Shelagh McIvor cast Spock’s ears. They all did an incredible job in the time frame that they had.

19Several of the characters had to be pre-assembled and various detail pieces fabricated. Carolyn Williams was mostly a one-person department in this regard. She fabricated and installed hundreds of Quills, detailed horns and claws for Reptilicus, refurbished various appliances so that we could reuse some of them on stunt players, preassembled the Tyvana pieces, detailed the Satine characters. The list could go on.

Tracy Lai and Toby Lindala handled all of the dental pieces that we needed while Shelagh McIvor, Crissy Renaud and Amelia Smart handled most of the seaming and hair punching.

Although the majority of the make-ups were prosthetic appliances, we also constructed several silicone background masks. These were constructed with a silicone skin and fiberglass underskull. These were detailed and finished in Canada by Kyle Huculak, Kalynn Kallweit and Brittney Bolzan. The molds and castings had been made in Los Angeles at our MEL satellite shop. Several of the masks were converted to fully animatronic characters by mechanical artist Tim Ralston and were all shot in Dubai. Rob Hinderstein made some incredible eyes for these characters. He is truly the master of lifelike eyes.

Other creature effects items included a full-body shriveled corpse, replacement heads, CG scanning models and a large creature puppet which required two puppeteers inside of its body to operate it. This creature was called the “Elephant Slug” and was built partly on producer JJ Abrams’ request for a practical creature that was also non-humanoid. Brian Blair and Don Lanning headed up this project and was filmed in Dubai.

The lead antagonist Krall (played by Idris Elba) was mostly developed in Vancouver and required four stages of make-up for this character. This required a lot of designing and redesigning to lock down the look. Just two weeks before shooting, Joel and director Justin Lin decided to completely redesign him. Joey Orosco completed the final sculpt in two days. Mike Fields and Werner Pretorius performed most of the make-up applications on Idris.

Another character that went through design changes was the Kalara character. Her make-up was also initially difficult to apply because the design required an extremely smooth and thin skin texture. With some refinement in the sculpting and molding process, we came up with a good balance in a new appliance. Joel and Toby Lindala did a wonderful job with her application.

Joel Harlow creates the make-up and prosthetics for alien Natalia
Joel Harlow creates the make-up and prosthetics for alien Natalia

One of the most elaborate make-ups was of the very aquatic-looking alien named Natalia. This involved a torso, arms and an extremely large headpiece shaped like a seashell.

The headpiece was a hard shell cast in a lightweight urethane plastic. This was then blended over by the forehead silicone appliance. Joey Orosco sculpted the head, face and torso. The arms were sculpted by John Wrightson and everything was brilliantly painted by Bronwyn Sloley. This application took 6½ hours by Joel and Werner Pretorius with some assistance by Lenny MacDonald and me.

The Jaylah make-up (played by Sofia Boutella) was probably the most tested. Ritchie Alonzo sculpted the forehead appliance. This was a Neville Page design and Joel and Ritchie decided to incorporate the black-line element in the sculpting. This would ensure consistency of the black line on each appliance. Ritchie and Shelagh McIvor applied this delicate make-up. Wig maker Khanh Trance built a special wig that gave the illusion of having anatomy continue past the hairline which was applied by Robert Pandini. Cristina Patterson created some amazing contact lenses for Jaylah.

Vancouver make-up artist Monica Huppert was brought in with her crew to make up all of the humans and straight make-ups. The Hair Department was headed by Anne Carroll. Spock (Zack Quinto) had his eyebrows shaved and the time-honored technique of each individual hair hand-laid. Several new sets of ears were sculpted by Richie Alonzo and Zack and Joel picked the ones that they liked based on the tests. Joel and Felix Fox applied Zack’s make-up.

Ritchie Alonzo
Ritchie Alonzo applies make-up

Many of the painting crew also worked dong application as well. After Joel established the characters, he assigned them to each team of make-up artists. The make-up artists from the shop were Felix Fox, Ritchie Alonzo, Werner Pretorius, Holland Miller, Toby Lindala, Lenny MacDonald, Caitlin Groves, Steve Buscaino, Shelagh McIvor and Amelia Smart. Kevin Haney came up from Los Angeles and helped out on the Wadjet character. Telesis was the adhesive of choice and we went through gallons of it. Skin illustrator Tim Gore’s Bloodworks and Endura were often used to airbrush paint.

At the peak of the production, we had racks and racks of appliances, rooms filled with hundreds of retired molds, and walls stacked with dozens of background masks. I remember walking into one room where we kept all of the Sil alien appliances which was a very Gige-rish design. It reminded me of years ago when I worked on Alien Resurrection, with face huggers stacked everywhere. I also remember walking in the shop and seeing Carolyn Williams working, surrounded by 15 or more Satine heads. It looked like she was in the middle of a garden of giant Venus’ flytraps! I remember row after row of Manus appliances. Manus was a complex make-up to build and instead of shooting three days as planned, he shot 30-something days instead.

There isn’t enough space in one article to describe everything that was made for this film, but I hoped that I covered some of the major ones. •