President, Motion Picture Makeup Artists’ Association,
Director of Makeup, Warner Brothers’-First National Studios
American Cinematographer Magazine May 1935
EVER since the first crank turned, cinematographers and Makeup Artists have been comparing makeup to retouching in ‘still’ portraiture. The comparison is a good one, but we’ve made it inaccurate: in retouching, both the contour and the texture of the facial areas are rendered more pleasing; in conventional makeup, we deal almost exclusively with complexion and texture, leaving the modelling of objectionable contours almost entirely to the cinematographer and his lights. That is all well enough, for cinematographers can, by painting with light and shade, modify facial contours, accentuating good features and concealing or minimizing bad ones, to a remarkable extent.
But since makeup can, as has been proven, aid the cinematographer in modifying facial textures, would it not be even better for the makeup artist to aid him even more by correcting objectionable contours?
We have answered the question with a vigorous affirmative.
Within the past year, we have put into practice at the Warner Brothers’ studios a new system of makeup
which we call “Corrective Makeup.” With it, we have been able to simplify the work of the cinematographer, and to greatly enhance the facial attractiveness of our stars.
In some instances, we have virtually remodelled famous faces; in others, we have, so to speak, salvaged budding starlets from the obscurity which often waits for players —however promising—who “don’t photograph well.”
We simply apply to makeup the same basic principles by which cinematograhers model faces with lighting: highlighting places that are undesirably recessed or concave, shadowing unpleasant protuberances. This is not done with liners or obvious tricks of coloration, but by carefully planned use of different shades of regular grease-paint. Perhaps the best illustration of the method would be to follow the course of treatment given to a new player before she starts her first production on our lot. First of all, we study the player’s face, as well as her portraits, in order to get a preliminary idea of the corrections we are to make. Next, we find out what type of makeup she has previously worn, and determine what is to be the basic shade of her new makeup.
At this point, the creative part of corrective makeup begins. Let us say that the lady has a face that is too
round and full for our purpose, especially around the cheeks and chin; her nose is rather broad and flat; her lips are larger than we care for; her chin shows a pronounced dimple, and there are little hollows at the corner of her mouth which detract from the youthful effect. In addition, her eyes are so blue that they will appear ‘washed out’ on the screen.
Point No. 1 is, of course, to slenderize her face. This is done by using grease-paint several shades darker than the base makeup, and applying it at the hair-line, and under the chin—exactly as a good cinematographer would strive to maintain shadows in these same areas. Suppose the basic shade is a No. 25 grease-paint: these shadows might be painted with No. 29. The broad nose would be thinned by highlighting the ridge with a lighter paint — say No. 22—and shadowing the walls of the nose with a darker shade—perhaps No. 27.
The lips, of course, would be remolded by applying lip-rouge to the desired shape and size, and extending the ground color to meet the new lip-line.
The dimple, and the hollows at the corners of the mouth, would be lightened by using a grease-paint lighter than the basic ground shade—let us say No. 23.
The eyes, in addition to being accentuated in much the usual manner, would be darkened by placing a spot of red in the corners, where it would cause little dark catchlights in the iris. In this connection, it may be interesting to note that natural eyebrows are the rule at our studio; plucked eyebrows are strictly taboo, not only because of their unnatural appearance, but because of their effect on the lines and contours of the face.
Once this makeup has been evolved, a detailed sketch of the player’s face is made, indicating exactly the areas treated correctively, and specifying the exact shades used in each place, as well as the basic makeup shade. This is given a “Case Number,” exactly as a doctor might enumerate his patients, and filed, together with a photograph of the corrective makeup, in the Makeup Department’s files.
It should be understood, of course, that these corrective makeups are rigidly adhered to, and that they are applied, not by the player herself, but by the studio’s makeup crtists. Virtually every feminine player
on the studio’s contract list has her specially prescribed corrective makeup; and the same course is followed with players borrowed from other studios, or engaged for a single production. Regardless of the player’s natural beauty, we have found that this system of makeup can be used to advantage, for even the most completely beautiful woman has some minor irregularities of contour which can be smoothed out in this fashion. The system can be applied with equal success to men, of course, but in practice, we rarely do so, as most of our male stars are of types which benefit by wearing little or no makeup.
In practice, we have found that this system of makeup, far from taking anything out of the cinematographer’s control, has proven to be of very definite benefit to the men at the cameras. Our camera staff includes men who are as particular about makeup as any in the world: and they are unanimous in saying that our corrective system of makeup frees their mind of all worries about makeup, simplifies the detail work of personal lighting, and allows them to work more efficiently on any sort of production, from a program film to a “special.”
This method can be applied equally well to character makeup; in fact, in several instances it has been used for this purpose. Jean Muir, for instance, in a recent dual role, utilized the system for one characterization, while playing her other part in her regular corrective makeup. Marion Davies, in her current production, “Page Miss Glory,” is transformed by the same methods into a plain, unattractive servant. Applying the methods just explained, we made her eyes appear round and washed out, her mouth thin and straight, gave her a most convincing double chin, and created a remarkable pug nose. Not a bit of wax or nose-putty was used, nor a single eye-distorting strap; everything was done by painting upon her face a portrait in grease-paint.
And there, I believe, lies the secret of the whole thing; we are applying makeup, not as a mere covering for a flat surface, but in exactly the same way a portrait painter uses oil paints to depict an apparently three-dimensional face on his flat canvas. Personally, I find my own early experience as a portrait-painter invaluable in this new interpretation of cosmetology. Moreover, I venture to say that such experience will prove absolutely essential when natural-color cinematography comes into its own, as it soon must. In that day, I venture to say that the only makeup artists who survive will be those who have had a thorough grounding in the art of brush and pallette. Corrective makeup has been applied successfully to three-color Technicolor productions; and when we achieve completely perfected color cinematography, it will reach its highest development for then we will be dealing, not with the monochromatic values of the wash drawing, but the full glory of color. And our corrective makeup will then have to be applied as an artist would apply his paints, moulding the face in the most delicate nuances of tone and color.