How CGI Changed Special Effects Makeup in Movies and Television

After a scene wraps there’s often a digital hair, makeup, and dermatology session. “You can remove saggy necks, reduce the size of the nose and ears, or tuck in a waistline,” says Rod Maxwell, a digital and practical effects artist. If people look impossibly perfect in a TV show, film, 
or music video, chances are invisible beauty cleanup has taken place: smoothing the skin, removing shine, erasing blemishes — commonplace techniques in Maxwell’s line of work. He can even give more motion to a face, like making a prosthetic eye blink or adding movement to a cheek  if it wasn’t achieved on set. 

“Nowadays every film has visual effects that touch on every department — makeup, hair, lighting, set design,” says Bill Corso, cofounder of Digital Makeup Group, who helped recreate the famous endoskeleton on Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate and turned Taylor Swift into Tyler Swift for “The Man” music video. In Dark Fate, Schwarzenegger was 35 years older than in the original Terminator, so Corso kept the prosthetics light and thin, using CGI by Industrial Light & Magic to help make the endoskeleton. Swift wore eight prosthetic appliances for her transformation, including an enlarged forehead, nose, and earlobes, fuller cheeks, and hand appliances to make her appear more masculine. Corso created a couple of different looks for the singer-song-writer and she ultimately chose the makeup that was furthest from how she normally looks. Everything was prosthetic, including the legs “Tyler” bared in the video’s tennis match. “They were prosthetic sleeves based on the legs of an actual tennis pro,” says Corso. “They were painted silicone with hair punched in and were worn like knee pads.” 

Taylor Swift’s transformation for “The Man”

Courtesy of Bill Corso

Courtesy of Bill Corso

There’s magic in knowing a person is underneath innovative makeup, whether the final look is fantastical or rooted in reality. “I try to make everything flawlessly real so it can be filmed in close-up,” says Marino. “I look at the greats — Rick Baker [creator of makeups for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video and The Nutty Professor] and Dick Smith [the man who “made Linda Blair’s head spin” in The Exorcist]. They didn’t have visual effects to fix their work, so why should I? It’s harder now because the cameras are better, but that doesn’t mean we should be lazy.” 

This story originally appeared in Allure’s December/January 2022 issue. Learn how to subscribe here.

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