Writing Insights from The Oscars – Makeup and Hair


Part Two of Writing Insights from two pre-Oscar symposiums.

I once heard a speaker say that artists have a unique skill for interpreting their world through the visual medium. It’s how they take in the moments of life. I think the same is true for writers, who need that touch and feel to interpret what’s forming. It’s a screen through which they see life’s trials and challenges and dreams.

At a recent pre-Oscars event discussing Makeup and Hairstyling, I found some similar aspects for the very talented people that are responsible for the physical look and feel of actors. From the type of hair materials used, to how prosthetics transform a person into a 100 year old or a terrible monster, I found it fascinating. I was in a room full of a few hundred people, many with very colorful outfits and inventive hairstyles to begin to picture how their creative efforts begin when a movie is in the planning stages.

From The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window, I learned just what the technicians see in a challenge to age and reverse-age a character. The subtle proportions needed to make someone not just seem older in a static environment but also in eating, sleeping, walking, moving with prosthetics on was fascinating. From understanding how small, delicate facial features bring character insights, to seeing photos of how prosthetics can execute small, subtle transformations was kind of thrilling.

Then I jumped into the terrifying and scary world of Mad Max: Fury Road. The sheer commitment and excellent skills of the technicians who worked on the characters was overwhelming. Considering how they did this in the midst of a desert for over seven months was a bit adventurous and certainly on the edge, just like the film. Understanding how to use products and colors to manipulate an instant reaction from the audience was amazing, as well.

These photos are of a character on whose body was written the history of the civilization, literally! It was fascinating to see her come to life in front of our eyes! From Mad Max: Fury Road.

The details in capturing Leonardo DiCaprio’s lip scars in The Revenant and other body mutilation from the bear was terribly severe and fascinating at the same time. I was deeply impressed with the expert mechanical details of building prosthetics and using products to craft the feeling and emotions in a scene. Powdered sugar on eyebrows looks like snow? Scratches in a shoulder with a plastic prosthetic? I know that none of it’s real. Yet when he breaks out of the dead horse, it FEELS very real and ugly and crunching and vital survival.


Leonardo Di Caprio’s scars from the bear attach in The Revenant look so real I cringe. But his eyebrows are fringed with white sugar and paraffin wax adorns his beard to make it look like snow. Fascinating process for hair and makeup design!


Those little tics you give your characters emerge as major important factors on the screen and someone may be set as advisor on the details you conceive. The art and science behind evoking a response to the character, whether gross, severe, or thoughtful will stay with me in developing my characters as well.

In my book, I gave careful thought to my characters’ wardrobe, featuring certain pieces to evoke emotion. This symposium really made me think about facial tics, scars, mannerisms, and more subtle details that I’ll enjoy story boarding for the next book I write, too. It was amazing seeing the challenge first, then their response, their adaptability in different circumstances such as an actor eating pizza with prosthetics on his face, or a windstorm and fight scenes. They were filming in constant sandstorms, or ensuring makeup wouldn’t freeze and just fall off in winter circumstances.

I’ve included additional insights in this YouTube video here:

More Oscar writing insights from the Foreign Language and Director’s Symposium here: https://elizabethvantassel.wordpress.com/blog/.

The pre-events are now up on the Oscar website here:





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