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Makeup Artist Donald Mowat Captures Realities In “Blade Runner 2049” And “Stronger”

Donald Mowat used theatrical makeup applications to transform Jake Gyllenhaal’s appearance in “Stronger.” Photo credit: Roadside Attractions’

Donald Mowat greatly admired the artistry of “Blade Runner.” When director Denis Villeneuve called Mowat to lead the makeup department for “Blade Runner 2049” – a revisiting of the LA-based futuristic tale set thirty years later – Mowat was excited.  Fighting off tremendous anxiety and panic attacks at the scale of the film’s epic scope, he was grateful to reteam with Villenueve, with whom he’d served as head makeup artist on “Sicario” and “Prisoners.”  The film also gave him a chance to reteam with  DP Roger Deakins, who he’d work with on five previous films.

“Blade Runner 2049” would require every type of makeup application: character, aging, beauty and fantasy.  Early in the process Mowat and Villeneuve met to discuss initial concepts.  Noting tattoo applications have become a frequent staple for makeup artists, Mowat requested his design avoid the trope, and opted for more tradition applications.  Influences for the makeup designs included Alexander McQueen’s fashion and cinematic influences for key moments in the film, such as Rutger Hauer’s bloodied face in the original “Blade Runner” and Jack Nicholson’s broken nose in “Chinatown.”

Some design elements were left in limbo due to scheduling conflicts and the remote Hungary locations.  Jared Leto was available one week prior to his scene, and Mowat wanted to ensure he’s be able to blend his concepts with actor’s vision for his character.

“We had twelve cases of makeup from LA,” said Mowat. “How do you get what you don’t have? It was epic and terrifying.”

Mowat recognizes the department heads on Villeneuve’s films are allowed to find creative solutions without the micro-management often associated with a major budget feature.  Mowat’s approach to his Blade Runner department was akin to “Stronger,” an indie film chronicling Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a highly publicized victim of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

As with Villeneuve’s “Prisoners”, Gyllenhaal introduced Mowat to the script and its director David Gordon Green, encouraging Mowat to design the hair and makeup for the film.  Sold on Gyllenhaal’s commitment, Mowat carefully researched every aspect of leg amputation, speaking with surgeons and studying musculature and tissue damage.  While practical effects, such as a bed with holes that hid Gyllenhaal’s legs, were used when possible, many scenes required fully visible amputated legs.  Mowat worked with Autonomous FX (the company he also worked closely with on makeup effects in “Blade Runner 2049”) to design the double amputee VFX.

First, a life cast was made of Gyllenhaal’s legs.  The cast helped create a prosthetic that fit closely to Gyllenhaal’s body, akin to a pair of shorts.  This prosthetic was then glued on and coupled with green sox necessary for the digital removal of his legs.  The end result was a seamless effect.

Mowat also met with Bauman before designing Gyllenhaal’s makeup.  He wanted to ensure he caught a sense of Bauman’s personality in the hair and makeup design, which lead to the “terrible perm” that hair department head Cheryl Daniels crafted to capture Bauman’s youthful spirit and energy.  There were aspects of Bauman that Mowat was astounded to notice.

“Jeff is charming,” said Mowat.  “But you see the trauma in his eyes.”

To capture this subtlety, Mowat outfitted Gyllenhaal with hazel contacts for pre-bombing scenes, and dark contacts after the incident.  Borrowing from theatrical makeup styles, Mowat turned to shading and menthol tear sticks to change the skin color temperature.

Mowat put equal focus on achieving a realistic look for every scene and individual in the film.  Working with local crew, they visited local neighborhoods to secure authenticity for all hair and makeup creations, aiming for designs that appeared completely natural and authentic.  For family members such as mother Patty Bauman (Miranda Richardson) and girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), Mowat designed a look that reflected the extreme stress and exhaustion surrounding the efforts supporting Bauman through his recovery.

“Tatiana was game for anything, she wanted to be dedicated to the part.  We made her look like what is happening to him is happening to her with lots of shading and highlighting,” said Mowat.  “She didn’t care what she looked like. “