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Re-Imagining Wolverine: “Logan” Makeup Designer Joel Harlow

By: Marjorie Galas

Staying truthful to the origins of iconic characters has served makeup and prosthetics artist Joel Harlow well. His decision to compliment the “Star Trek” legacy by keeping the makeup effects practical in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot resulted in Harlow’s first Oscar win and third Oscar nomination for “Star Trek Beyond.” Although Harlow hadn’t worked on the previous “X-Men” movies, he’d witnessed the nearly twenty-year evolution of its mainstay, Wolverine.  Joining the “Logan” team as makeup designer, he had some specific concepts he discussed with director James Mangold.  After the first makeup test with actor Hugh Jackman, however, everything changed.

“We completely shifted our line of thought, and threw out the aesthetic that came before,” said Harlow. “The preconceived notions of Logan’s evolution was not the film Jim wanted to make.”

Mangold’s script placed the once seemingly indestructible super hero in an earthy, grounded story. Logan’s body was rejecting its metal-infused skeleton and the accelerated self-healing power he once possessed that kept him ageless was failing.  Harlow had the opportunity to play up the character’s suffering through the effects of physical trauma on the body.  This included scarification highlighting gunshot wounds, stabbing and fight wounds, as well as emphasizing the character’s troubled mental state and alcohol addiction through a weathered, jaundice appearance.

“Our marching order was that everything had to look real,” said Harlow.

To research the realistic makeup designs he was creating for Logan and the other mutants featured in the film, Harlow turned to his personal library of anatomy and biology books as well as assorted web-based searches. He zeroed in on trauma studies to aid in creating the charred, burned skin of Stephen Merchant’s Caliban, the scaly skin of ‘Lizard Boy” and seeping sores such as those on Logan’s knuckles where his retractable metal blades continually tore through his dermis.

“To do this kind of visceral makeup without being respectful to what lies below the anatomy can be hokey,” said Harlow.

Harlow relied on many makeup artists he’s worked with previously to join his “Logan” team. To ensure they would be able to perform the labor intensive, realistic makeup effects, Harlow began by carefully breaking down the script, noting where in the character’s timeline each scene took place.  Mug and body shots of the actors were taken, then every stage of application was photographed throughout the makeup process.  Details, such as Logan’s beard, were carefully monitored.  While Hugh Jackman’s natural facial hair formed its base, its length and coloring were constantly adjusted.  Special bloodshot, yellowed contacts were created for Jackman to further enhance the authenticity of his physical decay.

Creating Logan’s wounds, refining old age makeup for Patrick Stewart’s dementia-addled Dr. X and many other applications were right in Harlow’s wheelhouse. However, the intensity needed in an R-rated feature was fairly new territory for him.  Early in preparation he discovered he was approaching wound creation with too much constraint.

“I hadn’t done a film like this. The graphic violence propels the story and makes it real,” said Harlow.