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Redefining “The Mummy”: A Conversation With Hair & Makeup Designer Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou

By: Marjorie Galas

Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou can’t resist “Universal Monsters”: the creatures that were brought to public attention by Universal Studios from the 20s – 50s.  Involvement in the re-imaging of “The Mummy” for the award-winning makeup and hair designer – she has a Saturn, MUAH, IOMA and Gold Derby Award for hair and makeup in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (as well as a BAFTA and Oscar nominations for the same film) was therefor a no-brainer. After an upbeat meeting with the film’s director, noted producer/writer Alex Kurtzman, Yianni-Georgiou recognized the director trusted her input and was open to her suggestions.  She excitedly agreed to tackle the film’s hair and makeup designs.

Variety 411 recently caught up with Yianni-Georgiou to learn about her process in creating hair and makeup for “The Mummy.”  She discusses how she achieved a creative vision that blends historical accuracy with a modern, completely unique artistry.

Variety 411:  What was your research period like, and what were your inspirations for designs in “The Mummy”?

Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou: I researched different Ancient Egyptian dynasties and honored the Egyptian head dresses in the structure of the hair work.  I also looked to the catwalks, performance artists and my daughters for inspiration which I feel helped to give Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) a young, fresh edge.  The blue and gold dipped fingers were inspired by the gold finger and toe caps that were found in Tutankahmun’s tomb.  There was also a chalice found there which speaks of eternal life and power, so I used the Heiroglyphics from the chalice.  The tattoo designs are a grouping of Ancient Egyptian symbols which all speak of power, strength and protection.   Snaked sideburns are also a symbol of protection of the Pharoahs.  I was also inspired by a mummy that I saw in the British Museum who had been laid to rest with a gold plate in her mouth.

V411:  Can you talk about the process of designing individual icons that cover Ahmanet, as well as the layout that covers her body?  For example, did you start with the concept that is seen in the film, or were there a number of designs that led up to what was ultimately used?

EYG: Ahmanet wears a set of tattoos when she’s alive and when she goes over to the dark side, these lift and her human qualities/lifeline drains from her skin.  The symbols she wears as The Mummy are an adaptation of Ancient Sumerian text.  They,were taken from The Book of the Dead and describe summoning/raising the dead.  I had to re-work the language slightly to suit the screen.  The design process was really fun and exciting.  My first interpretation was that it would burn through her skin in a blood red color and look like raised scarification, but we found that it looked too painful and wasn’t really suitable for the films rating.  I then started playing with different colors and skin tones.  I felt as soon as she allies herself with Set (the God of death and destruction), she would almost loose her human-like qualities, so I made her skin a stone-like color and made the runes an inky blue/black color, as though her blood turns this shade as soon as she turns to Set.  I played with different placement but wanted to keep an Egyptian quality, so I looked to Ancient Egyptian and Greek armor for inspiration for the placement of the text.  Even when she is naked in the film, she looks like she’s wearing armor.

V411:  How did you go about applying this makeup?  Was it a temporary tattoo or did you use another product to acquire the almost hand-drawn quality of each symbol?

EYG : The base make-up on her body was a product that I’d developed for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”  It is skin-friendly and lasts the duration of a long days’ filming. I then recreated that stoney colour in a grease-based make-up for Sofia’s face.  The text was sculpted and made in to pro-bondo moulds, as Alex and I wanted them to be raised, almost as though they had burned through her skin. They were applied in strips.  The symbols on her face were silicone pieces which were individually placed & glued on to her skin, one by one. The development of the symbols was a bit trickier as Sofia had very sensitive skin, so I had to find a product that gave us the desired affect whilst also being skin-friendly.

V411:  Noting you mentioned a long-lasting, base makeup, it seems that most of what the audience sees is practically, through makeup?

EYG Apart from the first few times you see her once she has risen, every stage of Ahmanet’s transformation was make-up.  VFX hollowed out her cheeks and this can be seen until she regains full strength.

V411: What was your collaboration like with the visual effects team?  Was it easy to merge the vision you created through makeup with some of the effects that are done with the various characters?

EYG I had a lovely relationship with the VFX team. We worked together very closely to help get the desired affect on some of the characters.  Like the undead, for example, who came through my department to get textured, aged skins and would then have their eyes and noses taken out by VFX.

V411:  Can you speak about designing a hair style for a character that has been dormant for thousands of years?  How did you achieve the look you designed?

EYG: The design process was really fun; I got to play with different periods and could explore some of my favorite looks from the history books.  I looked to images of Nefertiti and the sacred geometric forms in the architecture and created cages to recreate those shapes in Ahmanet’s hair when she’s a princess.  I also found a beautiful wig in the Met Museum which had amazing gold decorative clasps in it, I then found a modern alternative and incorporated these into her princess hair styles.  For her hairstyle as the Mummy, I wanted to keep an Egyptian quality whilst Alex wanted to have her hair down and flowing.  So I snuck in a bob undercut, which allowed me to stay true to Ancient Egypt.

V411: This movie has lots of action sequences, including explosions, battle sequences, etc.  Were you and your team designing a lot of bruises and wounds on your actors?

EYG All of the bruises, bites and cuts were practical applications. Vail (Jake Johnson) has a series of nicks and cuts and bites along the way, which were practically applied.  As his bite gets bigger I transitioned from blood and veins which were painted on to silicone bite wounds which were then painted and reapplied every day.

V411:  While a resurrected mummy rightfully steals the spotlight, you and your team had to design makeup and hair styles for all the characters in the film.  Where there certain looks and color palettes you were going for?  Do you mute the colors applied on the bulk of the cast knowing there will be a character that is so visually compelling – as not to compete with that character?

EYG : What is so cool and fun about this movie is that it flips between time periods.  We have Ahmanet’s world in Ancient Egypt, the crusaders world and modern day, which is the world that most of our lead characters inhabit.  I always like the characters I create to be somewhat rooted in reality, as I feel it makes them more relatable.  Vail’s character is really cool as he is a bit of a rogue and this is reflected in the tattoos I designed for him.  His character also has quite a transformation in the film which was really fun to play with and create.  Jekyll (Russell Crowe) was also fun to bring to life, as I wanted his look to suggest the old-world Victorian England, so his hair style calls to that.  Jenny’s (Annebelle Wallis) look is really natural which is a nice contrast and her look at the end is really ethereal and other worldly which is a play on her story line.

V411: M∙A∙C  cosmetics  is supporting your work on “The Mummy.”   Many folks may not realize they are a go-to for makeup artists in addition to an established consumer brand.  What were some of the key items you were using in this film?

EYG: The main M∙A∙C products used included their Pro Longwear Fluidline in black track, face and body foundation, Kohl Power eye pencil in feline and lip pencil in coffee an spice, Chromaline in Hi-Def cyan and black, Prep + Prime Fix Pigments in landscape green and transparent finishing powder and waterproof false lashes in black.   Due to the different looks and changing environments I applied a lot of       M∙A∙C Prep + Prime Fix + spray to help keep makeup fresh. We faced even more challenges as we shot underwater. These scenes are where M∙A∙C Studio Face and Body Foundation really became a hero product for this film.

V411: How did you source your team for “The Mummy?”  Where there individuals with certain expertise that you knew you had to secure for this film?

EYG I always tend to have a core group of people that I bring with me on my films, and on this job I needed to have a well-balanced team that could handle the make-up, sfx and natural as well as the hair side of things which was also demanding on this job.

V411:  You’ve alternated between hair and makeup design on many films.  Is there a benefit to overseeing both roles, as you did in “The Mummy?”

EYG:  I love doing both as I always do see the image or the look for each character as a whole, I think due to my background and training in all aspects that’s my natural trail of thought.

V411:  And, speaking of hair and makeup – you’ve worked on such a wide assortment of genres, from historical films to contemporary, from dramas to action to sci-fi and thrillers.  What are the qualities you look for when you choose the projects you would like to work on?

EYG: I love a fun, unusual script – and a challenge!