A few days ago, I walked into senior Kiera Quealy’s house and by the time I walked out, our faces were bloodied and bruised. Well, OK, not really. But we looked like it, thanks to the magic of special effects makeup. First, she taught me her techniques by applying makeup on me, and then we switched seats and I tried to make her look as terrible as I did.
The senior screen acting major said it all began with her love of Halloween. As a child, she dressed up in anything requiring extensive bloody makeup. When she arrived at Chapman, she used her talents to make on-screen zombies for friends’ film projects. Once word spread, she was asked to help with various short films, Halloween costumes and theater productions.
Special effects makeup has been around as long as film, to create horrifying monsters or aliens, or just to convey that an actor has aged or been injured. Even with modern computer-generated images to digitally alter an actor, makeup artistry is still relevant to help immerse an actor in the role and to save money in post-production. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized the importance of makeup artistry in 1982 with its own category at the Oscars.
“I love people’s reactions to it, people get so grossed out by just paint and latex,” Quealy said.
Quealy did zombie stage makeup for an original play called “Mailmen,” put on by The Players’ Society, a Chapman club for non-theater majors who put on student-run productions.
“The audience gasped when an actress came on stage, because it looked like a chunk of her neck had been gouged out and I was like, ‘That’s what I’m going for,’” she said.
The look I was going for was super beaten up, maybe as a result of a zombie apocalypse, maybe a wildebeest attack, who knows. For this look, Quealy used mostly Ben Nye products, which is a line of stage makeup that sells fake blood, liquid latex, scar wax and cream pallets of off-putting reds, purples and yellows to mimic damaged skin.
First, Quealy painted liquid latex in a circle on my cheek, and left it to dry. Then she rolled a bit of scar wax into what reminded me of the Play-Doh snakes I made as a kid, stuck it on my chin and smoothed it to be flush with my skin using a small spatula.
When the latex was dry, she tore a hole in it and painted the inside deep red inside to look like a hole in my skin. After dabbing the rim with some bright red and yellow, it really looked like some sort of toxic acid had burned my cheek. She finished with some clear lip gloss and admired her handiwork. “Lovely, you can see the gleam off the pus,” she said.
Next, she carved a line on the scar wax to mimic a deep cut, which was swiped with dark red cream and fake blood. Then, she blended purple and red tones next to it like a dried scrape. Lastly, she bruised my cheekbone by layering first yellow, then green, red and a bit of purple.
I knew the steps she took to create the looks, but because I hadn’t watched her, the thought of mimicking her techniques was daunting. But Quealy bravely volunteered her face so I could give it a shot. What’s nice is there is no precise shape a bruise or scrape has to have, so you don’t have to worry about messing up too badly.
We talked while I worked and I learned that she’s only been formally trained by one theater class at Chapman called “Theatrical Makeup.” The rest was self-taught with the help of YouTube tutorials. Another surprise? She’s squeamish around blood in real life.
The makeup didn’t seem to want to work for me in the way it worked for her, but in the end, I was proud of how mine turned out. We snapped a few photos and I thanked Quealy for the fun challenge. The next challenge? Making my way home without terrifying anyone. And that one I don’t know if I accomplished.