Soap Opera Digest
How soaps do special effects makeup.
Every soap has a slew of crack makeup artists toiling behind the scenes to get actors camera-ready. While for the most part it means tending to cheeks, lips and eyes, the teams are also tasked with creating bruises, bloody wounds, lacerations, burns and scars. It’s an art form known as special effects makeup that’s integral to telling some of the melodramatic stories on screen.
Unlike applying mascara and blush, makeup artists need lead time to plan for episodes that will require the special effects treatment, but a heads-up varies from show to show. Y&R’S Key of Makeup and Hair, Patti Denney, first reads all about it. “We get notice through outlines, a few weeks in advance,” she says. “Then it’s discussed in production meetings and then I always check with our executive producer and direc
tor on the day of to make sure nothing has changed.” However, Makeup Artist Christine Lai-johnson of B&B admits, “If we’re lucky, one week,” while her counterpart on DAYS, Elizabeth Dahl says, “If we’re just adding a bruise or a simple blood effect or a cut or scratch, the day before is fine.”
Even a scar can be done in a snap, such as in Heather Tom’s case when B&B’S Katie underwent a heart transplant in 2008, which left a permanent reminder. “The scar is very fast [to apply],” Tom relays. “It takes about five minutes or so and then it’s on. It’s basically like a gelatin that they apply and it dries, and then they powder it down. The fact is that even if you had a heart transplant and you have the scar from it, they do fade a bit over the years. You can still see some of it but the way they do the [open heart] procedure these days, it’s like they kind of glue everything back together again so you don’t see a huge scar like you used to. What we do is probably more than what an actual person would have. When we’re done shooting, you can just peel it off. What’s funny is that sometimes I forget to peel it off, and I’ll be in yoga or something with this thing attached to me. I can only imagine what people must think!”
To mimic more horrific injuries, realism is key, which means poring over some gruesome true-to-life photos. Dahl remembers when that research was a painstaking process. “For years we used to go to a library,” she recalls. “There’s a medical library at UCLA that they would let you come in and look things up. It was pretty amazing looking at pictures of real gunshot wounds in picture books. Of course, the Internet now is our biggest aid.” Which is the resource Denney uses “for photos of injuries that include burns, bullet wounds, etc.,” and Lai-johnson recently “viewed head-on car collision photos” online for a deadly accident.
When Y&R’S Kevin was viciously beaten in 2004, portrayer Greg Rikaart endured two hours in the makeup chair for many days. “Part of the process was putting gauze inside my mouth to look like my face was swollen,” he recounts. “After that, it felt like it does after dental surgery where your mouth doesn’t really work. It certainly added to making Kevin’s circumstances alive for me because I looked so rough, it was easy to play how something like that could have felt. Besides the gauze in my mouth, Patti cut nipples from a baby bottle and put those in my nose so it would look really swollen as well. It wasn’t very comfortable but I was really into it. The first time I saw the results, I was really blown away. I didn’t look like myself and it was equal parts ‘Yikes!’ and amazement of what had been created.”
Another aspect of special effects makeup is drastically altering the physical appearance of an actor for a character’s disguise. “What was challenging, but very enjoyable, was turning Michelle Stafford [Phyllis] into a scruffy drunken guy [in 2004], because it required using prosthetics to add weight to her face,” points out Denney. “Another fun challenge was putting Kimberlin Brown [exsheila] in disguise every early morning for months [in 2005]. This involved a prosthetic chin, nose and she wore a dental plate, contact lenses and a wig to complete the look.”
Lai-johnson cites B&B’S 2010 Grecian fashion show as a tough assignment when it came to turning Kyle Lowder (ex-rick) and Brandon Beemer (ex-owen) into statues that come to life. “Our actors were in full-on, plaster-like makeup, she says. “We layered, textured, stuccoed them like crazy. The application from head to toe took approximately three-and-a-half hours to create. We won the Emmy for that year!”
Diligence is required to make certain all those on-air boo-boos follow a believable course of recovery. “It’s my responsibility to track continuity, making sure these things heal realistically,” Denney shares. “That can get tricky due to the fact that a Genoa City day can be a few days on air. The other complication is we don’t always tape scenes in order, with scenes from multiple episodes, or we go back in time during the same tape day. So we have to be extra careful.”
The B&B team ensures that Katie’s scar is always in view when it should be. “If I’m wearing an outfit or a shirt that’s low enough where you could possibly see it, we put it on every single time,” Tom notes. “Sometimes with the lighting, you may not notice it.” Which has some members of the audience crying foul from time to time. “I’ve had fans say, ‘They don’t ever remember she had a transplant scar,’ but I can assure you, it is on every single time,” Tom insists. “If there’s a possibility of it being seen, it’s on. It’s just a part of how I get ready. Clearly if I have an outfit where you don’t see it, I wouldn’t put it on, but we never forget about it. I think Katie’s scar is really intrinsic to her character. Trust me. For 10 years, we’ve put that scar on, so it’s there.”
At a time when injuries on soaps were represented by only bandages and casts, DAYS went the extra mile with Susan Seaforth Hayes in 1979, when Julie sustained a serious facial burn from an exploding oven. The actress “wasn’t too surprised” about that plot development since her mother, Elizabeth Harrower, was the head writer of the show at the time. “She had based it on the story
of someone in our own lives,” reveals Seaforth
Hayes. “I was surprised that she brought that up, but she was trying to drive
Doug and Julie apart at that moment. They were happily married and she didn’t go for that.”
Perfecting Julie’s burn was a priority. “The makeup artist went to a burn center and took photographs and had conversations and took some burned leaves and made a mold from burned leaves and put this on my face,” Seaforth Hayes details. “The base would go on around where the patch was and then it would be glued and then the makeup would go on to blend it in. It worked pretty well. It was a mess to experience and to remove every day. It’s like taking a bandage off your face every day. But you know, it’s your job! You stay calm.”
There were initial concerns how the skin would react to the constant application. “My dermatologist said, ‘You’ll probably be bearded on that side following this experience,’ because every time they rip off the eyelash glue it’s going to affect your face,” says the actress. “Originally we thought it was going to be three weeks and it went on for six months or something like that. But as far as I can tell, I don’t have a heavier beard on one side than the other.”
During the duration of the storyline, Seaforth Hayes had no choice but to show up at the commissary wearing her fake burn. “You had to live your life,” she shrugs. “[I got] a few ‘I’m sorry, Susan,’ or whatever, but not enough to destroy my equilibrium or my pleasure of having a front-burner storyline, even if I had to get burned to get there!”