Where were you born?
Cape Town South Africa

Banhā Where do you live now?
Sydney, Australia

What’s your sign?

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Something creative. I was always busy painting and making things, not much of an academic. I wanted be a fashion designer, as I loved color, texture and shapes. There weren’t many choices in New Zealand in the ‘60s. Most women became secretaries, nurses, teachers or hairdressers, or went to university.

How did that transpose into a career in makeup?
I started a hairdressing apprenticeship, as I left school early with no qualifications and that is what was on offer. I sort of fell into makeup through a client. She was a makeup artist from the BBC who was in New Zealand to set up the makeup department for the new TV1 channel and thought I would be a good candidate to train. There were no makeup schools in New Zealand then, nor was there the internet or online shopping. I purchased my first book on makeup in 1981 when I came to Australia to do Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. That was the first time I had seen a makeup shop that wasn’t a department store or chemist’s shop.

How did you end up in New Zealand?
I immigrated with my family when I was four years old from Capetown, South Africa to Wellington, New Zealand. Those were the days of apartheid in South Africa and I think my father wanted to give his family a better life. I went to school and then did a hairdressing apprenticeship in Wellington before joining TV.1. I then did a few freelance films in New Zealand: Skin Deep, Middle Age Spread, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, Race for the Yankee Zephyr, and then Bad Blood in 1980. It was on that last film where I met the wonderful Bob McCarron, who I think at that stage was the only special effects makeup artist in Australia. It was Bob who recommended me to the director George Miller for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior in 1981 when he couldn’t do it due to another project at the same time. So I have Bob to thank for what has now been a 35-year working relationship with George.

Which came first for you, the love of makeup and hair, or the love of working in film?
I guess it was the craft part of it all. I loved art when I was in school, so I think makeup was an extension of that, painting a three dimensional canvas. I consider doing hair to be somewhat like sculpting.

What was your first memorable work as an artist?I did makeup, hair and costume on my first feature, Skin Deep. That was definitely memorable. The film Bad Blood was the first time I had seen a foam latex appliance, and Race for the Yankee Zephyr, my first freelance film in New Zealand. Then probably Road Warrior, my first job in Australia. Since then there have been many as each one is so different. Some are memorable for the experience, location, people; some for the hard ships and some are memorable for the artistry. Fury Road was a combination of all of these.

How did you know that this industry was the place you wanted to build a career? I really didn’t, as I had never heard of it as a career at that stage. I sort of stumbled into it. What a great stumble!

What are the things you love about working in our industry?
The whole circus. The creativity, the creatives, my team, everyone striving for one common goal of bringing the story to the audience. Of course I love the early starts and the long hours – just joking about that last part!

What are the challenges of working as a freelance artist?
Probably the uncertainty of the future, ongoing continuity of work, unpredictable hours. But I can’t imagine ever working a 9 to 5 job.

Do you have a signature style of work that you’re known for?
Not really, but I do get offered a lot of futuristic, Sci Fi or heightened reality projects, so I suppose some people think I have a signature.

What should someone who is looking to develop a career in makeup know before getting into the business?
In the words of a great director of photography, John Seale, “If the desire is deep to pursue this activity, then the word is perseverance.” You must be ready to put everything into this and keep going, even when pusuring this career proves to be very difficult.

What type of work do you find most satisfying?
I really like the design phase and putting together the right people. Plus the day-to-day puzzle of making it all happen. Character makeups are always fun. I love creating with my team.

How do you continue to grow your career as an artist?
I love attending courses, most recently at Creative Media Skills in the UK. They offer great short-term courses, taught by professionals ready to share their experience and knowledge. These are great for those looking to expand and update skill sets and workshop ideas with other like-minded professionals.

Do you have a project that you’ve done that you are especially proud of?
I would have to say Fury Road as we received the most recognition for this, but also a few others you have probably never heard of. I really enjoyed some of the crazy character makeups I designed for Martin Campbell’s Escape from Absolom. Strictly Ballroom was another — on no budget and with just three people on the team for the whole show, We had one hair and one make up in the van just churning out people, plus one assistant on set. I am also proud of Dark City, where I created my first “the white people” characters, ala Fury Road – they just seem to keep following me. I also loved Moulin Rouge. Aldo Signoretti and Maurizio Silvi were the designers on this. Gods of Egypt looked good too with all the wig hats we made for the extras – it was fun.

What are some of the most important qualities that a makeup artist can have?
A good eye, creativity, flexibility, patience, stamina, good people  skills, good boundaries and a sense of humor. Up-to-date knowledge of products available and what other uses these products may have is also important.

What makes you a good makeup artist?
All of the above I think.

What project did you have the most fun working on?
Too many to list. They have all been fun for one reason or another. You often get the chance to have a good belly laugh in the makeup room or truck as we are all thrown together in sometimes extreme circumstances.

What project was the most challenging?
Sometimes the smaller ones where you lack budget and crew to do what you would like to do can be the most challenging because you still want the best up there on the screen. For these you really have to get creative, find what you need in the kitchen cupboard, so-to-speak, or make it yourself. Sometimes it is the locations or extreme weather conditions that make a project challenging.

Is there someone you have always wanted to work on who you haven’t had the chance to work with yet?
Not really. I enjoy a project in its entirety and prefer to bring together the big picture rather than concentrating on one person that I’m working with. We are a little isolated down here, though not as much so since the internet, IMATS and more international projects being shot here. But never the less, it is still a long way away from London or LA, so we don’t see as many stars as you would in Hollywood. There are a lot of actors whose work I admire and I have been fortunate to work with some amazing directors in my career.

Whose work do you admire?
Far too many to mention. I am always in awe of all my fellow hair, makeup and special effects artists. It is such a collaboration between great talents in lighting, camera, costume, production design and the actors to bring a “look” to the screen.

What inspires you?
Almost everything. Nature, architecture, art, travel, food, people,books, conversation.

What has changed most about the industry in the time that you’ve been working in makeup?
Digital technology. I started drawing continuity pictures in my script, then taking Polaroids, writing letters to get information or calling people, but that was outrageously expensive. I would get people to travel overseas to buy books and products for me and post or bring them back — this could take months. Now it is almost instantaneous and you can find anything on the internet. Monitors on set that you can replay to check continuity, continuity apps, digital cameras on your phone. We used to send the roll of film off to be developed and you were lucky if you got your continuity pictures back in 24 hours. Now in the world of VFX and being able to get a little help from your friends if something can’t be fixed (i.e. Photoshop, scanning and 3D printing.) The size of the budgets has also changed. I think larger crews, bigger crowd tents, more wigs and prosthetics have been the result. You can also afford to bring in more specialists with a bigger budget.
How has technology affected your work itself?
My work is still the same. You do the best you can to give them what they want so they don’t have to enhance or fix it. I have always erred on the side of less is more, unless the character or story calls for you to see the makeup. The tools have also become technically better. Airbrush makeup has changed a lot, the wig lace has become finer, the prosthetics have progressed in my time from foam to the more translucent and flexible silicone.

Has social media affected your career or work?
I don’t think it has as I don’t really use it. I can see how it would give someone starting out a platform.

What are you working on next?
Nothing. Maybe I should use social media!

Photos courtesy The Milton Agency and Lesley Vanderwalt