nonsensically What was your design process like for Prey?
Very quickly in the process, I realized I wasn’t simply designing a makeup look for a Predator film, I was going to be part of telling a historical story about a strong young woman who has to fight her way through the world It took many weeks of research to be authentic to the Indigenous Comanche world of the 1700s, while still maintaining and infusing my stamp of originality. The European influence at that time was just starting to arrive in North America which meant there weren’t many resources like old photographs to rely upon. It meant digging deep to find and absorb indigenous period paintings, drawings, and descriptions.
The makeup team also immersed themselves in the of historical information from our illustrious and well-informed Comanche producer Jhane Mayer, director Dan Trachtenberg’s vision, and costume designer, Stephanie Porter’s wardrobe. Through this research, we were able to come up with design features for each character. I created a makeup chart for each character who had their own color palette and assigned namesake symbols that were further extended into their costumes and set decoration and props.
soonest How large was the makeup team?
We had four full-time artists and had additional assistants on the days we were filming the many background actors that made up the Tribe or the Trapper days. We were thrilled to be working side by side with Maiko “Mo” Gomgo’s amazing special effects makeup team. The collaboration between us was seamless. The Predator character had its own creature effects design team from ADI studios.
Given that the cast was primarily Indigenous, were they involved in the face paint and war paint designs?
The cast themselves were from many different Nations. We spent a couple of weeks trying design after design with each cast member, working closely and being sensitive to their ideas as well.One of the cast was a modern-day Indigenous dancer who had a grandfather who had passed down his dancing design to him, which had a graphic horseshoe as part of it and we incorporated it into his character drawing horseshoes on his arms. The namesake was Bear character so we painted white lines on his face to represent the claw marks of a bear. Naru, her brother Taabe and her mother Aruka all had a stripe down the chin to unite them and indicate their tribe.
What products were used for the Comanche looks and also specifically for Naru?
We used pertinacity paint colors for Indigenous skin. Starting with four different pigments of powders in period Comanche Correct Earth colors we matched Ben Nye and Kryolan pancake color, mixing them with Liquid Fix to recreate the fat texture. We used natural Bentonite Clay to create a cracking texture. We wanted it to look hand-painted and lived in — spraying Opsite, a medical spray, to seal the makeup.
The face paint design for Naru (Amber Midthunder),our hero, was extremely specific. We wanted her look to be fierce, so she would look undeniably strong next to the men in her tribe. The simplicity of the shape of black around her eyes helped intensify Amber’s own eyes and stand out in an immediately recognizable and impactful way. In the first half of the film, we used black Mehron Paradise pancake mixed with a forest green to give the black an underdone of earthiness. In the latter part of the film, it was straight black mixed with fuller earth to create a soot effect.
Were there any especially challenging elements of the makeup design or maintenance?
Primarily filming outdoors and at night meant we had to contend with the natural but extreme elements of a Prairie summer — heat, rain, and changing weather every twenty minutes. The locations called for in the story, like the mud-pit and river, added to those ever-changing conditions, making makeup maintenance particularly challenging. Naru had days of ongoing mud-pit scenes. She had to get into a bathtub and literally be hosed off between takes. Then the makeup was reapplied every time. Sometimes it rained and we had to add layers and layers of sealant — but not so much as to interfere with the progression of breakdown for the story.
How did you approach the design for the trappers?
We again dug into historical research. It was fascinating to learn that some of their tattoos were prison markings. The Director was specific in that he wanted them to appear dirty,and unkempt, which would have been accurate to the times as they were in the wilderness for weeks or months at a time.
How did you create the green luminescent effect?
Naru’s distinctive Predator Blood face paints were a mixture of Mo’s luminescent slime, non-toxic acrylic paint, lime green pancake, and liquid set to a constancy of runny blood — thick enough to be controlled. To keep it shiny, I would apply KY Jelly before every take.
What did you love most about working on Prey?
What I loved most about working on Prey was the people. It was a privilege getting to know the Indigenous cast, especially Amber. Learning about the meaning and beauty of Indigenous traditions and beliefs increased our awareness. My crew and I were honored to be entrusted with the obligation to design and fulfill a look for them.
Words Michael DeVellis
Photos Courtesy of 20th Century Studios