‘Oz’ makeup: Howard Berger on witches, Winkies and Bruce Campbell


‘Oz’ makeup: Howard Berger on witches, Winkies and Bruce Campbell

March 10, 2013 | 11:40 a.m.
A scene from "Oz the Great and Powerful." The film follows a magician who accidentally lands in Oz and encounters all manner of creatures. (Disney Enterprises)
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Howard Berger is the Oscar-winning makeup artist who took home his golden statuette for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (a prize he shared with longtime collaborator Tami Lane, who went on to oversee the makeup for Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”). His latest professional challenge again transported him to another fanciful land — for Sam Raimi’s lavish fantasy “Oz the Great and Powerful,” he designed makeups for Munchkins, Wicked Witches and one strangely familiar Winkie.

Berger spoke to Hero Complex prior to the film’s release about the intricacies of redesigning one of cinema’s most iconic villains — though with spoilers in mind, he declined to name the actress who ultimately becomes the movie’s Wicked Witch — and what it was like to re-team with his old friend Raimi. (The pair first worked together on 1987′s cult horror movie favorite “Evil Dead II,” starring Bruce Campbell — the actor, it turns out, also puts in an appearance in Raimi’s latest as well.)

HC: What was your initial reaction when Sam Raimi approached you about creating the makeups for “Oz the Great and Powerful”?

HB: Every makeup artist loves “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s always their influence. So when Sam Raimi called and said, “Hey buddy, I’m going to do ‘Oz the Great and Powerful,’ I was like, I’ve got to be on this. So [Berger's professional partner] Greg [Nicotero] and I met with Sam and talked to him about what his vision was. What was tricky was that Disney bought the rights to the books and not to the movie, so we had to walk a very fine line in our design regarding what was in the world and universe of Sam Raimi’s ‘Oz’ and what we could pull from the original film, which was very, very little. There are certain things that the audience and the world knows, like the Wicked Witch is green and Munchkins are little people. We had to be really, really careful that we didn’t cross over to any issues that created a legal issue, essentially, copyright infringement. Even dealing with the witch, Disney had come down and said, “The witch can’t be green.” I was like, “There’s no way that’s going to happen.” I went to Sam and said, “Sam, the witch has got to be green. Everyone knows the Wicked Witch of the West is green.” He’s like, “Yeah, don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out.” Greg and I spent a lot of time figuring out colors and we finally came to a series of colors, actually five colors to make up the witch’s green. There’s all these different layers of different variations of greens and yellows that make up that final color that the actress who’s playing the Wicked Witch of the West looks like in her application.

HC: Was that your biggest challenge on the movie? Designing makeups that would match up with the audience’s memories of the 1939 musical without being too similar to what was depicted in that film?

HB: With the Munchkins, we could not venture into the world of anything that looked similar to the MGM version of the film. It’s tough because you know Munchkins are going to be little performers, and they’re going to be in these character makeups. I really had to find a new avenue that was not similar to the original film and still make it interesting and original within the universe that Sam Raimi was creating. That was a difficult task. The numbers were big too, but I was used to that. The way I designed the movie was the same way I did the “Narnia” films. We had hundreds of characters, and in this we had hundreds of characters. That actually was the easy part, it was just really about design and execution at the end of the day.

HC: So, how did you approach the character design for the Wicked Witch?

HB: We didn’t have an actor at first, so Greg and I started designing just randomly. We actually used pinups from 1930s as our point of reference. I wanted to pull from the ’30s because the original film was from the ’30s, and we did a lot of designs that looked like a makeup from the ’30s. That was our leaping-off point. Then when an actress was cast, we went ahead and we photographed her and lifecast her and we started to design the makeup from there. Usually studios when they cast a big actor … don’t want to cover them in makeup … [they] don’t want to cover their faces. I did a bunch of designs that ranged from very subtle to very extreme. I went to set and I showed the actress and Sam Raimi, and they picked the most extreme makeup, which made me very happy. We probably did about 40 different designs, different looks, different shades, different noses and chins and foreheads and ears.

HC: How long did that makeup take to apply?

HB: It took about an hour and a half, two hours. Myself and Peter Montagna did her makeup every day. She played about 40 days and she also had a double that played all the time as well. We made her up and the actress up every single day. She’s pretty much covered in appliances. The only part of her skin on her face [that isn't] is her upper lip. Everything else is a combination of silicone and foam rubber. Then she’s completely painted, her shoulders are painted, her chest and back and neck and everything because her costume reveals so much. For her hands, we ended up finding an easy solution. She wears these black gloves that have the fingers cut off and we ended up making latex fingertips that were the color and had the nails and everything and were incorporated into those gloves so she could pop them off and on.

She would come in in the morning, early like 3 a.m. and Peter and I would start to do the application. It was two pieces, what we call a horseshoe piece that encompasses the whole chin and sides of face, and then there was a forehead and nose that were combined. We glued that down — it was pre-painted. She has a very specific arch to her eyebrows — all the hairs in the eyebrows were hand-punched one at a time.  She would get in the chair and we would make her up, glue it all down, blend it off, paint it. Then we’d put her contact lenses in, she had custom-made lenses. Then she had dentures that made her teeth look yellow and rotted. She’d go get her costume on and come back to us for final touches on her eye makeup and lips, and we’d go to set and shoot for 14 hours.

Tami Lane and Howard Berger in 2006 with their shared Oscar for the makeup in

Tami Lane and Howard Berger in 2006 with their shared Oscar for the makeup in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” (J. Vespa/WireImage)

HC: How uncomfortable is it to be inside that kind of extreme makeup for that long?

HB: Well, I think it gets itchy after a while. Sam Raimi — who I love more than anybody, I’ve worked with him since the ’80s — Sam loves to start his day with wide shots and stunts and then eventually get to the close-ups. It’s a makeup artist’s nightmare, essentially. We would try to do our best to maintain the makeup. Sometimes there was rough spots. Actually there were several times where we had to pull the actress into the makeup room and reapply the lower horseshoe piece because through the course of the day — from shooting for half the day and then having lunch, laughing and talking — the edge would start to wear and tear. So, we would remove that and then I’d have to apply a whole new lower face because I knew that we were going to get into close-ups. The hardest part, once the makeup was on, was maintaining the quality of the makeup over the course of the day. I stood by the actress every second, which probably annoyed her, and it was constant touch-up and cleaning up and making sure her eyes were right and her lips were right. It was insanity. I finally went to Sam and said, “Is there a possibility we could just do close-ups at the beginning of the day?” Out of 130 days we shot that movie, there was one day Sam did close-ups first up in the morning. I was at the mercy of Sam Raimi’s directing style. But I was used to it.

HC: He has a reputation for torturing his actors, but it sounds like he’s hard on his crew as well?

HB: He abuses everybody, but in a good-natured way. I walk into every movie with Sam prepared to be abused — luckily it’s not physical abuse. I’ve worked with him and Bruce [Campbell] forever and even in this movie, Bruce has got a little part in it and he gets physically abused. I said to Sam, “No movie is complete without Bruce Campbell getting hit in the head with something.” If Bruce isn’t smacked in the head with something then it isn’t a Sam Raimi movie.

HC: Bruce’s makeup is fairly extreme in the film.

HB: Bruce plays a Winkie, and Winkies are the witches’ guards, like from the original film. Bruce is in a Winkie makeup and it was really great fun. I was so excited because I love Bruce Campbell to no end and I’ve known him since “Evil Dead II” when I first worked with Sam. I got to design a makeup around Bruce — it’s very simple, he just has a nose and a chin. Bruce already has a giant chin, but I made his chin bigger, and Bruce has a little scar on his real chin and I ended up incorporating that scar into the sculpture for his Winkie chin. I wanted it to still be Bruce. He’s got this big mustache and brows, and it’s really super fun. I got to do the makeup myself and be with Bruce all day. What was great, because Bruce was there one day, he said, “I’m going to torture Sam. I’m only here for one day, so I’m going to torture him the whole day.” He walked on set and actually Sam, who has done all these horror films, can be very skittish sometimes. He was a little unnerved that Bruce was on these giant stilts, that he was like seven feet tall and looming over Sam. He was torturing Sam the whole time.

Bruce Campbell in

Bruce Campbell in “Oz the Great and Powerful.” (Disney)

HC: How did Bruce torture him exactly?

HB: He would chase Sam, and Sam doesn’t like to be chased. He would keep putting his finger in Sam’s chest when he was talking to him. I think Bruce was getting retribution after 30 years of Sam Raimi tormenting him. Sam, if Bruce walked on, he’d say, “Hello, Mr. Rammi. Very nice to meet you. I love those ‘Spider-Web’ movies that you do.” I think Bruce for once in his life finally got the upper hand on Sam Raimi, which was really fun to watch.

– Gina McIntyre