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Lights, camera, action -- make-up!

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Ve Neill is director of education at the Cinema Makeup School. Photo courtesy of Ve Neill

The lead-up to the 2019 Oscars has had more drama than some movies.

Along the way organizers introduced, then dropped a popular movie category. They hired and dropped a host. Then, in a bid to jack up flagging ratings, they looked for ways to trim back the lengthy broadcast of the awards show.

It was decided that four categories would have a lesser presence during the telecast: Cinematography, Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling. Even though such trims had been in the works since last summer, the plan caused outrage. By Friday the Academy had backpedaled.

DnA wanted to learn more about some of the below-the-line crafts that are integral to movie magic.

After all, would Christian Bale be nominated for his portrayal of Dick Cheney without such excellent hair and make-up?

To discuss that and other secrets of special effects for the face, DnA reached out to Ve Neill, director of Education at the Cinema Makeup School.

The nominations this year in hair are Border, Mary Queen of Scots, and Vice.  

Neill explained what would be involved (for nominees Greg Canham, Kate Bisco and Patricia Haney) in turning a relatively young Christian Bale into a relatively old Dick Cheney in Vice.

“It's not just done in one piece. It's done in many pieces and in the work with Christian Bale, he was many different ages in that film,” Neill said. “So the pieces that he is wearing are different depending on what year he is.”

Border takes us to another kind of makeup artistry: to make the actors convincingly unattractive. The characters in Border are trolls.

The makeup artist can use paint and prosthetics to transform a person into a beast or a beauty.

“Every person is a character, whether it's just, you know, somebody going to work every day at a bank, or a monster,” Neill said. Neill has been nominated for eight Oscars, and won three, for Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire and Ed Wood. She also spent several years as a judge on the Syfy reality TV competition Face Off.

With the success of Face Off, in which people compete to create aliens and superhero looks, Neill says she sees a lot of people eager to jump into the field of hair and make-up, but that proper training is required. Unlike the depiction in a reality show competition shows, the work is long and arduous, but also rewarding.

“I think the past 30 years has been the golden age of special effects makeup. Everybody was all worried that CGI was going to take the place of makeup and I said no, because CGI always looks like CGI. And not only that, the actors want to be in those makeups. They want to be able to feel that character,” she said.