Beards and facial hair

Beards and facial hair can often look so unreal

It's a real skill to make beards and facial look real.  Preparation is key and there are some key tips to use once the facial is applied which help 'sell' it and help make it look more real. 

The Weetabix commercial which is linked on the TRAILERS page also shows a beard, it was not made to measure due to time being so short between casting confirmation and filming, but was a reasonably successful stock beard.

Art Malek

For "Upstairs Downstairs",  (the first series of the brief revival), this beard was requested 2 days before filming, despite my having suggested to Production that a beard would probably be necessary.  I guess as beards can often look so awful they were in denial.  

But that's exactly why you need prep time to do good facial hair work. 

We were in Cardiff, miles away from our main industry suppliers, and the possibility of there being anything available was very remote. 

Art Malek

It took me a ridiculous 4 hours to cobble this together from facial stock I happened to have on the truck.  It was far too late for a make. It was too late for anything frankly.  It took a beard, 2 sets of large sideburns/chops, a moustache, overlay and a small piece for the back of his neck.

Then, with the help of a Sikh gentleman who had also come to show Costume how to wrap the turban, I wrapped the whole assembly under his tuition and to hold it all together I sprayed it to death!  It had to last the series.

Raul Julia 

For "Mack the Knife" AKD "The Threepenny Opera", I laid in sideburns to match Raul's own until his grew long enough.   The tash is his own.

Gaz Coombes

Beard and tash for the Gaz's Tramp character in the "Rush Hour Soul" video.  

Shot guerrilla style in Piccadilly Circus and on the Underground.  I had to pretty much set it up and walk away.  Gaz was so happy cos some people treated him like a real tramp, they didn't recognise him.

It's rare for me to speak out, but .... 

Art's casting and look was all hideously last minute, less than a week before he worked in fact.  I had been told categorically on the day of his first visit to me in prep,  when I asked for clarity that surely this turbaned character would be wearing a beard that "no beard" was wanted. 

Sikh's don't cut their hair, so the cut ends of the hair on Art's neck had to go.  With his permission, I waxed it and applied a small piece of hair on lace and twisted it up into the turban.  A bare neck with just the edge of the turban would have looked unrealistic or cod.  It's important to be respectful of a cultural detail like this and deal with it effectively for the artist and the shoot.

Sure, shaving would have been quicker in the first instance, but we were shooting HD on the Alexa camera and in an over-the-shoulder shot you still might see the dark dots of the cut hair at skin level, or worse a few days later regrowth would have become visible and impossible to deal with, except with plucking ... need I say more. Who needs their neck plucked at 7 am in the morning!!

Gillette commercial face on of artist with a beard filled with laid on hair.  He had a few little penny sized areas that were bare of hair.  The agency wanted a perfect beard so I was asked to fill in the gaps with laid on hair.

Gillette commercial face on of artist with a beard filled with laid on hair.  He had a few little penny sized areas that were bare of hair.  The agency wanted a perfect beard so I was asked to fill in the gaps with laid on hair.  It looks very solid doesn't it, but it's mostly real. 

Art's beard and hairpiece

It would have been crazy to go to Cardiff, miles away from our industry suppliers without having a plan for the eventuality that I knew would come to pass when the powers that be realised this character would need a beard. 


From the 2 beards I had in my own stock, I found one that could work, with some other bits and pieces to build with.  As it turned out, 3 days before filming, (when we were indeed in Cardiff) a beard was suddenly wanted, and not just any old beard, a fully wrapped Sikh beard.  A Sikh gentleman was called for to advise Costume and me on the Turban and the wrapping of the beard.  It was all very late and though working as fast as I could, it took a whole afternoon to make the wrapped beard on Art's face because the illusion of the wrapping and the tension in that particular look had to be constructed around the delicacy of the overlay required to make the beard and bits and pieces work - because the beard was not made for him. 


I pulled it out the bag but at the cost of the make-up tests scheduled for 2 other lead actors that afternoon.  It threw a day that was perfectly well-planned, but tightly abutted up against our first day's shooting, completely up in the air.  It was no way to be running the show, but what can I say?  It puts a really bad skew on things so early in the shoot.  Looks need to be worked out by the Designer or a lead actor might feel they've not been given the due consideration and complain.  And much as I wish I had a wand, you can only work on one person at a time. 


The team were fully occupied on the cast they were going to be working with, one of whom had been uncontactable due to finishing a film in America, and flew in from New York and came straight to Cardiff the evening before the day of her test, 2 days before filming, and she had to be wigged.  It was impossible to collate a stock of umpteen wigs to fit her from my usual supplier with no idea of her head size and hairline and so cornered was I at the last minute castings I had no option but to measure her head, take a shape of her hairline in the morning, then send it with a car from Cardiff to Bristol to collect possibilities from Campbell Young, and fit her in the afternoon.  And I was told off for needing to send a car to Bristol.  Exasperating! 


We have hands not wands!  And it's as well to remember that actors are people too, sensitive people at that especially in our digital HD age our work has to be very detailed to be convincing and delicate to be considerate of the actor's comfort at all times and be acceptable to them.  So feeling rushed, pressured by someone else's emergency, (or lack of planning) and rushing around like a headless chicken is ABSOLUTELY NOT an option. It's not a smart or effective way to work and though it may look like a lot is being accomplished, and the 'drivers' think they're cracking the whip and getting a reaction, it's very misleading to think that it has any benefit and is actually totally counter-productive.  It's not the way to get the best out of your Make-up Department.


Effective calm is essential and this requires adequate information, thinking through, planning and support, adequate time and adequate access to artists and suppliers.  


And who wears the egg???   The Make-up and Hair Department if it's not looking good - and that's not fair or acceptable.

Helpful info for Production - Line Producers and Accountants 

On having and costing beards and facial made on lace - usual minimum cost £650-£1,000

To have a beard, moustache, sideburns and facial made on lace requires: 

1 hr - for a shape taking appointment with the artist.  Hair colours also need to be discussed and referenced to the wig (if one is to be worn) and hair selected.  The shape and hair references are then biked or couriered to the maker - unless you have a full time maker or knotter on the team (but the team is usually far too busy to be drawn away into the world of myopia of making facial).

1 week - the beard then takes about a week to make, but if you need it quicker rush charges may apply and "rush" is subject to the availability of the maker.  

1/2 - 1 day - The facial then then needs to be collected and brought to the department which is usually by bike or courier to the Production Office and then brought to the make-up room/set/location/make-up truck by production. 

1/2 hr - the lace needs to be cut, the facial fitted to it's block - it's 'home' for the duration and products pulled.

2 hrs - for a fitting with the artist to apply the beard, (and wig if one is to be worn so that it can be referenced in the fitting).  The beard will likely need to be trimmed, tonged and 'finished' it to a lively camera ready state. This is best done in advance not on the morning of because there will very likely need to be tweaks which take time that is not possible to calculate accurately for the call sheet. 

A laid-loose hair beard

A beard can be laid on from scratch with loose hair.  I watched Graham Freeborn do it for at least 3 of the cast on a film called "Squaring the Circle" (1984) at Pinewood.  It's an amazing skill to watch, it's like magic when you see it being done by a master like Graham or Tom Smith, who I also watched do it on "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984) at Elstree for Pat Roach who played "Indy's Assailant" the Indian in the mine sequence.  That beard was made out of a mix of carrot coloured, brown and black hair and was one of the most brilliant make-ups I've ever seen done.

A laid-loose hair beard and/or moustache takes longer to apply than a lace-backed beard so is not an option for the pressed call times of a TV make-up call.  After the novelty and appreciation of the effect has quickly worn off and everyone has moved onto the next 'deal', the AD's, Director and Artist become aware of the time it takes, (and possibly the artist's overtime), but you're stuck with the choice by then.  

It's also not the solution for an artist who works for more than a day or two as a laid on beard is more fragile than one knotted onto lace and even though it is possible to remove it and re-apply a laid on beard, refreshing the edges with new over-lay each day, the structure can weaken and the shape become compromised.  It works much better for smaller 'pop-on' beards like goatees.  The beard for Pat Roach did get a beating but it was not a long beard and Tom with his customary equanimity used to just patch it up and put it on again the next day.  I don't think Pat had any close-ups, it was all about the fight and the stunts with lots of movement and cuts and wides and which, as is common knowledge in the business, was mostly shot with Harrison's uncanny doppelganger stunt double Vic Armstrong. 

Finally and more fundamentally it depends on whether your make-up artist can lay on facial well.  It's a rare skill.  

A make on lace is definitely the way to go, and if necessary a little overlay to soften the edge.

This is why the time up front with access to the artist to get the facial made to measure and camera ready is essential for a believable outcome.  It's not rocket science.

A NOTE ON SAFETY: The application of loose hair to create beards and other facial requires the use of hot tongs.  In order to work safely you need a stable truck (the stabilizers down), a position that is out of the way of the usual footfall and people need to be aware of what you are doing when they step on. 

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