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.  On "1917" Naomi asked me to step over to the main truck to do Nabhaan's fully wrapped Sikh beard.  She'd been made aware of the beard I'd done for Art Malek on "Upstairs Downstairs", which to be fair had put me ahead of most in the department to pull this off at short notice, the next day in fact.  On a picture this huge, it's no mean feat to pull off such an unusual and skillful make-up at such short notice, which, if I say so myself, I did in a relaxed manner because I knew it was possible - it was a nice achievement.

I prepped the hair that evening in my hotel room and began applying it without a test on my own at about 05.00 the following day.  It took a couple of hours because the hair had to be laid INTO the artists own which required parting his hair and making the density of the lay-on compliment his own.  I also laid into the underneath and back edge so the beard blended away as it should in case it was shot from an "over-the-shoulder" position.  You always have to remember your artist is seen in the round in action, and so is your work, sometimes even from above in a top shot, or from below, so that's the standard to which you need to check your work before it leaves your chair.  If you've executed it well you can "Step away from the artist!" and not be one of those infuriating fiddlers, you can leave your artist alone to get on with their job and Sound, Costume, Props and everyone else get on with theirs in all matters relating to the actor now you've done your bit.

I applied the beard  for about 10 days over a 3 week period on the Salisbury and Glasgow locations.  Sam Mendes complimented Naomi on the beard on Nabhaan's last day of filming and she was kind enough to share it with me in the standby eze-up tent.

Nabhaan Rizwan as himself.

"1917"-Nabhaan Rizwan wearing my fully-wrapped Sikh beard in 2 shot with George MacKAY.

"1917"-Nabhaan Rizwan wearing my fully-wrapped Sikh beard in group shot with George MacKAY.

"1917"-Nabhaan Rizwan wearing my fully-wrapped Sikh beard showing the underneath side-where the edge is laid and the beard wrapped.

Nabhaan Rizwan as Sepoy Jondalar ....

It's at times like these that I am hugely grateful to have been taught how to prep hair for laying on and the laying on and process by Tom Smith, the Chief Make-up Artist on "Gandhi".  When working for him on "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" he had me go watch him when he was making up Pat Roach as "Indy's Assailant".  The experience was unforgettable, he was a genius and very generous with his knowledge.  You don't forget when you're taught by someone like Tom, just as well, it came in very useful on "1917".

.. and the underneath for over-the-shoulder shots.

Some people think its all about the person facing the camerea, but if you are truly passionate about the craft, your work in the 360 needs to be considered and done so that the artist is free to wear any look freely and confidently in it's ability to stand up to a full day's filming, no matter what the weather, the heat, the action - or shot - and without having to go in too often for checks.  Often actors can be set in places that are not very accessible and the camera wants to keep rolling, so your work must be durable and checks kept to a minimum.  Other than lunchtime checks and when Nabhaan was brought to set, I was only called in to do a  check once when his beard got caught on a hook in the costume.

So, below you can see that I took care to lay on hair under the beard and a little down the neck so that if he should raise his head you wouldn't see a hard line - which, for a Sikh, would be a dead giveaway. 

Art Malek

For "Upstairs Downstairs", (year one of the brief revival). This beard was requested 2 days just before filming and far too late to have one made. 

I had suggested to Production that a beard would probably be necessary but they were insistent they didn't want a beard.

 Knowing we'd be in Cardiff at the start of filming, miles away from our main industry suppliers I pulled 2 beards from my stock and an abundance of bits an piedces to cover myself for when the inevitable change of mind filtered down.

Art Malek

Consequently, it took me a ridiculous 4 hours to cobble this together on the afternoon of 2 days before filming. 

It took a beard, 2 sets of large sideburns/chops, a moustache, overlay and a small piece for the back of his neck to pull it together.

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.  Once made on the fly, it was applied as one piece with some overlay on the upper edge each morning.

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

Art's casting and look was all hideously last minute and undecided.  I had been told categorically on the day of his first visit to me in prep,  when I asked for clarity about beard or no 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.

Designer Vicky Voller, having seen my work on "1917" asked me to do Sir Michael Palin's laid on beard for "Worzel Gummidge".

By comparison to Nabhaan's beard this is deliberately rough and ready and we decided the subtext was that as a hedge-layer by trade, Michael's character would probably only have the tools of his trade to hack at his beard. 

The wig was pre-prepped by Vicky.  I apologise for the quality of the pictures, they are just continuity shots, but without access to productions stills you get what you can get.

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.

I apologise for the quality of the pictures, but without access to productions stills you get what you can get.

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.


Helpful info for Production - Line Producers and Accountants 

On having and costing beards and facial made on lace - usual minimum cost £750-£1,300 - specials can cost a lot more.

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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