HELLBOY EXCLUSIVE Interview With Academy Award Winning Makeup Artist Joel Harlow

To mark the release of Hellboy on DVD and Blu-ray, we caught up with Academy Award winning makeup artist Joel Harlow (Star Trek) to discuss his work on the movie, his secret cameo, and whole lot more...

Joel Harlow is the head of Morphology FX Inc., and both he and his team have created a full range of state-of-the-art makeup, special makeup effects, and prosthetics for a very long list of films and TV shows. Most of you will be familiar with his work after watching the likes of Black Panther, Pirates of the Caribbean, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Star Trek (which landed him an Oscar).

Most recently, Joel worked on the Hellboy reboot for Lionsgate and helped bring a number of fan-favourite comic book characters to life on the big screen along with Big Red himself. 

In this interview, I talk to him about everything from putting David Harbour in those prosthetics every day to the way he went about adhering to the comic books, creating the Baba Yaga, the fan response to the movie, his Marvel work, and a whole lot more. It makes for a great read, as it's clear that Joel and his team put a lot of time and effort into trying to make fans happy. 

Needless to say, we'd like to thank him for taking the time to talk to us as we're all huge fans of his amazing work. Hellboy is out now on Digital Download and on Blu-ray and DVD August 19.


The Ron Perlman version of Hellboy was very comic book accurate, so how did you ensure this version looked different while still remaining faithful to the source material?
We went directly to Mike Mignola's source material and all of the comic books. This movie is basically an amalgam of a few stories like "The Wild Hunt." We made a conscious decision not to reference any of the other films so we were only referencing Mike's source material and some of the other two dimensional artists that have lent their skills to translating Hellboy as a character in the comic book page over the years. Those were our mood boards and jumping off points and then every choice we made and every sculpture and decision was run by Mike and he signed off on them. We got the blessing for our version from the man who created the character. 
What was the process like of applying that makeup to David Harbour on an almost daily basis?
It would be very early in the morning, of course. We were shooting in Sofia, Bulgaria and he would come in and we would sit him down, we would shave him, bald cap him, and then the entire process took roughly, and this was surprisingly quick, two hours. Sometimes, we got it down to an hour and forty five minutes which is very fast. The pieces consisted of a neck piece which was attached to the suit and then a face piece, ears, the back of the head, and lower lip. 
How difficult is it to make sure a character like Hellboy looks like he could exist in our world without him becoming too cartoonish or over the top?

You nailed it. That's one of the things we were going for. Rather than changing the world to suit the character, we tried to incorporate the character into this world of dirty streets and five o' clock shadows with chest hair, arm hair, back hair. Giving him those touches and the skin blemishes that every living creature humanoid creature has was one of the things we wanted to do. Making him feel a little more grungier and dirtier and sort of road worn was one of the things we were very conscious about while we were applying the makeup. 

I spoke to Mike Mignola a few weeks ago and he's clearly very protective of the character. What can you tell us about your interactions with him while working on this project?
He was completely involved in this film. He came into the studio and saw first hand what we were doing and when he wasn't able to come into the studio, I would send him designs and get his sign offs. We wanted to make sure that the man who created the character was happy with how we were translating him. Then, we felt that if we got that right and got his blessing, the fans would in turn embrace it as well. You can't please everybody. I'm a fan but you can't have the same thing for dinner every day. Sometimes, it's okay to have something else and see somebody else's version of the character and it can still remain true to what Hellboy fans should be focusing on which is whether it's comic book accurate. 
You've worked on superhero movies like Logan and Black Panther, so in what ways, if any, would you say they prepared you for a project like Hellboy?
You can take some of the skills and techniques that you acquire on various projects while working with the artists that I work with here at the studio and take that from project to project. Every project has its own sort of challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome. Black Panther had a very clear style. It exists within the Marvel Cinematic Universe whereas something like Logan, I think would be closer to what we did in Hellboy, because we were trying to achieve realism. Many people have seen the X-Men films but Logan was a departure from the aesthetic from all the other X-Men films just like this is a departure from the other Hellboy films. 

The Baba Yaga was a really impressive creation. Can you talk us through the challenges of bringing her to life in this movie? 
That was a blast. Normally when I'm doing a show, I don't really get to get my hands dirty and get to jump in the clay and all that. Baba Yaga was one of those characters that, as they didn't shoot it until the end of the film and our shooting schedule, I got to create that character myself while we were in Bulgaria. I sculpted it after I did David's makeup in the morning before he went to set and my job foreman Gil Liberto would mould it and then Josh McCarron  would run silicone on it and then myself and like four other people would apply it on to Troy James who I discovered on the internet because he could twist himself around. I'm very, very pleased with the Baba Yaga character and the way that one came out and I'm glad the fans liked it. That was a departure because it's not like any Baba Yaga character or any version of it that I've seen anywhere. It's different than the versions I've seen on the internet, it's different certainly from the way the folk lore versions are depicted and so it was a chance to branch out and do a character that was still representative of Baba Yaga but still more along the lines of my personal aesthetic and something I wanted to do.

Not many fans may realise this, but you played Von Krupt in the movie. Can you tell us what it was like for you that day to step in front of the camera? 
Yeah, it was a little surreal because I was able to do my own makeup, of course. I gave myself a giant scar. It was cool and I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not used to being in front of the camera and doing the makeup on yourself and then performing. I've got to say, though, my performance was horrible so the editor really saved it. That performance, the credit goes to the editor! [Laughs] I saw the playback after I did my thing and it was like, 'Oh my God, this guy should not be acting!' Then you see it in the movie and I kind of look like I know what I'm doing so that's all thanks to him! 
Were there any characters or designs you worked on that didn't make it into the movie? 
The unfortunate thing is that the movie did not do very well and if it had, we would have explored Abe Sapien again. There were actually a lot of creatures coming in potential sequels. For this one, we get a glimpse at him at the very end with that teaser with his hand but if we had done the entire character, first of all, it would be vastly different from the other films, more thug like, and we wouldn't have even have gone with that hand you see at the end of the film. We would have designed something from scratch. That's one of the ones that, because I have an affection for fish people and fish characters, would have been really fun to work on but alas, no.
I have to ask – is there anything at all you can tell us about your work on Marvel's Eternals
I'm not actually working on that! I don't know why people think I'm working on that. I'm not working on Eternals...I don't even know what it is! [Laughs] I'm working on A Quiet Place 2 and a TV show called Evil for CBS and then we're gonna start pretty shortly here a second season of NOS4A2 for AMC.
Having done Black Panther, would you like to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe down the line? 

Absolutely. Those films are fantastic. I can watch them over and over. Making them, especially making Black Panther, you know you're part of something much bigger than yourself and very special. It touched a lot of people. To have a project like that on the résumé, I feel very honoured, and I would love to return to that world in whatever form it takes now that Phase 3 is over.

We've seen with a movie like Sonic the Hedgehog that when people saw the trailer, they rejected that design. However, when your version of Hellboy was revealed, fans loved it. Do you keep an eye on what people are saying online? 
It's hard not to. I try not to put too much stake in those online comments unless, of course, they're positive. [Laughs] It's hard not to see that stuff and we knew when we started this film that we were going to be up against it because the Del Toro versions have such a following. Somebody was going to do it, so why not us? 
It's a fun movie, and I personally preferred many of the designs, so I can imagine it must be quite frustrating when people can't see past what's come before. 
Thank you and yeah, it is. I would have loved to have seen a Hellboy 3 from that team but it wasn't gonna happen. You can either rewatch those two movies over and over and over or try something else. It doesn't mean you have to throw away the others but this is something else and if you're a fan of the genre, it's got a lot to offer. 
You mentioned Abe Sapien, but if you got the opportunity to return to the world of Hellboy, which comic book characters would you most like to help bring to the big screen?
All of them! Koshchei the Deathless would be great. Definitely Abe Sapien. I could go on and on. The BPRD is loaded with fantastical characters that I would love to translate and delve deeper into the actual world of hell. That would be a blast. 

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