EXCLUSIVE: ComicBookMovie Sits Down With STAR TREK BEYOND Makeup Artist Joel Harlow

EXCLUSIVE: ComicBookMovie Sits Down With STAR TREK BEYOND Makeup Artist Joel Harlow

To commemorate the release of Star Trek Beyond on Blu-ray & DVD, Paramount provided CBM with an exclusive opportunity to chat with Academy Award-winning makeup artist Joel Harlow!

By RohanPatel - Nov 01, 2016 09:11 PM EST
Filed Under: Star Trek
It's not every day you get a chance to chat with an Academy Award-winner, but that's exactly the opportunity I was given a few weeks back when I got to sit down with Joel Harlow, the makeup artist behind Paramount Pictures' critically acclaimed smash hit Star Trek Beyond

Harlow's work spans many generations, so even if you haven't gotten around to watching Captain Kirk's latest adventure just yet, you'll surely have seen his handiwork in one film or another at some point over the last thirty years. Outside of the Star Trek franchise, for which his won his Academy Award back in 2009, he has a very close working relationship with 3x Academy Award-nominated actor Johnny Depp, collaborating with him on all five films in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, both Alice In Wonderland films, The Tourist, The Rum Diary, Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, Mortdecai, Into The Woods and Black Mass.

His other prominent credits include Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, Anaconda, Magnolia, X-Men, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions, The Chronicles of Riddick, Constantine, War of the Worlds, Angels & Demons, and Green Lantern, amongst others. Next up on his docket are a pair of highly anticipated comic book movies: 20th Century Fox's Logan and Marvel Studios' Black Panther, the latter of which he confirmed to me himself in our lengthy chat. 

Check out our full conversation below:

Rohan (CBM): Hey Joel, it's honor to speak with you, been a fan of your work for years now, I guess since the first Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie.

Joel Harlow: Thank you, haha, that's going way back. Oh man.
Rohan (CBM): As a huge Rangers fan growing up, I just have to ask, do you remember your time working on that film?

Joel: Nah, I was one of many on that movie, I was working for someone else, so I think I sculpted a sword or something and then some helmet stuff. I can't remember exactly, but it wasn't as sort of interesting as you might think. There were some interesting sculptures, that was back when I was just sculpting.

Rohan (CBM): Oh okay, that's still pretty cool. So, just to get some background for our readers, how did you get started as a makeup artist and with prosthetics? 

: Well, when I started, there were no - I mean now, you can find makeup schools anywhere - but when I started, there weren't any, so I knew that I wanted to do something with it. I had seen the original King Kong, the black-and-white King Kong, with my father and I knew that I wanted to do something where I could create characters like that, so since there were no makeup schools, makeup classes, I decided to go into animation, so I moved to New York City and I went to school for animation out there.

Eventually found like a weekend class in Times Square where they were teaching makeup, so I did that and a buddy of mine landed a low, low, low-budget film down in Florida and I went down there and I build like seven characters, seven zombie-like characters for like a thousand dollars and then I moved out to Los Angeles and started shopping my small portfolio around and eventually landed a job at Steve Johnson's company and gradually went from one shop to another until ultimately I got into the union where I was applying makeups that other people were building wheras before, since I wasn't union, I was building makeups and sending them to set and other people were applying them. I eventually got a place in my career where I was able to build and apply makeup, so I combined two things that I loved.

Rohan (CBM): Nice. So, when you sign on for a project, what is your relationship with the conceptual artists working on the film? Are you given a book of designs where you do your best to recreate and/or enhance what they've given you? Or is it a much more collaborative process where you are all working together?

: Yeah, I mean it can be anything really. It all depends on the project. For this one particularly, Star Trek Beyond, I have some designers that I work with, so I brought them on and we all just started designing, two-dimensionally, three-dimensionally, traditional, computer, and presenting images to Justin Lin and once you started thinking about aliens, different alien characters, and scaling them up to full-size practical makeup and practical animatronics.

I've been on projects in the past where I've been given designs and we do our best to translate them, but designs always change from what you see on the screen or on paper to a full-size movie with practical makeup. There's always a change that happens, because you're then translating something into the real world. In the computer or on the page, you can control the lighting, you're not going to see any of the potential problems because you are presenting an image of what you want whereas when you translate into a makeup, you do your best to maintain that character and the aesthetic of that character, but you're at the mercy of the lighting, you're at the mercy of all the practical, real-world elements that affect what you see. 

Rohan (CBM): Cicling back to Star Trek, you worked on the first film back in 2009 (and won an Oscar for it), but then sat out the sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness and then now you returned for Beyond. Was there any sort of adjustment period you required to reacquaint yourself with thie universe, with Starfleet? To help you create something new that audiences hasn't seen before with characters like Krall and Jaylah?

: No, not at all. I mean even though I wasn't available for Star Trek: Into Darkness, it doesn't mean that I didn't see the film and that I'm not a fan of Star Trek. It doesn't take much if you're a fan of the material to reacquaint yourself with it because you never really distance yourself from it and certainly the first Star Trek is very dear to my heart, it was a high watermark for me in my career, but I had a lot of really talented artists on this film that loved Star Trek just as much as I did, so we were all kind of working toward the same goal and there is an aesthetic to Star Trek that if you're not careful, you can deviate too far from that. It still pays to pull in elements from outside that aesthetic, but you still want to remain true to the Star Trek universe, which is quite different from other sci-fi genre universes. Sort of what I feel about the Star Trek universes as far as makeup and makeup effects go is that it's very makeup driven as opposed to animatronics or puppet drivel, so a lot of those characters they should be makeups, they should be worn by performers and the performers should drive the character as opposed to blue-screen and that kind of stuff. 

Rohan (CBM): Yeah, absolutely. Both Jaylah & Krall popped on-screen and were even more enhanced by the excellent performances from Sofia Boutella and Idris Elba. Was there anything when you were designing their characters or designing any of the over 50 new alien species that you had to do in order to make someone like Krall more menacing or making someone like Jaylah maintain her innocence and hopefulness, despite her rough upbringing?

: Well, no, I mean certainly when you're filling out the background with characters that aren't going to be featured, you can go a little farther as far as - I don't want to say the impracticality of the makeups - but, just the silhouettes of the makeups whereas when you're dealing with main characters, you really have to keep that performance at the forefront of your design process because you don't want to lose that behind inches of makeup. Certainly we spend more time on the featured characters than the background characters, but that's not to say the background characters were quick-and-easy, they were very time-consuming in their own rights, but there is a little more freedom with them I think because there were so many of them and they didn't need to perform like the heroes in makeups did.

Rohan (CBM): It's been seven years since the first Star Trek and you've worked on all five of the Pirates of the Caribbean films since 2003 going into next year with the new one, so how has your job essentially evolved over the years with the non-stop advancement of technology and expanded usage of computer-generated graphics in filmmaking today? How much do computers now assist you versus how you used them in the late '90s, early 2000s?

: Well, I mean it's a marriage. I try to have a good working relationship with the visual effects supervisors  and the visual effects company because ultimately, what you're doing is that you're both there to, when it comes to something like this, create a character. It's not us doing the makeup or them doing the character in a computer, it's us working in tandem to create a character and say that character is supposed to have four arms, it's probably going to be easier for them to add arms in the computer versus us to add arms in a practical arms set makeup because then you're dealing with the ramifications of that. And makeup is an additive process, so if you're alien character is going to have extremely thin bifurcated arms, you're not going to be able to do that without the help of the computer graphics department who can take some green screen material and put that on the arms and then replace that with the backgrounds. I think we're both working toward the same goal when it comes to creating characters like this, we certainly try to do as much of it in camera as possible and on this one that was a vast amount and then whatever we can't do, they pickup the baton and take it across the finish line.

Rohan (CBM): Oh okay, cool. Well, we're ComicBookMovie.com and I was just looking through your long list of credits and noticed that you've primarily stayed away from superhero movies for the most part, save for like X-Men and Green Lantern, Power Rangers - is there any reason behind that? Or is it just that those types of movies don't typically provide the same kind of challenge films like Star Trek or Pirates of the Caribbean or the various horror films you've done have provided you with?

Joel: No, no, there's no reason for that other than I just didn't get the call. *Laughs* But, I just did Logan, the last Wolverine movie, and I'm starting Black Panther with Ryan Coogler pretty soon, so I guess I'm knee deep in superhero films for the next year.

Rohan (CBM): Oh, okay, awesome. You've had a lot of big stars sitting in one of your makeup chairs over the years, Johnny Depp, of course - loved your work on Black Mass by the way, still have a hard time believing that was actually Depp - then actors like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, and many more. What's it like having these big stars in your chair and what's your relationship typically like when some of these actors have to sit and be in makeup for a number of hours a day before being able to shoot?

: You try to make it as comfortable for them as possible and I've done quite a bit of work with Johnny Depp and he's a fan of makeup, so he makes it very easy, it's very collaborative. When we're doing makeup, when we're creating a character, he's just as much involved as I am, so he knows when he's suggesting should he do a prosthetic nose, should he do a prosthetic forehead, whatever it is, he knows what's coming, he knows about those hours in the chair are coming and he's not just okay with it, he's enthusiastic about it cause I think he uses makeup to help him achieve a character just as much as I do.

Rohan (CBM): Final question, I can't end our chat without asking you something about Logan, a movie I'm really looking forward to, and I know the marketing campaign has just started to pick up a little bit (interview was conducted prior to trailer release) and we've seen Hugh Jackman in his Old Man Logan makeup, Patrick Stewart looking a bit weathered as Professor X, Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce, Stephen Merchant as presumably Caliban, is there anyone you're allowed to tease that we may not have seen yet? Maybe someone like Mister Sinister, Lady Deathstrike, or Omega Red?

Joel: I can't say anything! *Laughs* I can really say nothing, I'm sorry. 

Rohan (CBM): Oh that's fine, I had to try. How was your time on that film, working with James Mangold?

Joel: Oh, it was great, a really fun time. I think you're in for a real treat when it hits theaters.

Plus, here's a awesome new Mondo poster:

After stopping off at Starbase Earhart, a remote outpost on the fringes of Federation space, the USS Enterprise, halfway into their five-year mission, is destroyed by a powerful, unstoppable wave of unknown aliens. With the crew stranded on a unknown planet and with no apparent means of rescue, they find themselves in conflict with a new ruthless enemy who has a well-earned hatred of the Federation and what it stands for.

Star Trek Beyond will feature:
Director: Justin Lin
Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk
Zachary Quinto as Commander Spock
Zoe Saldana as LT Nyota Uhura
Karl Urban as LCDR Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy
Simon Pegg as LCDR Montgomery "Scotty" Scott
John Cho as LT Hikaru Sulu
Anton Yelchin as Ensign Pavel Chekov
Idris Elba as Krall
Sofia Boutella as Jaylah
Joe Taslim in an undisclosed role
Lydia Wilson in an undisclosed role
Harpreet Sandhu in an undisclosed role
Deep Roy as Keenser
Shohreh Aghdaashloo as High Command of the Federation

Star Trek Beyond hits 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, & DVD TODAY!
X-MEN Franchise Producer And DARK PHOENIX Director Simon Kinberg Boards Upcoming STAR TREK Prequel Movie

X-MEN Franchise Producer And DARK PHOENIX Director Simon Kinberg Boards Upcoming STAR TREK Prequel Movie

STAR TREK 4: Chris Pine Weighs In On Movie Getting Yet Another Writer: I Thought There Was Already A Script
Recommended For You:

STAR TREK 4: Chris Pine Weighs In On Movie Getting Yet Another Writer: "I Thought There Was Already A Script"

DISCLAIMER: ComicBookMovie.com is protected under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) and... [MORE]

ComicBookMovie.com, and/or the user who contributed this post, may earn commissions or revenue through clicks or purchases made through any third-party links contained within the content above.

minimal - 11/1/2016, 9:34 PM
Great makeup in this film. If only he could have applied a discernible motivation to Elba's Krall...
BatmanHeisenberg - 11/1/2016, 9:54 PM
Loved how inventive some makeup got in this. Hope future Star Trek films can continue the trend of more complex makeup and special effects.
LordHarryLatts - 11/1/2016, 9:56 PM
Congratulations on getting that interview Mr Patel. That's impressive.
Kr08 - 11/1/2016, 10:39 PM
Great interview, Rohan!
case - 11/2/2016, 2:57 AM
Good shit Roey! More like this!
SuperCat - 11/2/2016, 5:18 AM
Totally forgot this was released yesterday on DVD. Need to pick it up today.

Darlene1974 - 11/3/2016, 3:26 AM
great film...
they didnt hype it up at all...
released a few trailers, never revealed much at all, and then the movie did justice WORLDWIDE...
Warner Bros. & DCEU should learn, seriously!
View Recorder