With this article we open up the Maurer Productions archives
and look at some early work we did for the Kelsey Theatre.
Let's Face it!
Actors are animals. Well, in this case they just had to look the part and John Maurer was called in to help.
The year was 1985 and the Kelsey Theatre was mounting a production of Charlotte's Web as part of their Kelsey Kids Series.
Anyone who has read Charlotte's Web knows that the animals play a major role in the story, and the show's director, Maureen West, wanted the actors who played the animals to stand out without having to resort to full animal costumes. It was decided that the animals would all wear overalls with tee-shirts that matched the colors of the character they played. Then John Maurer was called in to create the animal makeup effects.
Part of the challenge in creating animal character makeup is mimicking the shape of the animals head. In the Broadway production of Cats, traditional makeup technics were used to give the impression of a cats muzzle on the actors. But in Charlotte's Web there also had to be a mule, roaster, rat and 2 geese and makeup alone wouldn't do. Since the costumes were uniform the animal look had to be carried by the face alone. The decision was made to go with makeup appliances.
This now opened up a whole new set of questions and challenges, what would the appliances look like, what would they be made of and what could be done on the limited time and budget of a children show?
The process of creating a make-up appliance requires creating a cast of the actor's face then sculpting the animal details on the cast and creating a mold that the appliance is cast from. "There wasn't enough time or money to create multiple casts" said John Maurer "I realized that most of the makeup would be in the muzzle area of the face so I dug through some old work and found a set of upper and lower jaw casts I had from another project. These molds were of an average size face and with a little trimming they could be made to fit." The casts were duplicated so that there was one for each character and then they were handed off to artist Jimmy Collovita who sculpted the animal faces. "We had a few false starts in design as Jimmy was working out how to get the transition between human and animal to work," says John, "but in the end he created some great looks."
From the sculpted pieces we created negative molds that represented the animal appliance. In the movie business they would then use a foam latex to create the appliances but that requires baking each piece in an oven and would take to long. "We needed to create enough appliances to last for 15 high energy performances and foam latex is expensive and baking takes to long" John explained. "So we went with a latex slush molding technic and used a set of the theatre's stage lights hung on a low pipe as a makeshift curing table. This allowed us to crank out 7 full sets of appliances for each character, that's 56 sets or 112 separate pieces in a 3 week period." Each piece was then painted with a base color of makeup that was chosen for character and set aside till it was needed. Because there were 8 animals, each actor was responsible for applying their own makeup around the appliance. "We worked with the actors to see how the rest of their face would be done to best define the character; then on show days the actors would have the appliance applied with either spirit gum or latex and then would return to the dressing room to finish the rest of their makeup."
The only character that didn't get an appliance was Charlotte herself. Charlotte was given a stylized beauty look with special blacklight makeup. Her costume was half body puppet, also designed and hand sewn by John Maurer. During the web spinning sequences a puppeteer dressed in black would stand behind the actor playing Charlotte and operate the back legs making it look like she was using her spinnerets.