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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Special make-up effects designer Nick Dudman – Part 1

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Ralph Fiennes
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) © 2011 Warner Bros

Nick Dudman has been transforming the appearance of actors and creating strange and wonderful creatures since helping with the creation of Yoda back in 1980 on the second-ever Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. Over the years he has established a strong and well-deserved reputation in the field of make-up design and prosthetic effects, with industry acknowledgement for his work on the Harry Potter series.

We caught up with Nick Dudman when there were only six months left of filming and the reality of the end of this unique long-running film series was looming large. On our previous visits to the studios, Dudman’s workshops have been a treasure-house of monsters and characters from the series, in various stages of creation, and un-creation. Each time the current film’s creations took centre stage and older props were relegated to shelves, although some props, like a giant spider the size of a mini, are difficult to ‘put away’.

The shape of the two films had yet to be decided, so we started by asking Nick Dudman what of the work we could see belonged to each part.

As far as we are concerned it’s an overall project. We don’t tend to split it up, because it’s all being shot out of sequence anyway. I just need to think, ‘Oh, that is Number Two or that is in Number One,’ but I’m not budgeting it separately. It’s just one project. But in terms of what we’re making, the goblins are all Number Two stuff. Griphook is pretty much Number Two.

In Number One we’ve had to do a complete prosthetic and body suit for Dudley Dursley, Harry Melling, because when the actor came back [between shooting] he had lost about three stone! We had this portly kid and now suddenly this tall, willowy drama student came down the hall and, actually, nobody recognized him. The producer looked at me and went, ‘Aaaggghh! What do we do?’

So we did a ‘fat’ make-up on him. We got photos from Number Five and we life-cast him again and we ‘sculpted him back onto him’. And it’s fantastic! It was tricky, though, because we then had to teach him how to overact through the prosthetic. He had to realize that he couldn’t do the same performance because the prosthetic  is quite thick. His neck was substantial. [Director] David Yates said, ‘It seems a bit stiff.’ It wasn’t stiff at all. He wasn’t moving it! He’s got to ‘go for it’ a bit. Then once we did that it was lovely. It just worked. It was fantastic.

Have you ever put your own make-ups on just to know what you’re putting on the actors?

Years ago, but then I learned not to do it. Years ago, most people who got into prosthetic make-up had worn prosthetic make-up. It’s like if you’re life casting somebody, you want to have had a life cast [of yourself]; you’ve got to know what it feels like. Now you just bring in doubles and do it.

In the past we all tried different techniques on each other, on ourselves. Some of the things that you find is that, actually, a lot of what we do now is actually very difficult to self-apply – you know, in a mirror. It’s bloody difficult to do and it’s much easier to do it on someone else. But certainly in the past, there wasn’t anyone else. If you were on a cheap show and it’s just you, then that’s what you do.

Sometimes an actor is allergic to what you apply…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) © 2011 Warners

Yeah, but when we first take a mold of them, we would put a little sample of anything that we’re going to use on them, sort of like a patch test. But still you can get claustrophobia, or you can get skin reactions. I mean, Ralph [Fiennes]’s skin is very sensitive and we have to really timetable his make-up because if there’s too much of it his skin will flare.

Once the make-up is on, how much can you coach the actors in their performance in it?

Only at the very beginning. That’s a sort of touchy area because it’s not my job to teach them to perform; absolutely not. But if, when you first put something on, it’s a complete physical change, you can’t expect them to automatically know what to do with it and we do have a better idea at that stage than them.

What I tend to do is when you first do a make-up test is stick all the stuff on and then leave them in there for half an hour. You say, ‘You just stay in front the mirror. Have a play.’ And they play and you come back in and you make suggestions and you can say, ‘Just try to move your forehead more. Now, do you see what that does?’ And after you’ve done a bit of that then they get in to it. And you can also then say to the director, ‘This is a tough one, you know. The guy’s really going to have to over-perform to make it sell through the make-up. Perhaps, you could help us by doing that.’

Even by this point, the decision that the aged version of Harry, Ron and Hermione would be played by the original actors under make-up had not been made. But Dudman had certainly thought about it…

It’ll be taking hairlines back, thinning hair, changing eyebrow shapes; very subtle stuff. I’d love it [to be the main actors and not older actors]. We’re referencing their screen parents and I’m also referencing their own families to see what happens to people. There could be male-pattern baldness and weight or any of those kinds of things. Then it’s playing [with the make-up] because, ultimately, does it just feel right? Do you believe it? Or is it distracting? It mustn’t look like make-up. So it’s quite a tricky one.

Will you miss all of this, getting to create a whole universe of creatures? You’ll get to do more on individual films, but probably nothing like this…

I’m sure that this will never happen again. To be in the same facility, even this leaking old building, for 10 years, with the opportunity to do something and then, a year later, do it again and try to improve it, with a decent budget and with time, it’s just never going to happen again. And we will all have to be rehabilitated because when somebody asks me to do a rubber nose on a movie I’m going to be asking for six months and a crew of 40, and I don’t quite know how I’m going to adapt yet.

Continued here…