Prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier has been responsible for some of film’s most transformative looks, from “Harry Potter’s” Voldemort to Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher. But working on Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of “Pinocchio” marked the first time Coulier had been tasked with creating a human made of wood.
Garrone wanted to visually mirror Enrico Mazzanti’s illustrations in the original 1883 print edition of Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio,” and Coulier, along with fellow Oscar nominees makeup artist Dalia Colli and hair designer Francesco Pegoretti, had the challenge of reimagining nearly 30 characters, as well as the living wooden puppet.
“Matteo wanted the presence of poverty on each character,” Pegoretti notes. “He wanted each character to look believable and real, even though they were living in a fairy tale. In order to achieve this, it was important to find the right equilibrium between the animal and human worlds, to make the audience believe that a cat or a fox, for instance, could interact with a human being or even a puppet.”
“We tried to create all of the characters in the most realistic way,” Colli adds. “Farmers, breeders and masters were all people who at the end of the 19th century could not guarantee their personal hygiene or a daily meal and therefore had signs of fatigue, dirt and coldness on their skin.”
For Coulier, who worked on the prosthetic designs for 10 months ahead of shooting, Pinocchio was the biggest task. Played by Federico Ielapi — who was only 8 years old during production — the character had to be able to move easily but also evoke actual wood, both in texture and color. Garrone mailed Coulier a piece of oak, which the prosthetics team then copied. Ielapi’s makeup, which covered his face and neck, as well as his hands and feet, took three hours to apply, and each piece had to be remade and painted every day.
“It was painstaking work,” says Coulier, who earned an Oscar nomination for his work along with Colli and Pegoretti. “The paint job to re-create these things was really a meticulous wood-grain paint job, which was very labor-intensive. It took about one whole day to do a set, and there were 60 total sets of the facial prosthetics.”
Pinocchio’s wooden appearance also evolves in four stages over the course of his adventures, with the wood becoming subtly scratched and chipped. Almost all of Pinocchio’s appearance was done practically — as with most of the film — and VFX came into play only when his nose needed to grow or his feet needed to burn. Because so much was real prosthetics, a lot of attention was paid to how the makeup would sit on Ielapi’s face.
“It’s quite a fine line between making it look like wood but also making it conform to the human face and making it look appealing and friendly,” Coulier says. “We spent four or five months sculpting that makeup. It was quite a task getting all those various items together and making it work.”
The other characters, which include a human-sized snail, a gorilla judge and a tuna with a face, also required imagination and preparation. The snail, played by Maria Pia Timo, was created with prosthetic makeup, a latex bodysuit and a fiberglass shell pulled on a small trolley. Her antennae moved thanks to VFX, but everything else was sculpted and made. Even as the characters embodied different animals or puppets, the team wanted to ensure that the human aspect of each creature came through.
“It was very performance-oriented, so we always wanted to create the makeup so the actors could perform inside it,” Coulier says. “With the cat and the fox, we started with complex prosthetics, but the actors had such great faces that when we did the first test, Matteo decided we should keep them a bit more on the human side. It was important to keep them all sitting in the same vocabulary.”
The makeup part of the process is dependent on Coulier’s prosthetics. “Thanks to the perfect and invisible prostheses they had created for Cat and Fox, I was able to mix makeup with special effects makeup to achieve the results of truth that Matteo so craved, creating two dirty and evil individuals half between human and animal,” says Colli, who created more than 50 dirty fingernails for the pair of characters.
Blue Fairy, who appears as both a child and an adult, marries what Colli calls the perfect balance of “beauty and sweetness, and death and restlessness,” with pale skin and monochromatic costumes and hair. She wears a custom-designed flower crown made of real withered flowers, as well as vintage fabric flowers, and a light-blue wig. All of the wigs in the film were handmade, from human, yak and horse hair, and Pegoretti used a dying technique from the 1800s to give them a vintage look.
“Many wigs were used, and there were many techniques involved in creating them in order to differentiate the nature of characters belonging to human, animal and puppet worlds,” Pegoretti notes. “I don’t know the exact number, but everyone in the cast is wearing wigs. My main inspiration was the commedia dell’arte, which is an Italian theater genre.”
Although Coulier’s greatest challenge was Pinocchio himself, Colli spent a long time designing Geppetto, played by Roberto Benigni, a character whose aesthetic felt equally important. She planned his look in two phases: first, when he creates Pinocchio, and second, after he’s been trapped in the belly of a whale, with the goal of bringing out Benigni’s “sweetness and comedy.” Ultimately, the team wanted the makeup to feel seamless, while still telling a fantastical story.
“What we were trying to create was a visualization for Matteo of when he read the original book,” Coulier says. “It hasn’t really been made so faithfully before, with the amount of makeup and fantastical characters we’ve done. Hopefully, it’s quite a natural interpretation of the book.”
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