Most of the time when people think about movie make-up and special effects, we think about outlandish creatures like vampires, werewolves, and zombies. The show Face Off has had 9 exciting seasons full of these fantastic creations, from human-animal hybrids to intergalactic aliens to mythical monsters and many others. But, the world of special effects makeup goes far beyond just beasts and extraterrestrials. While there is a certain amount of extravagance when it comes to this kind of make-up work, sometimes creating realistic effects like scars, facial features and ailments can be just as challenging, if not more so. One man who has made a career out of not just creatures but incredibly realistic makeup: such as old age, character prosthetics, and battle wounds is Mark Garbarino.
Mark Garbarino has had a long career in the movie and television industry, working on such films as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and 300. Most recently, Garbarino brought his talents to [Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials](tag:1142567) and he even did some onsite makeup at the New York/New Jersey Walker Stalker Con (as shown above). In the middle of his busy day, Garbarino was nice enough to find time to put down his brush and have a quick word with me.
What were some of your inspirations and how did you get started in this kind of industry?
I was pursuing fine art. I was always a good artist as a kid, and as a child, I watched all the classic horror movies from Hammer Horror films [The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959), etc.] to Universal Horror films [The Invisible Man (1933), The Wolf Man (1941), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), etc.]. There was a Saturday afternoon show called Doctor Shock in the Philadelphia suburb. A lot of people that I've worked with had a local horror host on Saturdays. You got addicted and you got educated to all these good and bad things. The schlocky stuff was just funny sometimes, these horribly bad monsters and guys in suits. Then there's Creature from the Black Lagoon. I saw that and... was like "Wow! Is that real?! Is it a real guy?!" Part of your brain as kid couldn't fathom that it was real. All that stuff was inspirational.
As an adult, I made a mental switch saying I'm going to pursue special makeup effects all inclusively, meaning building puppets, creature suits, and makeup. I'd say the movie Alien and H. R. Giger's work in that was so inspirational and so encouraging because I just saw there's work to be done. [Speaking to himself] "Look at all this work, all these sculptures and artists... I can find my way into that." That's the main one I would say.
Are there specific things that you favor in terms of makeup? Like would you rather make creatures or do more realistic things? Or are there specific creatures like vampires the you like to work with more?
You know everyone can have their own tastes, but I think the highest bar within my peers is Dick Smith [The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver]. He established a career in realism. Whether it's a character to represent a period or to make you older, he was so great in doing so many of these character makeups.
That's the hardest challenge. That's the thing I appreciate the most. When I see someone doing a character, an old-age makeup. Whenever you're at the Oscars you'll see somebody and when it's done well it's awesome. And some new materials helped evolve the realism, that believability of it. I'm always trying to walk in those shadows, to go there when I have the job and have the chance.
[With] monsters and creatures, there's a style. I appreciate them. In Star Trek Into Darkness, for David Anderson [Men in Black, Bruce Almighty, Dawn of the Dead] I got assigned two characters... in this bar scene, a girl and a guy, and they tongue kiss. It's a quick scene but that was a great opportunity, I'm super proud with my participation in that.
Are there any particular pieces of work that you've done that you were really happy with or particularly fond of? Like you mentioned the two from 'Star Trek', are there any other ones like those?
Well, I loved working with Jon Voight, doing that makeup when Voight played Howard Cosell in Ali. I super loved it, and it was a challenge every damn time I did it.
I loved working with Jackie Chan. I did an old-age makeup on him for Forbidden Kingdom, and he was so cool. He had to keep busy, so he would want to hold a hair dryer in either hand saying, "You're burning me! Let me do it! I'll do it!" He had to stay occupied, so I would tell him, "Okay, Jackie, left. Now right." And he really appreciated the makeup. He didn't bitch, he didn't cry. When he wore it he played around like he was an old man tricking people that are just old ladies working behind the counter and he would ask for something in Chinese. He was just a joy.
I got recommended by some buddies to work on Soul Surfer, and it was a magnificent challenge and honor. When I got there, I already had a pre-made piece and Bethany [Hamilton, who inspired the film] said, "Well, that doesn't really look like mine," and she let me cast her arm right there. So in one night I re-sculpted and molded a new arm and was ready to go in two days with an updated, more realistic version of what her remaining shoulder looks like. And all that was computer erased which was fascinating. They did a great job. And I'm out in waves, having waves breaking on me as her arms gets bit off. Pumping blood out physically while I have fins on. That was a groovy opportunity. A really cool job. A different job. And also an appreciative use of CGI and technology to make the makeup work.
You mentioned the Jackie Chan makeup for 'Forbidden Kingdom'. Was that really difficult to do, doing the old-age makeup? I've always heard there are some challenges that come with that.
The study is special with different ethnicities. As a western person, your education has to go past what your granddad looks like or your grandma. Everyone ages differently: African-American, African, Latino, Chinese for sure, Asian, Filipino. So you have to find case examples for your reference from those people.
On that one, Glen Eisner, he's a great realism sculptor, I've known him forever from Babylon 5, Optic Nerve, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'll try to recruit someone like that who is super great. At best, I'll say I'm art directing. I'll get my hand in on detailing and some changes that I want. My hand hasn't always had the time to go the nine. With these jobs I know if I had the ability and the time, I'm going to hire somebody that's my peer who I've worked with who I would say is great because that's what I want. And I'll take the makeup and hold that bar as a makeup artist applying it.
So you're here promoting 'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials', a film that you worked on. What were some of your responsibilities going into the movie and what were some of the things you did on set?
This one was a lot of work. We had to work, work, work in a short period of time to come to conclusions. Conclusions are where producers make you feel like "If you can't get this, we're going to move on and go to another shot" or something like that. ADI [Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.] had the contract and I was brought in by them. I'm their experienced makeup artist trying to execute what they've done in the lab on set.
So, that was the rush. Even when I got onto set, it was wham-bam-go! Screen tests right away, the first day. And then you're facing, I won't call it "criticism," but of course you personalize it when they are not happy with something, you're in a bit of a controlled panic. You have to keep it together and just keeping going, keep working it out. So we added up to about four tests on location to say, "Now we gotta start shooting," and we're happy with that and you still keep on evolving.
Is it easier for you to come up with concepts on your own or is it better to have source material or something to reference to?
It's both. I wouldn't call myself a plagiarist, but I do feel that so much of art is inspired by something before. You have taste. You're gonna have things you like. So we're always looking for source. I'll always have tons of sources before I do something. I may work off of a design that I like. Nowadays it's very rare for someone to say, "You're a genius! You're Rick Baker! Go for it and tell us what we should have!"
It's corporate big-time. There's art directors now that are like writers on a show. Writers are the new producers, whatever they visualize is what everybody has to bow to. We're pretty restrained. So you hope people respect who you are and what you've done when you do something on your own, or when you go in your own direction or when you throw out "How about this?" You can sometimes educate them and your past will be valid. It will be worth something to someone who is paying you money to do something for them.
Are there any shows or movies that you would really love to work on? Like anything that you are particularly a fan of?
I wouldn't say so much shows. When you're not the big guy on a show, you still sometimes get a taste of the show as a day checker [someone hired on a day-to-day basis]. They shoot The Walking Dead over in Georgia. The KNB crew, they’re great artists. There are a lot of people there who are longtime friends and associates. There's people you're associated with and you work with each other a lot more frequently out of comfort. It’s not all about who’s the best, it’s who you’re familiar with.
But, you know, there’s always something cool coming up. You’ll hear about a project and you might be sad you couldn't work on it. I'm sad I couldn’t work on Star Trek 3 [now titled Star Trek Beyond]. Joel Harlow [Green Lantern, Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean] is a buddy. I worked on one and two but it just didn’t work out. They had limitations with the crew shooting in Canada. I really would have liked to work on that one.
American Horror Story, I dig when I get to work on that show. David Anderson is designing the stuff right now. Before Christien Tinsley [I Am Legend, No Country for Old Men, Behind the Candelabra] did it. I love Christien, I worked a lot with him on other shows. Eryn Krueger [Scream Queens, Nip/Tuck, 300: Rise of an Empire] is department head on the show. I've known her for a long time and I love calls from those people. It's always cool to come in and do something somebody has worked hard to plan out and it's some sick, sick vision.
That definitely does sound awesome! Is there any advice you would give to anyone who is aspiring to do makeup or any creative minds in general?
I'd say: don't be seduced by characters, costumes if you will. The makeup artist isn't the performer, an actor is the performer. That's not our job. If your ego needs your character to be accepted ahead of what your hand is supposed to be producing, then you're misguided. Go on MTV Real TV, not Face Off.
I'm just saying that as a caution because I had a lot of, let's call it, character and personality coming from the East Coast to the West Coast, and it wasn't always appreciated. I sure as hell always put my art first. But you're in a politically sensitive environment. Once you step into a shop, an environment like that, for sure on a set, you better learn quickly... how to carry yourself. You have to watch your character, your tones, what you say and what you're projecting. People judge it.
So that said, you better have talent. If you want to sculpt, you better be a good sculptor. You better not just say, "I think I'm good, and if you don't like it then I'm going to find somebody who will hire me for it." If you're cool with that level of acceptance, that's great. If you want to be accepted by peers, you have to say what's the best. There's a reason why it's called the best. If you're not that good, if it's close to it then you can certainly keep on going... But you have to hold your bar high. So judge yourself based on the best. Doesn't mean quit if you're not because nobody is the best right out of the gun. But you better be committed to practicing and making sacrifices: economically, time wise and all that.
Last question, I know you have to get back to the makeup. Is there any work that you're coming up with anytime soon? Like any new movies coming out? Work on any shows or things like that?
I think everything kinda came out recently. There's a backlog of a million Asian films, kung fu films. If you haven't seen them, see them because they're great. Donnie Yen [Ip Man, Blade II], I worked with him a lot. I did one with him called Kung Fu Killer. There's tons of beat-up makeups I did in that I'm real proud of. Donnie Yen as the Monkey King. I did Donnie's makeup and I had a lot to do with a lot of the makeups there. It's a Chinese film worth seeing.
In the States here, obviously Scorch Trials that just came out. ADI hooked me up with a couple of things. The trailer for American Horror Story. Me, Greg Funk and Richard Redlefsen did the trailer in a two day shoot. So that crazy lady—just when the credits are rolling at the beginning of AHS, we did some quick, cool makeups that were a lot of fun. There was a little thing that went straight to video called Kids vs Monsters, there's some cool makeups in that. I would look at those if you want to see things I was a participant in.