Creed III

American Gladiators—the art of blood and special make-up effects for Creed III

By Jason Collins | Special Make-up Effects Designer

Photos: Courtesy of Jason Collins

I’ve loved the Rocky franchise since I was a kid. Growing up watching the underdog fight his way to the top was one of the great American cinema experiences. When Creed hit theaters, I was once again hooked! Ryan Coogler captured lightning in the bottle!

Michael B. Jordan embodied the underdog fighting his way through himself and the world, proving Adonis Creed belonged in the hall of cinema greats!

When I received the call to be involved with Creed III, I was over the moon. Being a fan of the franchise and the insurmountable challenge of the continuity monster that the boxing film it was intimidating. Throw in the fact that our director was to be Creed himself, Michael B. Jordan, I knew that was going to be its own challenge for application times. Throw in the incredible Jonathan Majors who plays Damian Anderson as Creed’s major opponent, I knew this show would keep me on my toes.

Mike McCarty who supervises my company, Autonomous FX, Inc., hit the ground running with breakdowns and securing lifecasts. Luckily, we had the chance to work with Jonathan on The Harder They Fall with DH Tym Buacharern and had his lifecast already. We were able to get a lifecast of Michael B. Jordan through Joel Harlow’s company, Morphology FX, which was extremely helpful. Being able to secure their lifecasts helped us shave some time and spare the actors’ schedule who were both training in Atlanta already.

Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed
in stages of fight make-up

After some serious conversations with our director Michael B. Jordan, we knew the beats he wanted in each fight. The important story notes of the violence with how and when they should play out. We were to shoot all the boxing pieces first in the film which would be approximately four weeks on a sound stage in Atlanta. Nothing like that kind of pressure to get you motivated and moving. Luckily, our director was available nonstop for us, no matter how busy, he would always find the time to hop on a quick Zoom to discuss. Our first step is always the design process to help the production team visualize the extent of the violence that was to play out on the characters through the fight. I hoped on the phone with Stevie Martin, the show’s Department Head Make-up, and a vital part in helping not only develop the direction of the fight looks but what the actors’ post damage would. Once I had these designs finalized, our director would give notes as he was working coordinating out the fights homing in on surgical details.

Jordan test

We began sculpting the various looks knowing we had three major fights to cover: Creed vs. Conlon, Anderson vs. Chavez, and Creed vs. Anderson for the big showstopper! Michael B. directed us in each of these, letting me know the Conlon fight was the warmup and would be minimal with slight abrasions and swelling. Anderson vs. Felix Chavez, played by real time boxer José Benavidez Jr., would be a real violent display as we show what Damian Anderson is capable of: setting up the final fight and uping the stakes.

In the Chavez fight, there were to be three key pieces to the story bit. The first was Damian keeps working Felix’s bicep until the muscle gives out and snaps. The second was to work the general body and face, swelling the eyes and the last was to break the cheekbone,  splitting the skin open wide for a cascade of blood. At the shop, we sculpted all of these looks and took them to Atlanta to screen test.

Every make-up artist knows that the team is everything and if you’re going to be in the trenches on a boxing continuity challenge, you want the best. Luckily, Glen Griffin was available to come get in the fight with me in Atlanta, as well as Conor McCullagh, who I’ve worked with several times before. These two artists were vital in establishing and keeping these looks throughout all the fights as I was going to be working on our star Michael B. with Stevie Martin.

Stages of make-up for José Benavidez as Felix Chavez

We tested Felix Chavez’s fight looks first in the screen test. The first bicep test felt a little bulky and while it looked real, it didn’t feel like it punched enough drama. We knew the piece would need a re-sculpt. For the facial appliances, we tested all the looks. When you’re doing several rounds in a boxing fight, you start with the end effect of swelling and work backward. You have the initial point of impact, slight swelling, smaller cuts that turn into bigger cuts, than final swelling. All this needs to be visualized through the rounds in phases. During the filming of this fight, Glen took over Felix once we tested and established. Glen has an extraordinary touch when it comes to color and was able to juxtapose the subtle and extreme layers of bruising and swelling that feels subcutaneous and not topical.

Glen Griffin touches up José Benavidez Jr., who plays Felix Chavez

The final knockout involved a broken cheekbone and severe split in the cheek with bloodwork which became quite operatic in its application and use. The damage on Damian was slight bruising and swelling around the eyes executed with silicone appliances. The final showstopper fight involved Creed going toe-to-toe with his childhood friend, Damian. It was important for our director that we kept the application time swift due to his directorial duties. Stevie Martin and I applied several appliances to a cut above the eye and nose which evolved throughout the fight into slight swelling. The blood dressing became key as continuity dictated that it matched perfectly throughout so we would constantly be taking photos and texting each artist as the sweat was a battle.

José Benavidez as Felix Chavez

Damian’s damage was handled by Glen and Connor. A specific gag that Michael wanted was a shot where Damian pulls out his mouth guard. In the guard, his tooth stays lodged in it while the nerve was still attached to the gum. We handled this with a clear vacuform of the actor’s teeth where a socket and gum portion were sculpted with the missing tooth. A small resettable nerve was strung between the tooth and empty gum pocket. On action, he pulls the nerve clean out for a total gross-out factor. We had three sets ready for replacement to keep the momentum in the moment. In addition, he had swollen cheek appliances and above-the-eye swelling which evolved throughout the fight.

In the end, we took a bit more of a minimal approach to this fight as it wasn’t about the violence as much as it was about two friends, brothers really, who as Michael put it, were having a conversation. Communicating with a language that came from the heart and the only way they reached each other was in the ring.

This was a beautiful film to be a part of. Creed III has allowed the franchise to be more independent and to stand on its own apart from the world of Rocky finding its own soul and footing.

We couldn’t have done this without our sculptors, Len Burge and Eric Koo, mold shop supervisor Aaron Globerman, silicone runners Steve Haggiag and Gabe Acero, with design work by Madison Burger, all from the Autonomous FX, Inc. team! •