Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Entering the World of Dungeons & Dragons

By Alessandro Bertolazzi
Department Head Hair, Make-Up | Prosthetic Designer

Photos: Aidan Monaghan/Paramount Pictures

Daisy Head as Sofina

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) as a journey of transformation … a creative ritual in its conception. We have done make-up, real, practical make-up and hair character transformations. Our goal was to maintain a realism that anyone can identify with. If you see a single photo of our work, it may seem familiar, however, when you insert these images into the world of D&D, they will become magically mysterious, ready for the most incredible adventures. In a land where imagination knows no bounds, Dungeons & Dragons’ make-up and hair proves that magic is real. When the adventure begins, it is not just a film, but a world of wonder, a cinematic journey of epic proportions! And fun.

Richard Hall as Dragonborn Contestant, Jeanne Nicole Ni Ainle as Wizard Contestant, Fionnlagh Allan as Barbarian Contestant, Edd Osmond as Cleric Contestant, Niamh McCormack as Rogue Contestant and Anton Simpson-Tidy as Ranger Contestant on the set of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves from Paramount Pictures and eOne.

I came onto the project to design the make-up, hair and prosthetics. There was a lot to consider for this film. Most importantly, we had to create a world that D&D fans, young and old, could resonate with. Iconic D&D characters were to be embodied that so many fans have been role playing in their imagination for the past 50 years. The pressure is on. 

Justice Smith and crew on the set of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

As always, we begin with the prep where all the looks for this film are born and raised. I like to start with an empty room where I ask to bring a huge, long table. This is the best way I am able to start the process of discovery. There’s no pressure or ideas, just a blank sensation allowing my thoughts to build. Then the team comes together and we start talking and we begin to research keeping in mind that everything already exists. We simply have to find where it is hidden. There is no presumption that we are doing something unique, but then suddenly, something happens, like a small flicker of light that starts to grow. We can call it inspiration, an idea, or simple suggestion, at which point we begin to follow. Like a crack in the dam, a river of ideas spills forth! At this point, you have to be careful not to leave anything out … wait, let me explain better; what at first glance does not seem so interesting, will later prove to be important. Our empty room now begins to live and become full of pictures. But this is not enough, we need textures and items to always look to for inspiration. I brought with me the most fabulous team to help create the magic. We even had a tiny, tiny kitchen where every day at 1 p.m. sharp, we would take turns to make a family meal on a hotpot to banter and discuss our ideas. We would research each character and was in constant communication not only with the directors, but also Wizards of the Coast, who really expressed the need for each character to have true D&D authenticity. Constant testing and discovery continued throughout filming up until the last day of the shoot. For seven months, the team would alter, change, and modify designs until there was a character worthy of the D&D world.

Michelle Rodriguez plays Holga

In starting to think about our barbarian characters, our leading barbarian named Holga, was played by Michelle Rodriguez. The barbarians needed tattoos and an arm branding for signifying their specific tribe. In thinking about Holga, I became fascinated with the history of a Siberian Ice Maiden named Princess Ukok. Her body was preserved for 2,500 years in the Altai Mountains. It is believed that Ukok was to have been a great female warrior and part of the ancient nomadic Siberian people, the Pazyryk. They were known for using tattoos to symbolize age, status, and family. I drew a lot of inspiration from this story and the style of tattoos this princess had. We drew Holga’s tattoos from this and followed with all the barbarians from there. We created a multitude of tattoos inspired by this ancient style.

Michelle’s hair stylist, Linda Flowers, created a top hairpiece that covers Michelle’s head from temple to temple and used Michelle’s own hair on the sides and bottom. With the help of pipe cleaners, hair was braided, knotted, twisted, and Linda used a few dreads to create her style. Holga became a living Princess Ukok, a most strong barbarian.

Sophia Lillis plays Doric

Many of our characters included designs that needed some prosthetic elements to achieve the fantasy, so we had a workshop set up on site to build the custom ears, horns, scars and branding for the various barbarians, Tieflings, elves and dwarfs. David Malinowski headed this workshop and hired sculptors, mold makers, and painters to process all the needs. Sophia Lillis (Doric) and Justice Smith (Simon) wore custom silicone ears. For Doric, a fine lace custom wig was applied and styled after being fitted over a custom carbon cap head-form with small protrusions to magnetically attach her Tiefling horns seamlessly through the wig. Small lace pieces were attached to the horns to fill any gaps. A sheer airbrushed foundation was used to color-correct her skin but allow her natural freckles to show through. I meticulously painted and darkened additional freckles all over her face using a brow pen and the ears were painted to match, including more freckles! 

Chloe Coleman plays Kira

There was much back-and-forth to find the right hair and horn style for Doric. Placement and style of the horns really changed the character a lot and we wanted to be sure to keep her full look easily in the camera frame for close-ups. Next, we really worked in finding the right curl style for her hair. Originally, we had a much tighter curl in the wig but once we saw her on camera, we realize she became too innocent, or perhaps too manicured. We brought the wig back to the workshop and pulled out the curl and softened the style and I really like the character she became.

One of my favorite character processes was creating the look for Sofina, a Red Wizard. I should first note that the Red Wizards and their captured Thayan warriors required very specific head markings to represent their elusive and dark history. It was important we come up with a style that is unique for each one. I wanted this to feel like magic on the side of the head. Many ideas were explored until we had discovered the art of the symbols. Cristina Waltz then altered and created 15 different Red Wizard head markings and eight Thayan warrior head markings for various roles. Sofina was played by actress Daisy Head. Daisy had very long hair to hide under a bald cap and we did not want her to have an oversized head full of prosthetics, so Cristina dry wrapped her hair under a simple vinyl bald cap. The bald cap was airbrushed and painted with alcohol paints achieving a seamless blend with the creamy pale face make-up. Her markings were then transferred onto the cap and sealed. Sofina’s beauty make-up consisted of a pale foundation with a lavender and taupe contour, a very smokey eye using an ashy brown and charcoal, with and a nude lip. 

Rege-Jean Page plays Xenk

For the Thayans, we first needed to imagine the forehead marking for Xenk Yendar, performed by Rege-Jean Page. This character had escaped the fate of being turned into a Thayan slave warrior but did end up with the start of a marking appearing on the center of  his forehead at the hairline. We tested all sizes and styles, as we did not want to make something too distracting for the character, but also needed to have a symbol that would work for our other Thayan warriors. Once we had refined Rege’s marking, we continued with Dralas (Jason Wong) and his Thayan crew.

Chris Pine came to us with an undercut, so a half wig needed to be made. We cut the wig on Chris to blend into the top of his hair. As the film went on and Chris’s hair grew, we slowly blended his own hair over the wig starting at the sides, and cutting the wig back until we could use his own hair. Facial hair was trimmed down using scissors over comb to a bespoke length. On his face, a bronzer and some light dirt and sweat completed his look. 

Away from our principal talent, we still had to create the world. Creative period styling was used in developing the looks of the crowd such as barbarians, elves, & Tieflings. We found a unique look through the use of hundreds of custom tattoos, multiple tribal branding options, endless battle scars, prosthetic ears and horns. In the end, more than 300 wigs and hairpieces were created for the vast crowd!  

In the end, everything came together and magic was made. It was a delight to see the final product and rewarding to see all the effort we did to bring the world alive. •