Last Days in the Desert

by Christina Smith | Department Head Make-up

& Barbara Lorenz | Department Head Hair

This film was a labor of love. These pictures give you a good idea of the locations we used and the extreme conditions of the Anza-Borrego Desert where we worked. The majority of the film was done solely by Oscar nominees Christina Smith and Barbara Lorenz without additional crew. Prosthetics were supplied by Matthew Mungle and Clinton Wayne, application for the Crucifixion by Jamie Kelman, and dental appliances by Koji Ohmura.

Ewan McGregor is Jesus-and the Devil-in an imagined chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis, setting for himself a dramatic test.

Design: The design phase was a collaboration between director Rodrigo Garcia, and Department Heads for Make-up and Hair, respectively, (Christina Smith and Barbara Lorenz). As there are no actual photographs of these characters, we decided to look in a different direction. We thought about how these characters would look based on what they would have available to them at the time. We started by doing research on dental health. We thought that dental health in that time will have greatly affected these characters’ entire look-including their hair, nails, skin, eyes, etc. People whose skin has deteriorated outside the world of film may want to look at using something like activated you products which support skin health (and more), but such things obviously weren’t available two thousand years ago so, for realism’s sake, the actor’s physical condition has to reflect the very real harshness of the surroundings of the desert.

Teeth needed to look worn and darker too, so we created veneers to achieve the look of weathered teeth and deterioration. It was the opposite of what most people aim to obtain when they get veneers! Usually, such solutions are recommended to people who want that picture-perfect smile. When someone who has bad-looking teeth goes to the dentist, the first step would be to try and do a clean-up. If that doesn’t work, the dentist would probably give veneers as one of the popular options for people with really bad teeth. However, in this case, we needed to create some to portray the exact opposite. And in addition, skin, hair and nails also needed to appear weathered and dirty.

We then needed to research different make-up and hair materials that would not only stand up to the harsh desert environment we were working under, but would reflect the transition the characters’ look through the time.

Overall Challenges-Hair: The first obstacle to tackle was ALL of the actors, including background, who had short hair. Obviously, Rodrigo Garcia wanted to make sure the actors looked authentic to what we know of biblical times. The only way to achieve this was to add hair extensions to everybody. These extensions were colored, cut rough, jagged and made dirty by a combination of products with actual earth direct from the land around us to re-create the rancid hair of the time. On heavy days, there were up to 100 extras (background actors). None of the actors wanted to live with dirty hair, so each night they would wash their hair and then they would come in the next day and the procedure of adding product and real earth would start the process all over again.

Make-Up: One of the biggest challenges was to have the characters look changed over time to show weathering, illness, sullen and flaky skin, etc.

Every detail of Ewan’s character of Jesus/Jeshua, from his teeth to his fingernails to the dirt-look, was to make him look authentic to what we know of the time period. We airbrushed him using different colors to match the colors of the sand. I added additional colors throughout the film to make him appear dirtier as his journey continued. We also used multiple veneers to portray the poor, authentic dental health.

Jesus/Jeshua’s hair had to be the filthiest of all as he has to look as though he had spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. When Ewan became the demon, his beard was made darker, changed the coloring on his skin and brought his eyes out to create a more sinister look.

Ewan’s look was a cleaner version of Christ and was sometimes played by the stunt double. The challenge was continuity and taking hair extensions in and out in between Christ and the Devil.

Preparing for the Crucifixion: The scar pieces we used to create the wounds were copied from historical pictures we found from the time period. The pieces were made from bondo. We needed to show scars from being whipped, beat, when he was speared in the front, and open wounds from the Crucifixion nails. We tried to make it authentic as possible from paintings and research. Blood and additional dirt was added to the hair to show the effects of the beatings.

It was our director’s vision that Christ was crucified in extreme heat. When we looked at this, it made us realize that more than the six hours that was Christ nailed to the cross, the blood on the face, the body and the hair would gradually progress from moist to dry and cracked. The hair would become extremely matted with dry and congealed blood.

The Father: Ciarán Hinds: In addition to adding hair extensions, worked over with dirt and blood, and growing facial hair, we airbrushed the father to make him look authentic. The biggest job for this character was to create an authentic look for his death scene, which included blood, wounds and a prosthetic leg to create the look of a broken leg.

The Mother: Ayelet Zurer: To create an authentic look to the perceived time period, we added biblical-length hair extensions which were rough cut and bleached on the ends to simulate sun-damaged hair. The extensions were changed every two weeks. We also had to look for wrinkle fillers (get discounts using Beverly Hills MD Deep Wrinkle Filler coupon) to make them look a bit younger than usual.

This character also had tribal tattoos that were added to her hands as well as some additional airbrushing. The most significant change was the make-up added to her face to show her becoming sickly and gaunt. This progresses until the character’s death in the film.

The Boy: Tye Sheridan: As with the other actors, we added hair extensions. The most important part of his transformation was the face and body airbrushing to make him look dirty. We airbrushed him a number of times to show more dirt throughout the journey.

The Old Lady/Demonic Woman: Susan Gray: The old lady’s character is supposed to be the embodiment of Satan in the desert. Like all of the actors, this woman had face and body airbrushing to create a weathered and haggared look. Her look had no teeth, lips charred and old-age stipple on her face and hands. Heavy handmade laced eyebrows were also added.•