Such a Wonder

by Arjen Tuiten | Special Make-up Designer for “Auggie Pullman”

I was taken aback by how small Jacob Tremblay was when he first walked into my studio for his life-cast session. Jacob was 9 when we started the show, but he was more the size of a 7 year old, and knowing he would be in full make-up for about 40 days, I really had my doubts this would work. The director Stephen Chbosky told me, “If the make-up ends up not working, I don’t want to do this film.” Lionsgate was talking to various VFX companies at the time and was considering going fully CG at some point, but the overall budget was simply too small for that.

Due to the limited hours production could film with a minor that young, I knew the make-up needed to be designed in such a way that it would come together in a faster time frame than we would have with an adult. Jacob plays a boy named Auggie, who has Treacher Collins syndrome. Children who are born with this condition all have a very distinguised look. Their cheekbones, ears and jaw are underdeveloped and due to that, their eye sockets are pulled down, making the eyes droop. Often combined with a cleft palate, their profiles become very tortoise-like. We had to rethink our “normal” approach as to how to figure this out on such a small scale.

The make-up consisted of full face and neck prosthetics, under-skull with eye mechanism, contact lenses, dentures and a full wig.

We designed an under-skull cap that was lightweight, made out of carbon fiber, that had a small thread system on each side above the ears that we could lock and unlock. This thread ran through a very fine nylon tube encased in UV dental liner to hold its shape but could still flex; this ran over his cheeks, and the end of the thread was then attached to the eye bags. This allowed us to pull his eyes down during scenes and make them appear droopy, and then release/relax them once he was on break. The cap was cut like an accordion so it would flex with Jacob’s head as he was growing during the months of production. The whole device was hidden underneath the neck/cheek/face prosthetics and hair. Art Sakamoto and Russell Don Sing did an amazing job constructing it.

We built three custom wigs, rotating them during shooting. These were very tricky as kids have a fine texture to their hair, so that took some trial and error to figure out. Aimee Macabeo and Toi Rodchompu did a great job building and styling those. Kids with Treacher Collins often tend to grow their hair longer to cover up their underdeveloped ears and cheeks. This was an important part of the story. In addition to the wigs, Aimee punched beautiful eyebrows into the 40+ sets of facial appliances. After screen tests, we found this looked the best for this make-up. Normally, I like eyebrows to be separate but due to the fact that kids have no texture in their skin lace, brows simply did not work. It also helped cut make-up time which was essential.

All the silicone work was run by Russell Don Sing. I could not have done the job without Russell. We ran and tested different densities within the same appliance, so the forehead/face would be a soft gel, but the nose would be a much denser version in the same pour. We experimented with various products and not encapsulating certain areas of the neck prosthetic. This eliminated the buckle problem most silicone necks tend to have.

Michael Nickiforek, a very talented make-up artist in Vancouver, helped me apply this make-up every day. He did an amazing job. I was thankful he was with us on this project. Department Head Hair Robert Pandini also took a huge load off my shoulders taking care of Jacob’s hair and maintaining the wigs. Shooting with kids, hair continuity is a nightmare. I don’t know what I would have done without Robert.

Jessica Nelson designed Jacob’s lenses because I wanted to enlarge Jacob’s irises. This was very important, as Treacher Collins kids have less eye white and the position of their eyes is very particular. Without the lenses, when Jacob’s eyes were pulled down, they would look “melted” or “burn victim-like” and that just did not look right. The lenses really finished the make-up.

It was a lot for a 9 year old to go through all this, but he was a great trooper. He would sit in the chair and watch a movie or documentary (often counting for his school hours). Robert would then comb Jacob’s hair back and Michael and I would secure the skull-cap and start the make-up. The silicone ears were permanently attached to the cap to help cut application time. We then pulled the full silicone neck over his head to be glued down. It was a large piece done with a collapsible core, which also contained the chin and cheeks. Once that was secured, the face piece would follow, and when that was glued down, we would apply the eye bags half-way. Robert and I would then place the wig on and make sure it all lined up with the eye mechanisms on the side ext. Deborah Szteina would put the contact lenses in and the teeth were inserted last. Once on set, we would pull and lock the eyes down and blend the bottom part of the eye bag off.•