Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Cynthia O’Rourke. In this interview she talks about the often-invisible art and craft of makeup, the evolution of it in the world of high-definition productions, the role of storytelling in our lives, and the impact of the ongoing pandemic on her industry. Around these topics and more, Cynthia dives deep into her work on “A Mouthful of Air”.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Cynthia: As a kid I always loved movies and storytelling. But as I got older, I started wondering how they did certain things. When you’re a little kid and you’re watching a horror movie, you’re so wrapped up in it and you’re not thinking about the technique behind it, because you’re thinking it’s real. But as you get older and more mature, you understand that that person didn’t really just have their leg chopped off or whatever. But how did they fake it? I was so fascinated by that question

I had a part-time job in middle school making $20 a week. I’d take that money, I’d go to the video store and I’d rent a movie for myself for the weekend. I have four siblings, so being able to pick a movie that was my choice and nobody else’s was this special little treat I gave myself. I started watching silent movies with Charlie Chaplin, and old classics as well as the new releases. I remember “Braveheart” having a big impact on me. I’d fast forward and rewind and watch these big battle scenes to understand the illusion of these people dying when I know they didn’t die.

Around high school I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life for college. I was really good at science so I was thinking pre-med or I was going to apply to film school – so I made a deal with myself that if I got into film school, I would do that. I ended up going to Tisch School Of The Arts at NYU for film and television, and that was my undergrad. There, I fell even more in love with film because now I was learning all about behind the scenes, how to do it. I was fascinated with the storytelling element of editing, and when I graduated, that’s the direction I took. This was right after 9/11 and in the middle of a recession. A lot of the post-production work that was happening in NYC had left so there weren’t many great job opportunities or places to work your way up into the craft. I ended up becoming disenchanted with post and I started looking for other avenues that I could pursue while still staying in film & TV.

One of the things that I loved in college was the special makeup effects class I took. So I took a leap and left my assistant editing job. I went to makeup school, did a course for character, beauty makeup and special effects, and started freelancing until I got into IATSE Local 798 – the union for makeup artists on the East Coast. That’s my origin story!

Kirill: Do you feel sometimes, and maybe it is more pronounced in the US, that we expect young adults to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they just graduated from high school?

Cynthia: I know I felt that way when I was a senior in high school. Now as an adult, with kids of my own, I know that you can be interested and pursue many different things. You don’t have to be locked in. But there’s this expectation on kids: “You’re going to decide what you want to do, you’re going to go to college, you’re going to get on that path, you’re going to keep on that path and then eventually one day you’ll retire”. It’s an illusion. It’s not real. But I know I felt it as a kid, all this pressure to make up my mind right now, and to know and decide.

Kirill: Looking back at your first few productions, as you were seeing all the behind-the-scenes tricks of how “movie magic” is made, did it diminish in any way your enjoyment of watching a story unfold before your eyes when you go to a movie theater?

Cynthia: I have a hard time watching projects that I’ve worked on, because I’m thinking of being on set and what happened that day. But if I’m watching someone else’s work , usually I can suspend my disbelief. I’m a makeup artist, and sometimes if there’s something really distracting about the makeup, it can take me out of the story. But usually, as long as it’s not something I’ve worked, I can get into it and get enveloped in the story.

Kirill: If you look back at the last 15 years, do you find that you are expected to do more? Our screens are getting bigger in size, and have higher resolution, and perhaps that is raising the expectations from every department.

Cynthia: As a makeup artist, it’s not necessarily that we’re doing more for HD. Sometimes we’re doing less. When you have lower resolution and smaller screens, contrast is more important and you’re able to do optical illusions in a way to change shape and textures.

When you’re working in HD, your approach has to be quite different. I don’t want to say it’s less work, because actually I think it’s more work. You have to be really subtle. Think about painting: You can throw on the oil paint, and it’s thick and textured, and up close it’s a bit of a mess. But step back and you have Monet’s Water Lilies. Or you can have a watercolor painting where the texture is so subtle and the surface is completely flat but the image looks real enough to touch. Working in HD is a little bit more like doing the watercolor part of it and it takes a lot of work to achieve that. You have to really be subtle about it.And because the makeup is so subtle, there’s this mistaken idea that we haven’t done much to that actor’s face [laughs]. People don’t really understand or see what it is we’ve done, because it’s so subtle. That’s something that comes up a little bit. Even our colleagues in other departments might have no idea what went into making that person look completely flawless.

Kirill: Does that make your blood boil a little bit to hear people say that it’s a “natural” look without realizing how much work might go into that?

Cynthia: When I was younger, my blood would boil, but now it rolls off my back. There are people in the business who know better, and those are the people I like to work with – the ones who appreciate what the Makeup department brings to the table.

There’s so many different people and departments who work on a film and make it happen. We’re all collaborating, we’re all adding something. The Makeup department is not there for no reason. We’re there for a reason, and we have our own little part to contribute to the whole thing.

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Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Chris A. Peterson. In this interview he talks about the transition of the industry from film to digital, the role of an editor in bringing stories to our screens, and what stays with him after productions wrap up. Around these topics and more, Chris dives deep into his work on “American Crime Story: Impeachment”.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and your path to where you are today.

Chris: My dad was a huge movie buff. He was a big Stanley Kubrick fan, so I saw every Kubrick film at least ten times as a kid, including “A Clockwork Orange” where he fast forwarded through the really brutal parts. I gained my love of film through Kubrick and Spielberg.

When I was a senior in high school, I took a film video class as an elective. Every class the teacher would show a movie, and I thought most of them were great, but it wasn’t until we watched “The Graduate” and saw the scale of artistry in that film that I was totally hooked. I said this is what I want to do. At that point I had already applied to colleges, and I changed my major right then to film.

During that same film and video class in high school, we had to put a couple short little films together. We had to shoot in them, act in them, do everything – and I loved the editing process the most. I thought the production part of it felt chaotic but I loved the amount of control that I had in the editing. It’s a quiet room and I felt like I could think more. And later on in college, as we were doing all these different parts – directing, shooting, writing, acting – I always felt like I came back to editing. It was a place I felt comfortable in, a place where my creative strengths were.

Kirill: How different was it back then when you were starting out if you look at the tools at your disposal from then to now?

Chris: I was filming on videotape in high school in the early ’90s, and then editing on videotape as well. Then it started the same in college, and towards the end of undergraduate we got into shooting 16mm film and cutting on flatbeds. My college was not well funded in that department, so we didn’t have any computer editing systems.

It wasn’t until I graduated that I had my first experience working on a computer based non-linear editing system. My first job after graduating college was on a documentary. When the director asked if I ever used a Media 100 (an old non-linear computer editing system) I completely lied [laughs] and said I knew how to use it. So he left me there with the computer and I found the how-to book under the desk.

Kirill: So that was before the age of Youtube?

Chris: That was in the mid-’90s — way before YouTube. Flipping through the book I learned how to edit on a computer in about 30 minutes, mostly because I was scared of losing my job [laughs].

I liked editing tape to tape and cutting on a flatbed but once I got to cut on a computer, it completely changed the world for me.

Kirill: Do you think there’s any advantage for people who did come up during that time of transition from film to digital, or might some be holding on to those memories for more nostalgic notions of how it felt to hold a strip of film in your hands?

Chris: For me, having had worked on a 16mm film flatbed was transformative, and I think it still has an effect on how I edit to this day.

A lot of times, a cut you were doing on a flatbed would take at least 10 minutes, and if you were cutting multiple tracks of audio, it could get much more complicated. So every time you were going to do a cut, you really had to think about what you were doing. Every time you look at a 16mm film strip, you see that every shot up is made up of a bunch of individual frames, and that frames have value.

In non-linear editing these days you can do and undo everything in seconds. You gain speed but one of the issues is sometimes forgetting how important each frame is — two frames this way or two frames that way, what difference does it make? It matters.

If I were taking a film editing class, I would make everyone start out on a flatbed, just to understand the importance of a frame.

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Continuing the ongoing series of interviews on fantasy user interfaces, it’s my pleasure to welcome Rhys Yorke. In this interview he talks about concept design, keeping up with advances in consumer technology and viewers’ expectations, breaking away from the traditional rectangles of pixels, the state of design software tools at his disposal, and his take on the role of technology in our daily lives. In between these and more, Rhys talks about his work on screen graphics for “The Expanse”, its warring factions and the opportunities he had to work on a variety of interfaces for different ships.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Rhys: My background is pretty varied. I was in the military, I’ve worked as a computer technician, I’ve worked as a programmer, I’ve worked as a comic book artist, I’ve worked in video games, I’ve done front end web development, I’ve done design for web and mobile, I’ve worked in animation, and now film and TV.

It’s been a long winding road, and I find it interesting. I continue to draw on a lot of those varied experiences in video games and comic books, but also from the military as I’ve worked on “G.I. Joe” and now “The Expanse” when we’re doing large ship battles. It’s an interesting, and it’s a bit weird to think of how I got where I am now. It wasn’t something necessarily planned, but I just adapted to the times.

Kirill: Do you think that our generation was lucky enough to have this opportunity to experience the beginning of the digital age, to have access to these digital tools that were not available before? I don’t even know what I’d be doing if I was born 300 years ago.

Rhys: My first computer was Commodore 64. My dad brought that home when I was eight years old. He handed me the manual and walked away, and I hooked it up and started typing the programs in Basic. Certainly it’s not like today when my son started using an iPhone when he was two and could figure it out, but at the same time it’s not something that we shied away from.

I feel like we probably are unique in that we’ve had the opportunity to see what interfacing with machines and devices were like prior to the digital age, as well as deep into the digital age where we currently are. You look at rotary phones and even television sets, and how vastly different is the way we interact with them. We’ve been fortunate enough to see how that’s evolved. It does put us in a unique situation.

Screen graphics of the Agatha King, “The Expanse”, by Rhys Yorke

Kirill: If I look at your web presence on your website and Instagram, you say you are a concept artist. When you meet somebody at a party, how difficult or easy is it to explain what it is?

Rhys: I even have that trouble of explaining what a concept artist does with my family too. I refer to it sometimes more as concept design and boil it down to as I design things. I’ll say that for instance on “The Expanse” I’ll design the interfaces that the actors use that appear on the ships. Or that I’ll design environments or props that appear in a show. People seem to understand more when you talk about what a designer does, as opposed to the title of a concept artist.

Unless somebody is into video games or specifically into the arts field, concept artist is still a title that is a bit of a mystery for most people.

Kirill: It also looks like you do not limit yourself, if you will, to one specific area. Is that something that keeps you from getting too bored with one area of digital design?

Rhys: I find it’s a challenge and a benefit as well when people look at my portfolio. I have things ranging from cartoony to highly realistic, rendered environments. I do enjoy a balance of that.

I enjoy the freedom of what the stylized art allows. Sometimes I feel that you have the opportunity to be a little bit more creative and to take a few more risks. And on the other hand, the realistic stuff poses a large technical hurdle to overcome. From the technical standpoint, it’s challenging to create things that look like they should exist in the real world. And it’s a different challenge than it would be to create something that’s completely stylized, something that requires the viewer to suspend their disbelief.

These experiences feed into each other. I’m working in animation, and then I’ll take that experience and apply it to the stuff on “The Expanse”. I do enjoy not being stuck into a particular area, so I try to adapt. If someone will ask “What’s your own style?” I’ll say that it’s a bit fluid.

Screen graphics of the Agatha King, “The Expanse”, by Rhys Yorke

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Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Jeriana San Juan. In this interview she talks about working at the intersection of Hollywood and fashion, differences and similarities between fashion design and costume design, doing research in the digital world, and keeping up with the ever-increasing demands of productions and viewers’ expectations. Around these topics and more, Jeriana dives into her work on the recently released “Halston”.

Jeriana San Juan

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Jeriana: My name is Jeriana San Juan, and my entry into this business began when I was very young. I was dazzled by movies that I would watch as a child. I watched a lot of older movies and Hollywood classics. It was the likes of “American in Paris” and “The Red Shoes”, and other musicals from 1940s and 50s. That was the beginning into feeling immersed and absorbed into fantasy, and I wanted to be a part of that.

I loved in particular the costumes, and how they helped tell the story, or how they helped the women look more glamorous, or created a whole story within the story. Those were the things I was attracted to.

From a young age I was raised by my grandmother, and she was a seamstress and a dressmaker. She saw that I loved the magic of what I was watching on screen, and also that I loved clothes myself. I loved fashion, magazines and stores, and she helped initiate that education for me. She would show me how to create clothes from fabric and how to start manifesting things that were in my imagination. So I credit her with that.

But I didn’t know it could be a career [laughs], to specifically costume design. I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer, because I knew that could be a real job that I could have when I grew up. And as I grew up, I learned that my impulses were more of a costume designer than a fashion designer, and so I moved into that arena later on in my career.

Kirill: Where do you draw the line between the two? Is there such a line between being a costume designer and a fashion designer?

Jeriana: There are two different motivations with costume design and fashion design. Fashion design, to me, can be complete storytelling, but you make up the story as you design it. Costume design is storytelling with the motivation of a specific character, a specific point of view, and a specific story to tell.

My impulses in clothing are through more character-driven costume design and story-driven costume design. That’s my inclination. I feel that there are some bones in me that very much still are the bones of a fashion designer, and to me it’s not completely mutually exclusive. Those two mindsets can exist in one person.

I look back at those old 1950s movies that were designed by William Travilla and Edith Head and so many other great names, and those Hollywood costume designers also had fashion lines. Adrian had a boutique in Los Angeles and people would go there to look like movie stars, and he also designed movies. So in my brain, I’ve always felt like there’s a duality in my creativity that can lend itself to both angles.

Kirill: You are at an intersection of two rather glamorous fields, Hollywood and fashion, and yet probably there’s a lot of “unglamorous” parts of your work day. Was it any surprise to you when you started working in the field and saw how much sweat and tears goes into it?

Jeriana: Never. I come from a family of immigrants, and I’ve seen every person in my family work very hard. I never assumed anything in this life would be given to me free of charge. That’s the work ethic that I was raised with, so to me the hard work was never an issue because I’m always prepared to work hard.

Yes, it’s a very unglamorous life and career. Day to day is not glamorous at all. It’s running around, it’s 24/7 emails and phone calls, it’s rolling your sleeves up and figuring out the underside of a dress. It’s very tactile. I don’t sit in a chair and point to people what to do. It’s very much hands-on, and that never scared me at all. It excites me.

Costume design of “Halston” by Jeriana San Juan. Courtesy Netflix.

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