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INTERVIEW: Joel Harlow on New Star Trek Beyond Makeup Book

INTERVIEW: Joel Harlow on New Star Trek Beyond Makeup Book

Oscar-winning makeup wizard Joel Harlow created countless aliens from more than 50 species for Star Trek: Beyond. Jaylah, for one, stood out, as did the exotic Natalia, the latter played by Harlow’s step-daughter, Ashley. There were enough anecdotes and photos to fill a book – and now they have. Star Trek Beyond -- The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow, written by Joe Nazzaro, was released last month by Titan Books in October, and it delves into how Harlow and his team of talented creatives set to work on creating Beyond’s aliens and how they documented the entire creative process for each one in exhaustive detail, from preliminary sketches to final make-up application. caught up with Harlow in Bulgaria, where he’s weaving his magic on the upcoming Hellboy reboot, to talk about the book, creating all those aliens and his readiness for more Trek.

How were you presented with the idea of doing the book?

I took more photos on Beyond than any other film prior to it. Behind the scenes, character studies, detail sculpture photos, set shots... a true visual treasure trove. I believe that I was speaking to Joe about just how extensive the photo documentation had been, which is what prompted him to ask if I had any desire to do a book featuring our work on the film. I, of course, loved the idea. Too often, on a film, there is so much that is created that never gets a chance in the spotlight... and this is that spotlight for all of the artists and technicians that spent countless hours bringing to life each of our alien characters.

What was the collaborative process between you and Joe Nazzaro?

Joe and I have done many interviews over the years so, as I suspected, the process was an easy one... a long one for sure, but very easy. I knew the extent of the photos that I had archived over the pre-production, shoot and post-production of the film, but I’m not sure Joe knew how much there would be to sort through. We had the idea of opening up the text to some of the lead artists on the film, which was a great idea, I think. It’s always nice to get the perspective of the artists directly responsible for a specific character or technique.

How much of a playground is it for you to work on the Trek films?

It’s a dream come true for any artist, I would think. Certainly, for me it absolutely is. There are almost no limitations, nothing holding you back from creating as many or as elaborate makeup characters as possible. Time and imagination are the only limits, but those can be minimized with the dedication of a supremely talented crew.

How did Beyond rate as an experience for you?

The experience of working on Beyond, from the beginning, felt like the old days for me. A group – a huge group -- of friends in a “garage” making “monsters.” It felt like the reason I got into this business in the first place.

Which of the characters and makeups were you personally most fond of -- and why?

It’s difficult to narrow them down into favorites. Certainly, Jaylah was a show-stopping makeup. The lion’s share of credit on that goes to Richie Alonzo. One of the characters I got to personally sculpt was an alien we named Reptilicus. Initially we started by populating the film with alien races by sculpting characters on generic lifecasts that I had in a storage unit. This alien started on a lifecast of a well-known actor I had worked with on a previous film. When Reptilicus was cast as actor Danny Pudi, I quickly realized that the difference in facial structures was fairly extreme. Danny did a fantastic job with the character and I instantly liked the look on his face far, far more than the original sculpture... not to mention that it is always rewarding to apply a makeup that you’ve sculpted.

You started to touch on this earlier, but it's fairly common that characters get edited down or cut out entirely. Even after all these years in the business, how hard is it to "lose" a character? And what does it mean to you that the characters, in essence, can live on in something like this book?

Yeah, it’s never fun to see a character drop off before the final cut. So much time is put into each one that it is a shame that some never reach the big screen... and, going into a film like this, with so many characters, you know some aren’t going to make it. You still have to treat each one as if it is the star of the show, however. I think that is part of the reason I excessively photographed each one, so they would still have a life even if they didn’t make the cut, and this book is the ideal showcase for them. I think that almost every film of this genre deserves a book of this kind.  I know I’d certainly appreciate seeing the creative process on other film characters.

Justin Lin and Simon Pegg wrote the forewords for the book. What did you take away from their words about you and your work?

Of course, it’s tremendously humbling to read words of appreciation from artists you respect.  Justin was our director and Simon was one of our writers, and both were instrumental in the creation of Beyond. The characters we were creating would not have been even slightly successful if they didn’t serve the story. To read that we accomplished this was very gratifying.

What level of pride do you reach given that your step-daughter Ashley, in makeup as Natalie, ended up gracing the cover?

That makeup was very time consuming and very intricate.  Of course, it was a nice opportunity to get my stepdaughter the part but, on the flip side, she was the perfect subject to play Natalia. She gave 100% to the makeup without complaining once. The application process started at 12:30 a.m. and we were on set at 9:30 a.m., to shoot an entire day. I’d put her into prosthetics anytime. Natalia was one of those incredible makeup characters that seemed to resonate with everyone who has seen it. An ideal convergence of sculpture, mold making, casting and paintwork, it seemed only logical that it should grace the cover of the book.

What do you hope readers/fans take away from immersing themselves in the book?

Aside from just enjoying the characters and the artwork, I’d hope that there is a bit more of an understanding about the processes involved in creating a practical makeup character. I also hope that it is very apparent that, though the subtitle of the book features my name, this is actually a chronicle of the makeup artistry of the entire Beyond crew.

If another Star Trek film comes to pass, how eager are you to add to your galaxy of characters?

Completely, 100% ready and waiting. I can speak for the entire team. We are all in for any future Star Trek projects. Even though we created over 50 alien characters for Beyond, there were hundreds that never made it out of the concept stage. We already have a wealth of ideas ready for the next one.

Star Trek Beyond -- The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow spans 208 pages and is available now on priced at $28.46.