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HD is unforgiving to actors, and makeup artists

With the advent of high-definition photography, which is rapidly becoming the industry standard, any natural imperfection can be magnified if a makeup artist isn’t careful.
/ Source: contributor


No, that’s not a sequel to the 1992 Clint Eastwood film, “Unforgiven,” which won an Academy Award for best picture. It’s a reference to the treatment any star might get these days when photographed in high definition.

Consider Barbara Walters on “The View,” Katie Couric on “CBS Evening News,” Kyra Sedgwick on “The Closer,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus on “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and all the “Desperate Housewives.” For that matter, ponder the faces of actors such as William Shatner on “Boston Legal,” James Woods on “Shark” or David Caruso from “CSI: Miami.”

There are flaws in any human face, especially one that has seen a little mileage. Usually, the makeup department can do wonders on nooks, crannies, crow’s-feet, rashes, pimples, nose hairs or any other natural imperfection that might cause the camera lens to wince, and the audience along with it.

But with the advent of high-definition photography, which is rapidly becoming the industry standard, that pockmark can look like a crater if a makeup artist isn’t careful.

“For middle-aged women, it should be outlawed,” noted cinematographer Bill Roe (“The X Files” movie, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), who has worked often in HD. “You watch a basketball game in HD and then you wonder what a close-up will look like on a 40-year-old woman. You gotta go, ‘Wow.’ You can see the makeup. You can see stuff.

“That’s the beauty of film. It’s a magic thing.”

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John Toll is an Academy Award-winning cinematographer who has had limited exposure to HD photography, but who understands the impact of it on the business. “Film tends to be more kind,” he said. “Now with HD, they’re doing things like more filtration, or softening of the light, or degrading the image so it’s not so highly defined. It’s sort of what they used to do in movie star close-ups, an over-diffused style to try to make them look glamorous. Now they do it so you don’t see every pore in a close-up on skin.”

Although many movies and television series are still shot on film, high definition video is spreading. It’s even on the set of game shows. Sandy Morris is a veteran makeup artist with experience in commercials, feature films, daytime dramas and sitcoms and now is working on both “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.” She has to make sure, among other things, that high definition brings out the best in Vanna White.

“The production company I worked for was very concerned with the introduction of HD,” she said. “They were concerned how Alex (Trebek) and Vanna would come off in high definition.”

As a result, Morris took classes in a technique known as airbrushing, which basically sprays makeup onto the face rather than dabbing it on with sponges and powder puffs. It has become a common practice in Hollywood, especially where HD is concerned.

“It’s a better match for high definition,” Morris said. “One thing about airbrushing, if you have somebody with bad skin, there are a lot of benefits.

“I know a lot of soap operas have switched over to airbrushing. People either love it or hate it. Alex Trebek hates it. Pat Sajak loves it; he’s been asking for it for years, even before high definition came into play. Vanna doesn’t like it; she likes a standard base that she’s been using that matches the high-def cameras really well.”

Morris also said that some of the fears about HD making aging actors and actresses look even older has been somewhat exaggerated. “Some felt, ‘Oh, I’ll look like death on holiday,’” Morris explained. “Definitely there are concerns, and HD cameras are very unforgiving. But if makeup artists know what they’re doing, it’s not a problem.”

And makeup artists have few excuses these days for not knowing what they’re doing, because Local 706 — which represents makeup artists and hair stylists in Hollywood — has been conducting meetings and seminars on the subject for its members. Also, many of the major cosmetics companies also put on workshops to showcase their products as they pertain to the HD realm.

Added difficultiesStill, a star is a star, and an HD camera can be even more intrusive than the most obnoxious member of the paparazzi.

“Collateral,” the 2004 Michael Mann-directed thriller that starred Tom Cruise, was not only shot on HD, but mostly at night. Lois Burwell, a makeup artist who won an Academy Award for “Braveheart,” worked on Cruise and said the HD cameras added another layer of difficulty to an already daunting project.

The reason? The cameras could more clearly pick up the cosmetics used to artificially age Cruise.

“Normally, it would be a challenge anyway because he was in a graying wig with graying stubble and his look was changed,” she said. “With HD, you’re at the sharp, pointy end of the artifice. I think it was particularly tough all around.

“(HD) can be unforgiving.”

Jodi Long is a veteran actress who has appeared on many shows, including “Sex and the City,” “Without A Trace,” “House” and “Law and Order: SVU.” She said the makeup process for HD is actually easier and quicker.

“You do less makeup,” she said. “You don’t want to look too heavily made up.”

“It’s definitely unforgiving,” she added. “You’ve got to make sure there’s no dust or cat hair on your costume because everything is so clear. But I don’t feel I look any different in HD than in film.”

Maybe it’s unforgiving. But it’s clear that it’s here to stay.

Michael Ventre writes regularly for and is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.