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An Interview with the Makeup Artist - Thomas Surprenant

*Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog. If you see this post elsewhere, it has been stolen.*


When it comes to makeup, the television and film industry probably has one of the most talented and almost secretive group of artists. You won’t find them regularly on YouTube because they are busy behind the camera changing imagination into reality. These artists create the beauty, fear, fantasy, and memories of some of your favorite actors. Who are these quiet talents? Meet Thomas Surprenant.

With a license in cosmetology and a morbid curiosity, Thom Surprenant’s  talent and skills allow him the versatility to do anything from beauty to SFX makeup. Unless you have been living under a very heavy rock the past couple of decades, you can’t say you aren’t familiar with the three-time Emmy nominated and two time Emmy winner’s work.

His resume resembles the pop culture page of a television and movie encyclopedia; working in various television shows including Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the numerous and iconic Star Trek series which scored him the Emmys. Movie credits include the blockbuster films of X-Men III (The Last Stand), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, and the cult hit Donnie Darko.

I, in a state of reverence, recently had the chance to pick Thom Surprenant's brain with some questions!

I can’t believe you have been a makeup artist for 29 years. Is it okay to assume you started your career as soon as you learned to walk?

Well, I guess in a way, since most of my immediate family worked in the film industry.
I was encouraged to do art, but my family was hoping I'd choose a different career.

When did you feel the itch to become SFX artist? And when did realise, “I am an SFX artist?

I always loved horror and Sci-fi films and would sculpt dinosaurs and collect action figures, but it wasn't until I saw An American Werewolf In London, did I seriously want to do FX . My grandfather took me to meet some of his friends and they all told me I need to learn ALL types of makeup, so I took their advice.
 I think of myself as an "all around makeup artist" actually, but my FX work seems to get more attention.

What techniques and/or products have changed during the course of your SFX career?

I have seen some FX materials discontinued because of environmental and new safety reasons, and the advancement of silicones take the forefront in prosthetic fabrication.

What percentage of your work consists of research and how important is this process for you?

Haha, well back in my day....I had to say it like that because it seemed very important to research historical or medical demands of a script, and there was time to do so, including many test makeups before actually shooting.  I think research is extremely important, not just for a look for a character, but for materials that will work the best.

When you are creating prosthetics for an actor, do you envision the characteristics of the actor to aid in their acting? 

Yes, in fact, I usually get a ton of pictures of my actor making faces, or with different lighting and shadows.  I have also taken lifecasts of actors pulling faces, like frowning etc.

Was there ever a time when you just didn’t have the products or the budget to create the effect you wanted and had to rely on thinking outside the box? If so, was it successful?

Yes, that is definitely a problem, but from that type of situation it makes you step up and use both sides of the brain.

I noticed you have a specialty in forensically accurate cadavers. How important is anatomy for the SFX artist?  Or put it this way, could a person be an SFX artist with very little knowledge of human anatomy?

Anatomy is extremely important and not just for FX makeups.
  I have a very odd background that has come in handy doing recreations of dead people.  My first apartment was above a working mortuary, I have worked with the police and have had the opportunity to do funeral makeups.

Do you ever watch a movie, only to cringe and think, “Oh, that effect would have been better if it were done this way”?  Care to name the movie? 

Sometimes it's work I've done...seriously, I think most of us are our own worst critics.  
I have seen some things that I think only another artist would see.
  I really don't watch too many movies anymore, I try to limit my visual intake.

What is the one product every SFX artist should have in their kit?

Besides Thomas Surprenant Prosthetic Paint or the FX Brushes from Bdellium Tools?   I think The Grunge Palette from PPI is very useful.

And, last but not least, out of all the characters you have worked on from television to movies, which one would YOU like to be?

Frank, from Donnie Darko, he's sort of special to me.

If any of you are lucky enough to attend IMATS LA (January 15th- 17th), Thom will be a guest speaker on Sunday, January 17th and at booth 1013.  Even if you aren't an FX artist think outside the box and go see his work.  While you are at it, check out his line of Thomas Surprenant Prosthetic Paints and the eco-friendly FX Brushes by Bdellium.

Here is a peek at Thom Surprenant's artistry (not for the queasy), thanks to another FX artist Sidney Cumbie.

A very special thanks to Thom Surprenant for taking time out of his busy schedule!!!

Read by the Intelligent! Uncredited, copied, and plagiarized by the idiots!
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