Lizzie Georgiou unwraps the make-up secrets of The Mummy!
On October 24th, I had the privilege of meeting award-winning make-up artist Elizabeth “Lizzie” Yianni-Georgiou at BAFTA 195 in the Piccadilly Circus area of London. She filled UMU in on the secrets of The Mummy and how the make up effects were done. If you bought the Blu-ray, you’ll know how Ahmanet was created but there is even more to these characters than the behind-the-scenes features suggest. There was a lot storyboard and concept art for Ahmanet. Sofia Boutella wore a different wig or a different hairstyle depending on the scene. The hardest and longest task was, of course, the Mummy’s body art. Luckily, Lizzie had an amazing team to help her.
“We had to do the whole body every day because at first I kept saying we had to find a way to cut her make-up time down. Every time you saw the costume being tested there would be another piece cut out of it and there would be less and less costume. While she’s dead her skin is gray and she has ruins on it so how are going to get away with that and we had to start from scratch every day. We turned it from a five and half hour hair and make-up to start with to a three and a half hour session. We put five people on the body every day. You had two people prepping hair and wigs and three people in the work room re-making all the ruins because we had two sets of full-body ruins. Every day they were used, they would go back to the work room and those were all individual so they’d have to be cleaned out with cotton and jelly put inside of them so they wouldn’t peel away after applying them. It would take three people nearly the whole day, maybe two days in order to make each set of molds.”
Ahmanet’s make-up in the film was magnificent both when she was human and when she was undead and now you can see why. Lizzie Georgiou and her team put in an amazing effort to get it done right. She drew inspiration from Liz Taylor in Cleopatra and even historical renderings of Nefertiti, Queen of Egypt. The scene when Ahmanet is chained up in Prodigium seems simple make-up wise, but extra work had to be done. “When Alex [Kurtzman] first saw it was like ‘No, no, no the nose needs to be more covered’ so we said we’ll cover all of that if you need it. I didn’t know how much of a monster they wanted so we had to test it.” In the end, the chain scene was broken into five stages. Lizzie Georgiou’s team did the majority of the make-up while visual effects added in holes and bandages to show Ahmanet had not fully transformed yet.
While Ahmanet was the main character in the film, Corporal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) had his share of screen time and provided comic relief as the ominous undead visualization of the curse placed on Nick Morton (Tom Cruise).
“We researched designs people from the American army might have and looked into his background. He gave us the date of birth of someone very special to him so we used all of that, changed them around and made it more him. Although some of the time you don’t see them, they’re still there and it helped him as a character to get into it. We weren’t sure how much blood we can show and things like that…We took Jake through the first undead then the second undead. Eventually, they went through visual effects and in the final scene they made him look worse but most of it was for real with real make-up. All of the veins were sort of our idea and done in the make-up room. I felt anyone who got bitten by a spider or by her [Ahmanet’s] spell would die in the same way.”
This included a slave who was carrying the coffin across the desert. It was hard to notice at first glance, but he was bit and started turning gray and veiny. In addition to the standard make-up, the team applied silicone cheek pieces to Jake’s undead form as well.
One of the more impressive groups of undead characters in The Mummy were the Crusaders who were summoned from their graves by Ahmanet. Many of them walked on land but there were a bunch who chased Nick underwater. Lizzie explained how she and the team created the underwater Crusaders.
“We used special swim caps instead of bald caps to make it a quicker thing and so they could stay under the water for the amount of time that they did. We designed onto swim caps all the different breakdowns and everything. We mainly darkened and colored up the eyes for those underwater. The ones that were in the tunnel were all really sort of fleshy and flesh-ridden with rotten teeth taken out. It was amazing with all of the bald caps, cap plastic, A&B, different textures of skin and hair. Everyone was bald capped. It was a big job. The hands were broken down as well. We made special gloves to make it quicker. The front piece of the hand would be an application and the back piece would be their hand colored up.”
She gave us a fun fact that the Crusader and other warrior mummies were based off of real life discoveries in Mexico.
Anyone who saw The Mummy may have noticed there was a lot of blue eyeshadow and body paint and garments in the ancient Egypt scenes. According to Lizzie’s research, blue was considered a holy color back in ancient Egypt and that period of history in general. Each priest was given his own to markings to distinguish his tribe. Their were plenty of extras to wear blue, especially in Ahmanet’s entourage.
The effects of the movie were exceptional because Lizzie always makes sure the make-up matches the scenery. She also elaborated more on the markings on Ahmanet’s body. “I always go and see what they’re designing before I start designing anything to sort of see what their color schemes are like, what period they’re in, the land which they’ll be using. That’s where we got the writing for Ahmanet’s body from the Book of the Dead. Where did that come from? What kid of writing was it? Then we had to sort of adjust it a little bit for her and for the screen really and slightly more beautifully but in the book you can actually see that writing all along the edges.”
Lizzie Georgiou is as talented as they come in the make-up field so it’s no surprise that the team she surrounded herself with is just as talented. Lizzie’s daughter Bella, Danielle Harding, Nisha Aulum, Charlie Hounslow, Eva Marieges and more worked tirelessly day in and day out to bring The Mummy to life. It was a coordinated effort that worked like a well-oiled machine.
“It was very organized. While we were testing, we knew whose strength was in which area. We had Charlie Hounslow with us for special effects side of things and she kind of took over the team once we designed the look because we had to do several tests before we were okay with it and Charlie was with me on that. When we first did the ruins, we did them slightly shallower but when you photographed them it didn’t look raised so we had to make a whole new set of ruins, or at least a section of them, to see how they would be. Those were individually carved onto an Ahmanet body so somebody had to go back and make them bigger. There was no magically making them bigger by machine so somebody had to re-sculpt the whole lot. Most of the top of the body was re-sculpted so we would have deeper ruins and they would stick out on the skin more. The facial ones are always applied by hand so there was a team of four or five of us who designed it but Charlie and I who were on it.”
As mentioned earlier, history was an inspiration for everything in this movie.
“Bella was part of looking up how armor would look in those days because even though parts of the movie she’s partially naked, we wanted her to be quite scary and ready for the world. We made it into the shape of Egyptian armor. When we went to the Egyptian section in The British Museum there was a priestess that had all of this writing on her. it was done in the shape of armor of the day and I thought it was such an amazing thing. She’s strutting her stuff and it looks like she’s got armor but she’s actually got nothing on. I also wanted it to stay Egyptian. We could’ve had the ruins going all over in different shapes but I wanted to stay true to the Egyptians so I took what I saw in The British Museum and translated it into where we should be and from there Charlie would say go to the people who were making the prosthetics we’re changing this so we’d measure out how long it should be. We went through several ideas, before we landed with just the ruins, of how she would come out of the bandages. Would she be someone coming out wearing gold or silver? I just kept thinking well they’re going to make the werewolf so maybe we shouldn’t use that. I was trying to think of things that would make a connection to the stories because I was very aware that there will be other movies.”
Everything from Ahmanet’s hair to even her nose ring were directly inspired by either Cleopatra, ancient Egypt or The Mummy (1932). Ahmanet’s gold tooth (if you look hard enough at the film you’ll see it), came from a practice where the embalmers would put a gold plate in the deceased’s mouth so they don’t choke on their tongue as they journey through the afterlife.
One of the surprising characters in the movie was Dr. Jekyll. Russell Crowe was announced as Dr. Jekyll but the extent of the role or screen time were never fully revealed. In the movie, he does turn to Mr. Hyde. Lizzie gave us insight on how they turned Russell Crowe into a monster. “Russell was done mainly in visual effects but we did do the hand where he injects himself all the time. The face of Russell they took the idea of the veins that we had been doing already in the movie and the visual effects boys and girls worked on all of that because we didn’t have Russell long enough to see the scaling starting.” The filmmakers did not know how they were going to proceed with r. Jekyll at the time because of the extended universe and that became another reason why there were few make-up effects on Russell and he was on a rigorous training regiment which included cycling to the set and weightlifting.
It was such a great experience meeting Lizzie Georgiou in her home city of London. It is a beautiful city that I highly suggest visiting if you have not yet done so. While she will forever be linked to The Mummy by us monsterheads, Lizzie said she would love to work on Bride of Frankenstein because “it is close to my heart.” Thank you once again Lizzie for a great interview and we here at Universal Monsters Universe hope we get to do this again for Bride or any other future monster movies you may be working on in the future.
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)