Interview: Arjen Tuiten on Creating the Prosthetics for Wonder
Arjen Tuiten has received a BAFTA nomination for Best Hair/Makeup for his work on the film Wonder. In the film, Jacob Tremblay is transformed into Auggie, a boy suffering from Treacher Collins syndrome.
I caught up with Tuiten to discuss the challenges of creating the prosthetics behind the film and the process of putting the pieces together.
This is so different to your previous work such as Thor, what’s your guiding principal on a film like Wonder?
With Jacob, because it’s based on a child with a real condition, I had to look at as many children as I could. I contacted a hospital in Chicago and they were really nice enough to send me some references to families with children going through surgery. It was really about collecting as many references as I could and then start sculpting on Jacob’s cast and finding that balance.
In the book, he’s described as quite severe, but in the movie, there’s only so much you can do on a nine-year-old making it comfortable and still giving him room to act.
What’s the process of doing the pieces and putting it all together?
Normally, with makeup like this, you break it down to different pieces. We only have so many hours to film with a child actor and so a three-hour makeup process was out of the question because it wouldn’t leave for shooting time. He’s covered in silicon from the shoulders up. We made the neck, chin, and cheeks in one piece with a collapsible mold. He had a face piece with the forehead, the upper lip, and parts of the cheeks and nose. What that did was eliminate a lot of the blending time. Jacob wears an underskull, almost like a skullcap with a mechanical device to make his eyes droopy. The ears were attached to that because they were lobes and those were attached to the helmet.
The way it would come together was we would slide the neck over his head so it was one big piece and we’d put the helmet on. Once that was secured in place, we’d glue the cheeks on and then the lips. The facepiece would go on and get blended in, then we’d do the wig. We had the eye bag and we’d halfway glue and once we were on set, we’d pull them down and blend them off to look droopy.
What was the toughest piece to create?
The undereye mechanism, but really everything is connected so there wasn’t one thing. I couldn’t glue his eyes down for nine hours. I knew it wasn’t going to happen. He also wears contact lenses. When you pull someone’s eyes down, there’s a lot of eye red and eye white and he looks tired and that wasn’t the right look. We created contact lenses to illuminate the white of the eye and enlarge the iris. It made him look cute and created the Treacher Collins look.
How did you get involved in working on this film?
I was working for Rick Baker. Rick was retiring and I was helping him move out of a studio. Rick introduced me. They called and I knew I had to be devoted to this, I couldn’t do this with other projects going on. Time went by and then they reached out again asking if I was free. It came back and Stephen had signed on at this point. Before I said yes, I thought about it really hard. If I promised to do it, I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot. I gave a presentation to Stephen and the very first test makeup we did on Jacob had Stephen in tears. He said I showed him it could be done as makeup on a real person.
What was different about working on Wonder?
Working on a child. Other kids have been in makeup and prosthetics, but I don’t know where you have a child as a lead in prosthetics. I found out very quickly why we don’t have that. It’s so hard. Jacob had close to 40 days. It’s a lot for us and it’s a lot for him.
I needed to meet Jacob and then his parents and see how they’d react. I knew about the mental moment that was going to happen. He had that moment but the time day 20 rolled around.
The reason his hair is longer is because a lot of the children suffering from this grow their hair out. So, that’s why the wig is longer. The texture of a child’s hair is so different with flyaways. We had last looks and you’d look at it and it’s fine, but by the time he gets to set, someone has poked it or he’s done something to it and you’re rolling and you can’t do anything. That’s the reality of working with kids. As good as they are, they’re still kids.
What was the time process?
It was an hour and a half but we got it down to an hour and fifteen. If I had really taken two hours they would have killed me.