In celebration of the release of The Mummy on Blu-ray and DVD this week, we got the opportunity to chat to critically-acclaimed makeup designer and film designer Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, all about how she worked on the flick, as well as some of her previous work, her advice for budding newbies in the industry and more…
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came into this world of design in film?
I started pretty young, then I was taken under the wing of a rather wonderful hair colourist who taught me the ways of colouring. So I did lots of competitions and then decided I wanted to do film basically, so, I started to look into that. I was very lucky in that the time I had finished uni, there was a new training scheme at one of the big TV companies here. I was one of 3,000 applications for three jobs and I managed to get one of those places in which they trained us for four years. So, we did six months in the training school and the rest was four years working under these different supervisors and different designers to get a good all-round hand on all things. We did prosthetics, hair and makeup. I worked with them for a while, but then I kinda went into commercials, but film was always my love. I did take off pretty well in the TV company because I had such good hair skills! (laughs)
So what do you think some of your biggest challenges have been in this business?
I think being female. We’re still not really on equal pay. I know that I’m gonna cause controversy, but we’re still not getting equal pay to the men in our field. I think that being female, it was quite tough to get where I am now, especially with three children as well, because people didn’t think people who had children could carry that through at the time I was coming through, whereas nowadays people are very open about having a family and being very career-minded. We always had to be very quiet about it.
I think it’s just people to take you seriously [is a challenge], because I came from a background that had absolutely no connections in the film industry whatsoever. So, everything I have done is through meeting people myself and being very determined and very polished in my work, so that it does get noticed. I love making characters, I don’t just do pretty makeup, I always try and make a wonderful character for the film. I always read the script well, get in touch with the actor and know what the director is wanting, and it’s a clever thing of knowing what the producer wants to. You’re kind of the middle man, where you’re trying to please everybody and get the right look for the film so you can get it out there and shoot it.
How did you find the experience of working on Guardians of the Galaxy?
That was a pretty amazing experience. It was a big challenge, but it was always so creative. I did lock myself away with a chemist for a couple of weeks in order to work on the skin tones we needed to develop, because it wasn’t only about developing the skin tones, it was about making them last on the skin all day long, not letting them come off on the costume and making them feel like a skin rather than a paint that would then constrict the actor. So, we developed a product that we airbrushed through and it was waterproof and it became breathable as well. So that meant, if the actor perspired, it would come through the makeup rather than sort of sitting underneath it, which really made it look very 3D and real on the day. So I did lots and lots of testing for that, and it was an amazing experience. It was fantastic to be able to do really unusual hair colours and unusual skins. I think the whole thing was a fantastic experience and amazing that we got to the Oscars as well. Everybody loved it I think. It got a lot of love.
Could you tell us a bit more about working on The Mummy and how you developed Ahmanet’s look?
When I met the director, he was very aware that I’d worked on Guardians and he knew I was very into developing different things that we could use for the project, and so that kind of played quite a big thing in it, because he’d already decided he wanted the markings on her skin to be raised, he didn’t want it to just be a paint. He wanted everything to be very realistic so the visual effects guy didn’t have to go in and do a huge amount. He had this idea of paying homage to the 1930s Mummy, so he was very into keeping it real, which I really enjoyed. So we did a lot of testing to see how we could make that makeup work for him, and because she was a woman, obviously Universal wanted her to stay beautiful, whereas our director wanted a monster that would be lifelike and not just done later on in visual effects. Even all the undead that come up when Ahmanet calls them, they’re all real makeup, very little is done to them later on in the visual effects, so on some days when the undead would come to life, we had about 40-50 makeup artists all working on 30-40 actors, to get them out into sets really, because you’d have two or three people working on each actor to get the hands, and the feet, and the faces, and the hair under bald caps, so all of that was very realistic, but that all stemmed off the makeup that we developed for Ahmanet herself.
There’s a lot of research that went into it as well, because it was meant to be in an Egyptian dynasty, but it wasn’t a particular dynasty, so it gave me scope to go to the museums and look up all the different writings. We were given a certain writing to use because of the period that they thought she came from, so that was the writing we used and developed to make her become the undead, but before that I had to develop what that person was like to start with, so there was a lot of research and a lot of to-and-fro until we landed on what she looked like before, so that led on to what she looked like when she came back from the undead.
Are there any other major franchises you’d love to work on in the future?
I’ve been looking into that recently! I love all the Universal monsters, but it’s never a done thing that just because you’ve done one you’ll get another to do. I loved working with our director as well and our producers, so I would love to do another project with them. I think the next one people are saying is gonna be The Creature from the Black Lagoon, so that would be interesting. I’ve always had this thing about vampires so I would love to do a vampire movie next. It would be nice to do it in a more modern way, because I use fashion quite a lot when I’m developing looks, so it would be really lovely to do something maybe futuristic but with the vampires as well. That’s something I’ve been thinking about! But at the moment, I’m not married onto anything, or have anything in the bag!
So finally, what advice would you give to those that want to make a career in this industry?
I think, get really good, all-round training behind you and find your little niche, and polish that up. It’s always about polishing everything and making a style of your own. I’ve always had a certain style, where people have come to me for makeup that looked like no makeup, and here I am going to the Oscars for the biggest makeup that looks like makeup, that is really out there! It’s an odd one isn’t it? I’ve always been known for doing those makeups that look like nobody’s got anything on, but then I treated the alien skins like that as well, I wanted them to look like they were alive, not just like a paint, because at first our director James [Gunn, on Guardians], kinda wanted them to look like flat paint like you would get in a comic book.
So, it’s about polishing where your ideas are coming from and being able to sell them to your director and to the producers I think.
But if they’re starting up, the training is really important. You never, ever know everything. Every time you go on a job you’re gonna learn something, so never think you’re the best at everything and nobody’s gonna teach you anything. I always love having new, young people with me because they give you their styles, you kinda look at them and look at how they’re dressed, or their piercings, and you think, we want this film, even with Sofia’s character, we wanted this Mummy, we wanted the new audience that had never seen the Universal monsters before to be attracted by her, so I used little tricks like the piercing in her nose, and brought them into play to make those youngsters feel comfortable with her. So it’s little tricks like that, that make you not just a makeup artist, but a makeup designer I guess.
The Mummy is available on Blu-ray and DVD now courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).