Here are a few recent collaborators from head make up designer Ve Neill’s resume: Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Gore Verbinski and Ron Howard. Big name players call on Neill to supervise the design and construction of elaborate make up creations for some of Hollywood’s biggest projects, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Sweeney Todd, Chronicles of Riddick, Eragon, Austin Powers: Goldmember and Constantine (and that’s just in recent years).
Her latest is The Hunger Games, the blockbuster hit currently preparing for another number one weekend at the box office. The dystopian sci-fi is in a world of its own, full of extravagant citizens of the Capitol to the grungy inhabitants of District 12, and each one required its own makeup job — and amazingly, especially for a major event picture, Neill had little time to create all the visual styles seen in the movie. “I had two weeks prep on the movie, and we started in the woods,” she tells Hollywood.com in an exclusive interview. “I can sit and draw all the pictures in the world, and until you see it on somebody, you’re never really going to know what it looks like. Basically, we did it within a week. We attached the week before we started working there.
Neill’s showiest production may be the much-discussed Effie makeup for actress Elizabeth Banks, for which she took careful consideration in conceiving. “She has to go out to the districts, so she can’t be totally outrageous. She has to be attractive in her grotesqueness. I really wanted to give her a soft, but off look. You have to take into consideration that her clothes are really flamboyant, and if you put garish makeup on her, she’ll look like a clown.” While Hunger Games lead fashionista has a distinct look, Neill’s subtle work in Peeta’ Hunger Games camouflage may be the film’s most impressive makeup job.
“It was actually applied by my third Conor McCullagh, because I was already in Charlotte starting work for Capitol City. Before I left I did a test on one of our P.A.’s legs. I mixed together clay and glycerin and a couple of other components to create this mud so that we could actually emulate the rocks that were there. We had done one previous to that where she was in the moss, and it just wasn’t really what we decided we wanted to have, because it should have been something that [Peeta] could have sculpted. It was just basically molding it into a rock.
“[It took] least an hour. To get it on and to mold it all around [Josh Hutcherson], to be all in his features and to really get him laid in their properly, and then to dress all the shrubbery as well — the moss all over the rest of his body and everything — it was probably three people working on it to get in there, because we didn’t want him lying there longer. He was probably getting numb anyway. Then we had the spatter, the speckles to match the rocks. I’m sure it took an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to get him completely camouflaged into the rock.”
We also have Neill to thank for Wes Bentley’s swirly Seneca Crane beard, which director Gary Ross wasn’t so keen on. “I had to fight to get that beard on Seneca. The first we did it, [Gary] said, ‘Oh my God, Mephistopheles.’ I said, ‘No, no, he’s got to me the ultimate bad guy here!’ We had to make him distinctive. He thought it was too extreme.” Neill admits that she did have to tone down the wild facial hair a bit. “The little curly cues that were on his check were big “V” cuts. It almost looked like a tribal thing on his face.”
With Hunger Games reaping the big bucks at the box office, a sequel is all but a given — and Neill is already hard at work conjuring up new ideas. “I am prepping for the next one. There’s a lot of makeup in the second book. I just read it a couple weeks ago and then…all the dyes and the burns. There constantly getting hammered with physical things that are happening. And I have to start thinking about the fact that they’re always going to be around water — and that’s salt water to boot.”
Next up for Neill is the upcoming superhero reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, which features a reptilian baddie: The Lizard. The villainous alter ego of Dr. Curt Connors will be almost fully CG, but Neill made sure to convince that practical makeup was essential to his realization. “I worked with Legacy Effects, they designed the creature in it. Originally he was never supposed to have but one little piece of makeup, and I kind of forced them into doing a lot more. There’s definitely practical stuff. Marc [Webb, director] is very collaborative because I said, ‘I think that blah blah blah’ should happen and he said, ‘Ve are you trying to rewrite the script?’ and I said, ‘No I’m just trying to have it make sense to everybody!’ you know, as far as his character goes. And he said, ‘that’s a great idea.'”
Having worked with so many talented directors over the years, who is Neill’s favorite creative partner? “Joel Schumacher. He’s very art based. He was a costume designer, an art director, a lot of things before being a director. He let me do whatever I do! The two Batmans [Batman Forever and Batman & Robin] I did with him had a lot of makeup in them!”
The Hunger Games is in theaters now.