By Joey Moser, February 28, 2021
I will own up to the fact that I thought the majority of Pinocchio was visual effects. We have so many different ways to escape to other worlds that we sometimes take for granted when the crafts of a film are made by the two hands of artists. Matteo Garrone’s new vision of the classic story is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier, hair designer Francesco Pegoretti, and makeup artist Dalia Colli have created a stunning and impressive amount of work that shouldn’t be ignored by The Academy.
When was the last time that you really looked at the lines and grains of the inside of a piece of wood? When we get closeups of Pinocchio, the lines look like Garrone cracked open the stump of a tree and transferred it over to Federico Ielapi’s face. I discovered that Coulier’s main goal was to make the prosthetic not look like painted wood at all in fear of losing the weight and realism of it. Pinocchio, Coulier’s favorite design of the film, went through several stages of deterioration throughout the film and it required a lot of patience from the young actor playing him.
Apart from Pinocchio, practically every other character we see has a prosthetic design that allowed Coulier to flex his muscles. The Cat and The Fox have prosthetics to enhance the actors’ expressive faces and there is a tuna fish towards the end that is a seamless combination of prosthetics and visual trickery. It is mind-boggling how many prosthetics were made for this film.
Awards Daily: There are 25 characters that you made prosthetics for.
Mark Coulier: Yes.
AD: Do you know around how many pieces you had to make?
MC: Oh, gosh. For Pinocchio himself–not including the tests and everything–we did 50 days of makeup on him. Every set was destroyed when we took them off because they were so fine. It’s a new set of wooden, painted pieces every day, so did around 70 sets for just Pinocchio. The snail had ten or twelve pieces for her and the puppet theater had a three day shoot. Some of the other characters, we only did about three sets.
AD: Did you have to decide on what type of wood he came from?
MC: That’s an interesting question. There were three main difficulties in creating the character. We were doing it on a small boy, so we had to make it so we could get it on Federico [Ielapi]’s face quickly. It’s got to look appealing and nice and the feel of the sculpture to make this character look good. He’s mischievous but appealing at the same time. We spent months changing the size and the pitch of the nose. The other was shaping the wood texture and painting it to look like wood. I really didn’t want it to look like painted wood. With one particular sculpture of the texture of the wood, we went too strong, and it looked too painted. We refined the texture and we did use a piece of wood that the director sent over. In the story, he’s made out of cherry wood, but Matteo [Garrone] found a piece of oak that he had. He sent that over and we copied that as much as we could.
AD: It looks like you took a piece of wood and you put it on his face.
MC: Sebastian Lochmann is a fantastic sculptor and he went to town. We were working on the cracks and the splits. The way that the grain crosses the splits. There was a lot of mimicking of real wood. You can sculpt a spiral pattern around a knob. You can draw it on a paper and draw around it. When you look at the texture of wood, that’s what we were trying to capture.
AD: I kept looking at his ears. In one of the earlier shorts, there’s a chunky earlobe that kept grabbing my attention. How did you go about aging Pinocchio?
MC: We did four stages of deterioration. When you’re watching the movie, you may not see it right away, but if you compare the first stage to the last stage, you can see it. At the beginning, he looks smooth and he seems himself in the mirror. That’s very different from the end of the film when he has chips and scratches and there’s a bit taken out of his ear. Matteo just wanted a nice progression so it wasn’t too noticeable and the aging supporting the character. We took a clay press out of each piece which is basically refilling the mold with clay and we adjusted the original sculptures and remolded those each time. We had three stages in sculpture and then the last stage we reduced the paint for the final stage.
AD: I was so worried that the wood was getting wet during the whale scenes. I had to keep reminding myself that it’s makeup and not wood.
MC: That’s the reaction we wanted. We wanted people to believe it.
AD: Every time a new character walked on screen I was blown away. How did you want to differentiate the theater puppets from Pinocchio?
MC: With Pinocchio, we wanted a really nice finish on him. There’s a wood sculptor named Bruno Walpoth and he does these realistic, beautiful faces and when you get to the ear it gets more textural. We used that as a reference and inspiration. With the puppet theater, they have been around longer. We cracked them up and gave them more wood grain and they are bit more gritty and earthy and they have more color. That portray that they have been around with the puppet master for a while and Pinocchio is fresh.
AD: They’ve seen some things then?
MC: (laughs) Yes, they’ve been around. They were taken from real puppets that we had references for.
AD: I love The Fox and The Cat because I could see some human elements while the animal elements come through. I love how desperate they look.
MC: Matteo cast these two fantastic actors. Initially, we did do a stronger, heavier prosthetic look for them but Matteo thought we could use more of their actual faces. He wanted them to be really gringy and grimey. The Cat has a nose and top lip prosthetic and The Fox has a got a little top lip and nose piece and then it’s all Dalia [Colli]’s hair laying and Francesco [Pegoretti]’s wigs and hair. Francesco brought the hair down on The Cat and used yak and human hair. He brought it low on his forehead. The combination of all that and the dirt create the poverty and desperation. I think it was better than creating it with the prosthetic.
AD: We have to talk about The Snail because that prosthetic piece is massive. Was that always going to be a prosthetic? Were there any other ideas?
MC: It was from the drawings initially. You saw the belly more in earlier versions–we made the whole thing. The whole front curvature of the belly into the tail. Matteo wanted to not feature that too much and it ended up with the costume covering it. You still get the feeling of all that belly. It’s a foam latex suit. The shell is made of fiberglass and it sits on a trolley. Our fabricator, Joe Glover, made a lovely connection. We knew what the costume was covering and we could take the back half off and Maria [Pia Timo], who plays her, had a harness on that has two metal bars that pull the trolley. At one point, Matteo wanted Pinocchio and The Blue Fairy sitting on it so it’s good that we make it unbreakable (laughs).
AD: I liked the weight of that whole creation.
MC: She has a whole silicon face and head makeup. We covered her forehead and back of her head. She has a costume cape that softens the look of it.
AD: I don’t typically like to ask people what their “favorite thing” about a project is but there is so much in this film that you had to create. The monkey judge, the tuna fish, the birds are really fun. Did you have favorite design in here?
MC: Wow, that is tricky. I am really fond of the puppet theater. I’m really proud of Pinocchio and the tuna fish. There’s no character that we neglected. I’m so proud of the birds too The feather work is something that we worked on very hard. You don’t see them much since they are only in one scene. We didn’t have to do ten repeats for it, but we spent a lot of time on the feathers and hair work. Ultimately, though, I have to go with Pinocchio.
AD: I wanted to talk about the relationship between visual effects artists and makeup. I’ve brought this up a few times, but I wanted to know your opinion since a lot of people seem to mistake the makeup for visual effects. It’s just that good, and I think we just assume that it’s done that way.
MC: I think my opinion is that whatever tool is the best for the job. I was talking about this at length. It’s really complicated. You have the actor in there as well. I was talking with an actor about how he was playing a heavy character and he didn’t like sitting in the makeup chair for three hours. But after he has on the makeup and the face, he said he felt like the character. It’s the same when you age an actor. They want to see them as a ninety year old. It’s an acting aid really. If we lose that, we lose for the performers to act a bit. There’s stuff in The Irishman where prosthetics can’t age people. You can do some with lifts and things like that. It’s got to be believable.
In addition to the remarkable prosthetic work, the makeup team had to effortlessly incorporate wigs and makeup. Francesco Pegoretti didn’t want any actors to use their original hair, and he and Dalia Colli had to incorporate poverty into their designs. This isn’t a technicolor version of Pinocchio, so the drained color quality of the cinematography and production design marries with the teamwork from Pegoretti and Colli.
Colli had to create an elegance in a dead fairy to not scare the younger audience but it never looks like makeup. The pale, blue palette actually looks like her skin. We sometimes associate wigs with prestige and honor, but Pegoretti had to style and create wigs for the other animal characters to bring them to life.
AD: How did you want to incorporate the theme of poverty into the makeup and hair designs? This Pinocchio is so different from every other version we’ve seen before. Gepetto’s design really stood out to me.
Dalia Colli: At the end of the 19th century, Italy was a country where most people lived in conditions of poverty. Farmers, cattle breeders, artisans, were all people who often didn’t have enough food, were homeless, or unable to have a shower every day.
In order to incorporate poverty into the makeup, I used specific water based pigments to recreate the effect that prolonged contact with the ground, the fatigue of work and poverty have on the skin. The kids were actually very happy to be covered by dirt without their mothers getting mad at them.
Francesco Pegoretti: Poverty is probably one of the main characters of the book. From the beginning, the director, Matteo Garrone, wanted its presence to show throughout the look of each actor.
I tried to recreate the most natural looks possible, using products that would help me give a raw feel, or in the case of the cat and the fox a dirty look. I feel satisfied having not shown the touch of a hairdresser in the images of these characters because, of course, my fear was that they could look fake. Also, for the character of Geppetto, he has many wigs of different lengths to tell the passage of time. My intention was to show a man who does not bother to even comb his hair.
AD: Did you pull any color palette inspirations or designs from the original story or any other versions of Pinocchio? How did you want to make something original while staying true to the material?
DC: Surely reading the book at age six or seven when we barely had TV, printed the creepy images depicted in the book, in your head. These drawings were ink drawn. They were stylized but effective! I tried to remember that feeling of anxiety and fear and materialize it in the characters. We had to unhinge the memory that everyone had about the different projects made on Pinocchio. I hope that the union of ideas, the passion and the fantasy of this England/Italy team, created something new, almost entirely handcrafted.
FP: As a department we, along with the director, tried to create a brand new color palette for this project. We started from the original colors told by the writer Collodi in his book. But we gave them new shades in order to get that feeling of reality, and at the same time looking for nuances that would give that sense of magic. For instance, in the book, the color of the blue fairy is told to be a very dark blue, almost black. Thinking it would harden the character too much, I finally chose a light blue, mixing white blue and gray in order to lighten the fairy so that she would be a sort of apparition to Pinocchio.
A: Francesco, some of the theater puppets have a worn, banged up quality to their prosthetics. How did you complement the wig to go with each character?
FP: Mainly by using wigs made from poor material and having them be completely handmade. The tint used was fabric matt color, adopting the same techniques used in the 1800s, ageing them in order to get that vintage look. My main inspiration was the Italian “commedia dell’arte”, an Italian theatre genre.
AD: The adult fairy has a haunting quality to her makeup but she is also very beautiful. How do you balance that?
DC: This was the challenge! To be able to represent death in the most elegant, aesthetic and reassuring way, but sticking to reality. It’s a little bit of a paradox. I sought inspiration from art history; I have carefully observed the ruddiness of the Pre-Raphaelite images and the one that Klimt used to realize the skin. Those are very precious sources for me.
AD: So how did you want to create a connection between the youthful version of the fairy to the older version?
DC: The two lovely fairies helped me, with their beauty, to realize what I had in mind: a cold color palette to increase the ethereal aspect, a film of Prussian blue as a shadow, a light blue eyebrow and eyelashes and iridescent airbrush on the light zone. I increased the gloomy aspect, just for the adult fairy, because of the drama of the scene at the circus.
AD: Tell me about the advantages of using only wigs for all of the characters. For characters like The Fox and The Cat is it more difficult to incorporate that into the other fur?
FP: Wigs, half wigs, and toupees help the actor transform into the character. Especially in a movie like Pinocchio, where transformation is the bottom line of the whole story. The best example could be the cat and the fox. I used half wigs with animal hair for the top and left their own hair at the bottom in order to show the union between the animal and human worlds.
If nominated, Pinocchio could be the first foreign language film to win since La Vie en Rose and Pan’s Labyrinth. No film from Italy has ever won this award.
By Joel Moser, February 28, 2021