Hellboy Makeup: An Interview with Jake Garber

Ron Perlman stars as Hellboy. See more superhero pictures.
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Pete Tangen

The larger than life (and very red) protagonist of "Hellboy" fights, jumps, runs and trash-talks all with the fluidity and ease of a flesh and blood character. The truth is that most of that flesh is actually latex in the form of prosthetic attachments. Designed at Rick Baker's Cinovation Studio, the Hellboy costume is a masterpiece of modern creature makeup.

After the costume was created, actor Ron Perlman selected Jake Garber as his personal makeup artist. Day after day on the movie set, Garber's job was to transform Perlman into the surly demon.

Garber has been involved in over 90 film and television productions in his twenty-year career. Films like "Kill Bill Vol. 1", "Kill Bill Vol. 2", "The Hulk", "Austin Powers in Goldmember", and "The Nutty Professor" have all benefited from Garber's expertise.

Jake Garber doesn't stop at makeup. He has done everything from animatronics and puppetry to stunts and art direction. Gerber has even been on the other side of the camera as one of the alien invaders in "Independence Day" and the Spider Puppeteer on the "Special Unit 2" television series.

Recently, we had a chance to talk to Jake Garber about putting makeup on a demon. Let's see what he had to say.

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Life on the Set of Hellboy

Left to right: "Mer-Man" Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
Left to right: "Mer-Man" Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Egon Endrenyi Photo credit Egon Endrenyi

HSW: As the Hellboy makeup artist, describe a day on the set.

Jake Garber: Well, it's early (laughing). When we were in Prague ... the normal life is you're usually up relatively early. We were doing "Hellboy" in something called splits. [That] means you're essentially starting in the middle of the day. You're going from about noon 'till midnight. So I would show up with Ron about four hours prior to when he was needed on set for crew-call to begin the makeup [process]. The usual process is Ron would show up there and we were allowed four hours. The actual time he was sitting in the chair was usually two and a half hours. But I wanted him to be able to get up, stretch, and have a cup of coffee, maybe a little breakfast so it's not quite as grueling as sitting there for four hours straight.

The Teletubby Stage

Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
Photo courtesy of The Orphanage © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved

HSW: How did it [the makeup process] work?

Jake Garber: The makeup on Ron was all foam prosthetic pieces. The first piece we applied was ... a back and chest piece that flipped over his head, went along his jaw line and rested on his pectorals; that's the chest muscles in front of him.

Jake Garber: The next piece that went on was a scull cap. We had a plastic cap that covered up his hair, like a little helmet. And then we put a foam piece on top of that that blended in right over his eyebrows and down to the back of his head. That's where it connected to the neck and chest piece. The ears were actually incorporated into the piece and attached to the little plastic scull cap underneath it.

When that was on, we usually had our first break and Ron would walk around [to] take a break. Guillermo [the director] called this the Teletubby stage.

The Final Touches

A champion of good, Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
A champion of good, Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Egon Endrenyi Photo credit Egon Endrenyi

HSW: What then? [What followed the Teletubby stage?]

Jake Garber: When he [Perlman] came back, the final two pieces were a full-facial prosthetic that covered everything with the exception of his lower lip. And I usually waited to put his lower lip on at the very end of the application so he could continue on and have coffee or if he wanted to have a snack or something.

Once those pieces were on, I would begin the painting process. Even though he [Hellboy] seems "just red", there were about four or five additional colors to break it up and get a little bit of shading in there to not make it look like a toy. Then there were four hair pieces that went on. One of them was the samurai wig and then there were the sideburn pieces. Then I usually put the lip on at the point right there, and then he had a little goatee that went on as well. And depending on the day, I would have to make his hand up to look the same color as everything else. Then he put dentures in. He had contact lenses which covered up the entire eye. And, his prosthetic hand. That was the typical day.

There were, I think about a half a dozen or more days that we had him do from the waist up and that was a completely different process. Basically he was covered in prosthetics from the waist up. That took about five hours with about another three or four people assisting in certain phases of it.

HSW: So in the final Hellboy costume, how much of Ron Perlman is visible?

Jake Garber: His eyelids. The guys over at [Rick] Baker's shop really did the amazing job of sculpting a piece to have Ron's features carry through the makeup.

Getting the Job

Hellboy (Ron Perlman - right) does battle with the unstoppable creature Sammael (Brian Steele - left).
Hellboy (Ron Perlman - right) does battle with the unstoppable creature Sammael (Brian Steele - left).
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Egon Endrenyi Photo credit Egon Endrenyi

HSW: How did you get this project?

Jake Garber: I worked with him [Ron Perlman] on the previous Star Trek movie, Nemesis. We get along. Ron had mentioned it to me when we were doing Star Trek and I was interested in it, but usually you're kind of like, "OK, we'll see if anything happens with it." And, sure enough [it did].

It was going to go through the Baker shop and Ron requested me to do his makeup. I've worked with Rick in the past on The Nutty Professor so he [Perlman] got the blessing and I went and did a makeup test for him before I actually went to Europe to do another film. It was in October at some point and I got home from four months in Europe. I went to Prague literally the day after I left this one movie to do a second makeup test [for "Hellboy"] and started shooting two days later.

Training and Background

Ron Perlman stars as Hellboy
Ron Perlman stars as Hellboy
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Egon Endrenyi Photo credit Egon Endrenyi

HSW: What kind of training do you have in this field?

Jake Garber: Well, I'm from Minnesota originally and I went to the University of Minnesota and studied theatre but I never graduated from there. As far as formal makeup training, I've never had any. I was always interested in it -- I was always a fan of horror movies. It was always ... go to the library and read any kind of article on it; studying old theatre books that had books on makeup and ... it essentially became a Halloween hobby gone bad. Talk to most makeup guys that specialize in this prosthetic work and most of them have a similar background.

I tended to sculpt a lot when I was growing up and draw little cartoons and the like. In Minnesota there's not many outlets for things like that. But actually I did get work up there. I was able to make a living out of high school just doing corporate training films. This was the early 80's and ... [I worked on] photo shoots, some theatre productions - anything to make a buck.

Jake Garber: Actually I thought it was a great training route because it forced me to do a little bit of everything. I had to do regular painting makeup, I had to learn how to make hair pieces, had to do prosthetic work - so it was a great training. After I had worked on a couple of films in Minnesota, I moved out to California in '89 or '90. I basically planned to show my book around and I didn't figure I'd get a whole lot of work.

I ended up getting a job at a shop making these walk-around masks for Universal Studios -- Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. So I found a job the first day I got out here and decided to stick it out for a while and subsequently just started. I could track every job I've had since day-one.

Most Difficult Aspects

Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
Hellboy (Ron Perlman)
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Egon Endrenyi Photo credit Egon Endrenyi

HSW: What was the hardest part of doing Hellboy?

Jake Garber: Ron's makeup was difficult because of the duration. I did his makeup 86 times. I was really questioning myself if I could hang out and do the makeup for that long because usually when you do a prosthetic for a film you're either doing it for one or two days for a certain event or you're doing a character that may not be in it for the whole movie. [Prior to Hellboy] the most times I'd ever made up a character was maybe a dozen times.

HSW: When you go to the movies, are you able to enjoy them or are you a critic?

Jake Garber: It is one of the biggest pains actually ... it's difficult for me to go to the movies and not find something wrong and when it doesn't happen it's a real treat. When makeup is bad, it takes me right out of the movie. It's tough to watch movies. The "Hellboy" premiere was neat, but ... I should watch the movie again because I was focusing on the makeup.

Final Questions

Left to right: Writer/director Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman on the set of "Hellboy"
Left to right: Writer/director Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman on the set of "Hellboy"
Photo courtesy © 2004 Revolution Studios Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Jay Maidment Photo credit Jay Maidment

HSW: You have had a lengthy career doing many types of work for different films. With experience in beauty makeup, prosthetics, SFX makeup, puppetry, and animatronics -- what's your actual job title?

Jake Garber: Technically I'm a makeup artist. I've gotten out of the shop situation more so I can focus on makeup application.

HSW: What do you need to be a special-effects makeup artist?

Jake Garber: Special-effects makeup artist is a broad term. There's a broad range of stuff you have to understand to even get into it ... A little chemistry, a little psychology ... For instance you have to figure out quickly what they [the actors] want to do when they are in the chair. They may want to do their thing during makeup application. Do they want to chat, go over lines, or prepare for their day?

HSW: Do you have any crazy "Hellboy" stories to tell our readers?

Jake Garber: One story ... John Hurt was in the movie. He was sitting there having a cigarette talking to a guy that worked with him on the movie Alien. They hadn't seen each other in years. Funny thing is that last time they saw each other this guy was stuffing entrails into John Hurt. You meet a lot of interesting people.

For more information about Jake Garber, "Hellboy" and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

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