The face of Hollywood: meet the movie make-up man behind The Smurfs 2

Marie-Louise Olson speaks to a man who has transformed some of Hollywood's best-known faces - and not always for the better.

Todd Tucker can proudly say he has changed the faces of some of the Hollywood's biggest actors, including Brad Pitt, Robin Williams and Geoffrey Rush.

The Los Angeles special effects make-up artist's latest work of art is all about the colour blue. And nothing is more blue than a Smurf.

As UAE residents flock to the cinemas to watch The Smurfs 2, Tucker reveals how he turned the actor Hank Azaria into the evil wizard Gargamel for The Smurfs sequel.

Did you ever watch The Smurfs growing up? Is it special for you to be a part of creating these iconic characters?

I did watch The Smurfs as a kid. It's interesting when you are recreating something as iconic as Gargamel. Everyone around the world knows what he looks like. It was a challenge because we wanted to create something that the fans would like.

It's awesome to see your creation come to life when a great comedic actor such as Hank is playing the character. It's also fun to turn a well-known cartoon villain into a live-action character.

What did you have to do to turn Azaria into Gargamel?

The make-up application on Hank to transform him into Gargamel took two hours. The movie was filmed on a new Sony High Definition camera that is like a magnifying glass and sees everything. After I put Hank in front of the camera, I would look at the onset monitor and could see imperfections that I couldn't see before. We figured it all out but there was a learning curve.

What kind of materials did you use? What do you normally like to use when you do special effects make-up?

For Gargamel, we made silicone prosthetic nose and ear appliances, acrylic dentures and a lace wig and eyebrows.

How did you get into doing this type of work for films in the first place?

I began learning how to design and create characters and creatures when I was in high school. After building a portfolio of my best work, I moved to Hollywood in 1990. I started working as a professional special effects make-up artist in 1990 on the film Hook.

You've done make-up on some pretty big names, including Brad Pitt, Robin Williams and Geoffrey Rush. What's it like to have access to these famous faces and be able to totally change them?

It's very important to help the actors get through what could be a long and possibly uncomfortable process. A make-up application could take hours, then you have to maintain it throughout the shoot and then take it off at the end of the night. Not an easy thing for an actor to go through day after day.

Can you share any funny or strange anecdotes from a film set that you particularly remember?

I enjoyed working on GI Joe: Retaliation. The director, Jon Chu, really gets these kind of films and understands the action part of it. I was impressed with how he was able to make all the effects in the film look so practical; it doesn't feel like a video game, it doesn't feel CG. It feels like it's really happening. As a director myself, it was educational to watch Jon set up his shots and see him work.

Which make-up work are you the most proud of in your career?

Illusion Industries created an old-age make-up on Michael Shannon for the film The Iceman. It was a very realistic make-up for an amazing film that I am very proud of.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The challenge nowadays is to be competitively priced and create the designs and make-up faster, while still maintaining the quality.

You don't only do make-up but also animatronics, puppets and speciality costumes. Is there any type of special effects make-up you still haven't done, but yearn to do?

I would love to be able to do realistic youth make-ups. Making an actor look years younger is close to impossible.

Do you have a particular favourite type of make-up you like to do?

I enjoy doing old-age and character make-ups because they are the most challenging to make them look believable.

Is this an industry that is rapidly changing, or do you think we have reached a point where people like you are so good that it doesn't get much better than this?

At this point, it's all about making sure these make-ups are extremely clean and pass the test of the new cameras.

What's next for you? Any movies or shows coming up?

Well, in the order they're coming out: GI Joe: Retaliation, which came out a few months ago or so, but is now out on DVD. There was a limited release for The Iceman. I think that one will probably be out on DVD and Netflix and I'm guessing it will get a lot of awards, too. The Smurfs 2 came out recently.

We have a film coming out - actually, it may have just come out? - called The East, which is a political thriller. We did a gore/trauma effect for where a girl gets a bullet extracted out of her, and then we did another drama called Fort Bliss, where we did a gore effect for that movie. That was a relatively independent film also, with a really good cast. Then we did a movie called Devil's Pass, which was a Renny Harlin film that shot in Russia, which is a horror movie, so we did some cool stuff with that, but I can't say what!

We also did Fright Night 2, which will be coming out probably in October, most likely on DVD. We also occasionally do some stuff on the show Sons of Anarchy and on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, when they do zombie skits. We also do stuff for the Disney Channel quite a bit, such as The Wizards of Waverly Place. We did some tattoos and some very small things for White House Down, but we didn't go on set for that, we just supplied them with some tattoos and stuff, but that gives you an idea of how small some of the stuff is that we do.

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