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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 22, 2004

Makeup artist of the stars and scars

 •  Secrets of a makeup artist

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Bryan Furer's first encounter with Steven Spielberg was bloody.

Makeup artist Bryan Furer puts the finishing touches on actor Sharif Atkins for NBC's new "Hawai'i" police drama.

Photos by Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

The young Honolulu makeup artist was working on the set of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on Kaua'i. His job was to make up the Hovitos Indians who chased Indiana Jones through the jungle in the opening scene.

Spielberg, a hands-on director, wanted to apply the blood (fake of course) to the Indians himself, but he didn't like the blood the Hollywood makeup artists handed him.

Furer shyly offered the lead makeup artist his own homemade batch of blood, and it was used in one of film history's most famous scenes.

Whether a director is looking for gory or gorgeous, Bryan Furer is often the guy called on when shooting a movie or TV series in Hawai'i. His present job: department head for makeup for the NBC series "Hawaii."

Furer has been passionate about makeup artistry since small-kid time in Manoa. Over the years, he's made up Charlize Theron, Noah Wyle, Peter O'Toole, Peter Sellers and Malcolm McDowell. He has worked on TV series such as "Hawaii 5-0," "Baywatch Hawaii," "Marker," "Byrds of Paradise," "Fantasy Island" and "ER." His movie credits include "Mighty Joe Young," "Tears of the Sun, "Pearl Harbor," "Godzilla" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." He also transformed KHON's TV news anchorman Joe Moore into Will Rogers for the stage.

Among his favorite film-set memories is chatting with Harrison Ford under a banyan tree on Kaua'i. Ford is quiet and reserved by nature, Furer said, yet very personable when he wants to be. And when Ford didn't feel friendly? "He could put a wall up, and you could tell by his body language that he didn't want to be disturbed."

Furer transformed actress Estella Amara into the victim of a serial killer with a stomach appliance he crafted from silicone.
Furer says his least-favorite job wasn't that long ago: He worked on "Tears of the Sun," making up 85 extras for a scene with Bruce Willis walking through a village of slaughtered victims covered in mud and blood.

As Furer watched the monitor to see what the scene depicted, he saw only close-ups of Willis' face — not a single extra appeared on the screen. When Furer asked why, he was told the whole scene was set so that Willis could "get in the mood as he walked through the strewn 'bodies.' "

He has better memories from the time Charlize Theron came into the makeup trailer in a skimpy camisole, acting flirty.

Bill Paxton, who was in the trailer talking with Furer, said Furer's daughter, Maia, age 9, might be just like Theron in 10 years. Yikes, Furer thought.

Furer is one of those rare people who has known what he wanted to do in life since he was a kid.

His mother, Gloria Furer of Manoa, remembers that Bryan decided to make a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" movie with mom's Cine 8 camera when he was in the sixth grade.

It was all about the makeup and costumes. He borrowed flasks and test tubes from friends and set up a "lab" on the lanai, concocting blood and sculpted scars. He even used time-lapse photography to show hair growing up the monster's arms.

"He used to haunt the magic store in the old Merchandise Mart downtown," his mother said. "It was funny, because he can't stand real blood, but he loves to make his own. He got such a kick out of figuring out how to make blood spurt."

For the new series "Hawai'i," Bryan Furer turns gorgeous actors into gore-spattered crime victims with pots of makeup and a deft hand.
At Roosevelt High School, Bryan gave his final presentation in Spanish, dressed and made up as Pancho Villa. As a Boy Scout in Manoa's Troop 33, he won his first-aid badge by demonstrating care of cuts and bruises — cuts and bruises that he created with makeup to make the presentation more theatrical.

For his Eagle Scout presentation, he designed and created makeup for an entire Roosevelt High School production of "Rapunzel."

While at Stevenson Intermediate School, Furer took night classes in stage makeup at Honolulu Theatre for Youth and Manoa Valley Theater. At 15, he was hired to make up an actor as Abraham Lincoln for a Republican convention. A subsequent job making up an actor into Uncle Sam for a McDonald's commercial got him into the production-company circuit.

At HTY, Furer said, "the bug bit me" — and he knew that makeup would become his profession. There he met Keester Sweeny, the head makeup artist for "Hawaii 5-0," who became his mentor.

Through Sweeney, Furer met John Chambers, who had received an Academy Award for makeup for "Planet of the Apes." It was Chambers who advised Furer not to move to Hollywood. "He had a high contempt for Hollywood, and he ingrained that in me," Furer said.

Furer said he likes to be a "big fish in a small pond (Hawai'i). In Hollywood, I'd be a minuscule fish surrounded by sharks."

Hawai'i is home. Furer's grandfather, architect William C. Furer, came to Honolulu to help dredge Pearl Harbor. His father, Frederick Furer, is an architect. His mother, Gloria, taught classes in historical costumes at UH-Manoa. The family still owns the home built by his grandfather in 1900 in Manoa Valley.

Bryan Furer lives in Honolulu with his two children, Theo, age 14, and Maia, and wife Zaff Bobilin, who loves her job designing sets for Leeward Community College Theatre.

As head of makeup for NBC's new "Hawaii" show, Furer hires and supervises three makeup artists and two hair stylists. They will work eight long days for each episode. He is excited about the series because it demands a lot of variety in the makeup.

"We have to make 'em look good, and we have to make 'em look trashed out," he said. The episode they are shooting this week involves a grisly murder, so he'll be creating open sores, lesions and a dead body.

He also has to make members of the cast look "real and not made up."

Gore and glamour. Bryan Furer will be right in his element.

Reach Paula Rath at prath@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5464.

• • •

Secrets of a makeup artist

After decades of making actors look gorgeous or gory, makeup artist Bryan Furer has learned a thing or two about how to create realistic makeup. Some of his secrets:

Blood: Most fake blood is made with corn syrup and food coloring, but Furer often adds "a secret ingredient," titanium dioxide, to make it opaque, avoiding the ketchup look. Furer sells his homemade blood at Prosperity Corner in Kaimuki.

Body scars: For obvious scars, he creates a prosthetic from acrylic (the same material used to make dentures). The goo is squeezed into a mold and applied to the body with adhesive.

Face scars: He uses a material that he said dates back to the 1800s called collodion, a syrupy adhesive used to close small wounds. As it dries, it pulls the skin together, creating indentations. It has caustic fumes, however, so don't try this one at home.

Burns: For the wounded patients on "ER," Furer mixed red and yellow pancake makeup (clay with pigment and water to activate), stippling it on with a large sponge. He then followed with black pancake.

Black eyes or bruises: Furer starts with grease paint or temporary tattoo inks. His first layer is black, followed by red, blue, yellow and green.

Scrapes or raspberries: Using a coarse, open cell sponge, he stipples pancake makeup into the area, then swipes the sponge over the skin to get scratch marks.

Deep wrinkles: For a local TV commercial, Furer had to age a couple of models who are in their 20s to look 40, 60 and 80. He succeeded by pulling on their lower eyelids and stippling pancake makeup heavily into the areas where he wanted wrinkles. To age the neck, he stuck a layer of cotton (the kind that comes in a roll at the drugstore) onto the area before stippling, then used a blow dryer to make it look dry and wrinkled.