How Christian Bale Became Dick Cheney (and Other Tales of Transformation) | Modern Society of USA

How Christian Bale Became Dick Cheney (and Other Tales of Transformation)

How Christian Bale Became Dick Cheney (and Other Tales of Transformation)

You’d be forgiven for not recognizing Christian Bale in “Vice,” a new film in which he stars as Dick Cheney.

Long creases run from his nostrils to his jowls, which sink into a starched collar. His jaw takes on the shape of a baseball, and heavy forehead lines hover over a thick, furrowed brow.

In the 1980 film “The Elephant Man,” the director David Lynch initially treated prosthetics so cavalierly that he planned to create the title character’s severely deformed face himself. Only after Lynch hit a dead end did he enlist Christopher Tucker, an autodidact who honed his craft by reading chemistry books about foam latex and testing out concoctions in his mother’s oven in England. (“She was not very pleased — it’s quite smelly,” he said in an interview.)

Given just five weeks to design and sculpt an enormous and grotesque head for the actor John Hurt, Tucker forged a double-layered foam latex design, which enlarged Hurt’s facial contours, then overlaid the Elephant Man’s face on top. The practical application was grueling: Hurt had to arrive on set at 4 a.m. and sit in the makeup chair for eight hours as the prosthetic was applied. After shooting, he had to wait an additional two hours while it was removed. “It was a real marathon,” Tucker said.

The long hours paid off when, following a protest campaign, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established a permanent makeup and hairstyle Oscars category the following year. (By that point, however, “The Elephant Man” was no longer eligible.)

“It moved naturally, like no other material we had before,” Tsuji said of silicone. “It had a translucency. It was quite skinlike.”

The competition spurred swift progress and a new generation of movies that leaned heavily on face transformation, from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to “The Iron Lady.” A prosthetics transfer system, invented by Christien Tinsley for “The Passion of the Christ” from 2004, allowed a quick and realistic way to cover a body with wounds, burns or tattoos. A makeup job that would have taken a full work day could now be applied in two hours.

As makeup improved, so did computer-generated imagery, which some artists viewed as a threat. Characters who might have previously been created with prosthetics, like the tentacled Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, were now created digitally.

But C.G.I. also allowed filmmakers to erase small mistakes around the edges of silicone pieces, taking away the burden of perfection. “It’s still your makeup, but they’re just fixing this little edge problem,” Cannom said. “I am so happy for that now.”

Cannom said that no digital touch-ups were necessary for “Vice.” He and the rest of the team worked carefully to create the prosthetics: First, they pored over photos and videos of Cheney, paying particular attention to his most prominent features, like the silhouette of his nose and the dimple on his chin.

After creating designs for five different decades of Cheney’s life, the team began a regimented process that operated “like a beautifully orchestrated and creative assembly line,” Wade said. A three-dimensional mold identical to Bale’s head was created; an artist then sculpted models of the prosthetic pieces in clay. The clay pieces were used to make a syntactic dough and epoxy mold, which in turn were used to create the silicone pieces. Those were then applied to Bale on set, with the most complex jobs taking up to four hours.

The goal was to both create a likeness and to allow Bale to be expressive. “There was an understanding that it would be an amalgam of Christian Bale and Dick Cheney, without covering his entire face,” Wade said. “The most successful makeups aren’t the ones where you’re trying to completely hide the actor.”

And Cannom said that Bale himself was pivotal in shaping the final design. When he suggested that his neck be thicker, Cannom was skeptical but heeded the request and constructed new pieces.

Cannom described the day that Bale arrived on set as Cheney. “He put on the suit, walked into the office with all of us and everybody just died,” he said with a laugh. “I was shocked. He looked just like him.”

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