Sometimes a well-placed prosthetic or a stylish mustache are just what an audience needs to buy into a story, as evidenced by this year’s Oscar nominees for makeup and hairstyling: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Foxcatcher” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
One quality seems to unite the craftspeople in this select group: a willingness to try anything — from chemistry experiments to baby-bottle nipples — to get a character right.
Here are edited excerpts from those conversations.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
Much like the period film itself, the stylized looks of the inhabitants of “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” directed by Wes Anderson, were inspired by famous faces of bygone days. “Gone With the Wind” star Leslie Howard is a reference point for the perfectly appointed hair of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes); there is a touch of Queen Anne in the octogenarian Madame D. (Tilda Swinton); and even the tattoos of Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) were inspired by Michel Simon’s in the 1934 French film “L’Atalante.”
But Frances Hannon, the film’s head makeup and hair designer, warned against going too far with a famous face or period: “Never put the actor in the period, but rather make the period work for the actor. Never get stuck on a look-alike or in a certain time. If it doesn’t work, look elsewhere. There are so many looks in the world.”
A Wrinkle, in Time: One of the film’s standout transformations is the taught-skinned Ms. Swinton. Ms. Hannon commissioned Mark Coulier, a prosthetics specialist, to create the 11 pieces of fine silicone carefully placed on Ms. Swinton’s cheeks, chin, neck, hands, arms, nose and earlobes, creating an aged look that was both exaggerated and believable. Ms. Hannon then used five wig pieces to add a towering layer-cake of gray hair to her head and two long triangles of nape hair at the bottom of her neck to elongate the silhouette further. “If I had used a French bob with her dress and those prosthetics, her head would have turned into a little pea,” she said.
For makeup, Ms. Hannon turned to her own mother as a model. “I wanted her to look like somebody who never goes without her lipstick but doesn’t necessarily look in the mirror anymore to apply it, so it’s always a little wonky, which my mum’s is. Then there’s the touch of blue on the lids and a little too much rouge on the cheeks.”
A Head, Lovingly Crafted: It took almost eight weeks for Mark Coulier to sculpt and mold Ms. Swinton’s prosthetics at his workshop in St. Albans, England, where he also “loving crafted” the severed fingers of Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), and a bald cap and nose for Gustave’s inmate pal, Ludwig.
Society of the Fancy Mustaches: Facial hair helped flesh out each gentlemen’s character, especially for the film’s many concierges, Ms. Hannon said. “Each was from a different hotel in the world, so for M. Ivan (Bill Murray), based in Switzerland, Ms. Hannon went for a bushier down-sloping captain’s mustache, which she shaved from Mr. Murray’s natural beard. Mr. Fiennes’s mustache took some time, she said. “It had to be so perfect, so clipped and exact, never a hair out of place.” For the lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), a penciled-in mustache was enough, she said, a nod to his mentor, M. Gustave. “What makes a film work, whether it’s stylized or not is not to go that one step too far and become a caricature.”
“Foxcatcher,” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
Creating a monster doesn’t always mean fangs and fur. “Foxcatcher,” Bennett Miller’s retelling of the disturbing relationship between the wealthy John E. du Pont and the Olympic wrestlers he sponsored, Dave and Mark Schultz, used a set of tiny teeth and a receding hairline to transform Steve Carell into a dangerous eccentric.
Those Lips, Those Eyes: Rather than make Mr. Carell look like du Pont, the team aimed merely to make him seem as if he came from that wealthy world. Adding just a few of du Pont’s features — an arch in the nose, wispy eyebrows, a receding hairline, dark brown eyes (via contact lenses), and pale skin — helped them achieve that effect while somewhat disguising Mr. Carell’s well-known face in the process.
The mouth was a special focal point. “Look at the Kennedys, they have very specific smiles and teeth,” Bill Corso, the film’s head of makeup said. Du Pont’s teeth were tiny and his lips thin, so with a fake set of teeth, a prosthetic lip and dental plumpers — sheer plastic veneers with a bulky gumlike substance attached — inserted under both lips, they turned Mr. Carell’s “sculpted, aquiline, Mediterranean face” into the softer, doughy face of du Pont, he said.
Nipples in the Nose: While researching wrestlers, Mr. Corso and Dennis Liddiard, the film’s key makeup artist, noticed that they all had strange profiles. “Their faces really flatten out,” Mr. Liddiard said. “The cartilage in their nose breaks down over time, their jaws start to jut out and their foreheads protrude. And then they also get the cauliflower ear.” For the Schultz brothers, played by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, the team made prosthetic ears and gave Mr. Tatum a prosthetic for the bridge of his nose to make it look as if it had been broken.
But with so much physical contact in the script, anything larger was out of the question, he said. They turned to plumpers again, this time made from baby-bottle nipples and inserted into Mr. Tatum’s nostrils, “which widened his nose at the bottom and pulled the tip down,” Mr. Liddiard said.
A Much-Needed Break: When makeup touch-ups were required, the guys were grateful to get a chance to rest, Mr. Liddiard said. “Sometimes Channing would look at me and say, ‘Isn’t there something wrong with my ear that you have to fix?’”
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White
While the bright body paints of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” based on the Marvel comic series, are easier to see than subtler cosmetics, how to make them work on film was not always so obvious, Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, the film’s lead hair and makeup designer, said. And when wig glue refused to stick, Ms. Yianni-Georgiou decided to make her own. “I absolutely loved chemistry in school, I love the potions. And that works alongside my artistic brain; I never really switch off one or the other.”
A Hero’s Hair: For Chris Pratt’s main character, Peter Quill, Ms. Yianni-Georgiou gave him sideburns, a nod to the 1980s and music from the era that he’s always listening to. “I think his hair really helped to shape him up, gave him a more modern edge that young people of today could relate to.”
The Sweat Test: The villains Ronan (Lee Pace) and Yondu (Michael Rooker) were Ms. Yianni-Georgiou’s favorites to design, she said, though it was a challenge to find paints that would stay on their skin throughout filming. After testing what seemed like everything on the market, she hired a formulator to mix custom makeup. Michael Rooker ran laps outside to test that mix, which eventually worked so well that he could sweat without disturbing the paint. “That was a big ‘hurrah’ moment,” she said. Mr. Pace was also a sport about testing his makeup, she said, “getting his hands dirty, playing around with African and Peruvian tribal markings,” so much so that she had to send him away at one point.
Giving (Hair) Back: Ms. Yianni-Georgiou had the “horrible task” of shaving Karen Gillan’s hair off so that the prosthetics for her character Nebula, a fusion of alien and robot, could fit tightly against her head. “Karen was a good sport and we made wigs from her hair so that she could wear them to interviews. That was my idea. I just thought if a young actress has to go out for auditions, you can’t send her off with nothing, you’ve got to give her something beautiful.”