Interview: The ‘Pinocchio’ Hair & Makeup Team Bring Him To Life

The Disney film Pinocchio, originally released in 1940, made its mark on American culture, winning Oscars for its score and its classic song, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio has been adapted numerous times, including another on the way from Guillermo Del Toro. In 2002, Roberto Benigni tried his hand at bringing the story to life as writer, director, and star of a film that earned almost universally negative reviews. Now, Benigni returns, this time to play Geppetto, in a far more well-received effort that was a financial success in Italy and was brought to American audiences by Roadside Attractions this past Christmas. This film is in the spotlight at the moment thanks to its recent placement on the Oscar shortlist for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Awards Radar had the chance to pose questions about this incredible undertaking to prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier, makeup artist Dalia Colli, and hair designer Francesco Pegoretti. For context, Coulier is British, while Colli and Pegoretti are Italian.

Q: What’s your earliest memory of Pinocchio and encountering this story?

Mark Coulier: Oh, wow, that’s going back to when I read it, probably when I was about eleven or twelve years old. That’s my earliest recollection of it. I was a big fan – I still am – of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and other dark fairy tales. I love those stories. Pinocchio falls into that bracket of morality tales wrapped up in a fairy tale wrapper.

Dalia Colli: This novel is typical of Italian culture, so everyone reads this book. I read it around age six or seven at school. You never forget this story. Your memory records the original images of the book which were stylized ink images. I love the story, but when I was a kid I thought it was terrifying. They show very poor people, magic chop wood, ghost Fairies, a snail woman, an orc who takes prisoners, unarmed puppets, and Pinocchio too. I remember the feelings of anxiety when there were the night assassins and they hanged the puppet at a tree to steal his coins! This was very scary to me as a kid! And what about Geppetto who ends up in the belly of a whale? I also wondered why Pinocchio didn’t perceive evil in the two strange and anthropomorphic figures of Cat and Fox.

Francesco Pegoretti: My first memory about Pinocchio is definitely when my father would read me the book as a kid to put me to sleep. I also remember having a rubber Pinocchio in my toy box, which I used to love a lot. It was also my favorite fairy tale. I can’t recall when I watched the cartoon though or when I heard the story for the first time. I must have been very little. But I remember I’ve always loved that fantastic world where animals and humans live together. Pinocchio was also the story of the rules: don’t lie or your nose will grow, be a good boy, do your homework…and this was the part I liked less.

Q: Based on other cinematic versions of this story, were there certain elements of the look that you wanted to make sure to replicate or to specifically do differently?

Mark: We were guided by Matteo, the director, on that. We’re working for him, trying to achieve his vision, which was most definitely wanting to go back to the source material of the book. He had his memory of it as a child. He storyboarded parts of it when he was about eight years or something, he’s got a little storyboard in his office. Mateo was keen to avoid any of the other adaptions of Pinocchio and do his own version of what he remembered of the story, faithful to the Collodi story. For us, talking with Matteo and using the illustrations of Carlo Chiostri and Enrico Mazzanti specifically in the novel, they have all those characters, so we drew a lot of inspiration from those drawings. Also, the book Pinocchio is second to the Bible in terms of how many copies there are lying around in people’s houses. It’s a project that’s very close to the Italian heart. It is for me, because I love fairy tales. For most people outside Italy, it doesn’t mean quite as much.

Dalia: Certainly, I was honored to be a part of this big project which many important Italian directors have dealt with in the past. In 1972, Luigi Comencini directed a very famous Italian TV series which has left an impression on the hearts of the Italian people. In Italy, there is no one who didn’t see the series, and no one who doesn’t remember the soundtrack, Geppetto’s wig, or the special effects make up on the character of Cat and Fox. Not to mention Gina Lollobrigida, who played the fairy and her unforgettable look! In this TV series, the dark side of the story was attenuated by comedy and by the famous and loved actors who played the characters such as Nino Manfredi (Geppetto) and the little Andrea Balestri (Pinocchio). Matteo Garrone’s vision of the tale respects the dark and light sides of the story, and for this he asked us to realize the characters as realistically as possible whether they be human, animal, or a magical creature. When I finally watched the movie in theaters with my daughter’s class, I looked to the children and saw the surprise in their faces and their silence spoke for them. I was very happy about our work – the magic and the reality was well mixed.

Francesco: It’s true, Pinocchio is part of the Italian culture, and being so well known to kids as well as to adults it made me feel responsible to do the characters justice. It wasn’t easy to recreate the look of the characters of such a famous story. You must be careful not to be too academic or obvious, but at the same time you can’t go far from the characterization described in the book which made it so popular. But overall, I think we were able to achieve that balance well.

Q: Matteo mailed you a piece of wood as an inspiration. Can you talk more about that?

Mark: This was well into the making of the Pinocchio character himself. We were trying to find out from Matteo what color of wood he wanted. In the book, he’s described as being made out of cherry wood, I believe. We were talking to Matteo about whether it was cherry or oak and what color it is, and I had a color chart with all different types of wood that I had in my office. I was showing Matteo these wood samples, and told him just to choose a piece of wood and send it to us so that we could replicate the color of that wood, and the grain and all the texture of it.

Q: Was there anything that proved especially difficult or surprising in this process?

Mark: There were several aspects of Pinocchio that were difficult to pin down. You’re trying to create something the director wants to see, but also you’re doing stuff that you want. I definitely wanted Pinocchio to look like wood even though he was made out of silicone. I wanted the audience to buy it as a wooden sculpture. If we had a head in the workshop painted, we wouldn’t be able to tell if it was wood or silicone. That was my barometer. I had three or four painters all painting wood. Some of it looked like wood painted on silicone and some of it didn’t. We just got to one point where it was like, wow, that really does look like wood. You touched it and you thought you were going to touch wood, but you didn’t. You touched silicone. That’s what I wanted.

Dalia: I think that the biggest challenge of Pinocchio was to achieve a result where the children and teens of today, who are used to seeing the impossible thanks to the visual effects, would appreciate the look of the handmade prosthetics, practical effects, and special effects makeup.

What excited you most about working on this project?

Dalia: Every time I work with director Matteo Garrone, I know I’m sure to start an adventure that is introspective and physical. I love his poetry and the way he talks about facts without judgment above all. He lets me be free to express my ideas and to always work with passion, with the fire in the eyes. Thanks to Matteo, I had the possibility to work with Mark Coulier and his lovely staff. I learned a lot from them, and they were so passionate about their work that you can’t stop watching them. Unfortunately, too few beers together! We were always very tired at the end of the day! I was also excited because I go to work with Roberto Benigni, who I loved especially for his work in Life is Beautiful, which won Oscars for Best Foreign Film, Best Actor, and its score in 1998. With Roberto I always had fun because he used to play games with me during the makeup preparation. He would ask me geographic questions such as “what is the capital of Kazakhstan?” or we would play some guessing games. They were very difficult especially while doing difficult jobs and using dangerous tools. Often I didn’t answer right and he would laugh!

Francesco: Being able to construct a fantastic world as well as being part of it is what I was most excited about. I am deeply grateful to the director Matteo Garrone for wanting me on the project and for giving me space for creativity and imagination. We all worked together as a department in great harmony. We were always aware we were making something special. Going to the set and seeing the characters come to life was kind of magical.

Q: Can you explain more about the prosthetic process and where the actors come in, especially in this case, with all these different wooden characters and other fantastical creatures?

Mark: We had a concept designer, Pietro Scola Di Mambro, who was working directly with Matteo. He would send over these lovely drawings that had been done, and we were interpolating them. Once you get your actor, you have to redesign your makeup to suit the actor and use the actor’s features. The Snail takes on the attributes of Maria Pia Timo, who played the Snail. The Cat and the Fox take on their characteristics, they have these great faces that suit the makeup. You’re always trying to tailor your prosthetics to suit the performance and the actor. We did that with all the characters. They all have a hint of what’s underneath. You can’t get away from your canvas too much. The central face of the little cricket looks like actor Davide Marotta, and the rest of it grows out into this head and becomes a mix of the performer and the character. We had some drawings of the cricket that were totally CG at the beginning. Matteo’s original vision was to have Pinocchio as a makeup – and even then with VFX legs and VFX hands – so he was going to look more like a wooden puppet with face makeup, and the cricket was going to be totally digital. I think Matteo started to veer towards doing all these characters, fortunately for us, practically. For me, it was great, it takes us back to that land of creating outlandish, over-the-top, well, not over-the-top but realistic, animal characters on humans. Half-human, half-animal. And then we had the whole puppet theater to do. We did ten puppet characters. Each one is technically complicated, just breaking them down into their pieces. Let’s say the wooden grain goes vertically down the head, and you’ve got to cut horizontally across to separate the face piece out from the forehead. You have to find a way of going around the wood grain to make the two merge back together so that you can’t see where the joins are. There were all kinds of challenges presented with every single makeup. There wasn’t one makeup on the whole show that wasn’t very complicated.

Q: It sounds like you enjoy those challenges, Mark, unlike in The Iron Lady, where it’s much more about getting one character. Here, it’s like The Grand Budapest Hotel, an ensemble makeup piece.

Mark: I’m always looking for something a bit different than I’ve done before. After The Iron Lady, I got a lot of aging makeup. We tended to be doing that. We aged Idris Elba throughout the years in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Great projects, but it was nice to do something else. I’ve done a few character makeups. Stan and Ollie, Bohemian Rhapsody, Suspiria, a nice horror movie. All this variety, and then suddenly I got a telephone call about this Pinocchio film. As soon as I saw Pietro’s drawings and had a chat to Matteo about the vision for it, that it was based in reality and these characters were going to be real and earthy and believable, from this poor area of Tuscany, I thought that was something different that we hadn’t done before recently. It slotted in at the perfect time.

Q: Dalia, what was most challenging in the makeup process and what approach did you use?

Dalia: Working on Pinocchio was challenging because I never had worked on a project like this before. From the beginning, the choice of characters’ looks was difficult. We had to make people forget for a moment their memory of the famous and loved Pinocchio TV series from 1972. With the help of Mark Coulier, it was definitely possible. He created a perfect silicon muzzle and ears for both Cat and Fox. After the prosthetics were applied, I started to increase the fake facial hair, blending the hairline to the eyebrow and lengthening the beard with white and black hair for Cat, and different shades of red and brown for the Fox. For Cat and Fox, I personally made a cast of the actors’ hands in order to create special nail tips in a transparent resin. That made the characters even more despicable, ugly, dirty and bad. For the young and adult fairy, I used a cold color palette, based on the shades of Prussian blue, ivory, porcelain, and ice white. The two fairies had to be ethereal and bright, without a living heart and blood in their veins, but alive and tangible. The beautiful wig needed to have the same color as the eyebrows and eyelashes. The lips were livened just a bit, to keep sweetness and amiability. Every centimeter of uncovered skin was airbrushed with iridescent silicon color, and the nails had a light film of blue. In order to create the long beard of Mangiafuoco’s character, I asked for help from Alessandro Iacoponi, master in wigs creations. The beard was so long that it had to be sewn in three different pieces: cheeks, sub chin and extension of the sub chin. Mangiafuoco had a showy scar under the right eye, as a tear from an old and wet orc’s eye.

Q: Francesco, the hairstyling is very specific and memorable. What and who did you enjoy styling the most?

Francesco: The creation of the character of the Blue Fairy. It was the most difficult, at least for me. The director wanted a unique monochromatic color combined with costume and set design. So the achievement of the blue color was a challenging visual process. For the young fairy, described in the story as “dead,” Victorian age photographs were analyzed, especially the “post mortem” ones. The flower crown was also custom designed along with the hair. It was made with withered flowers as well as vintage fabric flowers, and the wig was designed with center parting and tight curls. The adult fairy instead had to reveal an ethereal figure, so keeping the same color but her hair is very long and loose and the texture is natural and soft in order to make a clear distinction between the old and the young fairy. I am very satisfied by the result of the characters. Being able to achieve an equilibrium with makeup and prosthetics, and helping the director transform the actors into characters was the best accomplishment for me.

Q: Where do you see the role of evolving technology in this?

Mark: It always comes up. It used to be VFX versus practical effects, because some people champion one kind of technique and some champion the other. In the early days, it was a battle, really. People were protective of their environment. Nowadays, it’s evened out a little. Directors and performers and writers and everybody are much more savvy about what the best way to achieve something. It’s become more about what is the best technique that serves the story, not this newfangled technique that is better than anything else. Look at some of the older movies, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame or The Elephant Man. There are so many makeup movies that are just groundbreaking and amazing. They’re real. If you’re creating films where you need that kind of reality and performance-driven makeup, practically is the way to go. Unless you need to use visual effects. A good combination for me is the better way to do it. Use visual effects when it’s needed, and practical effects when that’s needed. It’s a really simple answer, but that’s what works best, in my opinion. And that’s why we had the antenna of the snail done digitally, because we couldn’t replicate the shrinking and the cricket twitching. We just can’t do that as well as visual effects can do it. And visual effects create the big sea monster dog fish and the donkey spinning and Pinocchio’s burnt legs. We couldn’t begin to do that nearly as well as can be done with visual effects.

Q: What was it like to watch the finished product – did everything look like you expected it to?

Dalia: From the first images I saw on the screen, I was so gratified watching what we all did together, Italy and England, two different styles unified to tell the beauty and magic of our Pinocchio. I’ll never forget the people who helped me to cure all the details of the many extras, and always with a smile and passion for the work. Thanks a lot!

Francesco: It was a great and emotional moment. I was just touched at the end. I knew it was going to be a beautiful film, having worked on the set, but the first time I watched it, it felt magical and spectacular.


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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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