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What These Movie Aliens Look Like Without Makeup

Makeup is an important part of science fiction and fantasy films, especially when it comes to creating alien characters. While modern blockbusters often rely on computer-generated imagery to bring aliens to life, many high budget movies still turn to the old tradition of cosmetics and prosthetics to design these creatures. Makeup artists usually spend many hours working to nail every detail of an alien's design, so that they might make these fictional characters feel real to the people watching them. From the color of an alien's skin to the placement of tentacles on its head, the look of an extraterrestrial being in a genre film can make audiences truly see aliens, rather than actors.

Speaking of actors, this makeup magic can turn even the most famous of celebrities into unrecognizable beings. These actors' performances play a major role in cementing the authenticity of their fictional identities and masking their often-iconic faces. We're here to examine just how wide the gulf is between those actors' everyday faces and the alien roles they step into, and to appreciate those makeup artists who transform these actors into otherworldly characters.

Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser

Lee Pace has appeared in many movies and TV shows over the years, including The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Halt and Catch Fire. Yet his most high-profile role might be Ronan the Accuser, the alien villain of the 2014 Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy, which covered him in makeup from head to toe. In the comics, Ronan is part of the blue-skinned alien species known as the Kree, so makeup artists Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White painted Pace's body blue and almost entirely shrouded his face in black tar

While promoting the film, Pace told the YouTube channel ScreenSlam that he loved wearing the extensive makeup because it serves as a "mask" for the character. "I move my face in a different way, but what's great about that too is that it's not the way the character looks, it's the way he wants to look," said Pace. "He's got blue skin but on top of that, he's painted this fearsome mask because that's how he wants to present himself to the world." Yianni-Georgiou and White also designed the look for other extraterrestrial characters in the film, which would earn them an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling in 2015

As for Pace, he would once again play Ronan in 2019's Captain Marvel. This time, he performed without black face paint since the movie takes place before Guardians of the Galaxy and features a less radicalized version of the character. 

Maïwenn as Diva Plavalaguna

French actress Maïwenn Le Besco, known mononymously as Maïwenn, portrayed the tall and mysterious alien opera singer Diva Plavalaguna in 1997's The Fifth Element while wearing all kinds of prothetic makeup. In a rare interview about her extraterrestrial character, Maïwenn explained that the film's French writer-director Luc Besson, who was engaged to her at the time, offered her the part of Diva. Maïwenn initially passed, however, saying, "'Oh, thank you, but if I love you, I want to show you my love that is pure, so I don't want to work with you.'" Besson ended up hiring a German model to play Diva, but she did not show up to her makeup test for whatever reason, and so he hired Maïwenn to play Diva.

When describing the makeup process for Diva, Maïwenn revealed that it took three hours every day. The team, led by Lois Burwell, applied makeup around Maïwenn's head before they glued Diva's giant prosthetic dome onto her own. They then gave Maïwenn stilts and the dress, which was "very fragile." Since Maïwenn was so tall in her stilts, she required a special chair and her own crew to help her eat and drink.

Diva is arguably Maïwenn's most recognized role, internationally speaking. She is, however, a well-known talent in France, and has gone on to write and direct movies of her own. 

Bolaji Badejo as the Alien

Ridley Scott's sci-fi-horror film Alien, released in 1979, is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Yet most people may not know that the eponymous creature was actually played by a 6'10" Nigerian man in a rubber suit. Born in 1953, Bolaji Badejo had moved to London in order to specialize in graphic design. One fateful night, casting agent Peter Ardram (sometimes referred to as "Peter Archer") spotted Badejo at a pub and subsequently called Ivor Powell, associate producer of Alien, to arrange a meeting. Director Ridley Scott picked Badejo to play the titular antagonist because of his tall height, long limbs, and slim figure. 

In a 1979 interview with Cinefantastique magazine, Bolaji explained how uncomfortable the Alien suits truly were. Said suits were designed by surrealist artist H.R. Giger, who would win an Oscar alongside the film's special effects team. "It was terribly hot, especially the head. I could only have it on for about 15 or 20 minutes at a time. When I took it off, my head would be soaked," Bolaji recounted. Furthermore, the suit blinded him: "I could barely see what was going on around me, except when I was in a stationary position, while they were filming. Then there were a few holes I could look through."

Bolaji did not act again. Sadly, he died from sickle cell anemia in 1992 — but the world will never forget the terrifying movie monster he helped realize.

Jemaine Clement as Boris the Animal

New Zealand-born Jemaine Clement is known for playing comedic roles in movies and TV shows such as What We Do in the Shadows and Flight of the Concords. But he also played a terrifying alien villain in the 2012 film Men in Black 3, where he wore plenty of prosthetics and makeup. "I think the first day we put the makeup on, it took eight hours, so before you even start a workday, you've already had what most people think of as a workday," Clement explained in an interview for Men in Black 3. "They gradually got it down to four hours. Now we can do it in three hours, so sometimes I have to get up really early, two or three AM, and come and sort of be half-asleep or even completely asleep as [they are] gluing things and spraying things onto my face."

Legendary make-up artist Rick Baker, who designed the aliens for Men in Black and its two predecessors, brought Boris to life and made him scarier than intended. "In the script I got originally, he was a biker but they described him as Dennis Hopper from Easy Rider," Baker explained to Digital Trends in 2012. "I said, 'You know what? I think he should be intimidating, like Charles Manson or [1960s Hell's Angels president] Sonny Barger ... I did these designs and kind of reinvented what I thought he should be." As viewers know, Baker's vision ultimately prevailed.

Sofia Boutella as Jaylah

Actress, model, and dancer Sofia Boutella played the alien warrior Jaylah in 2016's Star Trek Beyond – her first role that involved prosthetic makeup. While promoting the film, Boutella explained to ScreenSlam why she enjoyed the long makeup process. "The meditation aspect of it is like getting into character. You actually take this time. Sometime, you get on set and you have very little time. Hair and makeup, costume, boom, you're on set ... and I appreciated that I could [take my time in the chair,]" Boutella said. "I've never done prosthetic before. I like that second skin. I like what it brought to me. It's like, as soon as I had it on, you feel in character."

Joel Harlow, the makeup designer on Star Trek Beyond, clarified to Inverse in 2017 why applying makeup to Boutella took longer than applying makeup to Idris Elba, who played the film's similarly inhuman-looking villain, Krall. "It's deceptively elaborate with lots of intricate dissections. The challenge was to strike a balance and blend it to where you don't know where the prosthetics are," said Harlow. "Sofia Boutella wore a forehead that came down her cheeks and black design markings that went all the way down to her chin. The mouth, nose, and chin are Sofia; otherwise, everything else is all a prosthetic." Taking their time was worth it in the end, because Harlow and fellow makeup artist Richard Alonzo received an Oscar nomination for Star Trek Beyond.

Simon Pegg as Unkar Plutt

In addition to playing Scotty in the rebooted Star Trek films, British actor and comedian Simon Pegg portrayed the slimy alien junk dealer Unkar Plutt in 2015's Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.

"So it was a prosthetic that we applied to Simon," the film's creature supervisor Neal Scanlan detailed in a 2016 interview with Nerdist. But it wasn't all practical effects work: "I think they did a little bit of CG enhancement on the inside of the mouth as well, to give him a slightly wider gape in his mouth than what you could do in real life. Obviously, it would have just been Simon's mouth otherwise." Even though some CGI was used to bring Plutt to life, it was definitely not as much as what was used for Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata and Andy Serkis' Supreme Leader Snoke. This successful blend of CGI and practical effects is why Scanlan and the film's special effects team earned an Academy Award nomination.

On the flip side, Pegg didn't find the suit all that comfortable, as he explained on a 2018 episode of The Graham Norton Show. "I was wearing that in 50 degree heat and I had these big rubber-like silicone gauntlets on my fingers," said Pegg. "And when I took them off I could pour the sweat out." At least he only had to wear the suit for three scenes, excluding the deleted scene where Chewbacca rips one of his arms off.

Ben Mendelsohn as Talos

Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn has played many villains throughout his career. But his turn as the alien Talos in 2019's Captain Marvel is one of the few roles for which he wore prosthetics and makeup — plus, as it turns out, Talos isn't actually the villain. For clarification, Talos is a Skrull. The Skrulls are green, shapeshifting aliens who are often portrayed in the comics as evil. Halfway through Captain Marvel, however, Talos' faction of Skrulls are revealed as fugitives from the Kree Empire, who destroyed their home world.

To throw audiences off, Legacy Effects supervisor Shane Mahan made the film's Skrulls look intimidating and pretty similar to how they look in the comics. Although Mendelsohn does show his human face a few times throughout Captain Marvel, he spends most of the movie in makeup. When asked about the length of the makeup process, Mendelsohn told Entertainment Weekly that it only took "a couple of hours." When asked if the makeup team managed to quicken the process at all, Mendelsohn replied, "They have. What do I do? I sit there. No, they have. They're awesome. It's a couple of hours. It's not that big a deal, you know?"

Mendelsohn donned the makeup once again in Spider-Man: Far From Home, and will likely don it again as the MCU grows ever bigger and more cosmic. Good thing he has no problems with kicking back for a handful of hours in the makeup chair.

Ray Park as Darth Maul

Scottish stuntman Ray Park wore plenty of makeup when he portrayed the acrobatic Sith Lord Darth Maul in 1999's Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.

The film's principal makeup artist, Paul Engelen, spoke about Maul's devilish look in a 1999 issue of Make-Up Artist magazine (via TheForce.net). "The red I used was actually a water-base aquacolor that would fade but it was quite easy to reapply by sponging on," Engelen detailed. "The black was Reel tattoo color, which I had to paint on. It's kind of elasticized so would tend to peel rather than run. I sponged it on with a fairly heavily saturated alcohol-based sponge and a lot of black pigment ... Even with all of the action scenes shot out there, it worked."

Speaking with Syfy Wire in 2019, Park revealed he was initially unsure about the makeup. "When they were doing me up, I just thought I looked silly. You know, my big nose, and my weird teeth, and then my blue eyes, and I just felt like a big panda, you know? ... But once the contact lenses were in and people were staring at me on set, it was like, 'Wow.'" Park reprised his role for a cameo in 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story and provided motion capture for Maul in "The Phantom Apprentice" episode of the CG series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Damion Poitier as Thanos

Before Josh Brolin wore a motion capture suit to play the alien villain Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, American actor and stuntman Damion Poitier wore prosthetic makeup while portraying the "Mad Titan" in a mid-credits stinger in 2012's The Avengers. Flash forward to 2014, when Poitier explained to the Geeks with Wives podcast how he discovered which character he would play in The Avengers. "I found out when I was in the makeup chair what I was doing," said Poitier. "They kept it super quiet because they didn't want to put any spoilers out. So they kept it super quiet, what I was doing, and I didn't find out until they were casting my face to do the sculpt." Although Poitier would not play Thanos again, he did play Hero Merc #1 in 2016's Captain America: Civil War.

In 2018, costume and creature design powerhouse Ironhead Studio, led by Jose Fernandez, shared a behind-the-scene photo on their Instagram of Poitier wearing the Thanos makeup and prosthetics on The Avengers set in 2011. As the caption details, "Although Thanos ended up getting a digital sheen for the film and eventually became fully digitally rendered in Avengers: Infinity War, Jose still has a soft spot for this practical makeup design." While the practical Thanos makeup was not used in later Marvel movies, Ironhead did design costumes for Captain America: Civil Waras well as other high-profile movies and TV shows such as Aquaman and The Mandalorian

Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha

Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki has starred in many high-profiles movies and TV shows throughout her career. But her turn as the alien queen Ayesha in 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is definitely the only role she's played that required her entire body to be painted gold. While promoting the film, Debicki spoke to Comicbook.com about putting on the makeup. "It was like a car wash," she recalled. "They built a sort of car wash where I sat ... there was a lot of paint and a lot of sitting around and drying. It's quite an intimate process."

The film's makeup department head, John Blake, also spoke to Make-Up Artist magazine about giving Ayesha's species, the Sovereign, their gold look. "I wanted to get a nice-looking gold," said Blake, "which is more difficult than it sounds. There's a lot of gold makeup out there, but some of it doesn't really have a metallic gleam, while others have the metallic gleam but can look very texture-y and crusty, so it was just a matter of mixing batch after batch of different materials before I could come up with a gold that had the right amount of softness and metallic gleam to it. It [also] had to stay on, but was easy to get off." In the end, Blake and the makeup team succeeded in giving the Sovereign a bright gold look that makes them stand out from everyone else in the movie.