As a young stage actor, Gaylynne Fell “always felt most comfortable when (she) was in roles that would completely change (her) look.” The makeup and costumes would make her unrecognizable to anyone who knew her. She loved the feeling of erasing all aspects of her own appearance to fully embrace the role she was filling.
Fell never let go of those childhood feelings and is now a master of disguise and transformation as one of Alberta’s top special effects makeup artists.
Sabrina Hang is an Edmonton resident who worked for many years as a special effects makeup artist. When asked how she first got into it, she says, “I saw a makeup look and worked at it until it started to come together. (There were) so many tutorials and hours spent in front of the mirror trying to look after look. Lots of trial and error. I felt very drawn to expressing my artistry through makeup, and special effects was the next hurdle I wanted to jump.”
Special effects makeup artistry is a complex art form to master as it requires patience and great attention to detail. The artists can “simulate the appearance of injuries, aging, and other features and deformities with the use of makeup and prosthetics,” according to The New York Institute of Beauty website. Prosthetics are usually made out of silicone and can be moulded into different shapes to give the illusion of deformities.
Fell started her career in makeup by dropping out of the University of Alberta’s computer science program and going to Joe Blasco Makeup Center in Los Angeles to study special effects makeup. After finishing her diploma, she went to the Vancouver Film School to learn basic makeup techniques. She says, “there is a reason why most programs teach that first. The basics of colour theory and beauty makeup do help you in special effects and prosthetic makeup immensely.”
Fell is now the owner of The Makeup Art Space in Edmonton and works for large events such as Fort Edmonton’s “DARK.” Her favourite looks to create are intricate and detailed. She says, “a lot of people have the impression that special effects makeup is always blood and gore, and yes, we do create cuts and bruises, but more often, it is a lot more character-driven. “I love doing simple character makeups like aging or subtle tricks to make someone look different.
It’s also fun to do injuries that get praise from medical professionals for looking real, and to do a really great over- the-top fantastical character is also a highlight.”
Although she doesn’t do it for work anymore, Hang still does special effects makeup for fun. When asked what her favourite look to create is, she said, “I like to keep a balance of elegance with gory. My favourite prosthetic look to create is creating a ripped skin effect and exposing something beneath. It really creates a great opportunity to express creativity and explore depth.”
“Special effects are to be seen and not explained,” is the first thing Hang said when asked how she would explain special effects makeup artistry to someone who knew nothing about it.
Now without more explaining, see for yourself the magic of this art form.
This photo essay features the work of Sabrina Hang. Models are Sabrina Hang and Laurance Mah.
Photography: Brett Boyd