Isabel Harkins is the makeup head for The Spirit. As such, Harkins’ mark on the history of film is forever enshrined with the release of The Spirit on DVD and Blu-ray April 14.
Harkins tells us what happened in the makeup chair before The Spirit cameras began rolling. How was Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes or Sarah Paulson? Harkins dishes that these actresses were beyond palettes for her to craft art. One, in particular, needed some convincing about her vision for her character that was not what she was witnessing as she headed on set.
Who that is will surprise! Plus, which The Spirit cast member wanted extra attention from Harkins brush because she has self-doubts even though she is “flawless?” Plus, Harkins chimes in about working with Patricia Arquette on the Medium pilot that produced a sensation.
Harkins is a single mom who chose to raise her kids instead of securing work as a globe-trotting celebrity’s personal makeup artist. That choice has produced a career of entertainment industry work that runs the gamut of theater, television and film. A legacy forever cemented with the magic of The Spirit.
The Spirit secret weapon
SheKnows:Hello Isabel thanks for visiting with SheKnows.com.
Isabel Harkins: Oh, absolutely.
SheKnows: I see your impressive work over the years and all have required numerous demands of you. I would think The Spirit was a special challenge because the visual demands that’s inherent in the picture. Was it more of a challenge or just a different challenge for you?
Isabel Harkins: Actually it was a lot more of a challenge. The thing was to translate a 1940s cartoon into a human reality. Having the black and the green screen which they hardly ever use together is difficult because you have to combine all your colors. When I had all the meetings I had at the beginning with Frank Miller, he asked me to not to use a lot of colors. When you have that much of a dark lighting, they only had one single light. So what happened is every time the actor conveys their line, they stepped into the light. For most part, they were in the dark.
SheKnows: It really shows on screen.
Isabel Harkins: It was a really big conversion for my color. You definitely need warm colors when you are doing this sort of thing. But, they asked me to not use any colors — anything that had a bluish green tint to it. That kind of cancels both sides of the wheel for me so I needed to work in the middle.
SheKnows: Therein is the serious challenge for a makeup artist.
Isabel Harkins: Basically, what I did is you think of a negative. Wherever the light would go, you put shading. Wherever the shading goes, you put light to be able to create that flatness of the cartoon. The other thing is you never knew which screen they were going to use — so it was kind of a surprise! Everyday you have to find a format that is right in the middle that can fit both sides of the color wheel.
SheKnows: As soon as the viewer believes the film has gone black and white with color, The Spiritcomes back as a multi-shaded spectrum.
Isabel Harkins: And a lot of things had to be created to be underwater. Look at the footage from Eva Mendes, it’s supposed to be in a lot of water fluid in very slow motion. You have to cut out your edge. When you’re doing green screen you have to be very careful to not create what they call a dirty edge on the screen when it’s translated.
SheKnows: I noticed a couple things in particular in the female characters of The Spiritthat stand out. One is the use of the shades of red on the actresses’ lips. You mentioned many of the colors where pushed down, but the color red permeates.
Isabel Harkins: We had to create a color that can be altered in CGI at the end in post-production. All those colors were added later on based on the colors we used when we were shooting. To be honest with you, when you look at the actors, when we were shooting, they look a little crazy (laughs). It was a bit like Cirque de Soleil — very flat and base colors and the outline. Frank loved eyes! The main thing from him, if you see anything from him, he works the eyes on all of them. What happened is he wanted all the eyes to be prominent.
The eyes have it
SheKnows: I can really see it on Paz Vega.
Isabel Harkins: That was amazing. That’s the other thing Joel, that when you get actors that they’re used to looking in a similar way and they sit in your chair – you have to negotiate and translate an image that you actually don’t really have. It’s incredible trust for both parties because the final result – you never know what’s it’s going to be. They are used to looking a certain way. Scarlett was very good at that. She is very trusting. Once you convey to her things, she trusts you and goes for it. A lot of actors, like the character Ellen (Sarah Paulson), they are used to a certain look. They do not want anything different. There is a bit of a struggle there, Sarah Paulson is used to looking a certain way. They’re not very adventurous about it. It’s real big. It can be a struggle to be honest with you. She ended up, after a week or so, just going into it once she started seeing it on the monitors.
Up next…inside making it work for Sarah Paulson and Eva Mendes’ insecurities. Plus, our video interview with Eva!