For decades the name in visual effects makeup was seven-time Oscar winner Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Harry and the Hendersons). But today, the field courses with fresh blood thanks to competition shows like SyFy’s Face Off, YouTube tutorials, and comic-cons. Long a male-dominated industry, here in Portland four women are making a name for themselves, thanks to a signal boost from their work on former PDX-based fantasy shows Grimm and The Librarians, and their disgustingly good skills at creating oozing wounds, aging actors beyond their years, and crafting terrifying razor-toothed creatures.
Thirteen years ago Kortum ditched her job as a database designer to open Ravenous Studios, where she’s sculpted scaley lizard-like monsters and gruesome prosthetics for everything from Grimm and Netflix’s The OA to upcoming sci-fi flick Doom: Annihilation, all while mentoring female protégés. “If you want to compete in this field, you need to develop a sense of fearlessness on tackling things and not being scared of doing it wrong,” she explains. “The wonderful thing about effects is, there is no right way.”
A self-taught artist, on any given day Brooksbank might spend four hours painstakingly applying a zombie face on an actor on the set of apocalyptic TV series Z Nation or body-painting performers for a Wieden & Kennedy party. And thanks to a brief stint of EMT training, she’s a go-to for local trauma and wound makeup. “There’s a lot of art to what we do, but there’s a lot of science, math, and engineering, too,” says Brooksbank. “Like if ... you need [a wound] to just slowly bleed, we’ll come up with a mechanical way to pump blood through the prosthetic.”
Portland native Muta spent several years studying and working in Los Angeles on big-budget flicks like Thor and Predators. Now back in PDX, she fills her down time between Hollywood effects gigs doing beauty makeup on local film and TV projects like Hulu hit Shrill (or making Fred Armisen bald on Portlandia). “When I say ‘effects,’ that ... could be a full creature suit or appliances you’re gluing on the body,” she explains. “It’s a long application process. [We’re] potentially doing makeup anywhere from one to six hours prior to the crew getting in.”
With a background in sculpture, Arpin spent much of her training time underground: crafting hellfire demons and killer clowns on both actors and animatronics as the special effects makeup department head at Memorial Coliseum’s Halloween spectacle FrightTown for nine years. “My mom was an actress and she got hired to run a haunted house, and I—being a teen art kid—did all the makeup. I never knew that that was, like, a job,” says Arpin, who also specializes in aging makeup. “I thought it was just like this fun thing that I did after school with my mom.”