If you’ve ever wanted monstrous bat ears, deadly feline fangs and wolflike facial fuzz, horribly gaping-but-painless wounds in your head, or maybe just a vividly sliced, oozing throat, Michael Key is your man.
Key has won two Emmy awards for his makeup work on the TV series “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” He has also worked on movies such as “Planet of the Apes,” “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” and “Batman and Robin.” And he has launched Make-Up Artist Magazine and Key Publishing Group, as well as his industry’s only international trade show.
Today, the Camas makeup magician and industry maven will transform a nice, normal human being into some sort of creature from the Land of Oz at his friend Celena Rubin’s Art of Makeup School in downtown Vancouver. A friend who did makeup on the recent feature film “Oz the Great and Powerful” forwarded a bunch of leftover appliances — prosthetic equipment that gets attached to the body — from over the rainbow to Key, who has done one test run on the model he’s going to transform.
“I’m going to make a whole movie character,” Key said. “I’ll be showing techniques that make these appliances look a lot like flesh.”
That will include building a beard, “gluing and dressing hair,” so it looks just as organic as the real thing, he said. “That’s becoming a much more rare technique than it used to be.”
That’s the morning session. After lunch, Key will bust out a whole shipment of new and experimental materials and appliances, and he and the group will just mess around and see what comes of it, he said.
“I get sent all kinds of things,” he said. “We’ll test our a variety of products. It should be very interesting.”
And if all of that sounds old-school for an industry that’s all about computers and green screens these days, you’re right. While computer imagery has mostly replaced puppets and model spaceships, Key said, there’s no getting around makeup lovingly applying by hand when your task is making a famous face into something radically different but still recognizable.
Remember that weirdly vacant nose space on the face of Harry Potter nemesis Lord Voldemort? Actor Ralph Fiennes reportedly objected to actually lopping his nose off, so that had to be done by computer, Key said. But the rest of Voldemort’s hairless, snakelike visage is simply hand-applied makeup and appliances, Key said.
“Making someone look like someone or something else is still the makeup artist’s territory,” he said. “There are more makeup artists now than there have ever been.”
Makeup in space
Key grew up in Burbank, Calif., where everyone worked in “either the entertainment industry or aerospace,” he said.
He spent about 10 years trying to be a rock star, he said, and watching some others succeed. That lead to a “serious talk with God about what my career path was going to be,” he said, because the idea of “singing for my dinner at the Ramada Inn” was getting old.
What wasn’t getting old was his passion for early, ambitious science-fiction movies and TV shows, such as “Land of the Giants,” “Star Trek” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” When super-slick, sophisticated-looking movies such as “Alien” and “Halloween” started coming out, Key said he got hooked on crazy creatures. He got his friends to invest in materials, so he could start molding heads and making monsters. It was a slow start, but eventually, Key was offered a job doing makeup for NBC.
That lasted a while, but eventually Key rose from applying makeup himself to launching a magazine and an annual convention for makeup artists.
“My role shifted from carrying a case on set to promoting other people’s careers,” he said.
He said he fell in love with Portland culture on quick side trips from Eugene, Ore., where his wife is from. He figured his publishing and marketing business could thrive here, but couldn’t see buying property and raising children in the area until he discovered Clark County, he said. When he did, he said, it took less than 24 hours to find a dream home in Camas.
Who knew that Clark County would prove such fertile ground for professional makeup artists? Celena Rubin figured it out first.
Rubin was a freelance Hollywood makeup artist for more than 20 years. She said she had a great time getting stars and politicians ready for the bright lights. Those makeup jobs are not special effects, of course, but Rubin said she’ll never forget working on famous faces such as presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, actor Robert Downey Jr. and comedian Roseanne Barr.
“It was super-exciting. The makeup was not complicated, but my favorite thing was the people I met and just having that experience,” she said.
But after “well over 20 years” of this, Rubin said, she got on the same “burnout highway” that Key and others seem to take out of L.A. She went looking for a better place to raise her young family and discovered that the Portland area, while increasingly busy with movie and television shoots, had no local school for makeup artistry.
Rubin’s makeup school has now been open for nearly four years, hopping between locations until it settled into downtown Vancouver’s historic Academy building. She said she still does some local freelance makeup artistry jobs — such as two days of work this week for a Nike marketing campaign — but mostly she is devoted to building her school.
“I am so busy with my school. That’s my priority. Moving up here and opening the school has turned out to be a really good idea. We’re still the only (such) school in the area,” she said.