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Figure It Out

Jacob Coakley • Special Effects • June 1, 2014

Darren Jinks used Ben Nye makeup to make a silent film, black and white look for an LA Opera production of The Magic Flute

Darren Jinks used Ben Nye makeup to make a silent film, black and white look for an LA Opera production of The Magic Flute

How SFX crews create the effects that make your show truly special

Special effects got their name because they’re, well, special—as in “otherwise different than usual.” And things that are different than usual take a little more time to figure out and get right. Enter the special effects specialists. We talked with SFX experts across the entire range of possible effects to learn how they work with theatres to design an effect, how they make it actually happen—and what you can take away from their process. 

Ben Nye

Darren Jinks is wig master at LA Opera Company, but the position also calls for a lot of makeup work and his advice for special effects makeup is simple: Test, but verify. 

“Makeup is something that needs to be seen under the lights to tell if the color and the overall look of it is correct,” Jinks says. 

For example, a recent production of The Magic Flute at the L.A. Opera recast the main characters as stars from the silent film era. They interacted with animation that was projected onto a white wall and the projection was the only light on the stage. Jinks did a lot of research into finding the exact right shade of white makeup to desaturate the performers’ faces, eventually choosing Ben Nye White Creme Foundation P1, then went over it with pancake. 

In keeping with the silent-film concept, their Monostatos was modeled after Nosferatu, which meant Jinks had to prepare and test silicone prosthetics for the singer’s chin, nose, head and ears. And of course he tested out how to use makeup on those as well. “I ended up choosing Ben Nye MagiColor Liquid Paints, thinned with Liquiset, as an airbrush medium,” says Jinks. “I got really great results with it.” 

But the real test always comes under lights for the first time. “I did a shading job on him with the airbrush that looked fantastic backstage—but he went onstage and it was completely wrong, looked like heavily applied stripes of paint.” Jinks quickly found the right balance for Nosferatu’s makeup, but it reinforced his resolve to be prepared to make changes because “You just can’t tell until people are onstage.” 

People certainly noticed Jinks’ work. He won the “2014 Make-up and Hair Stylists Guild Award for Best Make-up & Hair – Theatrical Productions – Live Theatre” presented by I.A.T.S.E. Local 706, Make-up and Hair Stylists Guild for his work on The Magic Flute. “The Award was shared with my main assistants Samantha Wootten and Brandi Strona and truly was for the work done by the entirety of my wonderful staff and crew,” says Jinks. “It took the talents of 19 makeup, wig and hair artists to bring it to the stage.”

Flying By Foy suspended wires from the hills behind a resort into their pool area to fly in performers.

Flying By Foy suspended wires from the hills behind a resort into their pool area to fly in performers.

Flying By Foy

What happens when a client’s artistic vision for an effect has to be scrubbed due to unforeseen limitations in the performance venue?

Joe McGeough, the director of operations for Flying by Foy, relates the story of a corporate event planned for a southwestern resort’s water park: an outdoor area with acres of free-form pools fed by waterfalls cascading from the surrounding cliffs.

The creative team’s original concept for the opening sequence involved a series of dancers wall-walking up the towering rock faces bracketing the waterfalls. “When we arrived on site and went outside to the pool area, everyone’s face just dropped,” recalls McGeough. The “cliffs” that loomed so large in the photos on the resort’s website were, in reality, no more that 8 to 10 feet tall. “So, the initial concept obviously wasn’t going to fly.”

Graftobian’s Metal Mania line gives a metallic look – and a little goes a long way

Flying by Foy
3275 East Patrick Ln.
Las Vegas, NV 89120
P: 702-454-3500

Graftobian Makeup Company
510 Tasman St.
Madison, WI 53714
P: 608-222-7849

J&M Special Effects
524 Sackett St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217
P: 718-875-0140

Le Maitre
P.O. Box 365077
Las Vegas, NV 89036
P: 702-843-5080

Look Solutions USA
10210 Governor Lane Blvd., Ste. #2008-B
Williamsport, MD 21795

P: 240-366-8285

100 Red Schoolhouse Rd.
Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977
P: 845-426-1700

Offices across the U.S.
P: 800-854-4705

Rosco Labs
52 Harbor View
Stamford, CT 06902
P: 800-767-2669

Theatre Effects
1810 Airport Exchange Blvd., Ste. 400
Erlanger, KY 41018
P: 800-791-7646

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