The challenge to faithfully portray the changing look over the extensive period of Mandela's journey was presented to the Make-Up and Prosthetics team.
Make-Up Designer, Meg Tanner, and her outstanding team had to create the diverse appearance of 12 000 extras, 105 cast members, and seven leads spanning over five decades. Inspired by the story and Justin Chadwick as a visionary director, Tanner worked from accurate photographic references. "We wanted to give honour to the people who are represented in the film."
Tanner, enjoyed meaningful input from Elba and she designed seven looks for Mandela's changing appearance over the years. As a young man, Mandela's hairstyle was distinguished by a pronounced side parting. His dashing good looks, statuesque body, self-confidence and mischievous charm made him popular among the ladies. "Idris doesn't feel forced into looking like Madiba, he has a twinkle in his eye, and his own powerful presence and it works." says Tanner who weaved a human hair wig for Elba's young Mandela. "It really becomes a part of his head and movements and for Idris it feels like it's a part of him and not a foreign object that has been placed on his head. We wanted to give Justin his vision to capture the spirit of the man and not create a look alike replica."
Ageing several of the main characters including Mandela, his fellow prisoners and Winnie over a 40-year period called for significant prosthetic work to take the ageing further than straight make-up could achieve.
"We needed to find a way to age the actors and have them look like their real life counterparts, and specifically we discussed ways how to get Idris to resemble Nelson Mandela, but without the look alike approach that Justin was so against." recalls Thompson. "We decided not to unduly concentrate on 'duplicating' Idris into Mandela, or add too much rubber to his face to change the structure of his face."
Tanner's design boards served as a critical guide for the make-up and prosthetics team to tackle the project in a cohesive way. She worked very closely with Academy Award® winning (The Iron Lady, World War Z) British Prosthetics designer, Mark Coulier, and they configured a way to avoid a glaring 'jump' between natural ageing and the final prosthetics.
Many of the key characters went through two stages of prosthetics. Stage One was the gradual aging of the cast members to the point of 18 years into their sentence Stage Two prosthetics was when the prisoners were transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982. To accomplish this stage of prosthetics involved four hours of application, hair and final make-up. On these days, the actors would be in the chair at 03:30am.
Coulier worked with South African prosthetics and sculpting specialist, Clinton Aiden-Smith and together the team of some twenty prosthetic artists from the United Kingdom and South Africa, created their magic in Aiden-Smith's workshop 'Cosmesis'.
Coulier discusses the challenges of prepping, creating moulds, and painting details as fine as eyebrows. "There are new set of pieces every single day for every character, and in a scene that features six characters we had to prepare 36 pieces for one days filming!"
In addition to the massive scope of prosthetics that sometimes required twelve artists working on one character, Aiden Smith states that creating Winnie was the most difficult: "It was a very involved process to blend all those fine little prosthetic edges into Naomie’s flawless skin."
In awe of the skill of the makeup artists, Thompson says, "They are so sensationally good, they have transformed Idris into a 75-year-old Mandela, and you completely believe it. We can have the same actor go right through the ages. We could not have done this when the project originated 16 years ago when makeup was less advanced."