How ‘Blade Runner 2049’ Hair & Makeup Designers Went Toe-To-Toe With Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi Masterpiece

Kerry Warn Donald Mowat

Lauded by critics and diehard Blade Runner fans, Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up feature Blade Runner 2049 is remarkable for the way in which it captures the complex aesthetic originally conjured up by Ridley Scott and his below-the-line collaborators, while presenting an entirely new visual experience.

Shot over five months in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary, Villeneuve’s typically ambitious feature presented all kinds of logistical challenges for makeup designer Donald Mowat and hair designer Kerry Warn, who dealt with painted contact lenses, Hungarian humidity and full body paint for a memorable hologram shot.

Below, the collaborators discuss their Blade Runner experience, Jared Leto’s method acting and painting Ana de Armas pink for a memorable hologram shot.

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What did Denis Villeneuve convey to you initially about his aesthetic preferences when it came to Blade Runner 2049?

Kerry Warn: Even though it’s set in the future, he didn’t want it to look sci-fi in any way, or any futuristic kind of hair. We had to keep a normality to it to make it believable. He wanted the guys—obviously, Ryan [Gosling]—to have a military feel to his hair. Nothing too obvious, so you see him and you accept what it is.

As far as the girls go, I had a bit more creative leeway, especially with Ana De Armas, who we did quite a few different looks on, because she’s that digital girl. Then Sylvia Hoeks, who played Luv, and Robin [Wright], and Mackenzie Davis, who played Mariette—who was one of the Doxies—they were basically the girls.

With Denis and with Donald we did hair and makeup tests, and things like this, and everything went by Denis to be approved. We just talked about different characters and concepts. Ana, as I explained before, with her different guises—when she was pink and had purple hair, and how we were going to go about that. I wanted to create a sphinxlike look for her so she always looked, in a way, like a predator, so to speak.

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She was going to be blown up so huge on the screen, and all the other characters were just flashes of her, [appearing like] a 50’s housewife, or whatever else we did. Denis didn’t want too much big hair. Obviously, with the morphing of characters and things, it had to be quite contained. That was sort of a challenge, to make it look believable, but also make it work for the film photography.

With the blown-up hologram version of Joi, did you actually paint Ana de Armas pink?

Donald Mowat: Yeah. [laughs] It was a source of great anxiety for me because we were working off a lot of storyboards, which Kerry and I had for each character. Denis is very much a storyboard director—I guess he always has been. Sometimes, the artwork is a little misleading.

When I first saw the paint, I just thought we’d have a very pale girl painted pink, but when we got the beautiful Ana De Armas, who’s Cuban, suddenly pink was more difficult to convey.

I think a week before I left for Hungary, I was literally in the beauty supply in Los Angeles, buying every color of pink—and corals and oranges, just in case it went wrong. Of course, I found the right thing and it was the oldest thing in the [book]— Mehron body. It has been used in the theater, [by] the Blue Man Group. Because Roger [Deakins] is so brilliant, he gave me a little help with a little pink gel.

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The contact lenses…luckily, she only wore them a couple of days, because they were big, scleral, kind of purple-y…They were quite a dark purple, and then Kerry had the purple wig. It took so much effort and work on that brief thing, but it was beautiful.

Warn: There was a lot of testing, with hair and then with makeup, to come up with the right idea. I thought she looked absolutely beautiful—it’s quite a strong look.

Mowat: That was hand-painted. We didn’t airbrush it. I think sometimes in the world of hair and makeup, some of the old tricks still work.

Did either of you study the original Blade Runner in preparation for this project?

Warn: I didn’t look at it. I didn’t refresh my memory, because I wanted to go in there with fresh eyes and new thoughts—and also, with Renée April, to see what she was doing with costumes—rather than be totally beholden to what happened before.

Mowat: I felt very much the same way. I love the original film and have referenced it for other films I’ve worked on; certainly, from a makeup point of view. Certainly with Mackenzie, there is a little bit of an homage to Daryl Hannah, but we weren’t trying to replicate Daryl Hannah.

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Warn: Absolutely, because I think it would have been wrong to do that, personally.

Mowat: I do, too. The one thing I’ve always known about Denis is, “Less is more.” Even with Ryan—and all those makeup changes, and blood, and dirt, and sweat—that feel had to be very much out of kit, and also based in reality. Denis likes that, and it felt right for what we were doing.

What was the thinking when it came to Jared Leto and Robin Wright’s characters, in terms of the slicked back hair?

Warn: When we were with Robin, we couldn’t change her hair because she was doing House of Cards, and we only had a brief amount of time. We weren’t allowed to color her hair or to actually change the shape of it, so I had to work just with styling it—because she had this neat bob-like hairdo that she has for her other role.

We didn’t want her to look like the House of Cards girl. I wanted to give her something else. In the process of deciding and trying a look, I wet the hair and was trying partings, seeing how side partings looked, center partings, just to sort of balance the face.

I’d never worked with her before, and just by parting her hair to the side, she said, “Hm, that looks interesting.” I thought it was great, so we photographed it and showed Denis. It was an elegant, slightly androgynous look.

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With Jared, we couldn’t cut his hair either because he was working on another project. Basically, it evolved that we would just take it back so you could see his face.

Mowat: I thought with Robin, it looked great, and as Kerry said, we had limitations. It’s one of those things for hair and makeup designers and what we do, actor availability. It feels like we don’t get the time we used to and we have to think quickly. I showed Robin and Denis a picture of Jeanne Moreau, and Denis liked it. There was a French quality—she’s always made up and looking gorgeous. She still looked gorgeous, but in a different way in this.

Warn: I thought she looked lived-in. She looked like a woman who had lived, and that’s what’s beautiful about it, too. How, like Jeanne Moreau, you look at her and you think, Well, she’s had a life.

Mowat: Jared was a huge source of anxiety for me because we got word quite late that he’d been cast. There were a number of people up for the part and then ten days before, I get a call from Jared saying, “I really would like to try these lenses, so I’ll have my people in Los Angeles do a fitting.” But they had to be very specific scleral lenses, which have to be hand-painted. There’s only two or three people in the world who do that.

It was a miracle to get those lenses painted because that’s usually [done] months in advance. I borrowed some favors and gave myself some chest pains, because it was quite sleepless. Denis had wanted us to try another option with more of a prosthetic makeup. I’m so glad he chose not to, because it really was getting us in the world of other films that we’d seen quite recently, and Denis was very aware of that. It could [come off] comical or too much of a copy of something quite recent.

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The eyes, we haven’t seen in a while, and they were interesting, but it didn’t need more than that. Then, on his neck, he got a small prosthesis, just to enable the anchoring of that vision piece.

Reportedly, these lenses left Leto almost blind when he had them in on set.

Mowat: Here’s what it was. Professional VisionCare, they do all the lenses. Even on The Human Stain, they did all the lenses, so they’ve been around forever. I was in such a panic that the opaque lenses were painted with two pairs—obviously, you always have a backup.

Jared could still see through the paint job and he said to me, “Donald, I really do not want to see.” It’s funny because there’s a number of crewmembers he never saw. God love him, he really is a method actor. He was committed, so I suggested we piggyback the lenses and put in two [per eye], which meant he could only wear them a few hours.

Of course, I’m glad he was only there for a short time. Those lenses, they won’t blind you, but you can’t work for more than six or seven hours a day wearing them.

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It must have been difficult to deal with hair and makeup continuity when it came to the weather conditions we see in the film—the rain, the snow, as well as the dirt and grime.

Mowat: The hardest thing on the film, in terms of makeup, was that we were never shooting in sequence. We started Ryan in the picture where I kind of had to map together what possibly happened. You are kind of on your own in the sense that you have to work with the actor more than anybody to say, “Look, we don’t know what that rehearsal will be.” Dave Bautista didn’t come on to the picture until the final week, so we established Ryan after the fight with Bautista falling through the wall on the final couple of days.

I did struggle, I have to say. It was terrifying because he worked every single day in the film, and that continuity, those things are probably the hardest thing in makeup. Certainly for me, it was really full-on, trying to make it believable. It has to build, and the rain and sleet and dirt have to move. That was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I think we pulled it off.

Warn: For me, the humidity was a challenge with hair. It always is, because it just kills hair. That’s why LA’s perfect to do filming. You’ve got the sunshine, the dryness. As soon as there’s any humidity, the hair changes. It sticks to the face, it drops, it falls, so that, you have to go with. That was the mood of the film, and hence, you see the Doxies with sort of greasy-like hair. I thought, “We’ve got to go there, because it’s going to be there anyway.”

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