The Story of the Dragon – Research
This is a multi-part series about how we created this look from start to finish. I am going to put a huge disclaimer here, both my partner and I were not special effects makeup artists at the time that we started this look and as such, the techniques you see here may not be the best way of doing what we needed to do. We did take some risks but that was after rounds of researching and taking precautions especially when it came to working with our model.
Cosmoprof Academy holds a competition for students and alumni to compete in three categories: Bridal, Fashion, and Body Art and Special Effects. The Body Art and Special Effects category is the only team event. All participants are given three hours to fully costume and style their models. All entries were then judged by three judges from the makeup and beauty industry and three winners were chosen for each category. Spoiler! We got first-runner up!
Conceptualization for this look was a long process and it started out with a very simple idea – Water. Creating fantasy creatures and characters can be really difficult because there is no real limitations in terms of design. Of course, with the right expertise there is a saying that goes “If there is a will, there is a way” but we were limited. We were not trained in special effects techniques and we live in a place where getting RMG paint, pax paint or even Pros Aide can turn out to be a logistical nightmare. However, limitations aren’t there to spoil the fun and can make something very challenging yet rewarding. The first limitation we came across was doing something that had not been done by a previous participant. Looking at all the previous contestants for the competition – there was always a sea themed creation: a mermaid of sorts. We decided that we wanted to do something different and that’s when the idea of a dragon popped into our minds.
This was the time when I was absolutely crazy about The Hobbit movies and I received the book by Weta Workshop called “Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon” as a present. I had loved dragons all my life, it was my favourite fantasy creature. Dragons were powerful, dangerous yet majestic and rather beautiful in their own scaly way. They embody everything that is fantasy to me. They are creatures (instant cool points because I love fantasy creatures in particular), they could be magical or they could be very real in a fantastic kind of way (they breathe fire, hello?!) and they could be given the power of speech. So I was utterly excited at the idea our core concept of our look was a dragon.
The concept was solidified by the research my partner did on water-like dresses; dresses that evoked the imagery of flowing water and of waves. Sea creatures were also up on the table, and we found dresses made of LED lights, and dresses made of PETG plastic. The concept was born – our character was coming to life.
She was a Goddess of the Deep Sea and of Dragons.
However, we did not want to just decorate her with dragon motifs – we wanted to create something that could be both dragon and human. It was a design challenge, and something we could not tackle unless we did a lot of research.
Research, we did.
Research is one of those things that can either make or break a look. If we were not designing, we were researching. Research gives you access to a lot of questions and answers: most importantly the character development ones that determine details that will create layers to form a complex and interesting character. Writing a backstory isn’t simply just what is their favourite colour, or food, or occupation; it’s about where they live, what do they do, how do they do, what do they believe in and what are their defining character traits.
All of these questions help you find a design that communicates the character to the viewing audience. We all express ourselves in a visual way – what we wear, how we wear it, and when we wear it. As trivial as it might seem, a character has to be exaggerated in order to inform the audience of what they are about. A warrior is different from a bard, a maiden is different from a tavern wrench, a craftsmen is different from a king. So it is important to decide which details you want your character to carry in order to tell the story of their life – and that includes past and current injuries, and effects of weather on them (in other words, are they out in the sun a lot and what kind of climate do they live in.)
Our research brought us into the world of asking questions that seem rather mundane actually. Our greatest concern was to distinguish our dragon goddess from a mermaid. It led to a little journey into studying fish and reptiles. Everything from the size and shape of the scales were investigated and discussions about what made fish scales different from reptile ones.
Research tells you all the answers to those questions and it heavily guided the final designs and colour choices. It also gives you answers to problems of creating rigs in order to distribute weight of heavier pieces properly. It also gives insight on ways to improve work you have already done. However, sometimes, research has to lean into experimentation – theory can only bring you so far.
There is definitely a time when you need to put aside the research and grab your proverbial bags and get moving. We did a lot of experimentation – sculpting and painting wise. Sometimes there is no other way to find out some things other than through experimentation. Figuring how we could paint our latex appliances was the biggest concern because we did not have access to the best tools.
So after a month or so of researching, all the ground work was laid out to begin the task of bringing this dragon to life.
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