Where Gauchos Boldly Go: An Evening of Michael Westmore’s Makeup Work

Image Courtesy of Amy Chase Facebook

Amy Chase
Staff Writer

Captain’s Log, Stardate: Oct. 6, 2016 the day I made first contact with many diverse alien species such as the Klingons, the Ferengi and the Borg. Thanks to UCSB alumnus and award-winning makeup artist Michael Westmore Sr., all these creatures and more sat on brilliant display in the campus Arts, Design, & Architecture Museum for the reception of “Lifeforms, “a Star Trek event hosted by the Pollock Theater. The museum installation and movie event were arranged to celebrate the contributions to movie makeup and practical effects that Westmore has achieved over his prolific career as part of the Westmore family legacy.

Known to many fans as a mentor on Syfy’s Face Off, and known to even more Trekkies as the mind behind such famous creatures as the cold, reptilian Cardassians and the robotic Borg, Michael Westmore began his work as a makeup artist in the 60’s as a continuation of his family’s legacy in Hollywood artistry. He was hired by his uncle Bud Westmore, who notably co-created the eponymous Creature from the Black Lagoon. The family lays claim to other famous contributions on such films as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Gone with the Wind, and Raging Bull.

At the museum reception, I had a brief chance to introduce myself to Westmore and ask him how anyone looking to go into modern movie makeup design should get their start. He said that the best course of action is to go to school for makeup art and really stick with the program.

Working from home can be a good hobby, but he believes the directed atmosphere of the design classes really encourage creativity while providing access to the needed resources. Afterwards, I stood among a crowd of enamored Trekkies who asked him specific detail questions about the skin textures on the foam latex Klingon foreheads and the composition of the Ferengi cowls.

When the reception was over, the event transferred to the Pollock Theater, where we were shown a screening of Star Trek: First Contact. The movie heavily featured the zombie-like Borg collective, showcasing Westmore’s versatility and innovation as humans, Vulcans, and other aliens were all turned into the frightening robotic drones. It was an engaging and entertaining film, made all the more interesting knowing some of the tricks of the makeup trade behind characters like Lieutenant Worf the Klingon, the android Data, and the unnerving Borg Queen.

After the credits rolled, Michael Westmore took the stage alongside Pollock Theater’s Matthew Ryan for an interview session about Star Trek, Westmore’s contributions to the franchise, and his other acclaimed makeup credits. He talked about several other films he’s worked on including Rocky, after the production of which he threw out the script, thinking it wasn’t going to be worth saving.

One of his tips to succeeding as a makeup artist was to remember that the actor is to be helped and doesn’t want to hear the troubles or complaints of their makeup artist. Westmore emphasized that the actor’s comfort is most important, because the makeup chair is usually their first stop on a filming day, and can impact the rest of the morning. And often those mornings could begin at 4:30 a.m. for both the cast and crew. But, Westmore said, the long hours were never dull because he had the pleasure to work with wonderful people and fantastic designs, making the days fly by.

The entire evening was such a treat, made possible by Michael Westmore being so generous with his time and his talents. To go from seeing the makeup effects on display in the museum to functioning on-screen provided wonderful insight into the world of movie magic. Anyone who takes an interest in Hollywood makeup and design, or considers themselves a Trekkie, must boldly go and see the AD&A exhibit, which will remain for the rest of the fall quarter, and get up close and personal with some incredible aliens. Westmore’s work and family legacy continues to live long and prosper in foam latex and on film.