Oscar Winning Makeup Artist, Tami Lane, Shares Her Journey To Film Success

By: Shaine Freeman | Photo Courtesy: LA Times

makeup artist tami lane
Tami Lane & Howard Berger with Oscars

Imagine films like “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” without makeup and effects.  Would films like these have generated the accolades and revenues they did without the amazing work of the makeup artists who create the character images?

Meet one of the geniuses behind the makeup, Oscar Winner, Tami Lane. Having brought to life the characters in hit films like, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Chronicles of Narnia” trilogy, Tami has proven her worth in Tinsel Town. Here, we caught up with the woman who followed dreams from Central Illinois all the way to Hollywood.”

Could you please tell us where you’re from and what inspired you to pursue a career in

I’m from Peoria, Illinois (birthplace of Richard Pryor, and yours truly) and I graduated from Bradley University with a degree in Art. While in high school I was heavily into sports but, I also wanted to get into something different as a hobby. When I was 15, I went to my high school band director and asked if she would introduce me to someone at Peoria Players Theatre, because I was very interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of theater. So, she introduced me to all the behind-the-scenes crew on a musical called “Sweet Charity,” which was playing at the theatre. One of the guys I met, Harold Breitenbach, began teaching me some things about makeup. From there, I started working with Peoria Players Theatre until I graduated high school.

What led you to Hollywood?
By my senior year at Bradley, I began to think hard about what I was going to do after I graduated. That’s when a friend of mine told me about this class (at Bradley) that took trips to Hollywood, and so I got involved in that. We ended up going to LA for two weeks, during which time we met Henry Winkler, Howard W. Koch (former President of Paramount Pictures), and we also toured a makeup effects house called K.N.B. EFX Group, Inc. Because of my history with makeup, K.N.B. was what I took the most interested in during the visit. I wanted to see where they created monsters for film, so when we walked into K.N.B. EFX my mind was blown. I met Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, and Bob Kurtzman who owns K.N.B. Howard (Berger) told me to go back to Bradley and graduate, then call him when I move out to LA. That’s virtually what I did.

What was your first professional job in the movie business and how did it come about?
When I got to LA, Howard didn’t give me a job immediately, so I stayed persistent and kept calling him. My first job was actually as a scenic painter for the UCLA Opera. Eventually, I got a call from Howard the day before my birthday and he told me they had this really big show and needed some grunt workers. So I started working for $7/hour cleaning out molds and sweeping floors at K.N.B. for a movie called “Spawn,” which kind of spawned my career. [laughs]

Once I got into K.N.B. EFX, I worked really hard and learned everything I could. The guys at K.N.B. are really great and they showed me literally everything I know, because I was absolutely clueless before I started working there. It was great that they took a chance on me.

You won an Academy Award in 2006 for the film “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” Could you share with us what your job was on that particular film and how it felt to know you were even up for an Oscar, not to mention actually winning?
On “Narnia,” I was the ‘Key Prosthetic Makeup Artist.’ What that means is that I was the first one in charge after the supervisor. The supervisor on that project was Howard Berger, and I would assist him in coordinating 40 makeup artists to do makeup for about 11 different species, approximately 150 characters every morning by 11am. In addition, my other responsibility was to do 2 major characters, Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) and Ginarrbrik (played by Kiran Shah). I also had a bunch of other characters throughout the show to do makeup for, like Centaur, Hags, and Goblins. It was a tough gig because we’d get up for work at 2am and wouldn’t get back home until 10pm to get a couple of hours of sleep before we had to get right back up and do it all over again. All-in-all it was a great experience. I put in 8 hours before the average person gets up and starts working. [laughs]

“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” was also great, and we finished filming the third installment, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” last year in Australia.

Tami Lane making Mr. Tumnus "The Chronicles of Narnia"
Tami Lane making Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) for “The Chronicles of Narnia” (Photo Courtesy: Bradley University/Tami Lane)

For someone who wants to work in makeup for film and TV, where should they start?
I recommend they educate themselves about this particular area of film as much as possible. I say that because that’s where I fell behind the “8 ball.” I wasn’t very educated on the history of what I wanted to do, but through the years I became more and more educated about it. Also, you have to put yourself in situations that allow you to learn and be exposed to opportunity. Had I not gone to Peoria Players Theatre when I was 15, I would have never discovered that I loved working in the entertainment field. I was an athlete and I thought that I’d be a Physical Therapist for Baseball teams, but when I joined the theater I discovered this hidden talent and passion.

I always tell students to get as much education as they can but don’t just stay where they’re at after graduating. All the education in the world won’t help you if you don’t live where you’ll be exposed to opportunities. You have to move to a city like Los Angeles, New York, or Atlanta and get involved in what you really want to do. Also, enthusiasm outweighs talent in most cases. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if your attitude sucks you’re not going to get anywhere. I’m a perfect example of that, because I did not know anything about this industry but I was highly enthusiastic about it and the people who took me under their wings noticed that. Ten years later, I win an Oscar!

What are some of the biggest misconceptions that people tend to have about what you do onset?
The fact that people think it’s highly glamorous, but it’s not. We work with dangerous chemicals everyday – I do a lot of work with silicone based chemicals. What we put on the actors is not poisonous, but certain stuff we as makeup artists are exposed to is.

Also, the hours are long. In many cases we’re the first ones in and the last ones out. For example, on “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” we stayed in a place no bigger than an average bathroom in the United States. It was a hotel from the communist era. We’d go to work at 1:30am because it was an hour drive to the location, and we’d get home at 10:30pm. We did this 6 days a week for 9 weeks straight. It’s very hard work, but people think because we work in the movie business it’s really easy. We don’t get two weeks of paid vacation like people in corporate America, and some people don’t have health insurance either. In our industry, if we don’t work we don’t get paid.

What are some of the most recent projects you’ve worked on?
Earlier this year (2010) a film called “Splice” was released which was executive produced by Guillermo del Toro. We did that movie about 3 years ago but it was released this year. Also, in 2009 we worked on Bruce Willis’ movie “Surrogates.” The next release is “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which is the third installment of that series which, as earlier mentioned, comes out around Christmas 2010. We did some work on Mel Gibson’s film, “Edge of Darkness.” I did another movie with Guillermo del Toro called “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” but I’m not sure when that will be released. I just wrapped on a film called “Water for Elephants,” which is based on the novel (of the same name). The elephant in that story gets beaten and marked up, and I got to put the makeup wounds on this giant elephant, which was fun. Currently (at time of this interview), I’m working in Albuquerque on the remake of the 80’s movie, “Fright Night,” which will star Colin Farrell and Toni Collette.