The Human Face Behind the Masks: A Night with Michael Westmore



Michael Westmore photograph by Blake Bronstad.

Walking into the exhibit Lifeforms: The Makeup Art of Michael Westmore at the AD&A Museum, one is transported into the world of Star Trek, where aliens and humans work together to create peace and protect the universe. The captivating masks, the dramatic Borg appendages, and the detailed sketches all are the creation of makeup artist Michael Westmore, who worked on television and movie productions for the Star Trek franchise for many years. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak about his work during A Night with Michael Westmore (Oct 6, 2016 at the Pollock Theater), an event organized in conjunction with the Lifeform exhibit that highlighted the creative mastermind behind the aliens.

The event began with a screening of Star Trek: First Contact, a movie for which Westmore was the main makeup artist. The movie’s plot follows the crew of the Enterprise as they protect Earth from the insidious Borg species, intent on assimilating humans into their mechanical hive-mind. The central antagonist is the Borg Queen, who controls the minds of all of the Borg in her quest for domination over the universe. Her makeup, a combination of mechanics and stretched artificial skin, creates a look both disturbing and enticing. Conflict arises when she captures and tortures Data, an android who is part of the Enterprise’s crew. In order to break his resistance and convert him to a Borg, she attempts to give him human features such as skin; a quality which Data has always desired. First Contact is truly a makeup masterpiece.

For someone familiar with the Lifeforms exhibit, it was exciting to recognize many of the objects in the exhibit on screen. The sample of human skin grafted onto Data in the movie is included in Lifeforms, where visitors can closely examine how meticulously each hair is placed. Another item on display is a replica Borg body suit, which likewise allows the menacing mechanics of the Borg to be viewed up close. There is even a mechanical Borg arm prosthetic in the exhibit, created for an amputee actor, that the attentive viewer will be able to spot in this film. It was amazing to witness the makeup in action!

After the intrepid crew of the enterprise wards off the Borg and saves Earth from conquest, they travel further into space with the hopeful message of peace and galactic alliance. After the lights in the theater came on Matthew Ryan, the director of the Pollock Theater invited Westmore onstage for a Q&A session. In the animating discussion that followed, Westmore talked about the specifics of his creation process and how much the makeup world has changed due to an increased reliance on digital effects – adding that he still carries a kit with fishing line, waxes, and even needles, because he is so used to having to rely on swift ingenuity in order to craft the right effect. Westmore certainly lamented the turn towards digital effects instead of physical makeup application, indicating the fear that makeup may soon become a lost art.

The conversation, however, also turned towards the Westmore family legacy. Westmore spoke of his father, uncle, and grandfather who all were part of the makeup art world. This insight into the Westmore history revealed how much the family helped to shape the art of makeup in Hollywood, even when movies were a new art form themselves. While initially he did not plan on becoming a makeup artist, Westmore explained that he was drawn into the field after doing an apprenticeship with his uncle. Finally, he spoke of his daughter, who has become a makeup artist as well. Michael Westmore and his daughter Sophia both currently star in the TV show Faceoff where they mentor and judge aspiring makeup artists.

A Night with Michael Westmore allowed the audience to witness Westmore’s personality, creativity and passion up close. Upon entering the Lifeforms exhibition, I now have a clearer picture of Westmore’s vision as an artist, and how he has used his creativity to help build the foundation for a show that continues to inspire audiences to this day.

– Kendall Murphy, AD&A Fine Arts Curatorial Intern

“Lifeforms: The Makeup Art of Michael Westmore” has been extended through April 30th, and is accompanied by the exhibit “WESTMORE: Making Faces for Film”.


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