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It's All in the Details

They don't get the $20-million paychecks or credits above the title, but they are major players in determining how movies look.

March 26, 2000|CHRISTOPHER NOXON | Christopher Noxon is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer

Michele Burke, Mike Smithson, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" * From playboy spy to Fat Bastard, the artists were allowed to flout normal rules of naturalism.

Makeup artist Michele Burke won an Oscar in 1982 for creating anatomically correct cavemen in "Quest for Fire"' and another in 1993 for fashioning realistic vampires in "Bram Stoker's Dracula." So she was a bit surprised to find herself nominated this year for outfitting Mike Myers in obviously fake chest hair and a cheap wig.

In "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," Burke helped turn Myers into the playboy spy with abundant body hair and bad teeth. Also nominated for "Austin Powers" is Mike Smithson, who transformed Myers into the hideous henchman Fat Bastard with the help of an enormous water-cooled suit made from foam latex.

The nomination just goes to show, Burke says, that the academy has a sense of humor. "If we should be so honored, it would really prove that the academy is not just old fuddy-duds," she says. "Everything we did was totally over the top."

Myers simply wanted the makeup, like everything else in the movie, to be funny. Which meant flouting normal rules of naturalism, Burke says. "I remember I was just horrified by the hairline on one of his wigs," Burke says. "He just said, 'No, no--I want it to look like I have a bad wig on.' We are always trying to make things look natural, but it was the complete opposite for him."

Burke used somewhat more sophisticated techniques in her work on the baldheaded mastermind Dr. Evil and his diminutive sidekick Mini Me, played by Verne Troyer. To make the 2-foot-8 Troyer look as close in appearance to Myers as possible, she fitted him with colored contact lenses, sculpted pieces of gelatin and airbrush-applied pigments. "People think we just painted him up and shaved him down, but there was a tremendous amount of prosthetics involved," she says.

Prosthetics were used again in the creation of Fat Bastard, the 800-pound-plus deliveryman who provides some of the film's most stomach-turning guffaws. Smithson, who previously worked on "The Fly," and on "Bicentennial Man," says his direction from Myers was relatively simple.

"He wanted him to be redheaded, Scottish and absolutely disgusting," he says.

Smithson designed three "fat suits" based on drawings of Sumo wrestlers and tailored to computer coordinates of Myers' physique, then covered the surface in artificial moles and hair follicles. It took almost four hours to get Myers into the most elaborate of the outfits and a golf cart to carry him from the makeup trailer to the set. "We launched him like a U-boat," Smithson says.

Sadly, some of Smithson's most detailed work was never seen by anyone outside the production. In a scene cut from the final version, Myers worked himself into a frenzy while dancing a jig, ending his routine by rubbing himself against Cindy Margolis. "It was completely disgusting and very disturbing," he says. "I'm just sorry no one got a chance to see it."

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