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Feline frolic

Holiday Sneaks | GETTING IT RIGHT: THE MAKEUP

November 09, 2003|Mark Olsen

"Basically the rule of thumb is, if nobody else wants to do it, nobody else knows how to do it, or they can't find somebody to do it, that's what our company does." Nothing proves Steve Johnson's point better than the work his Edge FX has done on "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat." In addition to creating the makeup to transform star Mike Myers into the Cat, Johnson designed a costume with numerous mechanical appendages and accessories as well as other effects and characters.

Johnson came to the project when the film's producers held a competition, paying three companies to create their initial concepts.

"I'm a real competitive person, and I had decided I really wanted to do this film, so I went crazy," he says "I made mechanical hats, a mechanical tie and I came up with an idea for his ears to be mechanical. On one of the tests, it looked like a real cat, very soft with tiny, tiny fur all over the whole face applied with an electrostatic flocking process. We would have to electrically ground Mike and charge tiny hairs with static electricity and then fire them at his face. It covered his face with fine, downy hair that just looked beautiful. But nobody thought it was a good idea to be shooting electricity at Mike Myers every day."

After winning the job, Johnson worked closely with Myers and director Bo Welch in some 30 tests of the makeup for the Cat's face. "We forgave Mike about 25 of the tests," he says, working with a photo double before calling in Myers.

And just how did the look evolve through those 30 tests? "We ended up with less and less on the face. I think the most amazing aspect about the Cat makeup is how that hat even stays on his head. It's a big hat. We couldn't bolt it on because it had to come off easily. Ultimately we ended up with a series of rare earth magnets mounted to a fiberglass skullcap which Mike puts on first and also had the motors for the ears. So there's magnets on the cap and magnets in the hat."

Describing the end product, Johnson says, "We tried to be kind of reminiscent, vaguely true to the Seussian look, but we had to bring that into three dimensions, and we had to work with Mike. And the big challenge was getting something that would allow Mike to come through.

"As simple as it looks, a lot of times the simpler things are more difficult. For Mike to come through, we had to hide the edges of any appliances right in the middle of his face. That's his forehead and his trademark eyebrows, which was really important to him. At worst it's a guy with a stupid Saturday morning cat nose and furry pajamas. And you can look at it that way because it's not some amazing animatronic creation."

-- Mark Olsen

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