Make-up artist Lilian Tran has worked on a number of television shows aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), as well as movies such as Death Warriors and Love Letter from an Open Grave. Now back in Viet Nam after her stint in Canada, she aims to do more work, this time on the sets of the local cinema industry, and makes her debut in Loi Nguyen Huyet Ngai (The Curse of Blood Wormwood), directed by Thac Chuyen.
Tran has also opened the Vietlooks Make-up School, the first of its kind in Ha Noi, to provide professional training for make-up artists. She spoke to Culture Vulture about the art of make-up in cinema and about her school.
Is make-up art in recent Vietnamese movies more professional than in previous ones?
In the last few years, a wave of Vietnamese-Americans have worked in Hollywood, returned to Viet Nam and begun producing Hollywood-style movies.
A few private companies such as Galaxy, BHD and Early Risers have invested smartly, effectively and profitably in the industry. Vietnamese movies have begun attracting more audiences and can now compete with foreign movies. In this flat-screen and digital era, the Vietnamese people can easily compare the make-up and special effects that they see in Hollywood and Vietnamese movies. If you don't do a good job, they can tell and get upset. You cannot just put some lipstick or colour on the face and body and say those are bruises and blood.
New digital cameras and other modern equipment can be imported. There's no make-up faculty or professional training course at any Vietnamese university. Movie make-up art is not new in Viet Nam, but no one cares about movie quality and its details. The reason for this might be a low budget or a lack of professional training. I went back to Viet Nam at the right time, when private investors can produce movies alongside the state-budgeted ones. These smart investors want to produce good quality movies, so they are willing to hire professionals to do make-up or other parts of the movie's production.
You were a make-up artist in Vietnamese movie blockbusters such as Vengeful Heart, Scandal and The Curse of Blood Wormwood. What would you suggest your Vietnamese colleagues do to improve their profession?
A few professional make-up artists received some training in either the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe a long time ago. They are now old.
In recent years, some Vietnamese went to South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore or China for aesthetic training but mostly for bridal make-up courses. Bridal make-up and studio photos are booming services in Viet Nam. But movie make-up is different from bridal work. You have to create the look of a character according to a script, adding not just the kind of make-up that makes a bride at a wedding scene look beautiful but also to add special effects for the times when the character ages or changes into an alien.
A few Vietnamese actresses always want to look beautiful, even in movie scenes where they play roles that don't call for it, such as that of poverty-stricken women or escaped inmates. One of the obstacles (to developing the profession) is finding professional-grade materials. I have to import these products from the US, and it takes time to reach Viet Nam.
Is there any difference between horror and other film genres?
There is some difference between horror and other films in terms of make-up. Each film requires different kinds of make-up and special effects. Make-up artists have to design the characters or follow the look created by character designers. Some movies need a lot of special effects make-up, but others don't. Make-up plays an important role in the success of a movie.
You havevset up Vietlooks Makeup School in Ha Noi. How does it operate and what do you expect from it?
Movie make-up today requires a professional team of artists. In some Hollywood movies, the make-up unit numbers some 30 people. Some work in the laboratory, creating silicon masks, while others work in the field or just do hair or paint.
At first, I just trained my team members to do their jobs professionally. When the movie shooting was finished, they wanted to learn more, so I opened the school. It serves as a studio where I can share my experience and look for more people who can join my team. — VNS