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£2,000 make-up course in Belfast could help get our Ivan ready for the silver screen

By Ivan Little

Nuala Campbell was an accountant, but longed to work in the beauty industry. Now, she's behind some of TV and film's most dramatic looks.

She got her teeth into Dracula last year, but film make-up expert Nuala Campbell must have wondered if she'd bitten off more than she could chew with the challenge to turn me into a 1940s-style movie star to help launch her new creative management business in Belfast.

Happily, Nuala didn't brush me aside, however, and set about her task with every bit as much enthusiasm as if she'd been working on George Clooney, when in fact the subject in front of her was less silver fox and more Long John Silver.

But even for someone who has been transformed into a pantomime dame in his/her time and has slapped on the old slap for TV, I wasn't exactly made up to be made up in a way that was totally alien to me.

But my fears were without foundation, so to speak.

Nuala says: "The concept of today's shoot is all about bringing the old-style film into the 21st century. You and the models who will be in the photographs with you are being painted in what's known as grey scale.

"But you will be standing in colour surroundings so in the photos you're going to appear black and white. But you will just be painted that way and you will be shot in colour. The idea is to keep the luxury and classic feel of the old film, but doing it in a more modern way.

"Once you see the photo you will probably do a double take to realise it is not actually black and white," says Nuala, who started off on the complexities of my complexion with a little moisturiser to hydrate my tired old hide.

Then came the grey scale. Loads of grey scale. And then some more.

Not exactly 50 shades of grey but it was getting close.

Nuala (32) has worked on a large number of TV, film and theatre productions here during her six years as a make-up artist. "I started off in fashion before moving into the theatre with the Lyric and the Mac, in Belfast, and the Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey. I then went into in television before getting my break in the movies."

But bizarrely Nuala's first role in her working life was far removed from the make-up studio – as an accountant.

"I ran my own accountancy business for a few years, but I was working from 7am to 11pm with numbers and I thought there had to be more to life than that. I knew there had to be something more enjoyable. So I thought about make-up, which I had always loved from my earliest years.

"But I never imagined it could be a viable job option and initially I only enrolled in a night class at the Belfast Met in the Whiterock area just for fun, but before it ended I was assisting on Belfast Fashion Week and my new career took off.

"It was fantastic to realise that I could do something that I absolutely loved, and which helped pay the bills."

For Nuala the learning and the training has never stopped. "Things are always changing in the film industry – and I have to update all my skills every year. Products change, cameras change, styles change so I've been back and forward to training courses in Dublin and London where I have also worked on their Fashion Week."

Over recent years of course the film and TV industry here has become one of Northern Ireland's biggest success stories. The massively popular HBO fantasy epic Game of Thrones has, in many ways, been the game-changer but the making of Dracula Untold, starring Dominic Cooper and Charles Dance, and Philomena, with Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, also raised the profile of the province.

Throw into the mix the likes of hit television series such as The Fall, Line of Duty, Blandings and High Rise, which has been shot in Bangor, not to mention speculation that four more movies are in the pipeline, and it's clear the possibilities are endless, especially after Northern Ireland Screen said they will be pumping another £42.8m into the industry to make it the strongest film location outside London.

Titanic Studios are also investing £14m to expand their state of the art film and TV production facilities in Belfast.

As the TV and movie work expanded, Nuala decided to tap into the growing market and set up her own company – Titanic Creative Management – to manage hair and make-up artists and to help encourage more people to come into the industry by running a series of specialist courses and workshops tutored by the biggest names in the make-up world. "You can't really have a creative industry without the creative staff," says Nuala, who has met with Government bodies at Stormont and Invest NI in a bid to persuade them to provide support for new trainees and to help scores of existing make-up artists to develop their skills into more specialist areas.

"I don't want the whole industry to be elitist whereby only people with money can afford to work in it," says Nuala, adding that she has received backing from Northern Ireland Screen and the UK-wide Creative Skill Set who do as their name suggests – open up new skills and talents for the creative industries.

Unsurprisingly, setting up the nuts and bolts of her own company wasn't difficult for Nuala. "After all I am trained in business management as well as accountancy."

Nuala, who has an office on Belfast's Ormeau Road, plans to hold her training courses in temporary premises before moving into a permanent home at the new production support space beside the Titanic studios. She hopes to recruit at least three full-time staff by Christmas.

"We want to say to the film and TV industry that we have the right people here waiting behind the scenes to help them. At the moment a lot of the creative talent is brought in from outside Northern Ireland.

"But to have the right people here in a highly skilled pool would obviously save production companies money in terms of travel, subsistence and accommodation."

On a production like Dracula Untold, Universal Artists hired a veritable army of make-up artists, many of them from outside Northern Ireland.

"I did a lot of the make up for people like stunt men and the extras," says Nuala. "All the main stars had personal make-up artists who were all from outside Northern Ireland but it was still a great experience for me to work on Dracula."

Nuala, who was involved in Season 2 of Game of Thrones, mostly preparing people in crowd scenes, is off later this month to Hollywood for meetings with make-up artists in a bid to recruit them to teach at her training sessions, which will cost around £2,000.

One of the first courses will be in prosthetics and special effects and the tutor is one of the best in the business, Davy Jones, who won an Emmy for the film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and a Bafta for the cult TV series Dr Who.

"We are not talking about your average make-up courses here," says Nuala. "We are talking about bringing in the top names from America and Australia.

"Davy will be teaching specialist skills like life-casting – taking moulds of people's bodies – and creating the specialist sculpting for the prosthetics."

Titanic Creative Management's plan is to hold up to eight training courses a year in skills like casualty techniques, wig-making and air-brushing, which Nuala was too polite to say might come in handy for my photoshoot.This go-getting bundle of energy has already gained experience of prosthetics on a number of productions where she's worked on, not just the living but also the dead.

"That can take a long time," she laughs. "Recently I had to do the make-up for a body for the BBC and it took three hours.

"To the uninitiated outsider, it mightn't be immediately obvious that make-up artists have to know every last detail about how the body came to be a body – how they died and how long ago they passed away.

"My BBC body had been dead for four to five days and had been severely tortured before dying of asphyxiation. So I had to use latex and all different kinds of blood and contouring to create strangulation marks," adds Nuala, who has developed a morbid fascination with medical matters and, in particular, wounds, including her own.

"I had surgery last year and as soon as I came out of it, I wanted to know what my scar looked like. And I was immediately comparing it with different products that I actually use to create the same things."

Nuala, who clearly isn't squeamish, is excited by the future for the film industry and for her new management company which she hopes will have a database of between 150 and 200 make-up artists on her books, with a range of different skill levels from trainees to designers. Nuala insists that another priority for her will be to ensure that make-up artists here get the financial rewards they deserve, something she said hasn't always happened in the past.

After nearly an hour in the make-up chair, I am ready for my close-ups. I'm not so sure but how she can see through my quizzical looks under all that grey-scale has me even more baffled.

Re-assuringly Nuala says: "You won't realise just what I have been trying to achieve until you see the finished product in the photographs."

Models Joanna Nixon, from Distinct Model Management and Emma Bonner, of Alison Campbell Model Agency, join me for the photoshoot in Glenn Norwood's studio looking decidedly grey – but glamorous – around the gills.

The photos are over in a flash.

And Nuala says the grey scale make-up comes off almost as quickly with a little water. But no matter how hard I try to wash the grey out of my beard, it won't budge.

Until I remembered that it was God's handiwork, not Nuala's ...

Man behind mask

As one of the top names in prosthetics in the UK, award-winning Davy Jones has worked in the film industry for over 20 years. Not being satisfied with being a well regarded hair and make-up artist, he decided to diversify and steer his career path down the dark tunnels of prosthetic and special effects make-up, each one housing a different monster, dead body or weird and wonderful creature.

Among the iconic programmes and movies he has worked on in recent years are:

  • Dr Who
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Blade 2
  • Band of Brothers
  • Casualty
  • Casualty 1909
  • The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
  • Bodies
  • Whitechapel
  • Hearts and Minds

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