Helen Quinn could be creating a zombie in work today. Or slicing someone’s throat. Or simply hacking someone into little bits.

It all depends, you see on the film or play she’s working on (do you see what we did there?).

With an independent Liverpool film scene thriving, with the likes of Under The Mud, The Be All And End All; theatre productions like Brick Up; production companies like Ace Films, Square One, Hurricane and First Take; and outfits like Keyhole Productions, Mercy and Mocha springing up around the city, there’s a huge requirement for cast and crew in the city right now.

All require actors, directors, various camera types and, er, best boys. But even the smallest production has someone responsible for making people look beautiful. Or evil. Or dead.

And the city has previous, with Hollywood and Doctor Who veteran Davy Jones returning to the city.

Sure he’s got the monsters, but when was the last time he chopped someone in two in midge-infected Welsh mountains? Helen Quinn has, so we asked her what that was like.

How did you get where you are today?

I started out as a designer and was lucky enough to working on Life on Mars, at which point I was bitten.

After a couple of years struggling to find work within an art department I retrained as a make-up artist, at Liverpool Community College, knowing that I would still be able to work in film and television while still being creative, and getting messy.

Have you always been interested in behind-the-scenes stuff?

Yes, I always liked the idea of making monsters like I saw in Hollywood films.  However, cliched as it may sound, it genuinely didn’t cross my mind that a girl from Liverpool could actually do that.  

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve thought, ‘why not try?’.

Isn’t is just whacking on some slap?

No! Continuity is one of the hardest things to get right, and the thing most likely to be critisised, so I have to work closely with lighting to ensure the make up isn’t to heavy or light; camera, to establish how much will be seen.

Then there’s costume, to determine the characters’ ‘look’; props, if weapons will be used – to determine any wounds – as well as the cast, director and producer.  

Favourite job?

Thats a hard question – different jobs for different reasons.  I really enjoyed One Night In Istanbul as the cast and crew were such good fun to work with.  Also it was my first job in theatre – an industry which I now love.  

I’ve done a few theatre productions now, on varying scales, but its always good to see and hear the audience reaction.

My first make-up job was on a short film called ‘Love Me Or Die’ where I was working alone – and it was in period costume in black and white. It was incredibly exciting and was very pleased with the end result.  

The film I’m working on at the moment, ‘Violet City’ is my biggest challenge to date – its a steampunk/gothic fantasy feature film, in black and white with a lot of different characters. I’ve enjoyed designing each look for this as I’ve been able to really get creative.

There’s a bit of a recurring horror theme going on…

Yes, though not deliberately. I’ve worked on films involving zombies, werewolves, monsters, psycho killers, witches and ghosts.

Hopefully I’ll get to work with vampires soon, that should about complete the set. I make sure to always carry a little bottle of stage blood with me.

Make-up wise, what are your favourite films or scenes?

Any old Hollywood films with Theda Bara look amazing; those femme fatales from the black and white era. In terms of a scene, anything from the Evil Dead films has got to be up there hasn’t it?

What’s the most absurd or horrible creature you’ve created?

Probably a character known as ‘toilet dweller’ for a zombie film, called ‘Turn in Your Grave’. His face ressembles a penis.

What’s your dream job?

I’d love to work backstage in the theatre, it’s stood the test of time and I like the challenge of a restricted set and timeframe.  

On the other hand I love film as well, there’s so much more freedom and you can be a lot more elaborate.  To do Johnny Depp’s make up on a Tim Burton film would maybe be as good as it gets.

What real-life applications does make-up training have?

I also volunteer for a MacMillan funded charity called Look Good Feel Better which provides make up workshops for women living with cancer.  

We basically help them learn how to counteract the effects cancer treatment can have on their appearance, whether dry skin, dark circles and loss of hair. The boost this can give to a woman’s confidence is incredible.

I’m qualified in fashion make up too and have been involved with various catwalk shows and photo shoots throughout the North West and Wales – and there’s always a demand for make-up artists at weddings.

I’ve also done face painting on many occasions and workshops in schools.  

Unsurprisingly, little kids seem to like tigers and butterflies best, while the older ones prefer black eyes and cuts.


Can you make me look like a zombie?

I most certainly can.  I think we’ll start with a bluey grey base, to get that decomposing look right, making sure not to leave any healthy flesh colour shining through.  

Next if I highlight and shade around your natural bone structure you will start to look more ‘sunken’.  Perhaps some sort of grotesque wound next because, well, why not?!  

Add a few veins and, of course, plenty of blood and there you have it – ready in time for Halloween.

• Violet City is due for release in 2012

• Watch Love Me or Die at Filmaka

Look Good Feel Better

Helen Quinn Make Up

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