Sitting at an outdoor table at Foxys Restaurant in Glendale on a blindingly bright spring day in 2012, an actor linked to a beloved movie character lamented over chopped salads and Diet Cokes that the years had all but deep-sixed a long-gestating sequel. The actor,who agreed to speak only if he could remain anonymous, talked cautiously about a visit to Lola Visual Effects. The technique made its out debut when Lola aged Brad Pitt backwards for Benjamin Button in 2008.
Under strict non-disclosure agreements, Hollywood A-listers have been quietly slipping in and out of a few bland office buildings around town, many to sit in on days-long retouching sessions, directing the artists to make every frame suitable. At one such facility, young, fit up-and-comers disrobe for a handheld scanner that captures every pore and hair follicle, creating a template for future beauty work that, as a result, will appear all the more natural.
The path to Hansen’s openness, however, was long and littered with unanswered phone calls, stonewalling and refusals to comment for this story. Though a few insiders acknowledged it — “the stars/celebrities would be horrified” is a direct quote from one email rejection — nobody wanted to talk on the record.
The actor, who agreed to speak only if he could remain anonymous, talked cautiously about a visit to Lola Visual Effects. Located in an unmarked office space above a clothing store in Santa Monica, the company was an otherwise garden-variety Hollywood VFX shop, but with a curious specialty: They’d figured out a way to turn back the clock.
Sometime after the Foxy’s waitress had collected the check, the actor said the technique had begun to spread throughout the film industry — you just didn’t know it, because they weren’t always using it to take 25 years off the onscreen talent. Instead, they were beginning to use it for subtle nip and tuck, the kind of stuff you’d never notice even if you were looking for it.
But it was expensive, and so hush-hush that it was reserved for the Pitt-level celebrities of the world. The only people who knew about digital beauty were those who practiced it, had it practiced on them, or were so high up the studio/agency food chain that they were agreeing not only pay for it, but to quietly hand the film’s finished scenes over for however long it took to get the work done, which was sometimes weeks. In the early goings, actors leveraged studios into paying for the work, but nowadays it’s just a part of the budget.
But artificial beauty is as old as the moving image, and the lore runs deep. Rita Hayworth’s career took off after a studio executive suggested a pioneering (but painful) method called electrolysis to raise her “ethnic” hairline. Marlene Dietrich gave herself a facelift of sorts by pulling her hair and skin back with pins and tape. Marilyn Monroe essentially invented lip gloss and sewed buttons into her bras for a pert nipple effect. Jennifer Grey’s identity-altering rhinoplasty defied the always-deny-it plastic surgery boom of the early 1990s. Read more…