When a 14-year-old Henry Galea was asked by his drama teacher to work on developing the character of the Mad Hatter for a production of Alice in Wonderland, little did he imagine that the school assignment would open the doors to his creative future.
“I love film director Tim Burton’s style, so I spent a lot of time researching this particular production of Alice. The costumes and the make-up are nothing short of dazzling. I decided that I wanted to try my hand at recreating something in a similar vein, even though this was not exactly part of the assignment,” Galea says, when asked about how his passion for special effects make-up was born.
And so he did. Galea had already had a taste of fantasy make-up thanks to his work with a carnival troupe, so he had a vague clue of what he was after. As the idea took firmer shape, he decided to hunt down some of his mother’s eyeshadow. Coupling it with some old make-up that had been used for a carnival costume, he proceeded to spend the whole night developing the concept. His amazed mother found him with the cast practically completed and, from then on, Galea did not look back.
“My school teachers were immediately supportive and started offering advice. Under their guidance and that of my mother and my step-dad I started experimenting with latex and creating my own casts at home,” Galea says.
Despite his tender age, Galea’s endeavours immediately found a fanbase and jobs started coming in. The fact that from the outset Galea’s approach was that of a professional, rather than that of a teenager with a hobby, must have helped.
Recently we visited Euro Disney and my main motivation in picking this holiday was so that I could see the effects of a particular brand of make-up that is used at the park
“I took it very serously from the start. Special effects make-up is not a common profession in Malta. So even when it comes to supplies, the situation is not ideal. I carried out a lot of research to identify the best brands for the job. For example, recently we visited Euro Disney and my main motivation in picking this holiday was so that I could see the effects of a particular brand of make-up that is used at the park,” he says.
This he did and before long,he was involved in Skype conversations in an attempt to convince the company to sell him this brand, which is usually only sold on a commercial level.
“They evaluated my portfolio and took a while to reach a decision, but it was worth the wait. I’m constantly on the hunt for better products. Recently I applied for a licence to buy pure alcohol, which is not easily available. This was simply so that I could use alcohol-activated make-up.”
Alcohol-activated make-up for those who aren’t in the know creates a much more realistic effect as the alcohol seeps into the skin so that the make-up literally becomes part of it. Water-based variety “just sits on the skin”.
Galea’s talents culminated in triumph at the Malta Comics & Pop Culture Expo that took place recently. The expo included a special effects make-up competition, for which Galea submitted three entries.
“I created make-up for a witch, her husband and their guardian. I also did other work for the expo, such as a female version of Hellboy and a nurse whose look was based on that of a Silent Hill character, but these were all original characters that I created.”
Each costume entailed not only considerable expense (Galea’s family spent over €1,500 to finalise the costumes) but also necessitated hours of work.
“The nurse was probably my favourite. It involved creating a custom-made cast that was to cover her head. This was then embellished with more clay and medical bandages with the make-up being painted on at the very end. The model breathed through three small holes, so the effect was extremely realistic.”
His entries won him Best Adult Group costume. Galea says that he could never have achieved it without the support of his family. He adds how his step-dad, an artist in his own right who works mostly with clay, has been invaluable in helping him create and refine the casts themselves. “It’s all teamwork, really!”
The next step is to take this to the next level as soon as he is of age.
“My dream is to work abroad, hopefully in the US. But before that I need to get the proper qualifications. Unfortunately, this can’t happen in Malta, but I’m already scouting at places like the Cinema Make-Up School in Los Angeles, which is where all the top film make-up artists start out. The fees are prohibitive. I’m hoping for a miracle or a scholarship,” he tells me with a smile.
But in the meantime, there’s more make-up to be created and more characters to be invented.
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