From STAR WARS to PENNY DREADFUL: Pro secrets of Nick Dudman

From STAR WARS to PENNY DREADFUL: Pro secrets of Nick Dudman


Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler in PENNY DREADFUL

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler in PENNY DREADFUL — After Nick Dudman transformed him

PENNY DREADFUL on Showtime. Josh Harnett as Ethan, and Eva Green and Vanessa Ives

The beauty abides. Josh Harnett as Ethan, and Eva Green and Vanessa Ives

I’m so excited and eager to speak with Mr. Nick Dudman today, the makeup and prosthetic designer from PENNY DREADFUL – Mr. Dudman has a resume to make any fan of modern fantasy and special effects makeup gasp in awe. Mr. Dudman got his start working on the Jedi master Yoda as a trainee to famed British make-up artist Stuart Freeborn, on STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. After apprenticing with Freeborn for four years, Dudman was asked to head up the English makeup laboratory for Ridley Scott’s LEGEND. He subsequently worked on the makeup and prosthetics for such films as MONA LISA, LABYRINTH, WILLOW, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, BATMAN, ALIEN 3 and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, to name just a few of the projects featuring his amazing work. He and his team have created the make-up effects and the animatronic creatures in the HARRY POTTER films, garnering BAFTA Award nominations for six of the eight films in the series, and an OSCAR nomination for the last film in the HARRY POTTER series in addition to a BAFTA award for visual effects for THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Mr. Dudman is doing some of his best work right now on PENNY DREADFUL.

PENNY DREADFUL: Dr. Frankenstein finds a Vampire

PENNY DREADFUL: Dr. Frankenstein finds a Vampire

I watched PENNY DREADFUL the first time just for pleasure. In subsequent viewings to examine the artistic elements it became more enjoyable and surprisingly creepier each time, as I noticed more and more details in the makeup and prosthetics. In the second viewing – this time with closed captioning — I read as Vanessa walked through the Vampire’s lair: “Footsteps squelch through entrails.” It was perfectly described to capture the visual creations of Mr. Dudman and his department of artists. I don’t think I’ve seen another show, not even the gorey WALKING DEAD, use the buckets of blood (more on the Nick Dudman created blood later!) or have I seen a show with more graphic use of dissected and torn body parts, especially entrails. It’s hard to say what will be more shocking for the US audience, the blood and guts, a human torn in two or the full-frontal male and female nudity. All of them are absolutely necessary to tell this very adult story.

Someone's angry with Mr. Proteus on PENNY DREADFUL

Someone’s angry with Mr. Proteus on PENNY DREADFUL

The creator, John Logan, has captured Victorian England with rare detail with help from Mr. Dudman’s designs, totally reinventing the looks of classic macabre and horror characters from some of the most popular and some of the best literature of the time (they didn’t always go together; the show takes its name from the sordid serials of that era, the “penny dreadfuls”). It’s the world of Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, if Dickens had adopted Jack the Ripper as one of his villians – Mr. Wilde’s offspring, Dorian Gray, is in full flower in PENNY DREADFUL, played by the beautiful Reeve Carney. The show is filled with Dandies and Ladies, Prostitutes and Vampires, Werewolves and Professors, straight and gay, the undead and the living. Just when you think you understand how Logan will roll out a storyline, he twists it. I can’t wait to see Ethan’s true, bloody, secret nature, and the fate of my favorite character, the plucky, suffering Brona. Her future is horrible to think of, and it will be wonderful to watch what Mr. Dudman does with the reborn Brona – Ooops! Did I say too much?

In addition to Mr. Carney, the cast also includes the amazing Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Helen McCrory, Josh Harnett, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear, Danny Sapani and Harry Treadaway.

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler in PENNY DREADFUL

Tearin’ it up: Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler in PENNY DREADFUL

PENNY DREADFUL is currently shooting the second season in Ireland, and premieres in the United States and the UK sometime in the spring of 2015. Until then you can catch up and re-watch all of the episodes from season 1 if you already get Showtime, and you can see the first 2 episodes for free at if you don’t yet subscribe – but you will!

Mr. Dudman was kind enough to let us into his process as a special effects makeup designer and his work on PENNY DREADFUL, with my comments in italics. I love his emphasis on the teamwork that goes into producing filmed projects:

Q:  You began working as an apprentice with some of the best artists in the field of makeup and special effects makeup, including Stuart Freeborn on STAR WARS. Did it seem that way at the time, that you were in such rarified company? How did this professional relationship come about?

A:  I knew from the very start that I was very lucky. Stuart took me on, on the strength of photos of my college work. I was very aware that I started with folks at the top of their game.


Q:  Do you have a fundamental design philosophy that you bring to each project?

A:  Be a chameleon. It is, overall, someone else’s vision. Learn them…figure out what the whole show needs-it’s never about you imposing your will, it’s about providing characters who fit seamlessly into the environment someone else has created. Teamwork.


Q:  When did you first notice makeup and/or prosthetic makeup in a film? Which film featured makeup that made a difference to you as an audience-member?

A:  I noticed makeup and prosthetics in film at a very early age. I was shown a copy of “Famous monsters of Filmland” by an American guy at school. I was maybe eight. I just wanted to know how you did that stuff… And the films that influenced me? There was Karloff’s Frankenstein, the Universal monsters, early Hammers. My hero was Peter Cushing – who I did eventually work with. That was amazing…


Q:  The characters depicted in PENNY DREADFUL are the most iconic horror and suspense characters ever created and have been recreated in films for years — ranging from Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster to TRUE BLOOD’s vampires. Where did your research begin, and what influences or creations from the past did you purposely stay away from? Was there any homage to previous incarnations of these characters? What decisions did you make in the end to create your unique designs?

A:  we decided early on that reality mattered… there would be no ”rubber monsters.” I think I got the job because in my first talk with John Logan (the creator of PENNY DREADFUL) I never mentioned materials or processes, just characters. I avoided the clichés: this is a reinvention. I wanted characters who fit this story, who worked with the human cast and I wanted make-ups, not masks; less is always more.


PENNY DREADFUL's cute but undead vampire

PENNY DREADFUL’s cute but undead vampire

Q:  The most emotionally impactful design, for me, was in the re-animated Mr. Proteus. The skin tones and texture used in the dead state, and the suddenly rosy skin and more importantly, oozing of his wounds, spoke of death and then unquestionable life, that really supported the actor’s performances. When his wounds oozed he lived for me. Can you talk about the makeup choices and application techniques used here?

A:  I wanted Proteus to be a normal man. His scarring would have been hidden if his hair had grown. He was no monster, just a child. I wanted just a very simple look that had an impact, and then just became background to the performance.


Q:  I heard you say (on the Showtime b-reel after one of the episodes) that your aim is to create as much as possible without visual effects. Where do special effects end and visual effects begin with the PENNY DREADFUL designs? How does the makeup differ or how is it applied differently when VFX will be added?

A:  I think we all prefer to go real as long as you can. Sometimes you need things that are just not possible, though. I always start by simply asking what is required to be seen, and if I can deliver that — then great. If I know that I can’t, or that aspects would be better if done digitally, then I discuss with VFX, who were wonderful on this show, what we can do together. If I know that part of a makeup will be digital in the end, I will incorporate tracking markers into the sculpts (the mockups, body or head, for SFX, prosthetic and makeup design).


Q:  The realistic makeup looks for Vanessa, Brona and even Mina as we’ve seen her so far are pretty enough that a “real” woman in 2014 would be happy to wear the designs. How important was period authenticity to these looks and how did you achieve it?

A:  You would have to ask Enzo Mastrantonio and Stefano Ceccarelli, our make-up and Hair Designers that! (see, the multi-part look at Mr. Mastrantonio’s makeup department for PENNY DREADFUL, here at I provided the designs for the vampire ladies, but all other straight work was down to them, though I would say that period work has to be accurate — but you can play within that!


Q:  Regarding Mina: What went into the choice to omit “vampire” fangs when she reveals herself to her father? He has searched for her among the “undead vampires,” so she must be one, as well…

A:  Really? At this stage I think making any assumptions is best avoided….


Q:  When does the collaboration begin with the artisans who make the contact lenses, prosthetic teeth and wigs? Is it collaborative, or are these elements just part of your original design, executed?

A:  Design wise, it’s down to me. Then I deal with what can or cannot be done, as both teeth and lenses have safety, medical, legal and practical considerations to take into account.


Q:  How, in your mind and in the final execution, does “real” human death and the portrayal of the supernatural death of the undead differ; how are they depicted differently?

A:  I guess with the humans the usual cinematic conceits apply, how you dispose of the undead is a very open question!


Q:  Which character design on PENNY DREADFUL was most challenging?

A:  Rory’s character (Rory Kinnear plays the Creature – Dr. Frankenstein’s creation). No doubt.


Q:  Which character look takes the most time and/or artists to apply?

A:  The vampire took Sarita Allison and I 6 hours each day.


Q:  You’ve used so much blood! I’m assuming you’ve used your own formulation of “Pigs Might Fly South” blood. How did that come about? Do you have any tips or observations about the use of blood in makeup application, in general?

A:  We did use our blood. The vampire den scene used 400 litres alone! Blood is very subjective — like a lot of medical aspects of makeup…it just boils down to “Does it work for you?” Everyone has their favourites.


Q:  Are you developing other products, or do you have a wish list of better or more useful products for professional use?

A:  Nothing specific — just to say we are all always looking to improve what we do, and that means always searching for better materials.


Q:  Do you use any over-the-counter makeup products, or products that we would be surprised to see that you have in your kit?

A:  Tons of them. Whatever works, from coco pops (cereal) to baby oil, to vegetable soup…


Q:  Do you have a brief list (perhaps 4-5 items) of products that an artist just starting in special effects makeup must have in their kit?

A:  Dental tools, good brushes, alcohol based colors (these are powder colors, usually, that are activated with alcohol, such as the palettes made by Skin Illustrator), sculpting tools, bottle opener…


Dr. Frankenstein's tidy workroom

Dr. Frankenstein’s tidy workroom

Q:  What sort of study have you done of human anatomy, or animal and insect anatomy, that you’ve found to be necessary for your work?

A:  Endless referencing reality via books, visits to museums and hospitals, google, asking doctors…always reference!


Q:  What sort of training do you look for in new members of your team?

A:  I like to see art college or university alumni, because it shows tenacity…but I am open to anyone. Just have talent, and the drive.


Thank you Mr. Dudman! All photos are courtesy of SHOWTIME.