There are only a few families that are considered true Hollywood Dynasties: Barrymore and Fonda (ask your parents) come to mind, but there is only one name that is considered Hollywood make-up royalty: Westmore. For almost one hundred years the Westmore family has played a role in the films and television shows that inspire new generations of make-up artists.
You might recognize Michael Westmore from his appearances as a mentor on Syfy’s hit show, “Face Off,” where he often accompanies his daughter, host McKenzie, on a walk-through of the lab, offering advice to the awe-struck contestants. What you may not know is that before these recent appearances in front of the camera, the Westmore clan has been working behind the scenes since before television even existed.
Michael’s grandfather, George Westmore, started the very first studio make-up department back in 1917. His father, Monte, worked on “Gone with the Wind!”
Michael joined in on the family business in 1961 at Universal Studios, where he quickly rose to become the make-up department head, working on shows like “The Munsters” (he’s still friends with Eddie Munster) and “Land of the Lost.” He also apprenticed under the legendary make-up artist, John Chambers, from whom he learned the importance of passing on knowledge. Chambers agreed to teach him as long as he didn’t keep anything a secret from other artists- an attitude Westmore still values today. The pair maintained a lifelong friendship and even worked together making disguise kits for CIA operatives.
In the 1970s and 80s he ventured into feature films, creating special FX for “Rocky” and “Raging Bull.” At the time there was no Academy Award for make-up, but Westmore earned wide praise for his elaborate injury make-ups, including one scene in “Raging Bull” where a boxer’s nose had to break on camera. He pulled off the trick by rigging a plastic “teeter-totter” underneath a collapsible wax nostril that would cause the foam nose on the opposite side to pop up when hit. He did take home an Oscar in 1986 for his work on Eric Stoltz in “Mask.”
It was that year that he landed the job that would change the trajectory of his career- Make-up Supervisor on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He would spend the next twenty years creating thousands of creatures over hundreds of television episodes, films and video games in the Star Trek universe. The amount of different alien species that had to be created might seem daunting, but Westmore often turned to nature for inspiration. “You go crazy if you try to think of something original,” he says of his work on the shows. Insects, fish, microbes, all influenced his designs as he strove for creations that were “familiar but not familiar.” The Klingon foreheads were actually inspired by dinosaur vertebrae. His work on the Star Trek shows “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” and “Voyager” earned him five of his nine Emmy Awards. (He’s been nominated at least once every year from 1984-2005 plus 1976-1978. That’s over 30 nominations if you’re keeping score.)
The past few years have found Westmore semi-retired. In addition to mentoring young artists on “Face Off” he is working on an autobiography, On November 7, excited MUD students welcomed Michael Westmore to their Burbank campus as part of the “Industry Speaks” series. Current students, alumni, and industry professionals packed the room to hear him interviewed by photographer Deverill Weekes. He spoke about the qualities that make a good artist citing a good attitude, time management and respect for “every single step of the process” as being very important, as well as the ability to do whatever is asked of you. “If I get a job, they’re going to get the best possible work.”
Westmore even brought a surprise guest with him, actor Armin Shimerman, who played Quark on “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine” for many seasons. Shimerman commented on Westmore’s caring and willingness to collaborate on set. “Be as kind as Michael Westmore,” was his advice to the audience.
Everyone in attendance found the afternoon inspiring, Westmore’s words of advice clearly taken to heart. Beauty 101 student Ashley Eyster felt humbled to be sitting in the same room as an Oscar winner, but was encouraged that “a little bit of kindness can take you a long way.” Graduate Cat Paschen loved how he continues to give back to the make-up community, “Being a good person will help you be successful.”
Westmore’s final bit of advice for the room full of artists: “Don’t forget to do the hands and ears.”
Michael Westmore will return to “Face Off” as a mentor in season 6, which airs on Syfy starting January 14th.