Legendary special effects makeup artist Liu Ji
Updated 16:01, 14-Dec-2018
CGTN
04:17
CGTN

CGTN

"If I got injured somewhere, I would take photos of it all through the healing process," said Liu Ji. However sick this may sound to most people, it feels totally normal for the special effects makeup artist who has worked on nearly 60 films in the U.S. and China.

CGTN Photo

CGTN Photo

A graduate of the Shanghai Theatre Academy and former pupil of Emmy-winning makeup artist Mark Garbarino, Liu's credits include such films as "Mission Impossible III," "The Warlords" and "Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back."

CGTN Photo

CGTN Photo

"Imagine you got punched in the eye, normally the bruise changes color in different stages. It looks plastic otherwise," said Liu. In order to make his works look real, he's always observing and accumulating. Skin bruises, burns, knife and gunshot wound – these types of photos are all over in his studio.    

"I hadn't even heard about 'special effects makeup' 20 years ago," said Liu. "I just loved drawing. Days before the gaokao, I watched Michael Jackson's music video with zombies and monsters dancing in the street. I thought those scary faces were CGI at first. When I found out that they were because of makeup, I was really impressed, and looked forward to learning more about it."

CGTN Photo

CGTN Photo

There was no major for special effects makeup at the Shanghai Theatre Academy. Luckily for Liu, Mark Garbarino was invited to the academy for the relevant training in his sophomore year. Despite working part-time jobs to pay his tuition fees, he never missed one of Garbarino's lectures. Eventually, Garbarino took him as his pupil and introduced him to the industry in the 2005 film "Wait 'Til You're Older." Liu has worked in the business ever since. 

His job is to create aging makeup and wound effects, as well as make sculptures of monsters, mannequins and corpses. Unlike everyday makeup, special effects makeup isn't to cover flaws. It is all about creating another face or body, the more life-like the better. Besides possessing art skills, a special effects makeup artist needs to know a lot about the human anatomy and various chemical materials.

CGTN Photo

CGTN Photo

"In 'Journey to the West: The Demons Strikes Back,' there was a handsome Pigsy, whose pale white mask was a tough job," said Liu. "In the beginning, we intended to use latex, which turned out to wrinkle easily without the porcelain texture. After many tests, we chose this new material called platinum silicone. With its hardness increased, it wouldn't show all of the actors' facial movements. You could see that Pigsy was wearing a plastic smile, which was exactly what the director wanted."

The most difficult part of getting those amazing makeup effects is not putting them on, but the creative process before that. The directors have their concepts drawn on paper, while Liu has to concretize these imaginative ideas and build the realistic, three-dimensional sculptures.

CGTN Photo

CGTN Photo

"How do we make a monster look like it exists? One of the best ways is making a reference," Liu said. "I pick colors and textures from the natural world and combine them with the human figure. Eventually you'll find the character somehow familiar, like it was real."

Liu's works have earned him fame in the field. As more jobs are offered, however, there are few capable makeup artists for him to work with in China. 

"We couldn't make a film franchise like Lord of the Rings, because we don't have enough specialists yet. As China's film industry rises, we have more domestic films in the making, which definitely need more special effects makeup artists to meet their needs," Liu said.

CGTN Photo

CGTN Photo

Despite receiving job offers with daily rates as high as 800 U.S. dollars, Liu chose to return to China after his advanced studies in the U.S. Now he has established a makeup school to promote the industry in the country. He hopes that people can see as many fantastic monsters in Chinese films as there are in their Hollywood counterparts. "We've got awesome ghosts and goblins in Chinese mythology like in the 'Classic of Mountains and Seas.' They are part of our very civilization. I hope that one day I can create some great film characters that truly belong to us."

Director: Lei Rong, Liu Xinyue

Editor: Ma Mingyuan, Gao Xingzi

Filmed by: Zhang Hao

Designer: Qu Bo

Article Written by: Yao Xinyi、 Zhu Siqi

Copy Editor: Melissa Chua、Matthew Watson

Producer:Wen Yaru

Chief Editor: Liu Hui、Zhou Zongxin

Supervisor:Pang Xinhua

The story is one in The 1.3 Billion series exploring the diverse lives that make up China.

The story is one in The 1.3 Billion series exploring the diverse lives that make up China.