And to create the poisonous-fog-induced blisters that break out on Jennifer Lawrence's character in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," Ve Neill and her team spent several hours fashioning the boils out of a membrane-thin silicone — in the middle of a Hawaiian jungle.
The three artists and their colleagues will be feted Saturday night at a dinner and awards show their guild is throwing for its members for the first time in a decade.
Long accustomed to working behind the scenes to make the stars shine, these artisans are increasingly eager to cast a spotlight on their craft, which remains as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago, when Lon Chaney (the "man of a thousand faces") transformed himself into terrifying monsters and tormented characters.
"The timing was right," said Susan Cabral-Ebert, president of the 1,880-member Make-up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild. "People have been asking to bring our awards show back for 10 years now. We're trying to increase our stature again to make producers sit up and take notice of what we do."
Improvisation is as much a part of their art as the craft itself.
With a makeup budget of just $250 for "Dallas Buyers Club," Mathews didn't have the time or funds to buy prosthetics to transform McConaughey and Jared Leto into men dying of AIDS. Filmed in Louisiana, the independently produced movie from Focus Features had a budget of only $4.5 million.
So Mathews relied almost entirely on paint and powder, highlighting and contouring bones, tendons and veins on their faces and bodies to make them look emaciated. She lined up pictures of skulls and skeletons in her trailer so she could draw in the facial bones of the men, who each lost about 40 pounds for their roles.
To help create the look of a patchy red skin rash known as seborrheic dermatitis, Mathews pressed grains of cornmeal and grits onto McConaughey's skin. She got the cooking supplies from her mother — because, she said, "we didn't have the money to buy the grits."
Not even she was sure it would work.
"I was having trouble getting over the fact that here is this amazing actor who has lost all this weight to play a role of a lifetime and I'm going to throw grits on his face," Mathews said.
For veteran hairstylist Gordon, the challenge in "American Hustle" was making the naturally hirsute Bale look like a con man hiding his bald patch with an elaborate comb-over.
"How are we going to achieve a comb-over on a guy with a full head of hair?" Gordon asked herself.
After two days of research and testing on wigs, Gordon settled on a look she said was modeled on Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. She even proposed a back story of a man so obsessed with his hair he would glue a piece of fake hair onto his bald spot, then cover it up with his remaining hair, and hold the whole construction in place with copious amounts of hair spray.
"It had to be organic looking and it had to not look like a hairstylist did it," Gordon said. "Christian loved the idea that this guy was into his hair."