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Exclusive: Steve Kostanski Talks Makeup FX in 'The Divide'

In The Divide, a nuclear bomb drives ten survivors into a basement bomb shelter to wait for help - or live out their days; whichever comes first. As with much survival horror, the biggest danger is not the threat of the unknown - it is your fellow survivors. One of the most remarkable things about The Divide is the transformation the cast goes through, from frightened strangers to frightening monsters. We spoke with special effects makeup artist Steve Kostanski about that transformation.

How did the producers present The Divide to you, in terms of what they were looking for in makeup design?

I was brought on halfway through the production, as the on-set makeup FX guy. They had already hired Todd Masters to build a bunch of prosthetics for it, and they had Pamela Athayde as the key makeup artist to handle the straight makeup on the actors. I was brought in to kind of work between the two, with the degrading of the characters. I also handled some of the gorier effects. It was described to me as a post-apocalyptic thriller-type of movie. At the time, they were still calling it Fallout. I knew Michael Biehn was in it, and that flipped my switch. I thought, "I have to work on this now."

Have you worked with Michael Biehn before?

No, but I'm a nerd. I love Terminator and Alien.

Did he live up to your expectations?

Oh yeah. He was awesome. It was fun working with him. I had to wrangle his severed finger on-set. I had to go in between takes and dress the finger, put it [in the same spot]... it was fun. He went through a lot - all the actors went through a lot of shit on that movie. I don't want to say it was "fun" to be part of that cause it was hard for [the actors] but it was definitely an experience. 

I spoke to Michael Biehn last weekend, and he said that tensions were so high on set that by the end, the actors were all at each other's throats. Did you experience any of that? Get caught in the fray?

Thankfully no. I kept to myself for the most part. The makeup and hair crew grew to be pretty tight. We all kind of watched out for each other. I don't think any of us bore the brunt of any outbursts on set. I wasn't really present for anything too crazy. I think it was hard because they put all the actors on a diet so they would slim down as the movie progressed. So I think that was the most frustrating part for them. They spent a lot of time reminiscing about food they wanted. I felt bad, being able to go home and eat a pizza every night.

[Laughs] So you didn't walk around on set with a candy bar saying, "Oh, this Snickers is so gooooood."

No. I was terrified one of them would unload on me if I was caught eating something delicious. The rest of the crew was kind of forced to participate in the same diet. Not to the same extent [as the actors] but we all had the same food at lunch every day. 

The Divide was shot in order, which is extremely rare for film. Did that make it easier for you, or because you are used to a frantic schedule, did it not matter?

For me, this is the largest show I've been able to work on, so I liked coming in every day and knowing that it would be the same thing as yesterday except with a little more added on to it. I can't really speak for the other makeup artists, but I know when they were applying stuff, I liked being able to draw on the stuff I had done the previous day; maybe just expand upon it slightly. so it was nice to see that progression, as opposed to starting at the end, then skipping to the beginning, then going to the middle.

How did you accomplish that transformation? You have these humans who, by the end, look like monsters. Milo Ventimiglia looked like a vampire!

Yeah, he looked really scary. I think what Tamara Harrod [key hairstylist] did with the hair made a big difference. She gave them a patchy, gross look. And I think it was the eyebrow blender pieces, to help blend out the eyebrows. Once we applied those... that was like the turning point. That's when everyone started looking really nightmarish.

[Jokingly] So it was really the hairstylists who made them look good; you just sat back and took the glory?

I think it was just everything. I mean, look at Michael Eklund: the shaved head, the lack of eyebrows, the weird outfit he wears for a chunk of the movie... I think it's more than just makeup. I think it is the whole ensemble that helped sell that look. As far as my department goes, it was those eyebrow blenders that really made everyone look nightmarish.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am in Toronto working on Still Seas [aka Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro's next picture].

What are you doing for that?

I am not allowed to say. They made me sign [a non-disclosure], probably for this situation. I can't say anything except that the stuff we are doing is the kind of stuff I have dreamed of since I was a kid. I'm really excited.

Of course. When it comes to monsters, Guillermo del Toro is it.

Oh yeah. When I got the phone call to work on this... there is no way I would have said no. I feel like this is one of those once in a lifetime chances. This is the biggest production I've ever worked on.

Have you worked directly with Guillermo yet?

No, I have not. I'm pretty low on the totem pole here, so I don't know if I will get to interact with him directly. But just getting to work on one of his movies is good enough for me.

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