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An unexpected journey: Tami Lane '96 makes movie magic

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TAMI LANE ’96 bonded with Tai, who played Rosie the Elephant in Water for Elephants, during their makeup sessions; each day, her “scars” had to look exactly the same. Lane said that when not shooting, Tai frolicked in the grass like a puppy.

What do an elephant, Narnia, and 13 dwarves all have in common? 

The expert makeup and prosthetics work of TAMI LANE ’96. Awarded the Oscar for achievement in makeup in 2006, Lane’s standing as one of the industry’s best was solidified with a second nomination for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in January. Whether addressing the challenges of film director Peter Jackson’s 48-frame-per-second 3D approach or speaking to up-and-coming artists on how to make it in the business, she acknowledges Bradley as the place where it all started. 

A little more than 17 years ago, Peoria native TAMI LANE ’96 was sitting in a local bar with her friend and fellow Alpha Chi Omega AMY FLOLO ’95 when she admitted she no longer wanted to pursue her major, graphic design. “It was ladies’ night. It was midterm. It was October of 1995, and I told Amy I was panicking about what I was going to do after graduation,” she recalled.

Lane was working second shift at a graphic design firm, cleaning up clip art, when she realized it wasn’t the career she wanted. “I discovered after four years of emphasis in graphic design and computer work that I hated computers,” she confessed. Fortunately, Flolo told her about a class offered by Dr. Robert Jacobs, professor of communication, which included a trip to Los Angeles and an introduction to Hollywood’s entertainment industry. “I was doing community theater as a hobby and was doing all sorts of things, not just makeup,” she noted. “I immediately contacted Bob Jacobs and sent in an application.”

While on the West Coast, Jacobs took Lane and the rest of his class to KNB EFX Group Inc., a makeup effects studio. At the end of the tour, Lane met Howard Berger, a part-owner of the company, and gave him one of her business cards — a paddleball with her contact information on it. The creative piece left such a strong impression on Berger, he remembered it when she returned to his shop seeking a job a few months later … which he gave her.

Making her mark

Other Movies

Tami Lane is credited on more than two dozen films, including:

  • Wishmaster
  • Phantoms
  • Soulkeeper
  • The Lord of the Rings (entire trilogy)
  • Without a Paddle
  • The Chronicles of Narnia (entire trilogy)
  • Superman Returns
  • Underdog
  • The Hills Have Eyes II
  • Miss March
  • The Final Destination
  • Surrogates
  • Splice
  • Edge of Darkness
  • Brandon Flowers: Crossfire
  • The United Monster Talent Agency
  • Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
  • Water for Elephants
  • Fright Night
  • The Hobbit (entire trilogy)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Online

To learn more about these movies and Lane’s career, visit bradley.edu/go/ht-lanefilms.

Lane stayed with KNB until striking out on her own in 2000. She quickly landed a position as a prosthetics makeup artist for Weta Workshop, a special effects and prop company based in New Zealand. Soon, she found herself knee-deep in Orcs on the set of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

However, the bond she formed with Berger was still as strong as when she was at KNB. During those four years together, he not only mentored her but also became her best friend. So, it was no surprise when, in 2004, Berger wanted her for the position of lead prosthetics makeup artist on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She accepted the offer, which turned out to be a life-changing decision.

At 5:30 a.m. on January 31, 2006 — just shy of 10 years since graduating from Bradley — Lane reached what could have been the pinnacle of her career. Berger called to tell her that they were nominated for an Oscar for their work on Narnia. The good news continued on March 5 when Lane found herself being whisked on stage by Berger to accept the Achievement in Makeup Award from Will Farrell and Steve Carell. “To be honest, I feel that the win was enough for a lifetime,” she said. “It was the most amazing experience!”

Her next lesson was how quickly glory fades in Hollywood. “That achievement was good for about a year, but you’re only that good until the next award season,” she commented. “My family and the people around me, from Peoria and from Bradley, were really excited about it, but after a while it was just business as usual.”

Working for a living

Over the next few years, she took care of business working on a wide variety of movies, including Superman Returns, Underdog, and the two subsequent Narnia installments. Yet, reality was different than what many of her friends and family thought. “There’s a big myth that you add zeros to your paycheck as soon as you win an Oscar. That’s not true. Friends of mine who have won have lost jobs because people assumed they would be too expensive,” she explained. “It’s always a good thing to have on your resume. It does put you ahead if there’s a decision to be made between you and somebody else.”

It seems the decisions went in her favor for quite some time, as she served in key positions on several popular films such as the romantic drama Water for Elephants and the remake of the 1985 horror film Fright Night. Just as she was gearing up to collaborate with Berger on another project, she jumped at the opportunity to be the prosthetics supervisor for Peter Jackson’s second Tolkien epic: The Hobbit. 

Returning to Middle Earth

Although Lane had been a makeup artist on Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit was a completely different experience. “The Hobbit was so much bigger than The Lord of the Rings in makeup that you just can’t compare them,” she explained. “Back then, I was making up Orcs and climbing mountains. This time around, I had to deal with high-res realism with 13 main cast members and their stunt doubles and their ‘scale’ doubles and their picture doubles every day … not just dealing with monsters and Hobbit feet. The pressure was much greater.” Even under all that pressure, she again thrived.

On January 10, 2013, Lane learned her work on The Hobbit earned her a second Oscar nomination in the category now titled Makeup and Hairstyling. “What makes this one different is that I’m a little bit more relaxed,” she noted in a pre-ceremony interview. “Even though there’s all this pressure to get bookends with number two, I think I’m going to have an even better time. The first time I felt like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so the second time is like gravy.”

But, like many of the movies she’s worked on, there was a twist to the story: Berger also was nominated for Hitchcock, the movie she was going to partner with him on before The Hobbit came calling. “To me, it’s kind of a celebration of both him and me,” she revealed after the nominations were announced. “If he wins, I’m not going to feel a loss because he deserves it, and I feel he would be the same toward me. It’s a unique situation for the Academy to have two best friends going head to head for the gold statue.”

While the two shared a limo to the February 24 Academy Awards and enjoyed the after-parties together, the prize would ultimately go to Les Miserables. “Les Mis is wonderful,” she commented. “It looks beautiful. … it’s just a shame it’s such a depressing tale.” Yet, Lane was more focused on the recognition than the loss: “Just to be in the top three from the long list of amazing work that’s been done this year — It’s been a really tough year for makeup, so I’m just honored.”

Sharing her skill

In addition to maintaining her work schedule, Lane also speaks at conferences about her craft. She recently served as a keynote speaker at the 2013 International Make-Up Artists Trade Show (IMATS) in Los Angeles, leading two sessions. One focused on the variables makeup artists will have to deal with as technology like 3D and higher frame rates become the norm. Her second presentation highlighted how she started in the business: “It was basically a conversation on stage between me and the editor of Makeup Artist Magazine. The topic was where I came from. I mentioned Bradley quite a bit; I always mention Bradley as being a huge part of where I am today.”

She also addressed a common audience question: “How do you deal with such a male-dominated industry?” Her answer is simple: “I ignore the fact I’m a woman, and I ignore the fact they’re men. It’s people really.” She attributes this outlook to the men she first worked with at KNB. “I had the best training because those boys were really lovely to me and showed me things,” she explained. “They didn’t treat me any differently than they treated each other, so I never really thought about it until after the fact, after a little bit of success, when that question started to be asked.” 

She has noted, however, that today many more females are interested in doing prosthetics work than males: “It used to be that shlubby kid next door wearing a black Iron Maiden T-shirt making latex masks in his mom’s basement. Now, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Did you know...

Tami Lane has dual citizenship in the U.S. and New Zealand.

She played softball at Woodruff High School, for which she received a scholarship to Bradley.

The ring she wore to the 2006 Academy Awards scratched her Oscar statue.

She and Howard Berger agreed that only he would deliver an acceptance speech if they won in 2006.

A friend once asked her to do her wedding makeup.

She appeared in the first episode of the TV game show Identity.

Read more about these stories in our Web Extras.

Remembering her roots

Lane credits Dr. Jacobs with helping her make that first connection with Berger, but he wasn’t the only professor who had a lasting impact on her career. “It was the teachers’ experiences,” she said. “Being involved in the art department, you saw a lot of teachers share their stories of fighting and coming up through the art world and then getting jobs. Their inspirational stories helped guide us.”

What would she say now that her own story is an inspiration to future Bradley art graduates? “Get out of your comfort zone and explore broader pastures.”

She believes that artists have to put themselves out there to find the right opportunities in life: “I moved out to LA two weeks after graduation. My folks were very unhappy with me, but they didn’t stop me. You might have to go far to reach far. You need to do what you want to do, go where you want to go, and not worry about disappointing your family.  Go out and pick where you want to be in the world and settle instead of just sitting back living at home waiting for something to happen. If you wait for something to happen, nothing happens.”

All in a day's work … 266 days that is!

TAMI LANE ’96 earned her second Oscar nomination for the prosthetics work on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While supervising a team of 16 prosthetics artists, she balanced 18-hour days, cutting-edge technology, and fan feedback.

During filming, Lane’s days usually started around 4:30 a.m., when she’d arrive on set to oversee the makeup applications. Depending on the character in the chair, the process could last from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Plus, she was personally responsible for preparing two of the dwarves: Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage) and Dwalin (played by Graham McTavish). Once all of the actors were transformed into their characters, she had to monitor their makeup throughout shooting to ensure any touchups were completed quickly and accurately. Once filming wrapped for the day, the actors would return to her team’s chairs to go through the entire process in reverse. Then, there was the hair punching.

Because the prosthetics cover the actors’ natural eyebrows and other facial hair, it was up to Lane and her team to make them look real. Unfortunately, the prosthetics weren’t reusable, so a new set of eyebrows had to be recreated daily to look exactly the same. In The Hobbit: Official Movie Guide, she elaborated on the process: “Hand punched — one hair at a time — with a needle, this takes up to two hours for each character and keeps us busy while filming is going on.” She admitted in a piece for Makeup Artist Magazine that “it was quite difficult to find people who could hair-punch a realistic set of eyebrows. I had to turn down a lot of fantastic makeup artists I wanted to work with because I had to incorporate both jobs into one person.”

Another aspect of the film that wasn’t easy to overcome was Jackson’s decision to shoot in the 48-frame-per-second format. “Shooting at 48 frames is way more information than your own eye can see. … Everything is under a microscope,” she explained. “You have to pay attention to the most minute things you never had to pay attention to before, like nose hairs.” A color issue also arises when using the high-frame rate with prosthetics: “The prosthetics don’t have blood pumping through them, so we have to bump up the reds. If you just blend it to the eye, the camera will pull the reds out of the silicone and leave a yellow, jaundice-looking color on screen.”

Even with all their movie magic, the makeup artists still have their critics. How does Lane deal with the sometimes-fanatical fans? “What people seem to forget is that this is one version of this book. … So the hairstyles are a bit wild, and the makeups are a bit garish; it’s supposed to be a fantasy. I just say, ‘It’s one man’s vision. If you want people to see your vision, then you make a movie!’”

Learn more about Lane’s experiences working on The Hobbit by watching Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries at bradley.edu/go/ht-hobbitdiaries. The next two installments will be coming to the big screen soon: The Desolation of Smaug in December and There and Back Again in July 2014.

– Clara Miles, MA ’05
Photography courtesy Tami Lane ’96