Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Airbrush Makeup Hall of Fame: an interview with Victor Sodano

The Maestro: Victor Sodano
Two times Academy nominee Victor Sodano is incredibly friendly, approachable and utterly dismissive of his amazing achievements, which include two Davide di Donatello (the “Italian Oscar”) awards, two Chioma di Berenice prizes and star on Hollywood Walk of Fame among many other film industry accolades. I crossed paths digitally with Victor for the first time when I was involved in an online discussion about airbrushing, and he came to my aid in defending this medium against another sceptical makeup artist who was disparaging it saying it wasn’t worth the investment for beauty makeup. (Incredibly, such opinions still exist even among professionals).  I loved how Victor didn’t have to say much. He simply posted a string of head shots of internationally famous actresses and added that all the make-up in the shot had been done by him with an airbrush. I ended my comments adding that now that the twice Oscar nominated artists had spoken, perhaps we could all take a seat. Cut to over a year later, and Victor graciously agrees to answer a few questions about his amazing career, and about how our favourite tool helped him achieve fantastic results.

Let’s start from the beginning, as they say… how did you become inspired to pursue a career in makeup?
When I was 16 I moved to London for a while to study English at a college. While I was there I started working in a special effects lab sculpting small prosthetic applications. I was so fascinated by the process, but I wanted to find out more about it, and l wanted to learn how to do full head casts. Flash forward to Italy, a few years later.  I was studying law at the University in Naples and I was doing well, but I didn’t enjoy the method of study that was required at the time, it was based mostly on mnemonic learning and I found it rather sterile. So one day I told my father that I was going to quit the University and get a job.  My father asked “What kind of job?” to which I just replied “I am going to be a makeup artist! My father looked at me with a perplexed expression and said "What is a make-up artist"? 

Did your family support your ambition from the start? How did they feel about your achievements later on?
As it is typical for their generation, my parents were hoping I would get a long term contract with a steady employer. That said, my father and my late mother (who of course became my first “model”) were proud of me since my very beginning with RAI, let alone later.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I started working in RAI television studios in Naples. My job was to wash the make-up sponges used by their makeup artists daily. While doing make-up for theaters and other events, in 1996 I made my film debut with the film Prima Che Il Tramonto. The director Stefano Incerti turned to me and asked "can you make the special effects of the film"? I felt both confident and uncertain for a moment ... and then I said “YES I can!”  This was the beginning of my film career, for which later  I got the award for Make-up and Special effects at the Locarno Film Festival.

        Apocalypto Makeup by Victor Sodano       
You have become a household name in the industry when you received your first Oscar nomination for your fantastic work in Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson. How did you get selected for such an extraordinary job?
Brian De Palma was very impressed by the work I did for him on the movie Black Dalia. He used to say to me that my prosthetic makeup was so realistic that for the first time ever he was able to shoot a close up on a dummy . He wrote a letter of reference for me, and somehow when Mel Gibson started shopping around for Apocalypto he heard the good comments and his office contacted me.

What was the inspiration for the innovative body art you created for the film?
The body art of the film was based on truth. I studied every character in the movie before the make-up started. making the proper designs tattoos etc.  based on their social class and origins. ALL the actors from the main character to a simple extra were wearing full detailed body make-ups, also because  Mel Gibson as a director can and does  focus on any extra which he finds interesting. So every performer must be perfect and a complete.
You have worked in many award-winning productions both in Europe and in the United States. What is the main difference from a professional standpoint between Hollywood and CineCittà?
I would say the business aspect of it all. In the United States the movie making industry is still a huge business venture. In Italy, where film making is still relatively big for a much smaller country, the production dynamics are vastly different  and a lot of films are State funded or subsidized. 
Your work gave you the opportunity to get to know many amazing performers and creators, and I am sure you could write a book worth of anecdotes. Is there a special memory connected to one of these personalities that you could share with us?
   Mariangela Melato airbrushed by Sodano
I have special and wonderful memories of all the people in each job I have done. From the first to the last person. If I have to pick one,  the late Italian actress Mariangela Melato comes to mind,  also since she is no longer with us. She had an incredible talent both for drama and for comedy, and not only on stage or film, but in life as well. She was a dream to do make-up on, with her huge eyes and the beautiful texture of her skin, which wasn’t free of pigmentation.  She loved being airbrushed. After the makeup was done she used to joke with me that she had just been to the “paint shop” once again, and she loved her evened out complexion.

I know you were among the first to use airbrushing in the Italian film industry, not only for special effects but most remarkably for beauty makeup. How was this innovation perceived by your colleagues?
Many colleagues were and still are rude in calling me “the spray painter of actresses”, especially here in Italy where the awareness of the medium is not as widespread.

In your experience, what are the most noticeable advantage of airbrushing makeup ?
I would say the perfect finish that the airbrush creates. While perfection is not always the goal in cinema make-up, when the script does call for it there is nothing like an airbrush to achieve such evenness while still remaining imperceptible. 

Airbrushing is still seen with a lot of diffidence by those who don't know the technique, and there is a lot of prejudice about this medium. What do you think is the greatest misconception regarding airbrush makeup?
   Laura Morante airbrushed by Vittorio Sodano

Prejudice and misconceptions are mostly based on people not having tried it, watching an unskilled person using it, or second hand opinions. Only by trying it can one understand its beauty and potential. Make-up done by brush or sponge cannot produce this level of perfection, and sometimes perfection is required if only due to the simple vanity of an actress. I use the example of a Ferrari car: If you had a very expensive car and it got scratched, would you ask someone to hand paint the scratch? Wouldn’t you take rather it to an authorized shop which uses a professional paint compressor system?  Most would choose the latter.  To me the airbrush is an extension on my hand. I am using it to work as if i had a brush of sponge. I have learned the technique, and I am controlling the result. The airbrush achieves perfection when used correctly. Airbrush will not guarantee perfection if used incorrectly, so this method challenges and provides great creative potential for an artist.

You have created your own line of makeup, featuring alcohol based palettes for SFX, and for the first time, silicone based palettes that can be diluted and used for beauty makeup. You are also about to launch a selection of ready to airbrush liquid colors. Can you tell us more about these products?
Both the alcohol palettes and the silicone based palette can be activated using my specially formulated activator fluid, which allows for perfect translucency and a very soft finish. I have also developed a set of the same colors in liquid, ready to be airbrushed form. You will find all the products on the SHOP page of my new website , which is being completed as we speak.
Special Effects by Victor Sodano
With two Oscar Nominations and two David di Donatello awards among many other important accolades you have achieved more than most at a very young age. What is your dream for the future?
I wish to continue building on my new line of special effect products and I want to continue teaching my courses of special effects.  As we were saying, my products can be found and bought on my site. I want to teach make-up artists that special effects can be made with my products, and that they don't have to spend too much to have great results, and that is why have made an artisan line of products for make-up artist with a reasonable price.  They are niche products.  Make-up made BY a make-up artist for make-up artists!

Follow Victor Sodano on Instagram
Some of Victor Sodano's awards and accolades

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