Interview: Academy Award Winner SFX Makeup Artist Joel Harlow


As stated on his IMDB page, Academy Award-winner JOEL HARLOW is one of the most innovative makeup and special makeup artists and designers in American motion pictures. He has proven himself to be one of a very few number of artists who is able to span the world of makeup effects design and creation to the world of on set makeup application.

I couldn’t agree more! I’m very excited for the opportunity to talk with Joel today and discuss his most recent film work on Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

Joel, thank you for taking time out to talk about your work with Disney. The Haunted Mansion is a Disney classic and fan favorite so I wanted to discuss the SFX makeup that you created for the new Haunted Mansion film.

999 happy haunts, wow that’s a lot of ghosts! You managed to maintain the classic Disney theme while adding the Joel Harlow aesthetic. Was the concept initially done on paper, by graphic design or were molds created?

JH: The design process was done both two dimensionally and three dimensionally. And when I say about three dimensional, I’m not talking about traditional hands to clay sculpture. I’m talking more three-dimensional sculpting programs like Zbrush which allows me to sculpt in the computer and output maquettes or designs. I can show production either the 3D outputted designs, so they can hold them and turn them around, or I can show them a digital photograph of a 3D design which allows me to color and shade it any way I want. But I had a few other designers work on the show once I got the contract to do the project. I brought on some of the folks that I’ve worked with quite a few times like my go-to guys for designing. Because no matter what I wanted to bring to it, there’s always something that you’re not thinking about, that’s why it’s nice to have other designers on the show as well. They come up with ideas that you may not have thought of, and sometimes you get a lot of options because beyond that,  you don’t know what production wants. I didn’t know what Justin wanted as far as the look of the ghosts, and so it was nice to be able to come in with a bunch of different design aesthetics and also a bunch of different approaches to the designs themselves.