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Vancouver IMATS Brings Emmy Award Winner Thomas Surprenant and his Tales of Makeup Mysticism to Blanche Macdonald

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Thomas Surprenant is an Emmy Award winning Makeup and Special Effects Artist whose illustrious career spans over 30 years in TV & Film. From Hollywood classics like Donnie Darko to present day blockbusters like The Maze Runner series, Thomas' credits are monumental and varied. There’s hardly a genre of film Thomas hasn’t touched his brush to. We were honored and so grateful to have Thomas stop by Canada's #1 Makeup School a few days before Vancouver IMATS and do a live demonstration of two of his most famous makeup looks for our eager Makeup students and staff. Sarcastic, witty, hilarious and of course - wildly talented, Thomas spilled the beans on everything from what’s in his set bag to defining moments of his career, and that time that Orlando Bloom butt-dialled him!

"You kind of get to play God,” Thomas remarks as he pauses his work and turns to smirk toward the audience. Even his model, mid-Klingon transformation á la his Star Trek days, breaks character to crack a smile. While he painted and blended his student model into a being fit for the Starship Enterprise, he regaled our students with tales of his favorite jobs “The Grinch that Stole Christmas was so fun, just a really good time,” what movie changed his life and made him want to pursue makeup as a career, “Makeup was fascinating to me but I never thought about doing it for a living - until I saw Rick Baker’s work in An American Werewolf in London,” and the importance of having a well-stocked kit that goes even beyond makeup supplies, “I always have kleenex and a flashlight.  You just never know!”

After an entertaining day of demonstrations and conversation at our Atelier campus, Thomas, along with the rest of the Vancouver creative community and some major members of the global community, hit up Canada Place for IMATS Vancouver that weekend. Thomas - a dedicated vegan who has earned the title of “Batman for Animals” among his friends - took part in Buffy the Vampire Slayer reunion panel and painted up a likeness of Mistfits guitar player Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein on the Open Forum Stage. When asked to share what made him choose this particular look from this particular band, Thomas said “My model is a fan and I’m a huge fan. Doyle is hardcore vegan and the guy is such an amazingly cool dude. The Misfits are clever and satirical but serious about their performances, music and writing. A lot of my music is punky, goth stuff. That was my era growing up!”

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Coming from a family of film people, “My mom was in it for a while, and her brother and my granddad made a living from it for a long time”, it’s almost as if Thomas was destined for a career in TV & Film - but that’s not how he tells it. “My family encouraged me to do art but not to be an artist - go figure! I think they really just wanted to see someone in the immediate family do something more academic. I did think about being a mortician at one point and an archeologist and a paleontologist but ultimately, all of the research I did in all these different fields, along with my other interests, ended up making me a better Makeup Artist! I’ve worked on medical shows with real doctors and my knowledge of anatomy and different procedures was really helpful. I had a real surgeon compliment my suture tying! All of my knowledge and research comes in useful in lots of other ways too - I’ve had actors who were really well educated and didn’t want to communicate on a superficial level. They want intelligent conversation and because my knowledge is so well-rounded, I can carry that. It makes them more comfortable and happy and that’s ultimately what you’re trying to do - keep the talent happy.”

But way before he was wooing various stars and celebrities with his outstanding knowledge and facts, Thomas was obsessed with the horror films and sci-fi flicks that his family would watch. “We watched The Wizard of Oz every year, whether we wanted to or not and other films like The Invisible Man, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, all those classics. And then when I saw An American Werewolf in London, things changed. I started reading everything I could get my hands on that had Rick Baker in it. I thought ‘This guy has made a career doing really cool stuff!’”.

“My granddad saw me reading and painting and sculpting and always wanting to buy products to teach myself how to use so he thought he might as well introduce me to some Makeup Artists. I met a lot of people during that time and they all said the same thing ‘This is Makeup. If you want to be a Makeup Artist, you have to learn everything - beauty, corrective, character, period, hair, all of it.’ And so I set to learning everything I possibly could and I still do! It’s been over 30 years and I’m still learning. Even film itself has changed and so beyond Makeup, there’s a whole industry that you have to keep up with and understand.”

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The ever-evolving film industry might be a challenge to keep up with but the etiquette required in the industry isn’t. “The new artists that come in didn’t grow up around this and then they come in and get starstruck. That’s the worst thing in the world to be. I always caution them not to get too cozy with their actors and to know their station. But I’m Old Hollywood, I grew up in this and then when you get actors who are also Old Hollywood, we have a special connection that no one else is going to have and of course, working with someone again and again can definitely build a relationship. Orlando Bloom and I got along really well when we worked together. He’s a wonderful human being. So eventually after a few years of working together we exchanged numbers. One day my phone rang and it was Orlando and I picked it up and heard a lot of noise and muffled voices. I just thought it was funny but students love it when I tell them I got butt-dialled by Orlando Bloom!”

Though Thomas makes it seem anything but, Makeup Artistry is often underestimated in the time and dedication it takes to get from the bottom of the Makeup ladder to the point of glamorous pocket dials.

“You need to be serious about it. I had to figure out a lot about this industry all by myself. Now people have the luxury to coming to a school [like Blanche Macdonald] and it’s all here for you to learn with - the materials, the instructors, everything! But you still have to put the effort in if you want a return. It’s not a place to phone it in. You can’t just expect your career in to go in the direction you want and I think that’s hard for people. You have to constantly prove yourself. This is a craft. It’s art, it’s a career, and your soul, heart and every bit of your being should be in it.”



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