High school archetypes insist that students can shine as either artists or scientists. TV and Film Makeup superstar Cayley Giene proves that who you are in school doesn’t dictate your future.
“Art wasn’t something you could nurture growing up in Lloydminster,” she explains. “The first time I ever sculpted or painted anything properly was at Blanche Macdonald. I’d already been accepted into a medical program when I decided to come to Makeup School. I wanted to do genetic and microbiology research in disease study. I’m diabetic and wanted to see if it was possible to cure that and other diseases. Then I learned that my cousin, Tracy George, was a TV and film Makeup Artist. I was always into Makeup but until then I’d never realized that was something you could do for a living.”
Now Cayley makes a living doing what she loves. The young lady from the small plains city of Lloydminster is in permanent demand in Vancouver’s thriving TV and film industry. You’ve seen her on-set artistry on worldwide hits like Arrow, DeadPool 2, Wayward Pines, Supernatural, Once Upon a Time and The X-Files, and her creations in effects shops on movies and series including The Killing, The Flash and Bates Motel. The thought of life as a scientist waging war on disease was tempting, but so was the idea of creating movie magic.
“When I saw the first Chronicles of Narnia movie I loved the character Tumnus. He was half human, half goat. I did some research and saw that Makeup Artists had created him. So I contacted my cousin Tracy and asked where she would recommend I start. She suggested some Makeup Schools, and Blanche Macdonald was the one I liked the best. With the program’s schedule I could see that I could work and volunteer to get my foot into the door.
The first time I ever sculpted or painted anything properly was at Blanche Macdonald.
“At Blanche it didn’t take long before I realized I liked the prosthetics and special effects better than the fashion and beauty side of Makeup. I went straight to the blood and gore! But learning about fashion and beauty was so helpful. Something we did in fashion class that I still do today in the prosthetics shop was learning how to make a foundation colour out of yellow, red and blue. When you’re working in the effects shop you’re always starting with primary colours. That was one of the best lessons I learned.”
Understanding that excelling in the classroom was only half of the equation, Cayley was volunteering as soon as she had mastered the basics.
“I wanted this to be my career so I made it happen. I did a bit of everything. I worked on counters. I did some fashion makeup. I had bridal clients. Towards the end of the year I focussed on film work and had more than a few indie films on my résumé. By the end of the year I had enough hours to apply and become a union permittee. One of my instructors at Blanche gave me the contact details for the effects shops. I cold-called all them and they asked me to send in my résumé.”
Cayley knew how to get her foot in the door of Vancouver’s TV and film business. Her secret? Applying for the jobs no one else wanted.
“I day called on shows like The 100. It filmed over winter, so it was always raining and it was always a night shoot with 16 or 18-hour days. The cast’s tattoos had to be painted on. One actor needed six hours of makeup if he was appearing without a shirt. My job was mainly putting dirt and tattoos on all the background artists, maintaining the continuity from other episodes I hadn’t been on and trying to keep everything intact with the rain trying to wash it off.
“[Blanche Macdonald graduate] Tanya Howard was my Department Head on The 100, Wayward Pines and is now my boss on Arrow. I’m her First Assistant. If Tanya leaves for meetings or appointments I’m Head of Department and I’m also Head of Department for the Second Units. Tanya’s also kind enough to let me do a lot of the Make Up Effects.”
Creating illusions on set is only one aspect of Cayley’s creative life. With her gift for creative problem solving she’s become a contract employee at two of the city (and the world’s) most prestigious Makeup Effects shops: WCT Productions and Lindala Schminken FX. She may be safe from the cold and rain, but life on the shop floor comes with a new range of challenges.
“In the shop you’re constantly doing physical labour, lifting and rotating moulds. The hours can be even crazier than set hours because the deadlines are so short. Every day you’re making something different and meeting different people. I love the problem solving aspect of the work too.”
Cayley takes pride in all her creations, from the Abby creatures of global hit Wayward Pines to the Sasquatch she designed and built as Head of Department for web series Paranormal Solutions Inc. Even so, one of her greatest and grossest technical achievements never made the final cut.
“I had five days to create a fabricated beaver that gets skinned on camera for The Revenant. When you work in effects shops you need to know a bit about everything in the world. When taxidermists create animals they have mannequins they put the fur onto. I got one of those, made a fibreglass mould of it, and painted muscle tissue onto it. Then we brought in a taxidermist who worked the pelts for me. I made a plasticised interior and put some blood and slime into that too. It looked great, but it still got cut from the movie.”
Cayley knows that unexpected cuts are part of the job. That industry understanding is a big part of what makes her one of Vancouver’s most respected professionals.
“You can be silly and have fun, but there’s a point where it’s too far. When we have Blanche Macdonald students and grads working with us they usually understand that. Sometimes grads from other schools act like they know everything. People who understand they have a lot to learn tend to stick around. They’re going to ask the right questions. I had one intern from another makeup school come in and when I asked her to sweep the floor and empty the garbage she told me, ‘I’m not your shop bitch.’ I showed her the door.
“How you act is so important. Work ethic and personality are huge parts of it. It takes a village to make a monster. We’re looking for people who can think on their feet and problem solve straight away. If a mould breaks, how do we fix it? You need a lot of product knowledge too. That’s where my science background comes in useful. It’s chemistry. For example, I know if I mix two products I’ll get a certain result that I can manipulate if I add heat.”
Cayley’s already has an input in selecting Makeup teams for big shows. It’s only a matter of time before she’s heading departments on major shows. Modesty, and an understanding that there’s no hurry, means she’s not rushing into it.
At Blanche it didn’t take long before I realized I liked the prosthetics and special effects better than the fashion and beauty side of Makeup. I went straight to the blood and gore!
“I still have a lot to learn. I spent the first seven years of my career in the effects shop, so I know that side of the industry well. When I’m in the trailer I know what’s been made and how they made it. If something breaks, I know how to fix it.”
The technical expertise is already there. So is the wisdom of how to cope with one of the most demanding and time-consuming jobs in the entertainment business.
“I take vitamin packages that give me energy,” she laughs. “And I drink a LOT of coffee!”