After spending over 30 years in the world of makeup design for film and television, Douglas Noe landed in the time-defying, creative playground of Marvel Studios’ Loki. Serving as the Disney+ show’s makeup department head, Noe not only designed the characters’ individual looks, but continued to be Tom Hiddleston’s makeup artist. Noe has worked on Hiddleston’s Loki since 2012’s The Avengers, carefully evolving the God of Mischief’s look over time.
Loki isn’t the first time Noe has spearheaded a makeup department for a Marvel Cinematic Universe production. Previously, Noe served as the makeup department head for Thor: The Dark World. He’s also no stranger to the magic of prosthetic work and the intricate details needed for Marvel’s epic adventures, having a creative hand in bringing both Captain Marvel‘s Skrulls and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Kree to life on-screen. In the industry, Noe is also known for specializing in palettes for actors of color.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Noe discussed what it was like bringing The Avengers-era God of Mischief into Loki and his approach to doing makeup on a production stuffed with special effects. He also shared which MCU stars have graced his chair and his advice for makeup departments looking for practical ways to de-center whiteness.
Loki’s Makeup Evolution
CBR: One thing that I noticed — which I’m excited to pick your brain about — when we first see Loki, he has a really pale complexion. His hair is greasy. As he evolves, his skin gets a warmer look. Was that an intentional progression from when we first see him as a villain-ish and how he grows within the MCU?
Douglas Noe: Yes, that’s a very astute observation. Of course, at the beginning of The Avengers, he’s kind of a wreck, isn’t he? And as he settles and normalizes, his pallor then indeed calms down. It was very nuanced. It was only a matter of maybe one or two shades difference, but you definitely caught something most people have not.
That was 10 years ago, but it was a very minor detail we decided would be important as the narrative and the dialogue and the intellect of that character evolved into the storyline. It became important to kind of mainstream and refine his appearance.
Since Loki kicks off from that earlier version of Loki, did you think about bringing any more of that paleness to his look? How did you decide on how you wanted to show him from Loki‘s time period/first episode?
Oh, that’s a good question. The truth is, from the end of The Avengers also shot again in Avengers: Endgame, we change nothing.
We did exactly what we did on Endgame that we did for The Avengers. And in turn, that’s how we started the Loki series. It was that that look from Endgame, which, of course, is the look from The Avengers. No alterations were made, other than — and I can already tell we’re not getting anything past you — we did warm him up. We did bring some more flesh into him… The truth is, that was Tom’s idea. I get it because it was an unspoken understanding between us that there’s greater accessibility to Loki if he looks more like most people. Now, those are my words. Not his. But, he definitely wanted us to warm it up just a skosh.
How Loki’s SFX Affected Its Makeup Design
With Loki, there’s a ton of visual effects. With makeup, it’s so dependent on lighting — it can change everything. What was the biggest challenge about working on a show like this that has so many special effects being added in post?
What you just said, it’s working on a show like this. Marvel gets it and they do it right. There’s almost an aspect where we lean into these kinds of things. And we change nothing to take into account the constantly evolving and changing lighting effects. The approach was to keep everybody natural, or naturally beautiful. Whatever happened happened. [We] knew Marvel is going to give it the once over once it’s all done. And if there was anything to address that did happen because of lighting, it would have happened in post.
But, to my knowledge, nothing was addressed. We just accepted that. At certain times, people would be pink because of the light. They would be blue because of the light or purple and we accepted that and didn’t try to make any attempts to balance it or right it in any way. We leaned into it and accepted it made it part of the story. It was its own character, if you will.
Sylvie’s Makeup Was Always Meant to be “Natural”
Building off what you said about a natural look for Loki‘s actors, did you always know you wanted Sylvie’s makeup to have a natural look?
Absolutely, absolutely. The approach there was less is more. We didn’t want to bury her in beauty makeup. It would have been very easy to do, because Sophia Di Martino is gorgeous, of course. But, the idea was let’s do just enough to keep her naturally beautiful.
Practical Ways to De-Center Whiteness in Makeup Rooms
You designed Hunter B-15’s look, and you’re well known in the industry for specializing in makeup palettes for people of color. Since you’ve been in the industry for so long, what are some practical things that people within the makeup department, or its heads, can do to make it less white-centered?
That’s a great question. Get out of the way. You have room for everybody, especially with today’s explosion of content. But I would say to those who are going to hold tightly that they may as well just squeeze it out of their hands, “Just understand color theory.” And, have it in your head that if somebody wants someone to do their makeup that closer represents how they look, get out of the way. It really is that simple. As you said, I’ve made it a specialty, a rite of passage to learn the ins and outs of all color tones. For me, I bring that to the table, so I don’t have to get out of the way; but I know enough to know when it is time.
I have an anecdote that relates. I just did the Netflix series [True Story] with Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes for eight episodes. And Tawny Newsome [who portrays Billie in the upcoming series] was our leading lady, a beautiful African American woman. I could have done a bang-up job, but that wasn’t the right decision to make. She needed a female makeup artist because it was a modern beauty glam look we were going to do on her. Now I do get modern beauty glam very well, but I wanted somebody that would do it great. So I got out of the way.
What’s one, nitty-gritty thing that helped in expanding your understanding of color theory? Any books or makeup brands?
Oh, well, I could talk about makeup brands all day long. But, again, go back to the color theory. Get a color wheel from an art store. If you don’t know how to mix colors, how to make primary and secondary colors to get tertiary colors, get a color wheel and be a sponge. I’m, what, 36 years in this career? 31 in film. I’ve never stopped learning. I’m never closed off to garnering new info. And when I don’t, again, I get out of my way. I’m not up to snuff on this contemporary modern book with the square eyebrows, so I hired somebody that was.
But, getting back to your point, there are so many books. I have countless books on this very topic. I would say, “Be patient, learn color theory. And accept that, especially now, we’re in an era where you may just have to get out of the way. And let it be what the person in the chair wants it to be.” Because, ultimately, that’s who we’re there for, the actors.
You’ve been working in Marvel’s world for a long time. What’s one Marvel character that you would love to do their makeup or prosthetics?
I’ve never thought about it because, to be honest with you, I feel like I won the lottery. When we started with doing Loki on The Avengers, we didn’t know what was gonna happen. I’m trying to think, hmm. On Captain Marvel, I was doing Skrulls — that was fun. I did some work on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when they had a couple of episodes with Kree.
They were so cool.
Right? I’m trying to think — I did mention to somebody before that on The Avengers I was given the choice: [Jeremy] Renner or [Mark] Ruffalo or this new guy called Tom Hiddleston. The makeup was described to me and I was told that Hulk was going to beat him up a little bit and we were going to do a little something-something and they asked, “What do you want to do?” And I said, “I want to do a little something-something.” So, I landed with Tom.
I’d have to really think, “Who would I like?” I’ve done Lizzie Olsen’s makeup for the Tom Hiddleston film I Saw the Light. I’ve done Idris Elba’s makeup a couple of times for a couple of Marvel films, but also for a movie called Takers. And I worked with him on a movie called The Reaping. He’s a gem, of course… I’m really happy with who sits in my chair at the beginning of every day on these things. I’ve never thought past that. I garner so much pleasure and we have so much joy together. I’m happy where I’m at… I’m happy with Loki. I love Loki.
Well, Loki is coming back for Season 2, so you never know who will pop in the chair.
I’ve heard we’re coming back, but that’s all I’ve heard. That’s all I know. And that’s truly wonderful for me because ignorance is bliss. Whatever they dream up, I’m always eager to jump in and be a part of it.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Hush” Monsters Were Hand-Painted
Digging way back into your history, you were once a makeup designer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is one of my favorite shows! What’s one thing about that era of monster-makeup that you don’t think gets enough credit for doing?
I always refer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Buffy the Weekend Slayer because we would get off on Saturday morning as the sun was coming up and have to be back to work a couple of hours before the sun came up on Monday… What you see is what you get. You had to be on your game. We were real craftspeople back then and there was no margin for error. The words that go with CGI simply didn’t exist in 1999. You really had to be on point with makeup.
I would say what’s lost now is the notion that makeup always has to be perfect. We know now it doesn’t have to be perfect because we can fix it in post. I think a lot of people would say that helps us, but I think it handicaps those of us that are able to deliver the product without a computer’s touch.
I remember I did one of the gentlemen on Buffy‘s episode, “Hush.” My boss, Todd McIntosh, was saying, “You got to do the back of the neck… You never know what’s gonna happen. You have to make sure that the back of the neck has makeup on.” And, sure enough, the camera goes by and they were supposed to leave the frame, but the camera follows them. We just had to be on point and I think now many artists who came into the business with CGI, don’t understand what it’s like to be grinding your teeth and clenching your fists on set, hoping it looks okay because there’s nothing left to fix it for you.
Loki’s debut season is streaming now on Disney+. While a release date for its second season has not yet been confirmed, the show is greenlit for additional episodes of cosmic mayhem.
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