This month’s star interview of the month is with three time, Emmy award winning makeup artist, Karen J. Westerfield, of Star Trek’s, Deep Space 9. I visited with her in the valley, at her home in North Hollywood, California. She is currently in her seventh season with Deep Space 9, and loves spending time with her three-year old daughter Allison.
How long have you been a makeup artist?
I’d say about ten years.
Did you have a different career prior to becoming a makeup artist?
Yes, I worked in crafts service in the film industry.
I really didn’t care for it. “If I wanted to be your mommy I would have children”, I used to say. It’s a thankless job and you become this indentured slave person. In the old day’s crafts’ service was helping other “crafts” on set, now it’s just a mini catering service. I went to school to learn how to make films like every other person in town. I was given the advice that if you were ever offered a job and you didn’t have one, take it no matter what it is. Crafts’ service was a great way to meet a lot of people and eventually, hooked me into the makeup union.
How long did you do crafts service?
Not long 2 to 3 years.
How did you get started in makeup? Was something you always wanted to do or did you just fall into it?
I think I just fell into it. When I was in college I took a theatrical makeup class. I actually dropped the course because I thought I was no good. There was no way I could compete with the people doing old age and character makeups. They already had a lot of training in high school then continued in the college theatre department that scared me off.
What happened after you dropped the course?
I went to college for chemistry. I wanted to become a doctor, and help make a difference in the world. I remember being frustrated and coming out my first quarter at University of California at San Diego with a “B” average. I realized you had to get good grades and if you weren’t naturally smart, it was a chore to get the grades, being an average student. I found out 50% of my classmates failed out at the quarter. I remember being in tears because I had a “B” average. So apparently that average was a good thing. After three years of doing work in the summer at hospitals, I realized I was a bleeding heart. I could not work with people who were injured or hurt. I wanted to take them home with me and take care of them. I did not think being a doctor was for me, so I quit. That was a hard decision for me. I then worked as a quality control lab tech at a chemical plant. After a year and a half of that, I realized I was going no where and went back to school. I acquired a 35MM camera and went back into visual arts and specialized in still photography and film. I was always a big film buff. That’s why I wanted to take a makeup class so I could help out when we were making films. I still want to make films, that’s my ultimate goal. Makeup was a wonderful way to make good money, get dirty like a little kid and have fun! Being in the union, you make a good living and get great medical benefits. It turned out to be a good thing. But, I never thought of becoming a makeup artist before I was 30.
Did you apprentice with anyone? Where did you get your training?
I originally started out making Halloween masks that’s how I got interested in makeup, mostly effects. I was at Cerritos College and they offered a course in the plastics department making molds, life casts and things.. I learned life casts, facial casts, and learned how to make the positives. I first started sculpting on generic face forms, then making a bucket mold and rubber masks for Halloween. I met Michael Bastings who was interested in this stuff I was involved with. We hooked up and became good friends. We did some small budget films together. Later I started doing crafts’ service. I ended up on a movie called “Throw Mama from the Train”. An actress in the film Ann Ramsey, told the special effects makeup artists I was interested in doing makeup and special effects. Those artists just happened to be Tom and Berry Burman. They asked if I would be interested in doing an apprenticeship in their shop. I said yes, but I could only do it for three months. The best part of my apprenticeship was I meeting Matthew Mungle. When Matthew left Burman’s, he was working on his own films and offered me work. I went on to work at Rick Baker’s shop on Gremlins 2 for a year. I was the only non-mechanic working in the mechanics department. I did take beauty makeup classes at Westmore Academy, and that was through crafts’ service. They had a program where if you applied for a course pertaining to anything in the film industry and you paid for it yourself, once you completed the course satisfactorily, you were reimbursed 100%. You then had the opportunity to go into the union without doing your 30 days, if you could prove you were proficient. This was in 1987-89 and I got into the union in April of 1990. I have been in the union for eight years. No one really took advantage of this unique program I went through.
Would you say Matthew Mungle was your first mentor or someone you looked to for most of your SPFX training?
He was the person I looked up to the most because of his personality, his ability to be a good teacher, his openness and willingness to let you take a chance and support you on it. He is really great. This was when his shop was in his garage. Sometimes on Fridays we would take a long lunch and go see whatever new movie was out that had SPFX in it. It was his treat; we would have lunch together, movies, and popcorn. Then we would talk about the movie’s SPFX. We would work later to make up for the time we spent at the movies. He was my friend and boss. Those things made work fun and made me want to be a makeup artist more. It was just different working for other people besides Matthew. After working for Matthew, I went to Rick Baker’s shop then to a company called Roboshop. I did fiberglass work and small bodies for animatronics for amusement parks.
Would you say the different SPFX shops you have worked in are all like Matthew Mungle’s shop? Or are they getting more corporate or standard assembly line type work?
Matthew is pretty hands on in his shop, the shop is huge, compared to bigger shops where it’s all segregated. Matthew still designs and sculpts with the guys and does mold making. He has people that do those parts of the job for him but he’s still doing things in all areas compared to other shops. He’s like the Mom and Pop store of the SPFX industry compared to the big department stores.
What would you say was your first paying job as a makeup artist?
The first big film was called “Mirror of Death”. We didn’t get paid we got points on the film. They bought me out six months later and I got a check for $860.00.
How did you land your current job on Deep Space 9? How long have you been with the series?
I got into the union on April 20, 1990. A few days later I worked on the last day of Star Trek’s, Next Generation. I knew Michael Westmore, Department Head of Star Trek, from when I did crafts’ service. The first makeup I did was a Klingon and June Westmore gave me some advice on what to do. I have been doing Star Trek stuff a little over eight years. The next year, Next Generation was in it’s sixth season, the following year Deep Space 9 was starting up and Mike had me day checking there. One day Mike came up to me and asked, “How would you like to do a Ferengi tomorrow”? I said okay sure, what is it? He said “I’ll give you the makeup and show you what they look like and move your stuff up to the main trailer.” I said oh, all right, wondering why, only to find out the Ferengi’s makeup that I was doing was a principle on the show. He was 1 out of 7 principal cast members. He was number 7, Armin Shimerman, who plays Quark. He’s the Ferengi who runs the bar, gambling house, and the holosuites. That’s how I started doing Quark, and I have been doing him ever since. Now I work part-time and do him exclusively. It’s a hard show. It’s a full effects show- makeup, visual and costume effects. They shoot a one-hour episode in seven days. I can remember when I worked full time doing 60-70 hour weeks for ten months. You get burned out, people get cranky.
Does working part time on Deep Space 9 allow you the opportunity to work on other projects?
Yes, I get to day check on other shows. Recently, I worked on “X-Files”, “Inspector Gadget”, and a Tom Hank’s movie, “The Green Mile”. You keep your face and name out there. You can get caught on a series for a long time, and get “out of the loop” as they say in our industry. My advantage not working full time is I can take on other projects in film, TV, meet new people and spend a lot of quality time with my daughter.
Take us through a typical day on Deep Space 9.
On a typical day if Armin is working I have to be there at 4:30am. He arrives at 5:00am. I get a half-hour set up. They give me two hours to do his makeup. First, I apply the prosthetic head and face pieces, do all my edge work and then patch any air bubbles from the foam. I then Pax it and wait until that dries. We take a break for about 5 minutes (I call it the 7th inning stretch), then get back to work. I then paint everything. I usually finish in about 45 minutes. The time might be longer depending on Armin’s actions during each episode and the amount of glue. The makeup I do is pretty low maintenance for me and Armin takes good care of it. After his makeup is done, I put powder the face. Armin goes to rehearsal, changes into his costume, then returns to makeup. I then remove the powder and apply KY Jelly to the face. I do his hand makeup, fingernails, he cleans his false teeth, and were off and running.
Do you go on set to maintain the makeup?
Yes, I go on set and maintain the makeup and hang out. After lunch we do a touch up, more extensive than what we can do on the set. I stay with him the whole day no matter what. A lot of times they bring in a makeup prosthetics clean up crew to remove makeup, so the first shift can go home and rest. But, I stay there because that’s the deal I made with production. At the end of the day it takes about 45 minutes to remove Armin’s makeup. I take my time because I don’t want to hurt his skin. In seven years, he’s never had a problem so apparently I’m doing a good job.
What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
Most enjoyable part is working with Armin. He’s the greatest. I’ve been lucky, I would not be there now if it were not for him. It’s fun, I really enjoy doing the makeup. There’s not that much of a challenge since I do the same makeup. It’s become a habit, I don’t even think about it, its second nature. I haven’t been able to advance my creative abilities as far as being a makeup artist through Star Trek, because I only do one makeup. That’s why it’s great to work on other shows.
Would you say you’re a special effects makeup artist?
I tell people I specialize in SPFX because I like it better. I can and will do anything but if I have a preference, I would do SPFX.
Tell me about the Emmy’s you have received. What were they for and how have they changed your career?
I have 3 Emmy’s. They are all from Star Trek. The first one is from Next Generation for the episode “Cost of Living”, and I call that one “being in the right place at the right time”, Emmy. The second one was from the first season of Deep Space 9 for the episode “Captive Pursuit”, and this one I felt I really earned. I did one of the main guest stars, and of course, Quark. The third one was also for Deep Space 9. I received this one right after my daughter was born. It wasn’t as exciting as the others.
Did these Emmy’s change your career?
It doesn’t really change your career. Oscar’s might, Emmy’s don’t. Although, it did make a difference when I was up against someone for a job and later I was told I got the job because I already won three Emmy’s. It’s never gotten me more money. Mostly it’s nice to be recognized by your peers. I think your parents, family and friends get more mileage out of it. The last Emmy I won I converted it into an urn for my dad’s ashes, the base is hollow. My dad always bragged to his family and any passer by who would listen to him about me. He passed away right before my daughter was born. I had his ashes and I thought what am I going to do with these? I had his name engraved on the blank band. “Here lies Robert H. Westerfield”. People joke about Emmy’s, if you get one it’s a doorstop, two its bookmarks, and I say if you get three it’s an urn! It’s pretty funny, my Dad would have thought so.
There you have it! What is your advice to an aspiring makeup artist?
It’s really a great career. You have to put up with a lot of BS. I teach privately so if you really want to do anything keep at it and it will eventually come. Dick Smith who couldn’t draw once said, “If you do something for ten years you’ll get pretty good at it”. June Westmore always gave the best advice “practice, practice, and practice”. It’s a long road like any other career. Try not to get discouraged. And “practice, practice, practice”.