We all know names like Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman, and Brannon Braga, but we often forget that the making of Star Trek is full of names that are not often mentioned. One of those names is Gil Mosko, a makeup artist who worked on a number of Star Trek series and movies, ran the makeup lab, and served as a personal makeup artist to Michael Dorn (Worf).
A few months ago, Gil reached out to me after reading my interview with Doug Drexler and offered to send us behind the scenes pictures for the Trek Initiative. I have to admit that, when he first contacted me, I didn’t know who Gil was. Over the last few weeks of interviewing him, though, I’ve come to learn more about someone who was actively involved in the making of Star Trek, and someone with a deep passion for his work and for the saga that we all love.
One of my favorite parts of my job is being able to compile your questions and then send them to the talent behind the camera, and the interview with Gil was no different. He was kind enough to answer a few questions submitted by you, the Trek Initiative community, as well as a few that I had for him. You can read his answers, and see the photos he provided, below.
Brandon: Let’s start with the questions from the community. First, which alien makeup concept(s) did you find most challenging to bring into being? Were there any that you had to scale back from the original idea for practical reasons?
Gil: Bringing Mr. Worf’s makeup into being was the most challenging. You see, my predecessor had been doing the makeup in a manner that required constant touch ups and painstaking cleanup. Worf’s face had been completely covered with a special paint—PAX Paint—which is half paint, and half glue. It is uncomfortable for the wearer, and miserable to remove. My first change was to eliminate all of the PAX Paint except the bare minimum to blend the edges of the foam pieces to Michael Dorn’s face. It also meant that I had to prepaint the foam exactly like Mr. Dorn’s own skin tone.
The real challenge was to create a makeup that still looked like the character, but afforded much more comfort for the wearer. This purposeful scaling back of the makeup was its own reward.
Brandon: Looking back, what are your favorite creations, or the ones that you're most proud of?
Gil: It is so hard to pick just one favorite makeup. Of course the work I did on Mr. Worf was very gratifying. But since I ran the makeup lab, I was often given the first makeup of new characters. Having a blank overhead mask, and creating a design was the greatest! We often used biological picture books for reference. Fish books, reptile books, bird books were all used to find interesting looking patterns. A character called “Asoth” used some of the fish designs. A character in “The Hunted” used reptile designs. The use of real animal patterns kept the characters more believable, I feel.
Brandon: What was it like working on the Borg makeup "upgrades" for Star Trek: First Contact and then carrying those over for Star Trek: Voyager? Specifically, can you give us any insight into the process of enhancing the look of the TV Borg for their big screen debut?
Gil: The Borg had been relatively standardized by the time they were used in one of the films. Like any television to big screen makeup, we had to be more careful about details. The painting of the background became an airbrush process beginning with an off-white background. It then had beige and taupe air brushed in a mottled pattern. Every hose that connected to skin had a foam transition. These looked almost like bullet hits, and then the tubing was glued to the inside circle. Our use of “mechanical” looking parts became more flamboyant. We were even provided with the centers of electronic wristwatches that would have moving elements inside them.
The sculpting department, led by Jake Garber, created the most wonderful tech looking headgear. These were horizontal foam pieces that wrapped around the back of the head, from ear to ear. Making the molds for these very detailed designs was a huge challenge. I had to go with epoxy for the interior surface of the mold, since the normal gypsum products would have eroded away. I also put a lot of black pigment into the foam when it was still raw, so the final pieces had a dark black color. This merely had to be aged with metallic paints of copper, gold, silver, etc.
Brandon: What are the techniques involved in doing heavy makeup while still allowing actors to use their skills effectively? Do you ever need to compromise during the application process for that reason?
Gil: My philosophy toward prosthetic makeup is “less is better.” By this I mean less glue, less paint, less thickness, less constriction of the actor’s facial muscles. The techniques are mostly the same everywhere, remembering that the more pre-painting of the prosthetic, the better. The steps are: size the piece. Hold it up to the actor’s face, and confirm the fit. If any adjustments need to be made, e.g. cutting darts and repairing, now is a good time to do them. Next begin the gluing process. This normally starts by anchoring the piece somewhere near its center, making sure it is placed accurately. Next, by folding the anchored piece out and away from the face, a glue brush can access the interior. By means of successive “folds,” the piece is glued from the center outward toward the edges. Particular care is taken by the time the edges are ready to be glued. I use forceps in my left hand (to carefully lift the edge) and a glue brush in my right hand, to sneak some glue under the edge. A final swipe of glue is applied to the exterior of the edge, and allowed to soak through to the inside. All edges are now pressed with fingertips (they have been powdered to avoid sticking) or a powdered “chamois tool.” Finally, a layer of acrylic adhesive is stippled completely around the entire edge. Sometimes when a thick edge is present, a thickened paste is applied to the area, until the “stairstep” uneven area is blended to the skin. The idea is to have a seamless transition from foam to skin. Now the makeup is ready for painting.
In gluing, care is taken not to stretch the foam. The idea is to leave the actor’s skin as unpulled as possible. It is easy to see that the thinnest layer of glue possible to do the job gives the most freedom to the actor. Of course the most used areas must be well adhered, like the corners of the mouth. Rarely, a compromise needs to be made. I have had occasions where the eyelids of the headpiece prevented the actor from opening his own eyes. Of course the foam had to be carefully trimmed off, so the actor could use his eyes! I also concentrated heavily on the area just above the eyebrows, making sure this area was very well glued. An actor can convey a lot of expression through the eyebrows, and this “reads” even through foam.
Brandon: Many of the series regulars weren't normally in prosthetics, but would sometimes be required to have them for specific episodes. Are there any funny stories (or horror stories) from one of those instances?
Gil: In season 7 of TNG, we had one amazing episode for makeup. I forget the title, but it was where all the crew had full prosthetic makeups. It was a parallel universe, so they had to appear as different versions of themselves. Worf became centuries old—a “proto-Klingon.” Marina became a salamander. Oh, it was wild. Marina’s makeup was done in the chair right next to mine, so we were only about 4-feet apart. At one point, I said to Marina, "You better hope there aren’t any lamprey eels out there.” She gasped then laughed. My boss, Mike Westmore pulled me aside and said, “Do you realize her boyfriend Mike’s last name is ‘Lamper?” Apparently they all thought that was very funny. But the best thing happened when actor John Glover was the guest star. He is a fine stage actor, and has a wonderful reputation for his great acting ability. As many actors, John lives an “alternative” lifestyle, if you know what I mean. Well, in our makeup trailer, the coffee maker was just across from my station. The girls liked to brew this hazelnut-flavored coffee, and then just let it sit all day and get more and more rancid. The smell was nutty and horrible. At one point my neighbor, June, asked if I would like a cup of coffee. I told her, “No thanks, I’d gag on the nuts.” Immediately, John Glover, sitting in the next chair, whirled at me and said in the gayest voice he could, “Ohhhhh myyyyyy!” Of course all work had to stop, since the entire trailer had exploded into laughter.
Brandon: I have a few questions as well, so fans can get to know you better. What was your first experience with Star Trek? Were you a fan before you started working on it?
Gil: I had never been a fan of Star Trek before I worked there. In fact, I had never even watched it. My first experience was when I was hired as a “daily hire” for two or three days. There was a lot to learn, but like most processes, I was well familiar with foam, molds, glue, and paint. Same materials, different place. Having worked on Star Trek has definitely made me a fan, but with some qualifications. My taste most definitely runs toward the crew under Mr. Picard. Since that is the area I worked in, my sentiments are loyal to it. Besides, there was such a wonderful rapport between the talent, it made every day fun to work there.
Brandon: Most artists have a personal touch that they bring to their work. Was there anything in particular that you brought to your work on Star Trek, consciously or unconsciously, that you would consider signature to you?
Gil: Since the characters all had to look a certain way, as defined by Mike Westmore, it was difficult to place a personal signature on them. Still, Mike Westmore so often gave me the new characters because I have a good color sense, I get along with the talent, and I always try to have a dignified approach to my work. One artist, for example, always showed up for work in shorts and a t-shirt—often dirty. He spent hour upon hour simply strolling the Paramount lot, with the ever present Diet Coke in his hand. His talent as a sculptor was the reason he was there, but I felt he was a bad model for how we artists should be viewed. Another, my friend Dave Q, wore dress pants, long sleeve shirt and tie to work. I liked and admired him, and have always thought highly of him. So these are the signatures we could show, even if personal flair in our work was not allowed too much. To summarize my personal style, I always tried to appear professional. I was happy to talk with the talent while they were in my chair, but I did not have a steady stream of chatter. I tried to move as quickly as possible, making the talent’s stay in my chair as brief as possible. They all noticed this and appreciated it. And I had the added advantage of running the makeup lab, so I always knew all the inside information about things in the makeup world.
Brandon: Was there anything you wanted to accomplish as a Star Trek makeup artist that you weren’t able to accomplish?
Gil: I hope this doesn’t sound unimaginative, but I really didn’t have a list of personal goals on the show. Rather, I took pride in simply walking onto the Paramount lot, knowing that I was a journeyman makeup artist in Hollywood, ready for another day of work.
Brandon: To go off of the community question about the alien makeup concept you found most challenging, was there a particular episode that you found most difficult to work on?
Gil: No particular episode was especially more challenging than others. For me, the whole experience was the challenge. The writers and producers had an uncanny way of smoothing out the uneven places. By this I mean they knew how to keep the writing, the situations and the stories within certain boundaries. After all, the material had to fit into a prescribed time frame, and the curve of the stories needed to fit. Consequently, there was a similarity to how most of the shows resembled each other.
There was one episode that was the most challenging for me. Our boss, Mike Westmore, was out sick with infectious mononucleosis. He couldn’t come anywhere near the Paramount lot! So I was given more makeups to do than my usual list. I had the pleasure of doing Mr. Data’s makeup. And at one point, I had three actors in three chairs, and I was working on all of them. For efficiency sake, I was jumping from chair to chair. While something was drying on one face, I would jump to another chair and work there for a few minutes before jumping again. I had Riker, Data, and Worf all going at the same time. Riker took some extra time from his normal makeup, because he had a neck prosthetic. I think it was some “control device” that was mounted on the very side of his neck. Mr. Frakes was so kind to me that day. He teased me, and it made me feel more relaxed, since he did it as a friend. “Hey Dorny, I do believe that Gil has broken a sweat!” Stuff like that.
Brandon: As a personal makeup artist for Michael Dorn, you must have some funny stories about working with him. Are there any you can share with the fans?
Gil: My happiness in working on the show came often from the relationship between the talent. Mr. Dorn’s makeup chair (mine) was right next to Mr. Picard’s chair. Being so close, it made conversation easy between the two. I remember one time when Patrick Stewart had been a presenter on an awards program. His co-presenter was Reba McEntire. Patrick was smitten with her! Of course everyone played it up, until it was a joke. One morning, before he even entered the trailer, we could hear Patrick’s deep baritone voice approaching the trailer, and he was saying, “Reba, Reba, Reba!” As he sat in his makeup chair, Dorny said, “Oh Patrick, you STUPID man!” Of course we all had to crack up at that.
Brandon: I think fans would be interested to know the difference between working on TV and working on movies. As someone who worked on Trek shows and movies, what's the difference in the makeup process between the two?
Gil: When working on a series, we all found our routine. There was a rather high level of efficiency. For the movies, several things changed. First of all, their budgets reflected some benefits for us. The food on set was a LOT better. We were rushed a lot less, since we had to achieve a higher level of detail in our work. Finally, standing by on set with your character was a lot more important. I honestly tried my level best to truly inspect my character’s look before cameras rolled. Anything needing care was immediately dealt with. On "Generations," we had a Director of Photography named John Alonzo. He actually had me do a makeup test in Mr. Worf, and rolled film to be looked at for irregularities in the makeup. I discovered two small areas of Mr. Dorn’s face that looked a bit shinier on film. Therefore I had to develop a matting agent that I made from liquid vinyl and a powder for dulling. The down side was that this material, if used to thickly, would crystallize out as a white patch. So my on set touchups had to be very careful.
Brandon: If you were ever given the chance to work on Star Trek again, would you do it? Is there anything new and in particular you would want to bring the franchise?
Gil: If I ever had the opportunity to work on Star Trek again, I would take it in an instant! What a great job for a makeup artist! One could use his imagination and skills to create things that could be truly stunning. I stretched myself as an artist working there, and frankly, have never had as good a job since. At least for aliens.
Brandon: Gil, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here at Trek Initiative. I know that our community really appreciates it.
Gil: I am so happy to speak with you about my experiences on Star Trek. Those years played heavily on my experience as a makeup artist. Moreover, going to work was actually fun! Every morning as I walked onto the Paramount lot, I felt fortunate to be a makeup artist in the position I was in. I am grateful for so much that happened at Star Trek.
In addition to the interview, Gil was kind enough to provide us with a number of images to show you here on Trek Initiative. Here are those images, with captions and anecdotes to explain what they are (you can click on the images for larger versions):
There you have it, Star Trek fans. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Gil Mosko. Please join me in thanking Gil for taking the time to talk to us!