Ve Neill will never forget the day she met a group of men who had made their own Planet of the Apes masks.
She was at a convention and her admiration turned to shock when one of the men she asked to help teach her the makeup craft replied, “But you’re a girl!”
Who knew the special effects industry was so male-dominated? But this didn’t stop Ve, who apprenticed wherever she could. Before long, she had the necessary skills and techniques to take her to the top in the film and television industry. But the lesson stayed with Ve, who has spent the better part of the last 35 years helping other women learn while collecting a litany of awards.
Ve is a woman of passion. Born in 1951 in Riverside, California as Mary Flores, Ve has known since she was five years old that she wanted to work in the makeup industry.
What she lacked in knowledge, she had in determination and resourcefulness. She prides herself on being self-taught and one of the first woman to break into the special effects union.
Thanks to other artists like her mentor Fred Phillips who was willing to share his passion, Ve is widely considered the Glama-gore queen of the industry. Television viewers know her from the hit Syfy television series Face Off, where Ve is one of four judges who choose the $10,000 grand prize winner each season.
The show aired for the last time this past June, so it will be interesting to see if something similar takes its place. This is hard to believe knowing that after watching just one episode from season 13, I was completely hooked. Ve is pragmatic and affable, her eyes laughing easily from behind the black cat eye glasses she wears.
The artists on FaceOff are extremely creative and have three critical tests. First, they have to imagine the special effects concept and then design it. Implementing it without exceeding the time limit is the final challenge.
This is where Ve’s work as a makeup artist intersects with Elizabeth Arden’s creative genius. Both women have to harness their creative talents while also navigating the science of implementing their vision. For Elizabeth, the makeup must appeal to women, be beautifully packaged and do what it promises.
Ve’s case is slightly different because her creative designs are about creating a character or creature that is realistic and horrifically stunning. The special effects are critical for conveying exactly what the writers intend so the challenge is knowing what materials are perfect for the project (silicone prosthetics, wigs, etc.) and the skill to utilize them.
Ve’s is one of the best in the industry. She has created dozens of legendary and memorable creatures and characters and worked on many of the top grossing films and series of all time. These include Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Hook, and Edward Scissorhands.
Over the course of her career, Ve has garnered too many awards to count including three Oscars for her work in Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Ed Woods. She’s also been nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures five additional times and won a coveted Emmy for her makeup in the miniseries, The Shining.
But success has come at a price for Ve who admits her life is anything but normal.
The demands of traveling from set to set and planning working behind the makes for very long work hours. Ve makes a point of sharing this with her female students so they know have no misconceptions about what it takes to excel in the industry.
This may partially explain why Ve accepted a position last year as Director of Education at a Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles. The job provides more normalized work hours and also a way for Ve to mentor other female artists. Her commitment is also manifest in the scholarship fund she’s created for emerging artists entering the program.
That said, Ve admits she’s remained in the industry as long as she has because she truly loves being on set and interacting with people. The job requires a collaborative approach to working with the director, actors, costume designers and hair stylists before Ve determines the final face that works best for each character.
Tomorrow’s follow-up article about Ve highlights this point. Ve and legendary comic Robin Williams share their mutual admiration for each other while discussing the grueling process of makeup application. It’s easy to see how Ve’s vision is critical for bringing characters and monsters to life.
Sure, we might sleep a little easier at night without a few of her terrifying faces, but these wondrous designs and fantastical creatures are too enchanting not to love. They make me want to stay awake just long enough to linger in the beauty of Ve’s magnificent artistry.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ve or her makeup classes, visit her on Facebook @ve.neill.9 or see her program at www.veneillmasterclass.com