"We Made It": Make-up artist Nina Pratley

It's easy to forget among the pile up of high-tech and high-concept flash that Hollywood films still depend on handiwork and hard graft from all kinds of trained craftspersons. For all the vision and drive of high-profile directors and mega-studios they rely on the practical skills of an army of technicians and artists. And given that so much rides on close-ups on the hundred-million-dollar faces of its superstars, perhaps the most under-appreciated of all are the people whose craft is the face itself.

Make-up artist Nina Pratley has been working in the industry since 2009 with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Ron Howard, and Brad Pitt among many others and been part of the hair & makeup and prosthetic teams on the sets of Guardians of the Galaxy, Mr Turner, Rush and World War Z. Here she explains to theartsdesk's Katherine McLaughlin her craft and graft, high points and inspirations and what it takes to achieve and maintain a career like hers.

KATHERINE MCLAUGHLIN: How did you get into this interesting line of work?

NINA PRATLEY: I started out studying film at University - I'd always been drawn to the process of filmmaking, but whilst I was studying, I was unsure what path I wanted to take. I knew that I wanted to be involved in a more creative department, but wasn't sure which one. I looked into costume for a while, worked office jobs for a couple of years, and then my friend Morag suggested makeup.

The actual makeup course is based on the idea of an apprenticeship; you study intensively for 3 months, then you get sent out into the world as a trainee, learning on the job. I was a trainee for around two and half years, then you progress to junior, which allows you a little more freedom and gives you more responsibility; then you move on to full makeup artist. The course is expensive, but I feel it was totally worth it. I went to CBMA, based in Camden, and the training I received there was amazing. A plus is that all the teachers that work there are themselves makeup and hair artists and to this day the majority of the work I do comes from the people that taught me. Chris Blundell, the woman who runs the school, is an Oscar-winning makeup designer.

What is a typical day like for you? Is there even such a thing as typical?

That's something I love about my job; I can be doing 18th century Apollo Knot hairstyles on Mr Turner one month, then onto alien special effects makeup the next. It keeps things fresh and interesting, and you never, ever stop learning. One of the best pieces of advice I was given was from Christine Cant: she's been doing this job for thirty plus years, and she told me when I started out to never, ever think you know it all. Things change, products change, techniques change, so always be open to learning new things. You have to be extremely hard working. I've done jobs where I've been up at 2am and not got home till 9pm, and this can be six days a week sometimes. You can be outside in the elements in the middle of winter for twelve hours a day, or in 40 degree heat with no shade.

Looking back now on your first day on set was it exhilarating or nerve-wracking?

My first job was on Jam and Jerusalem, a BBC comedy written by Jennifer Saunders, and it was a lovely job to start my career with. The designer, Christine Cant is a bit of a legend in the world of TV comedy sketch shows, and she took me on as her trainee straight out of college. It was an invaluable start for me. It was definitely a case of being thrown in at the deep end. I was given several lead cast members to make up, but luckily I didn't sink. I would absolutely tell anyone starting out in this industry to do as much TV work as you can. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love working in film, but when you're training, TV gives you more responsibility, and you build your skill level much quicker.

You have a most impressive CV – what has been the best experience so far?

It's genuinely hard to pick one out of all of them. Rush was an awesome job. The Seventies is such a cool era to do - such a stylish era, but with just that right amount of tacky to make it interesting. Particularly the looks we were doing: Formula 1 groupies looking to lay James Hunt! Ron Howard was so passionate about the work. You can just see from the way he is on set how much he loves his job. World War Z was also cool. It was my first experience of being away in another country on location, so represents a bit of a milestone in my career.

Guardians of the Galaxy was awesome. It was a completely different set up to anything I've ever worked on before. I worked in the crowd room, making up background actors, but I was on the special effects side. I mostly worked on the blue and yellow people you see in the background. I also got to assist the prosthetics team, headed up by David White. Looking back, X-Men: First Class was a great one too.

You worked with Jennifer Lawrence on that, what was she like?

It was just before she went stratospheric - I'm pretty sure she was nominated for her first Oscar for Winters Bone at that point, but she was still kind of under the radar. Honestly, she was just a normal, super down to earth girl. Very funny and loud, as you'd expect, but chilled out.

What do you think is the most important quality needed to become successful in this business?

Obviously, I would say the main thing would be having the skill, but I also think it's very important to be good with people. You spend so much of your time with others, if you're not a people person, this job isn't really for you.

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