Hollywood makeup artist king Michael Westmore has long desired an exhibit of his work at his alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. Now Westmore — best associated with various Star Trek movies and TV series — has achieved this dream, on the very month that the beloved science-fiction franchise celebrates 50 years.
Lifeforms: The Makeup Art of Michael Westmore shows now through December 4 at UCSB’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum (AD&A). “[Several years ago] he approached us about doing an exhibit of his work,” said AD&A Assistant Curator Rebecca Harlow, cocurator of the exhibit with Jessica Archer. “The exhibition, for me, is a chance to showcase an artist who is certainly very popular. Everyone is familiar with his work, but they don’t know who he is.”
Originally from North Hollywood, Westmore, whose memoir is slated for release in March 2017, attended UCSB alongside actor Michael Douglas. “It was one of the best times of my life,” he recalled of the Isla Vista campus, where he lived in a fraternity house. At the time, UCSB totaled 2,500 enrolled. “My high school had more students,” he added, chuckling.
Westmore graduated from UCSB in 1961 with a degree in art history but eschewed his major to enter the family business — he comes from a long, distinguished line of Hollywood makeup artists; his father, George, founded the first film-studio makeup department, and his uncle Hamilton “Bud” Westmore is credited with creating the Creature from the Black Lagoon, among other well-known creepy characters. Michael Westmore got a job at Universal Studios after graduation and within three years was promoted to assistant department head of makeup. The young artist’s mentor at Universal Studios, John Chambers, left him in charge of the makeup department when he headed to 20th Century Fox to work on 1968’s Planet of the Apes.
During the ’70s and early ’80s, Westmore honed his skills working on now classic films such as Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, in which he used “squirting blood” and perfected the “swollen eyes and bruises” that he had first created for boxing scenes in Rocky. “It was a low-budget film,” Westmore recalled of the 1976 Sylvester Stallone career-maker. “It was a lot of fun.”
He was hired in 1986 to work on a Star Trek series reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation, starring Patrick Stewart. “I really didn’t get into sci-fi until [then],” Westmore said. The Star Trek franchise now seems like one long series to him; he spent 18 years “nonstop” working on myriad “Romulans, Vulcans, and Klingons” on a succession of related series and features. His TV work has scored him 42 Emmy nominations and nine wins. Westmore, who won the Best Makeup Academy Award for Mask (1985), was also nominated for his work on the 1996 feature film Star Trek: First Contact.
The pieces on display at AD&A are from Westmore’s private collection and consist of work beginning from Star Trek: The Next Generation through the film features until the last Star Trek series, 2005’s Enterprise. They comprise artifacts from conception to final product such as Polaroids of actors in early stages of makeup to full facial prosthetics and an entire Borg suit completed in July.
Today, Westmore enjoys the recognition he gets as a celebrity judge on Syfy’s Face Off and looks forward to the UCSB exhibit.
Lifeforms: The Makeup Art of Michael Westmore runs through December 4. AD&A welcomes Westmore back on Thursday, October 6, for a 5:30 p.m. meet and greet before a Star Trek: First Contact screening/Q&A, moderated by Pollock Theater Director Matthew Ryan, at UCSB’s Pollock Theater at 7 p.m. Reservations are recommended in order to guarantee a seat. Free. For information, see carseywolf.ucsb.edu.