A Family Affair: Behind the Scenes

After graduating with his degree in political science, Gary D. Liddiard (BS ’60) had every intention of pursuing a law degree at George Washington University. That is, until he was unexpectedly offered an apprenticeship with Warner Bros. Studios as a makeup artist – a family member had a connection with the company and thought he would make a great fit.

“I had never done makeup,” Gary says. “I didn't know anything about it." But he took the plunge and ended up completing the three-year apprenticeship and entering the industry.

For most of his career, Gary worked as the personal makeup artist for Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Film Festival. Through decades of working on the same movie sets, the two became close friends. “He’s an awesome individual to work with. We did a lot of traveling. When we did The Great Gatsby (1974) in London, he took his family and I took mine—it was great.”

With demanding hours, Gary’s career became a family affair. From a young age, G. Dennis Liddiard (’91) was immersed in the makeup industry. He was even able to accompany his dad on a five-month trip to Kenya to work on Out of Africa (1985).

After watching his dad work as a makeup artist for years, Dennis couldn’t resist the draw of the industry. “I trained him,” Gary says. “He went to a year of school at BYU and then decided he wanted to follow me in the business.”

Dennis started studying at BYU and explored his fascination with makeup artistry through university classes. “It was after that when I started training with my dad. I had the opportunity to get in the [business] before I ever graduated from the Y.” He planned on returning to school to complete his degree after training. However, after only two weeks, he was with his father on a movie set in Brazil—and he never turned back.

Despite the tough competition Dennis faced, he was able to establish himself in the industry, with some help from his dad. “I was able to take him with me on shows when he was first starting so he wouldn’t starve to death, because it was tough [for him] coming into the business,” Gary says.

But then the industry began to change, making a stark shift from hand-crafted makeup to a reliance on computer-generated imagery (CGI). What Gary enjoys most is completely transforming someone using his own two hands, something he feels is being lost with the shift to CGI. During his apprenticeship, he learned how to make a person look like they had a broken nose, were a different ethnicity, had facial hair, and more, all without the help of technology. On the set of Scalphunters (1968) in Mexico, his director wanted the lead actor, Telly Savalas, to have his ear shot off. “I didn’t have anything down there to do this,” Gary says. He used a nearby [pine] shell to create a mechanism that, when pulled away from the cartilage, caused fake blood to spill from Savalas’s ear. “You had to be able to think on your feet. I love those challenges.”

Once the industry began to change, his enthusiasm for makeup artistry declined. “They went more toward the CGI and bluescreen stuff, and I didn’t think that was interesting to me,” Gary says. “I don’t know if it’s because of my age or what, but it wasn’t as much fun.”

Contrarily, Dennis believes much of the business still focuses on the practicality of makeup artistry, despite the new advances in technology. “I did the film Foxcatcher a couple years ago. We had the three main characters in full appliances; none of that was CGI. Steve Carell was in a four-hour makeup every day. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo were about two hours each.”

Despite their different views on current trends, both Gary and Dennis agree that their standards have helped them in an industry that tends to be known for displays of immorality and obscenity, on and off the screen. “The standards I have . . . they helped me in the business a lot because they knew that I was always going to be to work and I wouldn’t be off hungover somewhere,” Gary says.

“Obviously, we stand out a little bit at work,” Dennis says, “but people respect the hard decisions [I make] and trust me.” His steadfast dedication to the Church’s standards, as well as his breadth of skills, has contributed to Dennis’s Academy Award nomination for Foxcatcher in 2015, an accomplishment that his father, who has been a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1984, was extremely proud of.  

Dennis was grateful for the nomination because it allowed him to spend more time with his wife and daughters during the surrounding festivities—a rarity as Dennis often finds himself working hundreds or thousands of miles away from home for extensive periods of time. Because of the time commitment, he doesn’t always recommend such a demanding career. “If you want to have a family, you may want to think twice about this,” he says.

However, the challenges are accompanied by a plethora of rewards. “I loved it—it was a great career,” says Gary, who retired around 2002. “I enjoyed it because of all the challenges that I had and the people I met and the places I went for location. What can I say? For the most part, it was really an exciting career.”

Dennis, who recently completed his work on the upcoming film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), continues to honor his father’s legacy while making his own mark in the growing field of makeup artistry.

—Kendra L. Smith (’17)

Gary D. Liddiard
Grad Year: 
1960
Major: 
Recreation Management