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How To Make An Apocalypse

Lydia Roberts L. K. Roberts
August 13th, 2015

I am a proud Blerd who lives in the Pacific Northwest home. My dad had an interest in comic books and instilled a passion for them in me. After decades of being a Marvel Fanatic, I got sucked into the DC whirlpool that was The New 52 launch. Currently, I am moving more into various independent and non-mainstream titles. I am a proud supporter of local artists, comic book creators, and comic book businesses. My two goals as a writer for ComiConverse are 1) to highlight new, little-known, and/or diverse titles, artists and writers, and work that is coming out of the smaller publication houses and 2) to address issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation in comics and the industry.

How To Make An Apocalypse

A few weeks ago, Entertainment Weekly provided our first long-awaited look at some of the characters who will take center-stage in X-Men: Apocalypse; the latest installment in the 20th Century Fox multi-movie franchise. The result was a firestorm of discontent from Marvel fandom that centered mainly on the depiction of En Sabah Nur – Apocalypse himself. As a recovering Marvel addict, I admit that I briefly fell off the wagon, I eagerly devoured the article about the upcoming film. It wasn’t until after reading every last word that I finally gave my attention to the pictures.

As I noted on Twitter, Olivia Munn is a convincing representation of Psylocke. Alexandra Shipp is a lovely young woman who fits well as a younger version of Halle Berry’s Storm. When it comes to the infamous villain of the film though, Oscar Isaac’s heavily made-up appearance was a disappointment to many.

The film character’s starting point bore little resemblance to the original comic character, but there is little doubt that the Apocalypse we will see on the big screen will be further enhanced through the use of special effects.


But could Marvel have gone about constructing their title character differently?

In his ComiConverse article, How the Cinema Makeup School Won Comic-Con, Louis Waldron made reference to the Apocalypse design that CMS unveiled at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), which was much closer to what fans imagined: gray skin, blue lips, and a bald-ish head on a looming, muscular, evil being that exuded an inhuman detachment.

mad acpocalypse

“Apocalypse” by Cinema Makeup School, SDCC 2014
Portrayed by Mick Ignis
Makeup Sculpted by Lee Joyner
Applied and Painted by Rob Seal (assisted by Alanna Suen)
Body Suit/Armor by Walter Welsh, Kelton Ching, Courtney Vanderpool, and Bailey DeLong

I contacted the Cinema Makeup School and got input from CMS staffers Lee Joyner (who designed the CMS Apocalypse) and Mick Ignis (who portrayed the character at SDCC 2014) to get their opinions on the set photos and to find out more about the work that went into their own creation.

LKR: The Apocalypse on which students, alumni and staff of CMS collaborated sent fanboys and fangirls into a frenzy of excitement at Comic-Con 2014.  Had the school been approached by Marvel to create that version for the event?

CMS: We (CMS students, alumni, and staff who worked on the character) had no contact with Marvel while creating Apocalypse. That being said, we would love to collaborate with them in the future. A large portion of our students and staff are huge Marvel fans and, being a makeup school, we like to take every opportunity to bring these comic book characters to life.

Story continues below

LKR: What was the source material that you used to generate such a spot-on rendering of the iconic villain?

CMS: We actually referenced the collectible seen below for a majority of the process.


LKR: Mick, how long and how many people did it take to transform you into Apocalypse?

MI: Usually around three hours, with applications getting quicker each time the artist applied it. Normally we have one artist doing the main application while another artist assists.

LKR: How long did it take for CMS to plan and develop the design and what did that entail?

CMS: The whole process started many months before SDCC with life casting, sculpting and lab work. To create the entire character, including costume, took eight people working on several different parts of the process. We often bring in alumni of the school to work on these projects, as students can often be busy working on pieces for class.

Apocalypse had a team of CMS artists who oversaw the design process and applied the makeup at the convention. Behind the scenes at the school, we had additional team members working to help with the labor-intensive process of creating the custom prosthetic effects and costumes.

apocalypse_ teamLee Joyner, our Director of Admissions, sculpted and designed the head and was in charge of the general look and theme. Walter Welsh and Kelton Ching made the body suit, with refurbishment and adjustment by Courtney Vanderpool and Bailey DeLong.  Walter Welsh and Kelton Ching did application for SDCC and during WonderCon. Rob Seal and Alanna Suen applied the prosthetics.

LKR: What is CMS’s approach when you are recreating a well-known character with an existing mythology and backstory?

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CMS: The approach is to keep as much of the original design as possible.  Lee sits down and decides which version of the character he wants to do, then chooses his team based on submissions of past work from various graduates of CMS who are interested. Then he meets with them over many evenings to go over what their thoughts are for their portions of the creation and a timeline is created. A strict budgeting of material is adhered to for all projects. We work with a rather modest budget and we feel it’s very important that the graduates use none of their own funds.

LKR: Do you think that it is essential to stay true to the known version, or do you tend to put your own spin on a character?

CMS: There can be individual changes made based on the artist, but we always try to stick with canon as we’re doing this for fans. They have specific knowledge, and we don’t want to let them down. The source material is the most important influence.

LKR: Mick, at SDCC, how did fans react to you as the iconic villain?

MI: The fan reaction was and continues to be overwhelming, especially with its rise in internet popularity since the FOX reveal. When we do these demonstrations, we’re not just creating something for people to take a picture with. We want to create a real, interactive experience with these characters and the fans. We wanted the audience to feel like they were actually meeting Apocalypse. For me, this is live theater. I don’t break character until the makeup is completely removed, and I could tell that the convention attendees appreciated that. The expressions on everyone’s faces as they saw this 7′ mutant marching down the halls was priceless. We often say that these pieces are done ‘By Fans, For Fans’, so it’s important to us that our audience is happy and (especially after our last few events) we exceed expectations.

LKR: What is the hardest part about playing a character that has been around for so long and has an established (and vocal) fan-base?

MI: Being a hardcore Marvel fan my entire life, I found that the legacy and reference material for this character made him easier to portray, or, at the very least, they gave me plenty to work with. I wanted to pay homage the all of the Apocalypse stories and interpretations done over the years while still adding my own spin to the character. I went back to the comic books, the cartoons… even the video games! I spent months working on the proper voice for Apocalypse, and the monologue I performed throughout the event is partially original and partially patched together from iconic quotes from the 90’s X-Men Animated Series (which fans caught on to). While we all want to add as much of our own creativity and personal style to the characters we’re bringing to life, it’s important to remember how much these characters mean to the fans who have followed them for decades. There’s pressure there to get it all right, but it’s also a huge honor to add to that legacy.

LKR: Did CMS have any input in connection with how Apocalypse will appear in X-Men: Apocalypse?

CMS: We had absolutely NO input!  We’re just fans of the comic books, and hope that we can maybe influence public opinion that might, in some small way, help steer the decision makers.

LKR: Do you think that special effects will be used to enhance the character in post-production?

CMS: Yes, but who knows how much or in what direction. It depends on what the fan reaction is, and if they feel (at the studio) they have to make a correction in order to boost ticket sales.  If you look at what Marvel did with Vision (in Age of Ultron), his facial appliances were almost completely digitally done but from prosthetics created to achieve the look. This gives the CGI department something to work from.

LKR: One of the main complaints from fans has been the altered color scheme.  Do you have any theories regarding the purple visage (as it appeared inside the magazine)?

CMS: It’s actually more bluish, and truer to the comic than the purple color. Apocalypse normally has grey skin, but blue is acceptable if it’s a cool grey with blue tones.  The designers for the production are constrained on these high-budget films, with producers, directors, art directors and others adding their personal opinions.  They conduct private opinion polls and input from sources that don’t have a personal connection with the original subject, in this case Apocalypse.  It’s a shame, but that’s the nature of the beast.

FOX is not Marvel, who has Kevin Feige, or even Warner Bros. and DC with Zack Snyder, so they don’t have a strong guiding hand keeping the look and feel of the stories consistent with the source material.  We never blame the makeup artists or designers, as they create technically beautiful work, as they have with Apocalypse, but they have to traverse the stifling wringer of production bureaucracy to stay as true as possible to their own artistic integrity while satisfying all of their bosses. Unless the heads of production are strong leaders in keeping true to the subject material, it will indeed stray and falter.  The new Fantastic Four movie is a great example, with their Doctor Doom character looking less like the classic Doom than any of the previous iterations from the comic.

LKR: Mick, what do you think personally of the interpretation of Apocalypse as he will appear in X-Men: Apocalypse? (Note: Mick’s reply represents his opinion and not the opinion of CMS as an institution.)

MI: There was obviously a great deal of creative liberties taken with the FOX Apocalypse design. Honestly, while I was a big fan of First Class and Days of Future Past, I am a little disappointed that this version of Apocalypse strays so far from the source material (though I think Oscar Isaacs is a phenomenal actor). I would never guess that Apocalypse was who the character was supposed to be if you had only shown me a picture. I think the MCU films have proven that you can make slight modifications to a design without losing the character. (I thought Age of Ultron’s Vision was a perfect example of that.) Then again, the films not out yet, and there are rumors that Apocalypse will “evolve”.

Perhaps we’ll all be surprised.

I hope so.

We hope so, too. Don’t we fans?

If you want to see more of the work that CMS did for this year’s SDCC, such as Thanos from the Marvel comic books, Diablo from the Diablo III video game, characters from the Star Wars universe and more, check out our slide-show How The Cinema Makeup School Won Comic-Con” or the Cinema Makeup School website. Also, CMS has several demos and characters in the works for Son of Monsterpalooza in September, the International Makeup Artist Trade Show in January and Wondercon in March. Check out their Facebook page for more.


A big thank you to Ben Malenka, Lee Joyner, and Mick Ignis for their time and assistance with this piece and for the CMS photos.

As always, let me know what you think. Does it matter if a character depiction matches the cannon or goes in another direction entirely?

You can find me on Twitter (@Lyderary), leave a message here, or drop a line on the ComiConverse Facebook page!


L. K. Roberts is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter: @Lyderary

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  1. WRIGHTWORD says:

    The CMS folks are right I suspect: Marvel would have done better. This Apocalypse design just screams Fox. The biggest issue is the lack of the lines on the face leading to the darker lips which give Apocalypse that inhuman skull appearance. Those lines alone would have made their version look so much closer to the comic books version.

  2. Lydia says:

    Absolutely! I’m interested to see what he looks like “post-production,” but I hate that more wasn’t done to make him similar from the start. Using CGI for things that aren’t fully necessary seems wasteful and does not enhance the experience for the fans.

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