Creating ‘First Man’

June 8, 2017 marks the premiere of our latest original film, First Man, created in partnership with Nilaya Productions.  First Man is an epic special that takes viewers on an exceptional journey back through 25 million years of human evolution.

Part of what makes First Man so special is that it has something to please every viewer, spanning history, science, drama and even special effects.  Not only are the storyline and scenic backdrops jaw-dropping, but the special effects make-up takes center stage, as our team worked diligently to accurately portray four species of early hominids.  Curious about the process of turning modern-day actors into species dating back millions of years?  Read on to learn more about the fascinating process.

Team

Our biggest challenge was the actual look of the characters.  With the influence of movies like Planet of The Apes, aesthetic standards have indeed dramatically changed, while the expectations of the audience have increased.  With the arrival of new technology in make-up and prosthetics, after a few tests, we decided to work with the Academy Award-nominated Adrien Morot FX Studio in Canada.  Renowned for their incredible masks and make-up, they had just wrapped work on The Revenant.

Design

Our protagonists were initially drawn by character designers.  Based on scientific assumptions of what they could look like, we decided to give each species an identity: noses, eyes, mouth, foreheads, fur and hair.

Casting

Casting the right actors for this film was a particularly extensive process.  In order to find the actors who could perform difficult primate movements (walking on all fours, jumping, climbing trees, etc.), the process was much more involved than usual, but we ended up with a stellar group of actors who would help embody the traits and behaviors of extinct hominids.  Once our cast was in place, it was off to Canada, where they would be entirely moulded – face and body.

Sculpting 

Once the actors arrived in Canada, Adrien Morot FX studio created the facial masks and the costumes inspired by the character designs, custom adapted to each individual character.  Those masks and costumes were accompanied by special eye lenses to accurately portray how the size of the iris changed throughout time.

Shooting 

In the end, we received the masks and costumes in South Africa for the shoot.  We were shocked by how heavy everything was – weighing in at a few tons of equipment because, in order to keep the costumes fresh, each actor would wear a replicate of the same costume every day they were on set!  Each day would mean five hours of preparation and two hours of getting rid of make up at the end of the day for an actor.  Furthermore, it takes an army!  Each actor had three make-up and costume artists assigned to them.

 

Watch the First Man trailer here:

First Man is available to stream in its entirety starting on June 8, only on CuriosityStream.

Michael Hammerstrom
Michael Hammerstrom is the Manager of Marketing and Engagement at CuriosityStream, the world's premiere nonfiction streaming service. He previously led national community engagement efforts for PBS, focusing on K-12 education, as well as for the national nonprofit KaBOOM!, mobilizing high need communities to build playgrounds through competitive grants and grassroots fundraising. He holds a BFA in Theatre and Liberal Arts from The Boston Conservatory and started his career performing and teaching children's theatre.
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