Dressed in a black gown, adorned with life-like prosthetic wings and horns, Disney’s iconic villain Maleficent re-surfaced in a video on the internet earlier this month. Only this time, it was not the work of Hollywood professionals but a Nepali special effects makeup artist Shreejana Shakya (pic).
“I’ve always felt the need to experiment, to keep trying to come up with something new,” said Shakya who is perhaps the first special effects makeup artist in Nepal. The video made for California’s Cinema Makeup School was shortlisted in the top five for her makeup and costume design, through public voting.
An entire month of arduous planning and conceptualising culminated in a four-minute video.
Shakya uses locally available products to make complex designs and costumes, which is why they stand out. “I tried bringing in products from abroad but no one would agree, saying they would only export items in bulk so I decided to do it my way,” explained Shakya.
Bold, unconventional and innovative, her artwork garnered popularity in less than a month. Combining both artistic and technical elements, Maleficent’s wings were made out of foam covered in fabric to resemble feathers while its armature was made by using plyboard, a door lock and a backpack strap to make a harness to keep the wings upright. For the horns, Shakya used wire rings covered in paper mâché.
A graduate of fine arts from Kathmandu University, for the 26-year-old the realisation that she wanted to become a makeup artist came late in her teens. A science student in her high school days, her mother wanted her to be a doctor. It was not her cup of tea so she switched to the arts and soon discovered a world brimming with ideas and innovation.
“I can’t work when boundaries are created, I like it when I am given the space to experiment and exercise my creativity,” said Shakya.
Over the years, she experimented with 3D surfaces, wall paintings and artworks centred around human faces and bodies. Gradually, teaching herself through trial and error, she moved on to armatures and prosthetics. “I always thought I would not limit myself to the canvas, so I kept on trying different surfaces and mediums,” said Shakya.
Her desire to excel took her to Japan where she worked as an assistant to local artists. It was there that Shakya honed her body-painting skills and after her return to Nepal she undertook a two-month long makeup training course with the wellness brand VLCC. Using her newly found skills for body painting she tried her hand at editorial makeup and designed for herself a project with the theme of female aesthetics. “I had no work then, and I wanted to see how far I could push myself,” said Shakya.
Other works include special effects makeup in videos of metal rock bands like Underside, Shadows and Arogya done during her time at the Fuzz Factory Productions. Use of tissue paper and eye glue to resemble ageing skin for prosthetic hands, corpse painting, and mixing red and black ink as a substitute for blood capsules are recurring materials in her work.
“I tried my very best using household products, but I don’t think it will work in the long run. As much as I love creating stuff, I feel I have reached a limit beyond which I cannot go,” said the artist who will soon leave Nepal to study special effects makeup in California.
For someone who is just starting out and is new to the industry, she wants to return with skills and products needed back home. Said Shakya: “The movie industry in Nepal will eventually evolve and with it the demand for special effects makeup will rise.”
Magic with brush, Tsering Dolker Gurung