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For makeup-effects artists, Halloween is a time of dread

Special-effects makeup designer Gordon Smith and his prosthesis for X-Men’s Mystique.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Gordon Smith, a special-effects makeup artist in Toronto, has a long list of film credits to his name, including creating Rebecca Romijn's blue shape-shifting character Mystique for Bryan Singer's X-Men movies. But don't bother calling him this weekend for a great Halloween costume.

"I yank the cord right out of the wall," Smith says.

Makeup-effects artists across the country who work their magic for film and television say they get a barrage of calls from friends and family members looking for favours in the lead-up to Halloween – a tricky scenario since paying customers are willing to shell out thousands of dollars to dress up like their celluloid heroes.

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"Basically, it's no sleep until November," says Dorota Buczel, founder of The Alchemy Centre, a makeup-art studio in Toronto.

Costumes usually follow pop-culture trends, she says. The year of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, she says, everyone wanted to look like the Joker.

"The year afterward, with Avatar? Oh my God. I spent four hours cleaning blue paint off the walls," Buczel says.

(For those interested, getting your body painted blue runs from $70 to $175 an hour.)

With the popularity of zombies, Dallas Harvey, founder of Vancouver Makeup Effects, will be churning out the undead this weekend, especially thanks to the reputation he has developed from his work on the documentary Zombies: A Living History.

The requests can get complicated – many people want unique pieces when they dress up as classic characters.

"I had a girl the other day who wanted a werewolf muzzle," Harvey says.

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Others will put their own spin on well-known characters.

"I've got a girl who I'm doing up as Rainbow My Little Pony zombie," Harvey says. "My business partner is building a custom prosthetic for a guy who wants to be a Klingon that turns into a werewolf."

One of his regular customers will pay close to $2,000 to have his body casted for custom prosthetics and a costume. "Last year, he was [the Batman villain] Two-Face," Harvey says. "It looks real. They're custom-sculpted pieces for his face. … If that was for TV and film, that same prosthetic would probably be in the $5,000 range."

The money, not to mention the time in the makeup chair, is worth it to movie diehards who want the most striking costume on Halloween.

Smith, who is retired, pioneered the use of silicone in makeup effects.

Having worked on everything from the horror movie Body Parts to several Oliver Stone films, the 61-year-old frequently found himself fielding calls from friends and people he barely knew asking that he create characters for them for a pittance.

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"There's this mindset that it's just makeup," he says. "Anybody who wants to be cool on Halloween looks up people like me. And they figure that if they're really, really nice, then for $500 you will build them a $30,000 rig. But they don't know it's a $30,000 rig."

Smith, whose X-Men work is currently on display at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, will be on hand at the Canadian Film Gallery to answer questions about the exhibit on Oct. 30.

Feel free to ask him about your get-up this year, but don't invite him to go to any costume parties – something he pretty much gave up once he became a makeup-effects artist.

"I went out once for Halloween," Smith says – and even then he tried to hide. "I taped my head to look like the Invisible Man."

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