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Posted on Wed, Mar. 10, 2004

HDTV: Too close for comfort


Makeup artists are scrambling to cope with high definition television.



Orlando Sentinel

Oscar night wowed Americans as the stars paraded down the red carpet in low-cut gowns, shimmering jewels and perfectly coifed hair. But a small minority of TV viewers got a glimpse of the other side of Hollywood.

Those watching the Oscar telecast in high-definition television spotted Renee Zellweger's blotchy red marks underneath her makeup. They examined Jamie Lee Curtis' crow's-feet. And they marveled at Michael Douglas, who looked positively ancient next to his glam wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Although high-definition television promises to bring sporting events into the nation's living rooms in unequaled clarity, it's also delivering something else to the television business: worry lines.

"In HDTV, you're seeing everything," says Tommy Cole, a veteran Hollywood makeup artist who worked on sitcoms such as "Evening Shade" and "Designing Women." "Just as other things are more clear, so are blemishes and wrinkles."

Recently, the New York media buzzed with rumors that NBC "Today" anchor Katie Couric had suddenly added bangs to her hairdo to prepare for a "forehead lift" -- in anticipation of HDTV. Couric's bangs are gone, and she laughed off the rumors last week.

But not everyone's laughing about HDTV.

With HDTV -- which provides images five times sharper than those on a regular TV set -- makeup cannot be caked on to hide acne scars because the heavy layers are plainly evident. Too much powder looks obvious.

"In high def, the concentration is on eyes and lips -- and keeping the skin looking like skin, instead of like a floured cake pan," says makeup artist Rose Hill of Los Gatos, Calif.

To compensate, many makeup artists have turned to airbrushing to deal with the less forgiving eye of HDTV. An artist sprays a fine layer of liquid makeup onto an actor's skin, covering the surface with thousands of tiny dots that hide imperfections and don't smudge.

Even set designers are trying a few tricks. On "Friends," the designer painted the walls lavender. The intent? To flatter the actors' skin tones.

Still, many actors -- and their makeup artists -- remain oblivious to the harsh reality of high definition.

That's evident, says Hill, when you watch awards shows -- whether it's the Grammys or the Oscars.

"You still see the red faces, the overpowdered skin and the white raccoon eyes," says Hill. "They put theatrical makeup on people going to awards shows. These are the people who end up being scrutinized by Joan Rivers -- and she's pretty much right on. They're made up like they're ready to be buried."

Indeed, when Phillip Swann, a television industry analyst, watched the Grammys last month on his HDTV set, he found himself paying more attention to makeup than to music.

Prince looked "mummified" by his pancake makeup, Swann says, while No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani sported a forehead pimple that wasn't obvious to viewers with old, analog TV sets but jumped out on the HDTV screen.

In these early days of HDTV, before the makeup industry and the stars have adapted to the intense stare of the HDTV screen, Swann and other Americans are discovering a secret.

The beautiful people aren't so beautiful after all.

"I'll never forget the first time I watched HDTV," says Swann. "I was watching 'Charlie's Angels' and when I saw Cameron Diaz, I went, 'Man, she doesn't look like the same person.' She has such an acne problem."

Overnight, Swann found himself looking at stars in a new light.

Eventually, he figures, even the lineup of People's annual "50 Most Beautiful People" list will change, based on the influence of HDTV. Gone, he says, will be stars such as Elizabeth Hurley, whose teenage acne scars will be difficult to hide in high definition.

The TV networks' conversion to HDTV is unfolding slowly, but it's likely that a lot of programming will be digital after 2006 -- which is why some stars are nervous.

There are filters that can be used to make aging (or pockmarked) stars look better, makeup artists say. But they're expensive and add to production costs. Other defenses include asking camera operators to avoid tight shots on stars or teaming with lighting experts to soften the blow of HDTV.

Some television studios are backing off HDTV productions until the nuances can be mastered, says Marvin Westmore, a veteran Hollywood makeup artist. Depending on the situation, stations may shelve video and resort to film because it offers more control over how the picture looks.

Careful viewers already may have noticed some HDTV problems. Fake blood, for instance, appears pinkish red in high definition. Similarly, baldcaps (the phony bald pates placed on actors' heads) and fake beards -- or prostheses used in shows such as Star Trek -- must be perfect when viewed through thousands of pixels.

Eventually, however, Hollywood will find a way to conquer the pixels.

"My guess would be that, in the same way the old Hollywood cinematographers figured out how to make stars of the 1930s and 1940s look good with lighting and makeup, you'll see the same thing with HDTV," says Vail Reese, a San Francisco dermatologist and movie buff who rates stars' skin on his cheeky Web site, skinema.com. "It may be a software issue. It's digital, after all. Maybe they'll just push the 'blemish remover button.' "


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