Andes to Oscars: How Makeup Masters Turned “Society of the Snow” Actors Into Survivors

Director J.A. Bayona’s Society of the Snow, which recounts the experience of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972, is Spain’s Oscar entry for best international feature. But the film, which depicts the crash and subsequent survival of 16 out of 45 passengers in exquisitely painful detail, is also nominated in another category. The passengers break bones. They sustain face injuries. They starve. For their incredible work creating the visual reality of this suffering, the film’s hair and makeup team, including makeup designer Ana López-Puigcerver, hair designer Belén López-Puigcerver, and special makeup effects artists David Martí and Montse Ribé (who won an Oscar for their work on Guillermo del Toro’s Pans Labyrinth) are nominated for an Oscar in best makeup and hairstyling.

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571’s survivors were rescued after 72 days in the mountains. The MUAH team designed eight or nine phases for each character. “It must be emphasized that there are practically no ellipses in the film, so it was extremely important that the change be very gradual,” said makeup designer López-Puigcerver. “Since the environment was always absolutely the same, the viewer has to feel that slow passage of time,” which she depicted through skin texture, reddened hands, reddened and sunken eyes, and flaking spots. After the survivors’ first month outdoors, as the Andes got colder and snowier, López-Puigcerver made the actors look frostbitten through bruised lips and ears, red noses, and red or pink eyes, and different types of hydrated polymer to simulate the frost and ice, whether they were outdoors or sheltering in the broken plane, that clung to their faces and hair.

L-r: Coche (Simon Hempe) & Gustavo (Tomás Wolf). Courtesy Netflix.

Injuries that healed or worsened were attended to by the prosthetics team. For a character like Nando (Agustín Pardella), who hit his head as the plane went down, at first, “half his face is fake,” explained Martí. He and Ribé used a prosthetic over Pardella’s forehead, added eyebrows, and gave him contact lenses to give the impression of bloodied eyes, then slowly removed the prosthetic and other effects until Nando’s face looked almost healed. “The design was fundamental, knowing what was happening to them at each moment and how this affected them each in a different way,” said López-Puigcerver. “The sick, for example, had a different deterioration than those who were healthier and left the fuselage.”

Numa (Enzo Vogrincic) in “Society of the Snow.” Courtesy Netflix.

In addition to painstaking transformations, Society of the Snow is filled with makeup and prosthetic effects invisible to the viewer. “Some of the special makeup effects we did dont appear in the movie because J.A., at the end, thought it was too much,” said Martí. For example, he and Ribé created an ankle wound for Coche (Simon Hempé), drained for him by a fellow player, Roberto Canessa (Matías Recalt). “J.A. was like okay, second take, refill,  and we injected more pus in the wound,” said Martí. “That was disgusting and disturbing,” and ultimately, the audience never sees it. The makeup effects artists also created corpses of those who died, and we aren’t shown these, either.

Coche (Simon Hempe) with an injured leg. Courtesy Netflix.

The set itself was also physically challenging. Along with two other members of the MUAH team, López-Puigcerver traveled to the Andes to work and cited the difficulty of working at a 3,000-meter elevation and getting to set using crampons and a helmet. Working inside the tight quarters of the plane itself was complicated and made retouches difficult. Martí recalled sending signals to the actor Tomas Wolf, who played Gustavo and wore prosthetic ears for the entire shoot to mimic those of the real Gustavo, to press his ears so they wouldn’t fall off. Despite being unable to access the actors, their makeup had to be perfect. “They used this camera inside the plane that goes in and out, and it’s like a magnifying glass. Anything that was wrong, you’ll see it,” Martí said.

(Tomás Wolf). Courtesy Netflix.
The team working on Coche’s legs. Courtesy Netflix.
Society of the Snow – Production Still Image. Courtesy Netflix.

Society of the Snow depicts not just the plane crash’s survivors but those who died, most of them tragically young. It was important for the crew to take this into consideration. “An aspect that I found, not disturbing but of maximum respect, was to reproduce with makeup the moment when the characters who did not return died,” said López-Puigcerver. She recalled that it was impossible not to cry while watching those moments on the monitor. Martí recalled that their team and the actors worked together like a big family, which, given the gravity of the film’s material, seemed like a necessity to make such a challenging shoot succeed so well.


For more interviews with Oscar nominees, check these out:

“Henry Sugar” Costume Designer Kasia Walicka Maimone on Weaving an Oscar-Worthy Story for Wes Anderson

Double Oscar Nominee Richard King Unveils the Aural Secrets of “Oppenheimer” and “Maestro”

Oscar-Nominated Editor Laurent Sénéchal’s High Wire Act in “Anatomy of a Fall”

Featured image: Society of the Snow – Production Still Image. Courtesy Netflix.


Susannah Edelbaum

Susannah Edelbaum's work has appeared on NPR Berlin, Fast Company, Motherboard, and the Cut, among others. She lives in Berlin, Germany.

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