Behind the 22,500 Facial Prosthetics in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

On May 5, Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" released in theaters and broke the world record for the largest prosthetic-makeup film in history. (The previous owner of that record? The 2000 holiday movie "How the Grinch Stole Christmas.")

For "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," the numbers speak for themselves: more than 22,500 prosthetic appliances, 500 wigs, 130 facial hair pieces, and 117 pairs of contact lenses were used to transform a cast of 100 principal actors and 1,000 background artists. The masterminds behind the magic were three-times Emmy-winning makeup-department head Alexei Dmitriew and award-winning hair-department head Cassie Russek. Rather than relying on CGI, they took on the awe-inspiring yet daunting job of utilizing practical special-effects makeup to get the viewer to another world.

"I spent the summer of 2021 going through all of the assets Marvel had from Guardians 1 and 2," Dmitriew says. "My job was to look through 55 pallets' worth of molds and assets and see what we could use for inspiration or reference." Russek did the same, respectively, for hair.

The result is, as you could imagine, out of this world. Ahead, Dmitriew and Russek give us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the SFX makeup and hair in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3."

How the Team Made 22,500+ Prosthetic Pieces
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

How the Team Made 22,500+ Prosthetic Pieces

Coming up with 22,500 prosthetic appliances is no easy feat. After months of research, Dmitriew worked with Legacy Effects, a leading SFX team, to create a "working character bible of all the aliens of the universe." But that's only the beginning: from there, they needed to determine how many aliens were in each particular scene and the number of prosthetic pieces needed to get them into character. While Dmitriew headed up the logistics and on-set execution, Legacy Effects was responsible for creating the pieces.

The Hardest Prosthetics to Make
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Hardest Prosthetics to Make

The hardest prosthetics look to achieve will likely surprise you. Of all the odd creatures they had to make, the High Evolutionary's (played by Chukwudi Iwuji) makeup was the most challenging. "We really wanted his face to show through so you could really see his nuanced performance, so the makeup itself was in unconventional areas," Dmitriew says.

Chris Pratt's Peter Quill also had on quite an intricate prosthetic for the end scene in space. His facial prosthetics were connected to an air compressor that ran via hoses under his wig and down his back so "we could move his face while he was in the prosthetic," she says. "We also hand-laid facial hair and applied custom lace eyebrows to match Chris's." Even still, this complicated makeup look only took about two hours to apply.

How Actors Transformed Into Aliens With Prosthetics
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

How Actors Transformed Into Aliens With Prosthetics

In a world of aliens, variety of makeup is a nonissue. "Most of the big alien makeups are four to five prosthetics each," Dmitriew says. "Then they all wear contact lenses, and some of them have custom teeth." They created looks for quite a few Recorders throughout the film, and each one was slightly different.

The Secret to the Humanimals' Eerily Realistic Look
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Secret to the Humanimals' Eerily Realistic Look

Approximately 30 actors at a time were Humanimals in the film, requiring 75 makeup artists on set to get them into character. "Those were big days," Dmitriew says. "Each one of them had such a different approach and system to putting it together," she says. "They all had teeth, gloves, and some wore contact lenses."

In the movie, you'll instantly notice the larger-than-life eyes of the rabbit and turtle characters. Those pieces were 3D printed and designed by the Legacy Effects team to work in conjunction with their facial prosthetic pieces. "The eyes were then put on after makeup was done, and they would lock in with magnets," Dmitriew says.

Each of the wigs for the Humanimals was a "unique puzzle" that had to be put on piece by piece. "They were hand-tied wigs — by the amazing wig makers at Legacy Effects — and built around the prosthetic pieces," Russek says. This ensured none of the hair pieces covered the makeup.

How Long It Takes to Apply the Prosthetics
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

How Long It Takes to Apply the Prosthetics

According to Dmitriew, each of the makeup looks took on average between an hour and two and a half hours to complete — even the Guardians.

"Sometimes the process of getting ready in the morning takes a while because they have to get hair and makeup and wardrobe on, but the makeup portion is usually not longer than two and a half hours if that."

The Most Intricate Wigs to Create
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Most Intricate Wigs to Create

The most intricate wig in the film was created for the Postal Worker Cassowary. "The colors were brilliant, and it was built around the giant beak to match up the colors in the beak," Russek says. "I styled the wig into a mohawk so that we could see every single color that was tied in."

Ura (Daniela Melchior), of OrgoCorp, also had an elaborate style. It was created in two pieces — the top portion featured a center part to show her pink scalp and the second piece went on the back of the end, allowing it to naturally move with the actor's neck. "I cut the wig to be a sleek Vidal Sassoon style [so] the point would expose her cheek to showcase the prosthetic pieces," Russek says. "While it was complicated to build and piece together, once we were in the position of applying [it] on the day, her total wig application time was less than 30 minutes."

The Only Actor Who Didn't Wear a Wig
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Only Actor Who Didn't Wear a Wig

In total, 500 wigs were created for the film, and yet one of the main actors opted to instead dye his hair to play the part. To get into character for Adam Warlock, Will Poulter's real hair was grown out and dyed a gold blond. "His hair was highlighted with Redken Flash Lift and a lot of Olaplex," Russek says. "Once his hair was lifted, we used a secret blend of gold pigments, pro seal, hairspray, and water to create our 'Warlock Gold Spray' to give him the perfect shade of gold to match his makeup."