Realistic make-up helps emergency services

For a full-scale disaster simulation, students from the Makeup Design for Film & Television program at Vancouver Film School (VFS) recently created make-up effects for over a hundred volunteers portraying casualties.

Staged by federal, provincial, municipal, and transit officials at a West Coast Express train station outside Vancouver, BC, Transguard was the first in a series of exercises planned across Canada aimed at improving the nation’s transit security and was one of the largest such exercises in Canadian history.

For this highly ambitious project, organisers entrusted the creation of realistic make-up effects to 28 VFS students currently studying to become professional make-up artists.

Effects, including lacerations, burns, shrapnel, bruises, and more, had to withstand the scrutiny of fire, police, and ambulance responders and be applied to volunteer "casualties" in a few short hours.

With details of the mock disaster closely guarded by organisers leading up to the event, the students were given the assignment only 18 days prior to the exercise. The scale of the event, coupled with the strict time constraint, provided the perfect training ground for the students.

“This disaster response exercise is kind of like a movie experience,” says Stan Edmonds, Head of Makeup Design for Film & Television at VFS. “In a way, it simulates the experience of a make-up artist working in a group doing make-up on a large number of people in a very short time. The random element of chaos [also] provides a good opportunity for the student to improvise and change their approach at the last minute.”

Preparing for the event under the guidance of VFS faculty, students undertook detailed research into the specific injuries that would be simulated on the morning of the exercise.

The preparation also involved making and gathering materials in advance, including bald caps, burns, gelatin prosthetics, and prop items like fake nails, metal shards, and broken glass.

Dave Martin, Lead Consultant for the Exercise Design Team, gives high praise to the students involved. “It was above my expectations. The students did a marvelous job,” he says. “I was told by a number of participants and observers that it is the most realistic and best exercise they have been involved in, and that it would be remembered for years.”