Ella Sandera, the woman who creates dummy corpses and ghosts, admitted that she is not afraid. Ella’s profession as a special effect makeup artist entails creating the scariest, goriest, and most intriguing face prosthetics for the local film industry.
“I’m used to seeing the gruesome things I’ve made in the studio. I’ve put up dummy corpses and skulls, and I’m walking around amid them like it’s nothing. I am not afraid even if I am at my studio until 3am. After all, they’re only a part of my profession,” Ella, who is from Sibu, Sarawak, said.
The makeup artist, on the other hand, admitted that she would have been terrified if she had to drive in the jungle in the early hours of the morning.
From humble beginnings
Ella relocated to Kuala Lumpur in the late 1990s in pursuit of a greener pasture before working as a special effect make-up artist. She was in a different industry when she arrived than she is now. However, with inspiration and desire, she became a beauty makeup artist the same year she arrived. Her works also have been in a number of local dramas since then.
“I’ve been interested in cosmetics since I was 16 years old. Before I started working as a makeup artist, I used to do my own makeup a lot as well as on my friends who are going on dates or getting engaged,” she said.
Ella would attend seminars and workshops on how to apply makeup and care for her skin to improve her skills.
However, she was encouraged to choose a different path after meeting experienced make-up artist Rokiah Rasyid, who has been in the field since the 1980s.
“I’ve always enjoyed taking on new tasks. And I could push myself to the limit with special effects makeup. It was also a different kind of makeup than what you’d see in a typical beauty appearance.”
Ella believes that being a special effect makeup artist has no boundaries.
“With normal makeup, I can just change the colour of my eyeshadow or lipstick. However, using special effects, I can transform a person’s appearance by using the face prosthetic I created. I can transform someone into a ghost or a monster. I can even make them look fat.”
So, in 2001, Ella embarked on her first special effects assignment. Ella’s skill and material use have advanced over the course of two decades. The 44-year-old revealed that she had to rely on latex back in the early 2000s.
“Back then, it was difficult to ship in better materials. As a result, I used latex for the majority of my works. It’s not up to the standard of the silicone I used today. It looks obvious when pasted on the skin,” Ella said, adding that it wasn’t until 2003 that she was able to obtain better materials, such as silicone.
Ella estimates that a prosthetic can be completed in three days on average, depending on the complexity of the look.
“Normally, my team and I would research the best way to construct it.”
She went on to say that using a face prosthetic for actors is the best option since it gives them a more authentic look.
“Further, I’m able to create more unique looks.”
Meanwhile, Ella said that the use of latex can be done on the spot in two to three hours.
“However, ready-made prosthetics require only 45 minutes to apply to the performers, despite the fact that the production process takes longer.”
Ella is careful when applying layers above the skin, as this can irritate the follicles. One of the most important aspects she needed to pay attention to was the performers’ skin care.
“Thus, we can’t just use any glue.” Unlike the DIY prosthetics videos we saw on YouTube, we can’t do it in the industry.”
Two decades in the industry
Ella became interested in special effects makeup in 2003 and enrolled in a school to learn how to create facial prosthetics. She had previously taught herself how to change one’s appearance with latex. The hurdles she faced, as well as the scarcity of special effects makeup artists in the Malaysian film industry at the time, drove her forward.
Ella has received numerous honours for her achievements in the industry to date. During the Anugerah Profima 2013, she won the film ‘Penanggal,’ which was one of her major achievements. Meanwhile, her most recent triumph was for the film ‘Sangkar’ under Anugerah Festival Filem Malaysia this year.
Ella, who has worked on a slew of films, admits that she still gets nervous when she gets a job.
“As a special effect makeup artist, I feel obligated to complete each project flawlessly.” This is because the producer has set aside a big budget for me, and I’m always concerned that I won’t be able to deliver.”
Ella has thankfully never faced harsh criticism for her work. She strives to produce the best final product possible through her labour.
“Preparation can be a stressful experience. Usually, we will come up with a concept first. But there’s always a sense of pleasure after my team and I conclude a project.”
Ella not only works in the field, but she also teaches special effect makeup in classes and workshops. The President of the Malaysia Makeup Artist Association has graced the local cinema scene with her frightful looks on actors for the past two decades and will continue to do so for decades to come. Just keep an eye out for ‘Ella Sandera’, who continues to astound moviegoers with her talent and skills.