From the Hilltop to ‘The Hobbit’

Tami Lane '96 was nominated for an Oscar for her makeup work on "The Hobbit." It is her second Academy Award nomination. She was previously nominated and won for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

By Frank Radosevich II
January 10, 2013

Filmed at 48 frames per second, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” offers moviegoers a stunning visual experience, with the high frame rate imparting an almost lifelike image on the screen.

For Tami Lane ’96, prosthetics supervisor for the film and its two sequels, the new format presented a daunting challenge. But one she clearly met.

Lane, already an Academy Award winner for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” was nominated again today for her work on the Hobbit film. She shares the Oscar nomination for makeup and hairstyling with two colleagues.

As head of makeup artists on set, the Peoria native oversaw and applied the detailed effects that marked the film’s creatures and characters. Thanks to the movie’s realistic look, Lane and her team had to be certain every dwarf’s nose, elf’s ear or wizard’s wig was perfect.

“Basically, we’re under a microscope,” Lane said.

As an art major with an emphasis in graphic design, Lane did not intend to work in Hollywood. Her initial plan was to head to Chicago and find work as a graphic artist.

But she changed her mind after enrolling in a class with Dr. Robert Jacobs, professor of communication, where the students traveled to Los Angeles and visited a makeup effects house. Lane fell in love with the shop’s sculpting clay, superhero suits and animatronics crocodiles.

“It was just the most interesting place I ever saw,” she said of the effects shop. “I was very grateful for Dr. Jacobs giving me a shot.”

Shortly after graduating from Bradley, she and four other alumni packed a U-Haul truck and headed west for Hollywood. Lane and three of the graduates are still there working to this day.

For “The Hobbit,” she said her first screening of the finished film left her crestfallen. As someone hyper-aware of the film’s minutia, she could not help but pick apart scenes and find room for improvement.

“I walked out of there so gutted,” she said of her first viewing of the film. Luckily, after her next screening, her opinion improved. “The second time I saw it, I loved it.”

For two years Lane lived in New Zealand where the trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic book “The Hobbit,” was filmed. On the set Lane handled the makeup for Thorin Oakenshield, a leader of a band of dwarves who asks the hobbit Bilbo Baggins for help in recovering Thorin’s family's treasure from a dragon. Lane would fasten a T-piece, a prosthetic that covered the forehead and nose of the actor, to the actors face and blend the piece in with the surrounding skin before each shot.

“Every character in the movie is wearing some sort of rubber piece on their face,” she said, adding that a minimum of 30 makeup artists could be found working every day on the set. “Thorin’s makeup is incredibly subtle. It was very difficult but it made me a better artist.”

Lane is no stranger to New Zealand or the Shire, the homeland of the hobbits. The award-winning artist lived there while working on “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and also worked on major Hollywood productions like “Superman Returns,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Water for Elephants.”

In 2006, she was nominated and won an Oscar for best makeup in “The Chronicles of Narnia” for her work as the lead prosthetic makeup artist. She led a team of 42 makeup and prosthetic experts for the film often working on more than 170 creatures each day.