This past weekend, Shannon and Craig had the chance to experience The 17th Door‘s newest experience, Perpetuum Penitentiary, where guests would be locked in a prison alongside the infamous Paula and have the chance to venture through the latest chapter in her saga. The 17th Door has become a staple within the haunt community most notably for their extreme elements, but also for the brilliant work that is done primarily with the makeup and set design. Shannon had the chance to speak with Haylee Detroit, the Head of Makeup at 17th Door, about the process of applying the makeup, the challenges she faces, and where her love for makeup and FX came from.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Haylee, thank you so much for speaking with us today! To start things off, how long does the makeup application take to put on and how do you get it to stay on for so long? 

Haylee Detroit: The makeup application times vary depending on if they are a “Key”, “Level 2”, or “Level 3” Makeup. Key makeups are for the characters that are in key talking roles, where they are well lit and the spend the most time with guests. We spend the most time with these characters, but still try to keep the applications to no more than 30 minutes. For level 2 makeups, we try to keep to no more than 20 min. These are characters that customers quickly interact with, but are not as well lit as the Keys. On level 3 makeups, we try to keep to 10 min. They are our characters that guests will typically find hiding in the shadows of the haunt.

As far as getting the makeup to stay put, that all comes with the prep of the skin prior to makeup application, as well as the brand of makeup we use. We do our best to wipe down the actor with a makeup/baby wipe to get rid of any skin oils, then use a product called “Sweat Stop” as an astringent before we put the actors makeup on. This skin prep, in combination with using European Body Art alcohol based makeup, and using Final Seal to seal the makup after application seems to be the trick for getting our makeups at The 17th Door to last all night.

NC: How does the concept of the makeup design come into play for each character and where do you pull inspiration from when creating the look? 

HD: Most of the makeup concepts comes from the owners, Robbie and Heather, months before haunt begins. First, Robbie gathers inspiration pictures. Using those as reference, we do some makeup testing and tweak look until we are happy with the results. It usually takes us a few weekends to perfect the looks. We make slight adjustments after we do a few walkthroughs of the haunt to check how each character’s makeup registers under the lighting.

NC: How did your approach change from the setting being shifted from a school to a prison? 

HD: Well, this year we strayed away from the full face fantasy characters. Last year we were in Paula’s head where we could get away with doing some crazy makeups.This year is a more realistic approach set in prison. So, we are doing a lot of injury wounds, diseased, and disheveled looks.

NC: What were some challenges you faced doing makeup for a haunt? Do you have a favorite character and/or style that you love to do?

HD: The biggest challenge is always the amount of makeups we are each responsible for versus the amount of time in which we have to do the applications. Even with 5 artists, we are all doing roughly 8 makeups in about 3 1/2 hours. Running that much airbrush makeup through your gun causes it to clog. So you can often find us having to take apart our guns half way through applications to clean them and jump right back into it!

My favorite characters that I apply have to be the Warden and the Guard Operator. I don’t know what is says about me that I always gravitate towards the Gross Old Man Makeup’s.. I just love them so much! I also really love The Barbed Wire Barber, the Exposed Brain Inmate, and the Clown characters that Krystal Geannie’s applies, She has really developed those characters and does an amazing job on them.

NC: Where did your love for makeup/FX come from and did you always know you wanted to work within the haunt/horror genre? 

HD: I never get tired of telling this story. I really didn’t get into special effects until 4 years ago when I moved here from Detroit.

Before I moved across country to pursue my dream of doing special effects, I was recently divorced with 2 children and an infant. I knew that with the struggling Michigan economy and my only work experience being in restaurants for the past 15 years and some Hair Salon work, that not only was I unhappy with where I was in life, but there was going to be no way that I could provide for us all in my current situation. The little time that I spent working in hair salons when I attempted a Apprenticeship that was cut short with the birth of my second child, were my happiest times. I enjoyed doing work that allowed me to be creative. I loved coloring hair and doing special event beauty makeup. But even that wasn’t enough. I like a challenge! I always loved the process of how film makeup artists are able to transform a person into a a completely different character. I longed to be able to do makeup like that, but living in Detroit, there isn’t much opportunity to learn the craft. That’s when I met my boyfriend who is in the video game industry. He got the call to take a job in Los Angeles, and asked me if I would want to go with him to pursue my dream of becoming a special effects artist. Knowing that this was going to be my only chance of getting out of Michigan and starting a career doing something that I love and ultimately enabling me to be the best mother for my children, I JUMPED at the opportunity.

We moved during the summer of 2013 to Santa Clarita off Magic Mountain Parkway. Though we were far from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and most of the makeup jobs, I found my haunt home at 6 Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest. Even though I had no experience, my determination was strong. I found out who ran the makeup department and contacted him directly. I layed out my sob story and luckily he was willing to take a chance on me. I owe everything  that I have to the man who taught me everything I know about Special Effects makeup, my mentor and owner of The Scream Team, Scott Ramp! He accepted me onto his team and that first year taught me how to airbrush as a part time artist. The next year came around and he promoted me to a full time prosthetics artist and that’s when the real fun began! I was HOOKED!

Of course I didn’t want to stop there. I love doing makeup, but I wanted to learn MORE! How to make props and masks, how the prosthetics are sculpted and molded. I interned at several fx shops and worked a few freelance gigs that taught me new skills. My boyfriend eventually transferred to a new game studio in Orange County, so we made the move down here. With the drive, I unfortunately had to say good bye to my friends at Fright Fest, but that is when I discovered The 17th Door! They were gearing up for their 2nd year and wanted to take the makeup to the next level. They wanted more prosthetics and loved my portfolio work from my time at Fright Fest. They asked me to head the makeup department and to say that I was excited was an UNDERSTATEMENT. I am now in my second season as Makeup Department Head at The 17th Door and I LOVE it!

In my time in southern California, I have met some amazingly talented women in the fx industry. But even with all the talent in the world, this industry is still very much male dominated. All these women, even with all their talent were still struggling for work, often having to hold multiple jobs to continue doing what they love. It was upsetting to be in this predicament with my friends and after a while I realized that were are much stronger when we worked together. So this year I rounded up my girlfriends and founded Coven FX, a collective of women specializing in all aspects of makeup and special effects. Building this team of talented women has given us more opportunities and we are able to work together to create some pretty fantastic things. From making costumes, props, and masks, to doing makeup applications at conventions like Midsummer Scream, you can often find us at local Haunt/Horror/Halloween related events. Currently we are all working remotely from our homes and get together for larger projects. But our future is bright and there is a shop space on the horizon! Until then, we are just going to keep working together to inspire and support women in the industry all while doing what we love! I am constantly surrounded and inspired by talented artists that drive me to do my best. I’m always learning and growing as an artist and am constantly surrounded and inspired by the talented artists that I am lucky enough to call my friends.

In answer to your question, did I always know if I wanted to work in the haunt/horror genre:  No. But now that I’m here, I couldn’t imagine it any other way! I love my haunt/fx family!

For more information on The 17th Door and Coven FX visit and follow Coven FX HERE.


Shannon McGrew
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