[This story contains spoilers for HBO’s Westworld season 4.]
When HBO’s Westworld revealed its massive mid-season twist — that Aaron Paul’s Caleb had become a host — it inched this cerebral series closer to answering its longest-running question: what makes something human?
It’s a quandary the series’ special makeup effects team has had to not only help Westworld visually explore throughout the show’s run but in the face of several of its leading heroes and villains becoming hosts, alongside the introduction of a new series of drones imagined by Hale during its fourth season.
Executing that thematic exploration with Caleb took place during the season’s sixth episode, “Fidelity,” where host version #278 attempts to break out of Hale’s glass cage after she seeks to isolate what has made Caleb’s human consciousness resistant to her mind-control tech. In the process, Caleb runs into a series of frightening discoveries: past versions of him, all in various forms, have attempted this same escape to brutal results.
“That episode was maddening,” Jason Collins, special makeup effects designer on Westworld season four tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Anytime you shoot one person as multiple people, you have to get a bunch of people that are roughly his size, his build, put wigs on them — do all the makeup on them as well because you never know if you might catch a side view of them — and then hurry up and put Aaron in the same makeup and then shoot him in reverse. That is very time-consuming.”
“Caleb had four doubles for the scenes, three of them were wigged and one had Aaron’s hair texture, so we cut his hair to match Caleb,” hair head Jose Zamora tells THR of how his department contributed to the many Calebs season in episode six. “As [special makeup effects makeup designer head] Jennifer [Aspinall] and Jason broke down Caleb, we followed their lead to match whatever stage Caleb was at. It was a very collaborative show.”
While makeup head Elisa Marsh, like Zamora, played a significant role in shaping the looks of the individual hosts and humans on Westworld during season 4 — with John Damiani handling Paul’s grooming, beard match and scar application — she gives much of the credit when it comes to Caleb to her special effects team counterparts.
“When we first see him and have an inkling that he’s stage one gen, he’s pretty perfect,” Marsh says. “Then as he tries to escape, he degrades and that was a whole thing that special effects did brilliantly. But he’s in such a small window, it wasn’t like his hair would have grown because now he’s a human instead of a host.”
The specificity of the timeline meant the team had to define every stage of the physically deteriorating host. To do that, they pulled from an existing example in the universe and the understanding that each Caleb had a life span of about “20-odd-days,” says Collins.
“As Caleb starts to deconstruct, we had a reference to go off of and that was in season two. There is a character named James Delos who finds out that he was a human [and] now is a drone,” Collins explains. “You start seeing little ticks with the guy. He’s scratching at his skin and pulling out his skin — self-destructing. It starts from the inside and works its way to the outside. So we took our cue from that character.”
His own work on the series was supported by Aspinall, who helped him navigate Westworld‘s timeline and adhere to continuity for Caleb’s deterioration.
“I’ve been a fan since season one, I’ve seen every episode, but there are little intricacies and all these highways and — in trying to understand how they built the world of Westworld — sometimes I don’t see the little minute details,” Collins says. “But Jen has been there since season one and will say, ‘Oh yeah. I think that was this.’ Then we’ll go back and watch an episode from season two and say, ‘Ah, there it is.’”
“There’s a lot of self-reference in the show,” he adds. “The show is very methodical that way.”
While creating multiple Aaron Paul look-a-likes for season four may have been one of the more difficult tasks presented to the makeup effects team in the HBO show’s latest season, they were also part of the effort to deliver on Hale’s new drones. They’re a design inspired by a painting provided to the team by showrunner Lisa Joy, the lily flower and high-end car tech.
“Lisa Joy came to us at one point and said I want an evolved drone and they’re going to be in Hale’s world. We weren’t really originally clear about what they were going to be used for or what they were going to do. But she had a photograph of a painting that she liked that was this elongated figure,” Aspinwall tells THR.
She and Collins took that and began “researching everything from high-end car design to plants and cutting edge 3D printed mechanical limbs” — the kind of stuff, the special makeup effects makeup designer says, that would be a balance of both boundary-pushing tech and organic entities appropriate for Hale’s world.
“We found our inspiration in this wonderful illustration of a 3D printed image that was based on a Lily,” she adds. “The Lily shape kind of became the head and the body was based on a high-end car design. We took that and morphed that into a really slick-looking body that had the same legs Lisa Joy had in her painting.”
Hale’s vision for a body stretches beyond the idealized conception and respective biological limitations of some human bodies. The result is something that seems to embody practically no differentiation — a rebuke, potentially, of the diversity of human identity — but also embraces different figure types that, looking for it within human society, can at times resemble bodies with disabilities.
“Hale is driving this AI rebellion and hates her mortal, human shell, so she’s creating something called ascension, where you don’t have to have a human body,” Collins says. “You can go to something grander and better and something more efficient for yourself.”
Westworld season four is available to stream on HBO Max.
‘Westworld’ Team on Designing Season 4’s New Drones and Building an Army of Aaron Pauls