Home BeautyBody Image Yes, Movies are “Photoshopped,” Too

Yes, Movies are “Photoshopped,” Too

by Erika Nicole Kendall
Woman peering into the distance, probably in awe like I am right now

At this point, it all needs to be put on blast. Kudos to Mashable for an in-depth and visually stunning essay.

View the article in its entirety, but here are a few noteworthy quotes worth discussing:

Hollywood has always carefully guarded its vanity magic tricks. Diet pills, plastic surgery and Botox were Beverly Hills’ pretty little secrets before they were accepted as the norm. But the entertainment industry’s latest glamour miracle — a technique so effective that nearly every movie star has started using it — has stayed underground for more than a decade.

It’s called “beauty work.” It’s a digital procedure of sorts, in which a handful of skilled artists use highly specialized software in the final stages of post-production to slim, de-age and enhance actors’ faces and bodies.

This is the version of on-screen stars that we, the audience, see. And if this comes as any surprise, it’s because the first rule of beauty work is: Don’t talk about beauty work.

The funny thing about all of this, mind you, is that these are the parts of society that are so common, we never even think twice about it anymore. To the point where pumping parties allow groups of people – most often women – to come together, relax, chat, catch up… and get their regularly-scheduled injection of Botox [or a Botox-like substance]. It’s all so common, but still “a secret.” Why? Is it just not talked about because it’s so common, or because needing Botox or diet pills or plastic surgery to keep your youthful appearance is a source of shame?

Either way – these tools for maintaining thin and “youthful” appearances are “pretty little secrets.” Remember that the next time you compare yourself to what you see coming out of media.

Under strict non-disclosure agreements, Hollywood A-listers have been quietly slipping in and out of a few bland office buildings around town, many to sit in on days-long retouching sessions, directing the artists to make every frame suitable. At one such facility, young, fit up-and-comers disrobe for a handheld scanner that captures every pore and hair follicle, creating a template for future beauty work that, as a result, will appear all the more natural.

As Photoshop is to magazine photography, digital beauty has become to celebrities in motion: a potent blend of makeup, plastic surgery, muscle-sculpting, hair restoration, dental work and dermatology. Even the most flawless-in-real-life human specimens are going under the digital knife. Because they can. Because in this age of ultra-high definition, they have to.

In some cases, it’s for pure vanity. In others it’s because the film requires it: When a 24-year-old actress is tasked with playing a 17-year-old young-adult heroine, digital beauty becomes more like digital type-casting.

My first question would be, why are 24 year olds playing 17 year old minors? Why give minors the more mature appearance that a 24-year-old actress provides? Does that not creep anyone else out?

A “strict non-disclosure agreement” is necessary to protect Hollywood’s digital retouching secret because Hollywood’s profits currently come from selling fantasy to the patron. If Hollywood believes the target market for any particular movie is solely interested in seeing thin, young, “sexy,” white actresses and actors act out an action story with a little romance intermingled in, and digital retouching is the difference between a movie breaking even or not, what do you think a studio would choose?

Why do you think so few celebrities are regularly caught out by paparazzi and, when they are, its often pretty neatly timed with the release of a new project?

So happy with retouching are today’s actors that many are willing to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the artist for days at a time, personally looking for flaws they want corrected. If the talent can’t be there, their managers often are, and nearly everything is approved before the final print.

Hips are narrowed, calves slimmed, turkey-necks tucked. Pores are tightened. Eye-bags reduced (often, entire hangovers are erased). Hair is thickened, teeth whitened. Underarm-skin is de-jiggled. Belly fat obliterated, abs raised.

The list of enhancements can be as long as any given actor’s complaints — or studio’s expectations — regarding his or her appearance, and the consensus is that the men are getting as much work done as the women. Probably more.

If you’ve walked out of a movie theater lately and remarked, “She looked great in that strip-tease scene!” or “Wow, did you see his abs in that shot?,” there’s high probability they had more going on than just the badass personal trainer and a strict chicken-and-broccoli diet you heard about on the late-night shows.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve consulted with women who fret about the smallest of things – like, yes, underarm jiggle – because their favorite celebrity never has any. And, when I ask when they’ve last seen their faves in person, they shrug and mention their last movie.

This is why that can’t be trusted. Abs made more pronounced, and an entirely new body fat percentage is photoshopped onto many. And, while many celebrities go the athlete route and take the Gym Jones approach to getting ready for a film, not even that works for everyone in enough time to be ready for the film.

“We had to schedule a number of sessions with one actress who came in after the work was all done to evaluate how she looked — and this was after all of her agents, her manager, studio people all blessed it to say we’re good to go or not good to go,” the former studio executive said.

“If you have an actress who’s had a long weekend, it can be quite a process. We’re all humans; we all have too much to eat too much to drink sometimes, and once the tools became available, you bet they started being used.”

[…] As 4K high-definition standards hit cinemas and TVs, those tiny imperfections can be glaring.Despite the harsh glare of HD, a number of younger actors, such as Keira Knightley and Lena Dunham, have gone out of their way to pose without makeup or retouching. It’s their way of protesting what they consider to be excessive beauty standards — something that this technology facilitates.

Hansen said he’s been in many sessions with actors who point out features they don’t like, from little things like flyaway hairs to folds of skin under the arm to complete dissatisfaction with the entire body, in which case, “We have taken actresses’ faces and put them on more muscular bodies … that happens all the time.”

I can’t even. I don’t even know what. I’m fully incapable. Full. On. Body. Replacements.

The clues are there. If you sit through the credits and see Lola, Method or Hydraulx in the long list of VFX companies, the movie was retouched. If you don’t, there’s a good chance it did anyway — producers or stars often ask the company not to take credit in order to cover their tracks.


To that end, I asked Hansen at one point whether he’d ever heard of celebrities getting beauty work on their videos for their personal library in case they one day decided to make them public. I threw out Kim Kardashian’s wedding as a theoretical event, and certainly not expecting an affirmative answer.

He laughed, and gave one.

“I have done somebody who is 10 times more famous than Kim Kardashian,” he said. “It was her birthday home video, and I cleaned her up. At that point, money is no question.”

The takeaway there? You can’t trust the candids, either.

Why do I point all of this out? Because when we look in the mirror, we each play a nasty game of comparisons – we look at our faves and idolize parts of them, and then we compare, failing to realize that they may not look quite like that, either. For some of us, we use our inability to measure up as justification to shame ourselves, or treat ourselves poorly, or worse – we jeopardize our own health so that we can look like them. We take dangerous diet pills, strange supplements, get heinous injections that risk life and limb. All because the landscape has been altered in a way that makes us think perfection is real, just unattainable for us.

To me, this is just another nail in perfection’s coffin. Maybe it is time to let the idea of “perfect” die a “perfect” death.

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Ariel Lynn January 12, 2015 - 10:20 PM

I love your articles, but you post so many interesting links that, by the time I finish, I’ve got 4 more windows to read!! Nooooo… good, clean living, fitness, & media veracity is taking over my life!! ;-P

Gina January 13, 2015 - 12:04 AM

Adults routinely play minors because the labor laws for minors are strictly enforced in the entertainment industry. This includes things such as limited shooting hours, tutors, trust accounts, etc.. It’s much easier to hire an adult to play an older teen than to have to work around all the regulations.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 13, 2015 - 12:17 AM

You know what, I’d actually never even considered that. Thank you SO much for bringing it up, because I would’ve just gone on thinking that was strictly creepy.

n January 13, 2015 - 1:40 PM

i work in film and television production and this stuff does exist but its very very very expensive to do something like that in post production so its all done “in camera”, meaning lighting, wardrobe, choice of camera lens, etc. we certainly don’t do it just because an actor wants it, (unless maybe its a big name actor that is also a producer). its much more common to just use straight up body doubles. as for the still images and movie posters…yeah those are completely doctored up cause its faster and way cheaper.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 13, 2015 - 8:46 PM

Very true – the article referenced that it’s anywhere from $500 to $2500 a shot.

The body double thing really – really – saddens me. Oy. Kudos to whomever is walking around living off of being a professional body double, though.

GinaB January 14, 2015 - 3:40 PM

Excellent insight. Just this morning, in my post, I touched on the pressure Society and the Media are creating for people. How it is erasing self love, uniquenss and individuality. Why is it that we would compare ourselves to another than accept ourselves for who we are?

MediaMaven January 15, 2015 - 12:57 AM

I worked for one of these special effect companies that did both video and photo enhancements. It is usually the wealthiest of all celebs obsessed with looking perfect at all times, even in candids, that get and can afford the service. It is charged by the frame for video, so 1 min cost a LOT. I have seen them pop the edit on and off for taking off (and adding on) 20lbs of weight, love handles, arm wings, double chins, complexion enhancements, etc. a lot is achieved with lighting and angles but it’s amazing to see what can be done with actual video. I have even seen a celeb ask that she be made closer in height to an acquaintance standing next to her in a photo. It was a plain old candid but it was going to be in one of the people/Star type mags and just one of many but still, she had it worked over. This actress was not that popular either. Hair plugs, hair darkening and fulling out, wrinkle removal, swapping body parts (from younger photos of themselves), and the list goes on. It’s ridiculous because these lies are pumped out to the world as if it’s what they really look like. Hollywood = smoke & mirrors.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 15, 2015 - 2:17 AM

Y’all, PLEASE keep sharing. This is completely new territory to me!

Can we talk a little bit about THIS, though?

“I have even seen a celeb ask that she be made closer in height to an acquaintance standing next to her in a photo. It was a plain old candid but it was going to be in one of the people/Star type mags and just one of many but still, she had it worked over. This actress was not that popular either.”

So, a shot that was supposed to be a candid was being worked on PRIOR to being sent to the mag? And, to be clear, these celebs (and their people) ARE sending their PR stuff to these mags?

Like, can we fill me in? Put me on game. Any links, resources, books, anecdotes, I’m down for a good read.

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