Meet the sweet old lady with a macabre craft
Celebrated prosthetics artist Cecille Baun opens up her studio and the decades of stories in it
Dec 4, 2016
The picture in your head when the term “prosthetic artist” gets mentioned would probably be that of a grizzled shop instructor, his gray beard attesting to the hours he’d put into his craft. You’d look at black-and-white photographs of the greats: Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Jim Henson, and Ray Harryhausen—industrious man-children who played around in their creature shops, turning things you can buy from a hardware store into monsters, aliens, zombies, ghosts, and all things that make our skin crawl, our imaginations warm and humming.
Now if you visit the creature shop of the Philippines’ most celebrated prosthetics artist, you’ll be smirking in disbelief as a pocket garden of orchids greet you on the way.
Cecille Baun is a sweet old lady full of pep, a dead-ringer for the journalist Jullie Yap Daza. There’s nary a hint of her 78 years that shows. The field of movie prosthetics rarely is a woman’s domain, but in a nation where the women are always intrepid (more so than the men), her chosen profession is hardly a surprise; you’d be expecting a frazzle-haired punk, then find out that the person behind all these menacing props is a doting mother of five.
In a raspy voice, Baun says, “I was a housewife once and all I did was tend to our house. But just after a few years, my husband died so I had to make a living since I had five children to feed.”
Making ends meet to support her family, she got involved in the makeup retail trade through Avon Cosmetics; she was 33 then. From there, a stint as a makeup artist for Repertory Philippines (where she had to suit up Celia Laurel as a white lady) led to more opportunities.
Her Quezon City studio is a high-ceilinged patio, stacked to the rafters with face molds of celebrities she has met throughout her decades-long career. Inside, it’s like an abattoir from a Hammer Horror film: strewn around the place are mutilated limbs, bloodied Venus de Milos, vats of fake blood, and jars that hold brushes of all sizes. What are these grotesqueries made of? “Alginate, cast stone, plaster of Paris, latex, silicone, and latex foam,” she recites, as if she was reading off a grocery list.
“I didn’t attend makeup school. I was only able to finish high school,” Baun says. “I rely on my instincts when I work. Sometimes, solutions come to me in my sleep.”
A cursory glance at her portfolio can only confirm her devotion to the craft. Aside from the common Halloweeniana, she can replicate tissue damage, fourth-degree burns, and genetic anomalies that come straight out of medical textbooks.
One of her early breaks in the international scene was for a Premiere Productions grindhouse film called Night of the Cobra Woman. The plot revolves around an African changeling who lures men into the forest. In the movie, Baun and her crew had to work with snakes. From there she developed a phobia for the slithering reptiles.
Snakes notwithstanding, she had found her calling and continued her work on numerous local and international films. Her filmography and her list of co-conspirators are enviable: Peque Gallaga (Oro, Plata, Mata), Marilou Diaz-Abaya (José Rizal), and Chito Roño (Spirit Warriors). For schlockier fare, she had partaken in the creation of Regal Films’ storied Shake, Rattle & Roll franchise. Aside from the horror genre, she has also dabbled in war movies during their heyday, when the demand for prosthetic services was high. Baun had the honor of working with acclaimed Hollywood directors John Irvin on Hambuger Hill and Oliver Stone on Platoon.
On the long weekends of Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day, she moonlights as the go-to set decorator in Ayala Alabang’s infamous village haunted houses. Her current project is anybody’s guess, but she whips out a Satan-faced infant smothered in placenta, its umbilical cord dangling like a worm from the Netherworld.
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