There’s a massive hole in the side of a train just outside Vancouver, smoldering wreckage strewn across the tracks, and bodies and wounded civilians everywhere you look. One victim has ugly shards of glass protruding from her arm, and a man is wandering around in a daze, skin peeling from severe burns.
And VFS Makeup Design for Film & Television students are right in the thick of it.
This is TRANSGUARD I, coordinated by the Government of Canada with the Province of British Columbia, Vancouver and Coquitlam municipalities, and the local transit operator. In short, it’s an incredibly elaborate emergency preparedness exercise designed to test emergency response, from police to fire to ambulance services. (Read the government press release here.)
Here are images and a short video covering the preparation and exercise. Then read on for the whole story!
When TRANSGUARD I was in the planning stages, organizers knew one of the biggest challenges would be makeup for the dozens of volunteer “casualties”. Makeup effects had to be realistic, medically accurate, and durable, and – most importantly – it all had to be done fast on the morning of the exercise.
Fortunately, the organizers knew VFS’s reputation. “VFS was recommended by a couple of different people, including St. John Ambulance, for what we were looking to achieve,” says Dave Martin, Lead Consultant on the Exercise Design Team. They entrusted the task to the Makeup Design for Film & Television program, and students were quickly rallied together to take on one of their most ambitious projects to date.
“This disaster response exercise is kind of like a movie experience,” says VFS Head of Makeup Design Stan Edmonds. “It simulates the experience of a makeup artist working on a large number of people in a very short time.”
Organizers got in touch with our Makeup Design program some months ago, but students were first briefed in early November. That left a little over two weeks to get ready for this enormous undertaking.
“We were provided with a few samples of the type of injuries they wanted to see,” Stan explains. “So beyond that, we did a lot of research so I could actually do a live demonstration on the various injuries we would be doing to show students how we could accomplish them fast.”
The student volunteers came from a number of classes within the one-year Makeup Design program, meaning they all came into the project with different levels of experience and makeup knowledge. The faculty, led by Stan, leaped into action, adjusting the curriculum and planning special techniques that could be employed quickly by all students.
“We did not have the luxury of letting students do these makeups as we normally would approach them due to time constraints, so this is where we had to devise simplified techniques that the students could employ. Finally, we had a couple of days to pre-make certain materials like bald caps, burns, gelatin prosthetics and prop items like fake nails, metal chards and broken glass.”
After all that prep, students were again briefed on the Friday before the Sunday exercise. The morning of, they arrived en masse at the staging area – a gym near the transit station in Coquitlam, just outside Vancouver – to begin preparing their workstations for the onslaught of “casualties”.
When those casualties arrived – including many students from our Acting for Film & Television program – they were given full details about their ‘character’, including behaviour and injuries. Based on those details, the Makeup Design students got to work, applying complex, convincing makeup effects at an incredible pace. It was, to put it lightly, chaotic.
“That is a perfect thing to experience,” Stan says, “because it prepares you to accommodate whatever circumstances arise. This meant we had to adapt and be flexible to certain conditions. As far as the execution of the makeups, it all went even better than we had hoped.“
When they were done, the volunteers moved to the exercise area, where a train had been modified to look like it had exploded. The casualties took their places, got into character, the area cordoned off, and the exercise began.
By all accounts, it was a resounding success – an important challenge for emergency first responders and a key step in making Vancouver even safer.
“It was above my expectations,” Martin says. “The students did a marvelous job. “
And for his part, Stan couldn’t be more proud. “I know all of the students who participated really put their best into this exercise. Watching them do all of this great work and be energized by it was also a fabulous bonding experience for all three classes. This was one disaster that we could really say was a success!“
Press Coverage: Metro Canada, December 8
Download a PDF book chronicling this incredible experience for VFS Makeup Design for Film & Television students