The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

For "The Hobbit," Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater, and Tami Lane performed the most painstaking work on the 13 dwarves, a wild and engaging group that endeavors to take back its homeland. In a departure from Tolkien's descriptions in the novel, the long wigs and beards were individually styled and colored so that we may distinguish one from the other.

After a series of show and tell sessions where King and his team came up with the dwarf designs, they were inspired to use real yak hair (not synthetic, again, because of the 3-D and higher frame rate). That is, except for leader Thorin (Richard Armitage). He dons human hair to help him stand out from the rest of the clan.

Meanwhile, to make Gandalf (Ian McKellen) look younger, they added more color to his face while darkening his beard. But for Cate Blanchette's Elf Queen, King conjured a special light-reflective powder to make her look even more luminous.

Finally, for "Les Mis," Lisa Westcott's biggest challenge wasn't just verisimilitude and adjusting to a nearly 20-year time span; it was providing four different appearances for Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean with assorted wigs and light prosthetics. In the stirring opening, there's the demeaning convict look followed by the humble convent look, the elegant mayor look, and the transcendent dying look.

Fantine sketch

Working with fellow nominee Julie Dartnell, Westcott's most intense concentration was placed on Valjean's convict look: After giving him a scraggly beard with added hair and color, they shaved it off and added scarring and shackle-mark prosthetics around the collarbone, wrists, and ankles. Reddish-looking contact lenses and yellowed dentures completed the picture of a downtrodden figure. (Given the highly publicized decision to sing live, the actors apparently were neurotic about their teeth.)

Of course, we've heard all about chopping off Anne Hathaway's hair to portray Fantine as a prostitute, but they also provided splotchy face makeup and let the Oscar frontrunner for best supporting actress paint her own teeth to fulfill the transformation.

For comic relief, there's the Thénardiers, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who change appearance every time we see them as part of their con artist shenanigans. This necessitated a host of bizarre costumes, wigs, and makeup. Best of all, Westcott turns him ginger, which comes through amid all sorts of creative disguises.

More than anything, all three nominees demonstrate the organic synergy between makeup and hairstyling. No wonder the Academy finally combined them into a single category for Sunday's 85th Academy Awards.