JMU student transforms classmates into inhuman monsters.
STORY | JULIA NELSON
PHOTOS | MARK OWEN
Sidney Yi has been a man, an old woman and a zombie all in one lifetime — and she owes it all to liquid latex.
“It smells like ass,” Yi, a senior media arts and design major, says.
Liquid latex is a paper mache-like substance used on the skin for special effects makeup. Think zombie Halloween costumes or the goblins from the “Harry Potter” movies. Yi’s been into special effects makeup since high school.
“I wrote my college entrance essay on makeup,” Yi says. “I wrote about how it was my way of expressing myself and it was so fun to like … be a different person for a day when you’re doing really extreme makeup.”
But Yi is a woman (or sometimes zombie) of many hats. In her free time, she raises a kitten she rescued named Kimbap and hosts a feminist radio show on WXJM. She’s an activist for the environment, LGBT rights and racial equality.
She also paints, draws, sings, plays ukulele, violin, guitar and piano, cuts hair, cooks and decorates cakes. Most of these hobbies, including makeup, she taught herself using internet tutorials.
“I was watching ‘The Walking Dead’ at the time when I really started liking special effects makeup,” Yi says. “I did research and figured out how to do it myself.”
Yi treats Halloween like her own personal holy day. She spends hours before going out at night turning her face into a terrifying, bloody mess — she says zombie looks get the best reactions.
While she loves the horror effect the zombie looks get, Yi doesn’t always aim for something spooky. She’s had experience with old age makeup and even made herself a beard for a stage makeup class at JMU. She’s also done the flip side and helped men express their feminine sides as well.
“I have this one particular friend,” Yi says. “He will ask me to do his drag makeup when he goes out to parties and stuff. He knows exactly what he wants but he can’t do it himself. His whole face lights up and he’s so excited to go out. He wants to be out and have everyone see him.”
And this transformative power is why Yi loves makeup and bringing people’s visions of themselves to life.
“When I see their face … I love it,” Yi says. “People think it’s weird that guys want to put makeup on, but it’s like their alter ego. They can be a completely different person.”
To transform herself and her friends into nightmares, Yi uses a special recipe for making homemade blood: corn syrup, cocoa powder and a mixture of blue, red and green food dye. It’s a gory, revolting, edible treat.
“It tastes like chocolate,” she says.
Even though Yi has been friends with senior international affairs major Celine Serrano since high school, she turned her into an undead masterpiece for the first time in August to walk through the nearly two-hour process of special effects makeup.
She starts with liquid latex and several sheets of toilet paper. This will become an oozing open wound going down Serrano’s face. She waits until the first layer is dry, then adds three more. She reminds Serrano that the process will be itchy. It’s a big commitment.
“A lot of people want me to do it on them but don’t understand it can be very uncomfortable,” Yi says. “On Halloween, I pretty much just have smoothies all day because eating can ruin my makeup.”
The next step is to use powder to keep all the latex from sticking to itself. Then, as she sings to an ironically mellow song by James Blake, she contours Serrano’s face and ignores all beauty rules that COVERGIRL taught her.
“I’m trying to make things sink into her face rather than make things pop,” Yi says, adding dark spots around Serrano’s cheeks and eyes.
Once all signs of life have been removed from Serrano’s face, Yi goes in with her FX Palette from Skin Illustrator. She explains that it’s like watercolors for the skin. She creates bruise tones around the fake gash using blues, purples, greens and reds, and paints hash marks in the wound to look like a jaw is peeking out from behind the broken skin.
After the bruises have set, she tears Serrano’s new skin from her face using her fingers so that it looks ripped open and terrifying. She says it feels like pulling off a band-aid.
Yi steps back from her model and declares the moment has come.
“I think we’re ready for, like, blood and stuff.”
Yi dips her finger into the delicious-smelling, chocolatey red concoction and tastes it before she starts the fun part: splattering the blood all over Serrano’s face. She says there’s no way to use too much of it; she likes to use a lot of blood.
“It smells so good,” Serrano says.
After a patient Serrano has been sitting still for over an hour and a half waiting for the various layers of cosmetics to dry, she looks in the mirror and jumps a little from the horror of it all — she looks like a dead woman walking.
Serrano’s torn flesh and blood covered jaw drops open, and Yi smiles. Her work is complete.