Beyond the birthdaY SUIT
Is nudity in cinema and television a form of costume design? Screengrabs discusses intimate prosthetics with Matthew Mungle, the industry legend behind the most realistic faux nudity on our screens
*** Please note that the following article contains mentions of nudity and images of prosthetic genitalia.
Sex is all around us. It’s in fashion advertisements plastered on city skyscrapers, in steamy scenes on Netflix shows; it is in our language, images, passions and fears. Indeed, one can argue that sex is not so taboo anymore. Some of us have even developed a sense of numbness or apathy to the subject because of oversaturation. In film and television, highly private moments are laid bare for the world to see. These intimate scenes can propel a narrative forward, explain a character’s motivation and provide moments of integral private dialogue and context.
The intimacy field has developed extensively since the early days of cinematic sex scenes. New departments and jobs were established to regulate and protect actors and crew members. Likewise, prosthetics have become extremely realistic, and body art, grooming and patches continue to contribute to the art of this sensitive content.
Matthew Mungle’s career is beyond impressive. The award-winning make-up artist and prosthetics expert has created practically every organ, body part and illusion for the cinema and television world. Mungle’s work can be seen in feature films Dracula (for which he won an Academy Award), Schindler’s List, Frida, Edward Scissorhands, Austin Powers, shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and many, many more.
When Mungle was around eight years old, he discovered the art of make-up in the form of monster movies. “I grew up on a farm in Atoka, Oklahoma. In the middle of nowhere,” he says. “Monsters just got into my blood as a kid. I was born on October 26, close to Halloween.”
“When I started working at the local movie theatre, I would do different characters - Planet of the Apes, Robin Hood, just costumes, make-up, whatever I could do to immerse myself in there.” - Matthew Mungle
Matthew Mungle working his magic on the set of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.Image courtesy of W.M. Creations, Inc., Matthew Mungle.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Junior with a foam latex prosthetic by Matthew Mungle.Image courtesy of W.M. Creations, Inc., Matthew Mungle.
Upon seeing the film 7 Faces of Dr. Lao with Tony Randall, Mungle became fascinated with how make-up artist William Tuttle turned the actor into different characters and loved Dick Smith’s Do-it-Yourself Monster Make-up. This was the first time Mungle was exposed to the profession. “When I started working at the local movie theatre, I would do different characters - Planet of the Apes, Robin Hood, just costumes, make-up, whatever I could do to immerse myself in there.”
After graduating high school, he enrolled in Oklahoma State University, majoring in theatre, and at 21 moved to Los Angeles to attend the Joe Blasco Makeup Center. Mungle remembers this time fondly. “Joe saw the talent that I had and love of make-up, so he really took me under his wing. I was a sponge at his school, just absorbing everything I could. After I graduated, I started teaching there which really emphasized and strengthened what I’d learned. Being a little kid from Oklahoma I was very shy, and it gave me a chance to work with people and understand people.”
Mungle has since been an unstoppable force in the industry, an artist in every sense of the word. “I always prided myself on doing whatever job came along because I loved what I did. I kept my options open doing facial prosthetics, doing horror movies, doing blood, doing bald caps, doing beards. Being a renaissance man as far as make-up was concerned” he explains.
So how did Mungle start working on more intimate prosthetics? “It was about 1993 I think,” he replies. “I was asked to do a pregnancy on Nicole Kidman for My Life and for some reason, a lot of people in Hollywood wouldn’t touch it. I said of course I would. A few years passed and I was asked to do Junior, which was making Arnold Schwarzenegger pregnant. Once I did that, I became known as the pregnancy guy and people started coming to me for pregnancies. With pregnancies, it was breasts on top. Sometimes it was just, hey Matthew, we need some breasts for this actress, because she’s got to be kind of nude in this scene, and she wants to cover up her breasts and it makes her feel better.”
At that time, according to Mungle, foam latex was extremely popular. “Then all at once silicone happened and it looked great, so that was how we became the breast people.”
“Cut to 2020, 2021, 2022, it’s just all over the place. I think it just bloomed and people have gotten, dare I say, more relaxed about sexuality. A little bit.” - Matthew Mungle
Matthew Mungle’s incredible studio including a workshop, platinum silicone work room and entrance. Images courtesy of Matthew Mungle.
Intimacy scenes have drastically changed over the years. This is a revolution Mungle has felt in his career too. “I think it was going forward until that little incident with Janet Jackson at the Superbowl and she showed her nipple, her breast. Big deal. It’s nature. It’s beautiful. All at once, everything just shut down as far as intimacy. When that happened earlier in our start of CSI, when we would do open autopsies of females on the show, we would have to be very careful to make sure the skin flap covered even a bit of the breast. Cut to 2020, 2021, 2022, it’s just all over the place. I think it just bloomed and people have gotten, dare I say, more relaxed about sexuality. A little bit.”
Though Mungle thinks that the industry is becoming a more understanding place when it comes to intimacy scenes and the sensitivities they entail, he says Hollywood still has a long way to go. “It’s taken a 360-degree turn, it needs to take another 360-degree turn. It’s ever evolving. I think that’s why they come to us to do these penises and breasts and things like that. Because if an actress has fake breasts on, she’s going to let that thought go out of her mind, that she is showing her own breasts and she can concentrate on really acting. Same thing with a penis for a male actor. He doesn’t have to worry about showing his own penis and just think about acting.”
The years 2007 and 2008 proved to be particularly interesting for Mungle’s prosthetic direction in intimacy. “I was approached to do Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and a really small penis with lots of hair around it. From then on, I became known as the penis guy or any nudity – call Matthew. NCIS wanted genital cover ups for male and female so they can do a whole autopsy without having a sheet over. So, it just blossoms. I was approached to do some make-up effects for Step Brothers, and one of them was testicles for Will Ferrell, and he had to rub them on the drum set. We had to back-engineer this and make a sack and then two testicles to put in it, so it works right. A few years ago, I ran into Will Ferrell again on another movie that we were doing, and he said, ‘Oh yeah, Matthew Mungle! You’re making testicles for me all the time!’ And I go, ‘Yeah, yeah Will’,” Mungle laughs.
This isn’t the only actor interaction Mungle has had in relation to prosthetics, of course. Mungle was told that Chris Hemsworth liked The Vacation prosthetic penis so much that the production gave him the prosthetic and Hemsworth has it “on his mantlepiece with his Thor hammer,” he recalls.
The prosthetic materials have also advanced. Mungle explains that the industry started with gelatin. “The lights were too hot, so they melted. In the same year, The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton and The Wizard of Oz were the first productions that used foam latex. That was the standard in the industry for years until Dick Smith, then Kevin Haney, and then myself discovered gelatin again. The lights were cooler. At that same time silicone was coming around – tin-based silicone. Platinum is more skin-friendly; you could use that better than you could use tin on the skin. I think with the silicones we use now the sky is the limit. We can make it as hard, as soft as we want it so to speak, no pun intended.” he chuckles. “As far as the genital is concerned it just depends on what’s needed. Sometimes I will pour a stiffer silicone into the mould just to slosh it around to get the first coat in there and then pour a softer silicone behind it to get the movement of it. The advancements of silicone in the past 20 years have been amazing.”
A penis prosthetic from Matthew Mungle’s studio. Image courtesy of Matthew Mungle.
The process and time needed to make a penis prosthetic can be as interesting as the result. Mungle describes the collaborative procedure, “I gather all my artists together and say we’ve got to do this, they’re going to send us some pictures of the kind of penis they want. Whether it’s cut, or uncut, how large, et cetera. I put my lead sculptures onto it, and they’d sculpt it out of wall-based clay, and we get approval for that. Once that was done, we’d either make an epoxy mold, a stone mold or silicone molds. I supervise things. But now that I’m a one man show, I still have the molds left over and I get calls for new ones that I have to sculpt, mold and cast. It would probably take about three people to make a penis in total, and it would take us about a week to do it from scratch. Since I have the mold, it only takes about two days to make.” Once the prosthetic is finished, Mungle says they send the piece to the set with instructions for a make-up artist to apply.
So, what’s the secret to making a highly realistic genital prosthetic? Mungle says it’s all in the details. “The texture of it, the movability of it, the softness or hardness of it and the colouration of veins. The reds we put in, the lighter colours you put in. I always start out with a lighter silicone, that way I can paint it up or darker. Put your veins in first, and then put flesh over that, that way the veins look like they’re coming from underneath the skin. So, it’s an eye for detail.”
“We have to learn our history about television and movies. Otherwise, you’re going blindly forward and not learning about the history and what our forefathers and foremothers went through to create the industry that we love so much.” - Matthew Mungle
From body parts and horror make-up to aging and pregnancy bellies, Mungle has done it all with extreme precision and realism. Though he always credits his own role models and mentors, one can’t help but think how much of an inspiration he is to many artists today. “We have to learn our history about television and movies. Otherwise, you’re going blindly forward and not learning about the history and what our forefathers and foremothers went through to create the industry that we love so much. And that’s kind of lacking with the young kids today, they don’t look back at Jack Pierce who did The Mummy and Frankenstein and the old black and white films. Even further back to Lon Chaney Senior doing The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera” Mungle expresses.
Prosthetic nudity is an art form that requires exceptional detail work and is used to tell a story. Experts like Matthew Mungle create unbelievably realistic creations that make us, the audience, believe the film or show. “I have to pinch myself every once in a while” Mungle says. “From my humble beginnings, this is what I wanted to do. This is the focus I had in my life and I’m achieving it. I met John Chambers, the make-up artist who did Planet of the Apes, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Mission Impossible and tons of other films. I met him early in my career where I was working. He said to me: remember boy, humility. And that’s always stuck with me. To be humble in your career and love what you do is the most important thing I think a human being could ever do. Love what you do and respect other people. That’s the most important thing.”