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Coronation Street

Ryan Connor sees the scars of the acid attack for the first time.

First Look: Ryan Connor sees the scars of the acid attack for the first time as the show teams up with Emmy, BAFTA and RTS Award Winning Makeup Prosthetic Designers.

Ryan Prescott - plays Ryan ConnorThis week is the first time that Ryan takes his bandages off and looks in the mirror. What is Ryan’s reaction to seeing the full extent of his injuries?

For Ryan, I don’t think he expects it to be as bad as it is. He has never seen major burns before so he doesn’t know what to expect and because he has been in bandages for so long he gets into a little comfortable zone with just wearing the bandages. Once his facial injuries are revealed to him, it knocks it right out of him again. The initial glances are heartbreaking. The first time he sees his face, he is thinking, “I am never going to have love in my life again. I am going to be the one that people look at in the street.” In that moment, all those feelings he was trying to ignore come rushing to the surface and he realises that there is no way this is going to heal and he is going to look like his burns haven’t been there. It confirms to him that this is going to affect every aspect of the rest of his life, no matter what.

What were your thoughts when you were first told about this storyline and what it would involve with the SFX makeup and prosthetics?I wanted to do this storyline because I thought it was a great responsibility to be able to open up a dialogue about acid attack survivors, especially after some research I realised how much more prevalent acid violence is than what I originally thought. I knew that the prosthetics was always going to be part of it and that was one of the positives to it.

The stages of fitting the prosthetics to your face is an impressive process and Coronation Street worked alongside Emmy, BAFTA and RTS Award winning SFX artist Davy Jones and Makeup Prosthetics Supervisor Beks Scott. What was it like working with a team who has experience working on films such as the Pirates of the Caribbean? It was so impressive to have the opportunity to work with someone like that. I went to Davy’s workshop in the Wirral to have a cast made that covered my whole head. Davy’s workshop was wicked; he has done some big films and he had a lot of pieces of prosthetics around from The Blade trilogy and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He works magic in that studio.

What was going through your mind when you were getting the face cast?The face cast fully covered my whole head apart from a tiny hole near my mouth where I could breathe through. It can take hours to do a face cast but we were done in 45 minutes so I wasn’t sitting there for a long time. It was quite relaxing if I am honest, because I couldn’t hear much or see much. It was just like being in a little cocoon, it was nice! Davy and Gillian (Head of Hair & Makeup at Coronation Street) were always checking in with me, every five minutes, asking if I could still breathe!

What were your first thoughts when you saw your face for the first time with the prosthetics?

It was a process so there was no one defining moment or real shock for me. I knew what to expect and Gillian and I had experimented with a few layers of prosthetics before anything was even set in stone about the stages of Ryan’s recovery. I already had lots of ideas of what it was going to look like. Through my research for the storyline, I had spoken to numerous people who have survived acid attacks who have real facial injuries and it’s really nothing compared to what some people have gone through in real life. I had always thought of the prosthetics as an edge of that reality and now wearing the prosthetics make me reflect on the reasons why I am doing this storyline. The prosthetics remind me that I want to further the dialogue of what people are actually going through in real life.

How much does it help you, as an actor, to get into the mindset of the character when the prosthetics look so real?People say to me, “It must really help with the acting,” but to be honest I can’t see or feel the prosthetics when they are on! I have got so used to wearing them now, even on weekends I don’t hold my phone up to that ear or that side of my face anymore! It doesn’t really play into things unless I am looking into a mirror on set and the only time Ryan does this is when he takes the bandages off in hospital for the first time. For those scenes, it was really helpful and it didn’t take much to take me to that place that Ryan was in because I am looking in the mirror and I have all these incredible prosthetics on. But other than that, I have just gotten used to it now and I forget the prosthetics are there.

What has been your favourite part of working with prosthetics?

My favourite part has been spending time in the makeup chair with the Coronation Street makeup team every day. My makeup call does take up more time but the team is so amazing and they are great at what they do.  There has to be 15 people trained to put my prosthetics on and everyone is stepping up to the plate, whether they are learning new skills or using skills that they haven’t been able to practise with prosthetics for a long time. They make it easy for me and that’s the best part of my day; having the hour with them and catching up because they look after me and I appreciate all the work that they put in.

Gillian Walsh - Head of Hair & Makeup and SFX at Coronation Street

Tell us about your role, what does a day to day look like for you?I am the Head of the Hair & Makeup and SFX department on Coronation Street. At any one time, we are filming up to six weeks worth of episodes so a normal day for me is making sure that all the makeup teams on each different unit are up and running and all the actors are in continuity, are happy and have all the makeup that they need. I am like the mother of the makeup room.What were your first thoughts when you were told about the acid attack storyline and what that would involve for your makeup team?When the storyline was first pitched to me, the bosses felt that it was the right time to do this storyline. I have worked on ITV’s The Bay, BBC’s Death in Paradise and ITV’s The Good Karma Hospital so with my previous expertise and experience away from Coronation Street, they felt that I could bring what I’ve learnt working with prosthetics on drama shows to this storyline. It’s the most ambitious task that we, the Coronation Street makeup team, have taken on due to the longevity and the fact that the character will be on the show for a long time but I feel like we have really risen to the occasion and I am really proud of what we have created. The team has all been challenged but everyone has risen to the challenge.

What were the early conversations about taking on such an ambitious task like?Iain MacLeod (Executive Producer) and Verity MaLeod’s (Assistant Producer) concerns was the positioning of Ryan’s injuries because we were keen for his injuries to be seen on the one side of his face, on his profile. The idea was that Ryan’s injuries were on one side of his face but the other side of his face is still his normal self and the storyline would explore how the other Corrie residents would now perceive him. We then had conversations with the director, Michael Lacey, about how the acid would be thrown in the scene; how it would hit the face and where it would land on the face. We decided that Ryan would have the acid coming towards his face as he has turned and as he has lifted his arm, the acid has gone all up the side of his face. This was the first step in designing the acid attack injuries and the placing was important for the character because it would affect how Ryan lives his life afterwards.

Coronation Street has been assisted by Paul Blakemore, the Charge Nurse from the Regional Burns Unit at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. Tell us his role and how important his input has been to the makeup team.

Paul showed me some real images from the ward so I was able to see the colour and shape of burns and what I found out quite quickly was that every person and every skin tone burns slightly differently but Paul helped us come up with the best true-to-colour for the burns. Paul was also on hand to do all of Ryan’s bandages; we normally do all of our bandages, plasters and stitches ourselves but we felt because this was such a sensitive story that we wanted to make sure we did it properly. Paul also stayed with the makeup team on set.

Talk us through the process of the prosthetics, how did you begin to create the prosthetics that would be placed on Ryan’s face?After we had finished the designing steps, I needed some expertise to help us make the prosthetics. If we were making a film or a television show and the filming was only for six weeks, pieces of prosthetics could be made everyday and they are binned every night. But because Coronation Street isn’t a one off drama that is filmed over six weeks, and we have a large makeup team who work on different units, the application of the prosthetics is needed to be done by a whole team of us so therefore the prosthetics needed to be something bespoke, that was made for Ryan. I took Ryan to see Davy Jones, who is an Emmy, BAFTA and RTS Award winning special effects makeup artist who has worked on Pirates of The Caribbean. Davy and his assistant, Beks Scott, took a face cast of Ryan’s face so we could map out where the burns would be placed. We worked alongside Paul from the Burns Unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield and his reference pictures were crucial because it was important to Coronation Street to tell this story correctly and as true to life as we could. Alongside Davy andBeks, I designed the burns and came up with the shape that we liked. With the help of the reference, Davy and Beks sculpted different degrees of burns using an oiled based clay that was then placed on the cast. It was important to get the different depths of burns within the sculpt correct with the direction the acid was thrown on to the skin. Once Davy and I were happy with the shape, texture and the position we then used moulds out of silicon. Then the day to day application involves an acrylic substance that goes into the silicon moulds which is then put on to Ryan’s face. It was essential that we had something that could be placed on Ryan’s face day to day and something that could be re-created day to day. It was also important that we got the colours of the burns correct.

What was it like working with Davy Jones and Beks Scott and visiting their workshop?

Davy is an absolute genius; he is a master at what he does and I am very, very fortunate that I have had a good relationship with him in the past and that we  could call upon him and his services. His studio, which is based on the Wirral, is filled with photographs of Doctor Who, Pirates of the Caribbean and some of the biggest films and dramas worldwide. Even for someone who has worked in television for as long as I have, it’s like walking into a museum. It’s very, very exciting to have worked with Davy and Beks.

What was the most challenging part of the prosthetics process?

I think the most challenging part is getting the prosthetics to fit in the same place, every day. This is why we couldn’t have done it without the expertise of Davy. The biggest challenge has been making sure that a makeup artist that hadn’t done it before, but knew how to do the application, could pick up the pieces and it would fit to Ryan’s face.

Have you or the team ever worked on anything like this before?Coronation Street has an expert team of makeup artists and in soapland there is always a crash, bang, wallop and always a fight or an accident or a fire. We did have a storyline with actress Debbie Rush when her character Anna Windass had burns and that was probably the last time we worked on something like this, but that was not on the character’s face. I believe this is the biggest thing, from a technical point of view and from an audience perspective, that this makeup team has done.

Coronation Street is a machine as it films up to six units a day which means time is of the essence. Tell us what happens during Ryan’s makeup call and how important it is to be able to apply the SFX quickly.

It takes us an hour and two people from the team to prep Ryan’s skin and apply the SFX burns. The Bondo in the silicon moulds has to set overnight so it’s a working progress at all times, even the day before. Then the pieces are applied to Ryan’s face, when they are peeled off you are left with a 3D transfer that’s sculpted, a bit like a transfer tattoo but 3D. Then we apply the colouring. This is to make the prosthetics the colour of real life skin burns. The reason why the prosthetic ‘skin graft’ looks the way it does is because it would have been taken from a different part of Ryan’s body, as if it’s real skin. It then takes two people to remove the prosthetics in half an hour, we do this by using hot flannels and special makeup removers on Ryan’s skin. It’s important to look after Ryan’s skin and look after the actor.

What is the most difficult element of the makeup call?

The hardest challenge we have is the colouring which involves getting the colour of the prosthetics to the colour of the burns, the reds and the pinks, and getting it right every day. We have a very set way of doing it, it’s almost like Paint By Numbers. The continuity is the hardest part of the makeup call.

As Ryan’s injuries change and heal and the storyline progresses, describe the next process of what will happen. At the moment, we fill the moulds with three layers and we will be doing that for quite a while. We will then slowly start filling the moulds with less layers so the thickness will change, just like a real burn and scarring would. The shape won’t change and the colour will become less red and more pink but I feel like it will really be the best part of a year before we start changing the colour and the thickness.

How long will your team be working with the prosthetics on Ryan?

As long as the character is in the show, because this is something that real people live with day to day. The scarring for Ryan’s character will never go, which is true to life.

What has been your favourite or the most rewarding part of working on this storyline?

It has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done, it’s been so important to me. It’s challenged me but I have really enjoyed that and I hope the team has felt that too. My favourite part has been seeing the prosthetics on screen after months of planning. Since before September, we knew this storyline was coming so it’s been months of designing where the acid would hit the character, drawing it, feeling it, trying your best to relate to it and to see it now on screen is a real sense of achievement. I am really, really proud.

How important is it to get Ryan’s injuries correct for the storyline?It’s imperative because it’s real life, people are going through this and we want to tell this story the best that we can. We want to keep Coronation Street at the forefront and the best that it is and it’s important for us to get it right because we want to do it justice.

HRH Princess Anne came to visit the Coronation Street set to discuss the acid attack storyline with all the departments that had worked on it. What was it like meeting HRH Princess Anne?She was amazing, I think she might even be a fan of the show! She was really engaged and I was able to show her pictures of some of the work that we created with the prosthetics that hadn’t been on screen yet, she seemed really impressed. It was a real honour and a privilege to meet her.

Davy Jones  - Makeup Prosthetics Designer & Beks Scott - Makeup Prosthetics Supervisor

What is your job and what does an average day look like?Davy: We have a prosthetics workshop in Birkenhead, Liverpool. We sculpt and mould and build all the prosthetics that we work with. Beks and I worked together on ITV’s The Good Karma Hospital in Sri Lanka and we have just finished working on Maternal, the ITV medical drama. My wife is a makeup designer, Lin Davie, and she is working on a big project for Netflix so we have been making a lot of pregnancy bellies! We have just sculptured a new five month old baby and we are about to work on a yeti so our days are always busy!

Davy, you’ve worked on many great films and shows such as Dr Who and Pirates of the Caribbean.Davy: It was amazing because at the time you don’t know how big a film or show is going to be until you’re there. It was amazing being in the Caribbean and it was great because it was Disney which meant it was nice character makeup. It was a great opportunity and the phone call came out of the blue; we never know where we are going to be or what we are going to be doing and that’s what I love about this job.

How were you approached to be part of this storyline for Coronation Street?Davy: I have known Gillian Walsh for many years and I previously worked with her in Sri Lanka on The Good Karma Hospital. Gillian was the makeup designer and Beks and I were the prosthetic designers on the show. When this storyline came around, Gillian asked us to be involved.

What was involved in the process? We have seen that you had to take a cast of Ryan’s face.Beks: We took a face cast of Ryan and that was our basis to work on. It was important to get an accurate replica of Ryan’s face because we then used that to build the prosthetics on to.Davy: . Once we had done this, I passed this job on to Beks who sculpted all the stages of the burns and we would send them to Gillian and ask, “What do you think of this? Do you like this shape?” We have worked on a prosthetic for an acid burn before but with Coronation Street it was about finding balance between being medically accurate and not being too shocking for a soap drama. Beks sculpted a number of different prosthetics of skin under different stresses and textures. After we made a mould of all the pieces, we put a prosthetic material inside which sets and then transfers to Ryan's skin. For all the different stages, like when Ryan has to have a skin graft, Beks will resculpt and make a new piece of prosthetics that fits a certain thing. Beks is very clever at making the moulds fit together like a jigsaw or like Tetris really, so once the first mould goes around Ryan’s ear, the next mould locks into that and the next mould locks into that so everything is always in the right place. For the colouring of the burns, it’s great when you do it free hand if it’s a one-off makeup but when it’s for a show like Coronation Street, you have to recreate that colour all the time… it’s like trying to paint a Picasso every day! So we had to be conscious of keeping a basic continuity. Most of the time carry a project like this through and we would be in, on-set, everyday but that is just unrealistic for a show like Coronation Street so it was important to create something that the Coronation Street makeup team would be able to recreate.

Did this make you approach this project differently to how you would approach a show with one series, due to Coronation Street being a continuing drama?Davy: It’s not just because it’s a long running show, we had to take a lot of things into consideration like the watershed and what time the show is going out. Sometimes with a horror film, not seeing things is more scary, so sometimes it’s just trying to get a level of where ‘it’s enough.’ This also includes taking into consideration the paint job, for example if the team paints the prosthetics more intensely, the injuries are going to look worse. We have only been involved in the manufacturing and the sculpting of the prosthetics and Beks did the makeup tests with the team to show them what colour they should be aiming for.

What references did you use when creating and sculpting the prosthetics?Beks: We were given a few references like pictures from the burns nurse, Paul. These were pictures of different scenarios and the healing process so we took a lot from that. We also have a few medical books that have burn references in so we used a bit of both.

How does it feel to be asked to be part of this storyline?Davy: We are always being asked to do crazy, strange things but as I am 62 years old now, it’s lovely to still get work from people who are your friends and still feel like you are current! You stop feeling current at 62 years old, when you’ve been doing this job for 30 years! I remember when there used to be BBC, ITV and Channel 4 and I was scraping for work but now it’s a gluttony of work so we are able to weigh up what work we choose to do. It’s about what the jobs give you creatively and it’s got to feel right.

Are you a fan of the show?Davy: I’ve never really watched soaps but I started my career at Brookside so I’ve been around soaps. I always wanted to work at Granada/ITV because it had all sorts going on; light entertainment, comedy, you name it! So at that time, to get to work for Granada or even have a chance to work on Corrie, it was a big thing! I always felt I wanted to work on Coronation Street and my mum and dad used to watch it.

What does it feel like when you see your creation on screen?Davy: Sometimes it’s amazingbut most of the time our work looks so realistic that viewers don’t realise that it’s not real and you sort of want to say to people, “That’s a prosthetic! That’s a prosthetic!” For ITV’s Maternal, we did a prosthetic of a five year old child because in the show the character was going to receive quite brutal CPR that couldn’t be done on a real child actor. It looked amazing and you never would have known it was a prosthetic. When it’s done really well, people don’t know. When people go on our Instagram and see the pictures they say, “I didn’t know that was not real!”

Paul Blakemore - Charge Nurse from the Regional Burns Unit at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield.

What is your job?

I am a charge nurse at the Regional Burns Centre at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. As a charge nurse, I work with a team of nurses on a daily basis to deliver care of the burned individual, from admission to discharge and through the burns dressing clinic. Some dressings are extremely complex and take over 2 hours to complete. I am also in charge of coordinating other members of the Burns MDT- Multidisciplinary team to holistically care for the patients on the unit. We also offer psychological support when they have altered body image.

You’ve worked with acid attack survivors as part of your role.We’ve had 11 patients with acid or alkaline attacks from 2017 to the end of 2021. We’ve had about 30 people from the last 3 years with burns from hot fluids which could be any type of fluids. A lot of acid attacks go unreported so some people don’t even go to A&E.

How were you approached to be a part of this storyline?Coronation Street have worked with Chloe Mitchell for a very long time and she helps out with the medical hire. Chloe has contacts in nursing and knows me for my burns experience.

Have you done anything like this before?

I worked on Coronation Street for a day last year when the character Ed Bailey got an electrical burn on his hand. I assisted on the bandage dressing for that element of the story. That was great but it obviously wasn't as extensive as this storyline!

What did Gillian need from you and how were you able to help?The makeup team needed to see how burns look, especially acid burns. I provided the team with photographs of people’s acid burns and skin grafts. It was important for the team to see how skin grafts would appear after placement and I showed the team how the wounds would change over time as burns change a lot. I was there on set, in the makeup room, when Gillian and the makeup team were putting the colouring on the prosthetics and I was blown away by how accurate the prosthetic looked and what a fantastic depiction it is of someone with a burn like that.

I was also on set, when they were filming, as I was involved in putting the dressings on Ryan so it was an accurate and authentic representation of a burns dressing when it’s on a patient. The researchers also asked me about the accuracy of the narrative, for example the dialogue between the medical staff and Ryan, like when the doctor was explaining to Ryan about skin grafting, so I advised on the terminology used and the care that involves. I advised how long the dressings would be on for and when they would be taken off as well as advising on the IVs and the drips. In tonight’s episode we see Ryan’s bandages are taken off and the day before Coronation Street filmed that scene, I went through how to do that with the actor who is playing the doctor, just to show them how to gently take the bandage off because that’s how it would be in reality. It was important for me to get the accuracy right because in the 90s I used to watch American medical shows, and as a medical professional, I was so critical watching those shows! So I wanted to do as much as I could to get it right for Coronation Street and for the show to be accurate.Were you able to speak to Ryan and offer him advice for his role?I have had a few good chats with Ryan. I was explaining to him all the different kinds of burns information, just burns care in general.

How did it feel to be asked to be a part of this storyline?It’s been absolutely fantastic and I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed it! Everybody has been so welcoming and appreciative and it’s meant a lot to me to represent the care that we provide in the Burns Unit in my day to day job. The storyline has shown what we do in the Burns Centre day in day out everywhere and it’s been fantastic to show what we do.

Are you a fan of Coronation Street?

I remember the Elsie Tanner character, that’s how far back I can remember the show! I like that the storylines reflect what is happening in real life which is a great thing.

How important is it for Coronation Street to do this storyline?Any kind of medical conditions that are highlighted on television are a good thing because it brings the general public more information about them, especially when it is shown as accurately as this storyline is. An acid attack is a horrible thing and we hear about them infrequently but it’s not like someone breaks an arm and once it heals you can’t tell. Once you’ve been a survivor of an acid attack and an assault like this, it’s with you for life and the psychological impact is massive. For Coronation Street to highlight this, is really very good.

Keep up to date with Ryan's story on ITVX

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