The ‘All Quiet’ make-up head tackled the film like a painting

Heike Merker never considered working on a war film until the German adaptation of Edward Berger’s World War I drama “All Quiet on the Western Front” came along. The hair and makeup designer, known for her work on films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Matrix Resurrections,” was immediately drawn to both the project itself and the possibility of collaborating with her costume designer friend Lisy Christl.

“I had a feeling they were such a good team, so it was like, ‘Well, let’s do it,'” Merker recalled, speaking on Zoom from Berlin. “I’ve done so many different movies and this was like another subject.”

To prepare for the film, which was shot in Prague last spring, Merker did extensive research. He watched previous iterations of the story, which is based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, as well as other films set during this time period. Her biggest inspiration came from documentaries, particularly Peter Jackson’s 2018 project They Shall Not Grow Old, which collected archival footage from the war.

“That basically opened so many doors for me, and I finally had the right material,” says Merker. “What I had seen was incredible. I screenshotted the entire movie for reference because it was so good. Once I had that, I started testing and preparing the actual (makeup) look.”

The film follows a young soldier, Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), during the war, with most of the scenes taking place in the trenches and on the battlefields. The reality was dirty and wet, meaning that Paul and his fellow soldiers spend most of the film covered in layers of dirt, mud and blood. Merker couldn’t use real mud because it would damage the actors’ skin, so she looked for stage makeup options, bought Dead Sea face masks, and created new concoctions of matcha powder and macadamia powder.

“All Quiet” makeup artist Heike Merker.


“I started with mud and dirt products that already exist in the makeup world and experimented with how to layer them,” says Merker. “What does paint do if it rains?” Does the paint come off? What do the layers look like? Then it was like, “Okay, so these colors we have are not enough. We need more colors!’ I created a color gamut in slimes of every consistency, from a very thin liquid to a slimy version to a muddier clay. We had about 10 different colors, each with many different implications.”

The mud was spread on the actors’ faces, hair, necks, hands, and any other body part that appeared during a particular scene. Although the main cast spent an hour or two in hair and makeup each morning before filming, Merker continued to apply and reapply mud throughout the day. He was on set next to the camera in every shot to ensure continuity in appearance, which was a huge challenge since the film was not shot chronologically. She and Berger also had spray bottles filled with fake blood at the ready during the fight scenes. But for all the chaos of the war sequences, Merker was ultimately very deliberate in her application of mud and grime.

“I’ve always treated the whole film like a painting,” he says. “Sometimes when you try to copy something from a photo, like when you have a mustache that’s really extreme and you put it in a movie, it looks horrible and fake. There is a way to see reality but not to copy it. You have to put something else on top or take something else away.”

Close up of a soldier's face streaked with dirt and blood.

Makeup artist Heike Merker and director Edward Berger had spray bottles filled with fake blood ready during the fight scenes.


In one particular scene, as Paul confronts and eventually kills a French soldier, Merker used the mud to convey the dual sense of the characters as both heroes and villains. The dried gray mud was spread over half of his face, creating two literal faces.

“He captured the situation with these two people,” says Merker. “It became something very special when we decided to add this extreme elephant-like layer on top of the layer on top of the layer. With the camera movement and him looking up, it created such a wonderful image.”

German soldier Paul's piercing blue eyes stand out against his muddy face.

“I always treated the whole film like a painting,” says make-up designer Heike Merker.


Some of the film’s characters, such as Daniel Brühl’s Matthias Erzberger, are based on real historical figures, but Merker didn’t want to get bogged down in literal copies. Instead, he balanced factual details with dramatic ones. With Brühl, for example, Merker recreated Erzberger’s actual hairstyle and mustache, but created sweat lines on his neck and hands to emphasize the character’s nervous position. Brühl also pulled his head into his collar to create the feel of a double chin without prosthetics.

“There are some angles where he didn’t look so much like Daniel,” says Merker. “It’s really interesting. We used every little element to give (depth) to this character.”

For Merker, each nomination was an unexpected surprise. She’s not sure why audiences are so taken by the film, but suspects it’s because it’s a war film that’s decidedly anti-war.

“There is no hero, really,” he says. “It’s not like they kill someone and feel proud about it. The perspective is different. And with the Ukraine war, maybe it brings you into the situation in a way that’s current. It’s a war film, but it’s also very poetic.”

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