Halle Bailey’s Beauty Transformation for The Little Mermaid Was Epic
From glittery mermaid skin to a six-figure hair budget, here are all the under the sea-crets on how Halle Bailey transformed into Disney's latest live-action princess.
Disney’s new live-action adaptation of the beloved 1989 animated classic The Little Mermaid has been making major waves both on social media and at the box office. After its theatrical premiere on May 26, the film, which stars singer-songwriter and Beyoncé’s protégé Halle Bailey as Ariel, earned approximately $117.5 million at the box office in the days immediately following its release, making it the fifth most successful movie release over Memorial Day weekend in history.
From the movie’s refreshed score to its iconic fairytale storyline, it’s no wonder it’s been such a success so far. And one of the most stunning aspects of this adaptation is Bailey’s embodiment of the “little mermaid” herself. Playing such an adored Disney princess is no easy task and, according to many fans and film critics, Bailey rose to the occasion, capturing Ariel’s desire to be part of the human world with her compelling acting and breathtaking vocals.
Beyond her talents, Bailey captured the essence of Ariel because of the physical transformation she underwent to look like the mermaid. From costuming to hair and makeup, here’s everything we know about how Halle Bailey transformed into Ariel for the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid
Creating Halle Bailey’s mermaid glow
For face makeup, Ali went with MAC’s Face and Body foundation and Uoma Beauty’s Stay Woke Concealer. She then used Milk Makeup’s Cream Blush Stick in Quickie and Dior Beauty’s Backstage Universal highlighter for an extra dose of leading-lady shine. Ali created Bailey’s mermaid pout by pairing MAC’s classic lip pencil in the muted, golden-nude shade Cork with Chanel Beauty’s Rouge Allure lipstick in the shade 174 Rouge Angèlique.
For eyes, Ali used Tom Ford eyeshadows to create the shimmery lid that Bailey wore for most of the film. For her perfectly-placed eyelashes, Ali and Bailey opted for eyelash extensions instead of falsies or mascara, which made the most sense for “under the sea” filming. But beauty really is pain sometimes, even for a Disney princess. Bailey revealed in a recent interview that the eyelash extensions would sometimes interfere with her work. Since they were on a strict filming schedule, Bailey would have no choice but to get her freshly-filled eyelashes wet before the 24-hour waiting period during which you’re supposed to keep a new set dry. As a result, she had to endure days where her eyes were burning in between takes — ouch!
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And last but not least, we couldn’t take our eyes off the glittery mermaid scales that covered Bailey’s skin during her underwater scenes, but, according to Ali, those were actually all CGI-generated. That same scaly effect was also digitally edited onto Bailey’s cast mates, like Javier Bardem who played King Triton, to enhance the oceanic illusion. Ali shared that she did products such as Glossier’s Priming Mostiruizer and Kate Somerville Skincare’s Factor 50 Uncomplikated Makeup Setting Spray to keep Bailey’s skin glowy and healthy while they were filming in the hot summer heat.
Tailoring her mermaid tail
One of the most recognizable aspects of the animated Ariel’s look is her iconic sea green mermaid tale and the live-action adaptation paid tribute to the classic look with its own unique spin for Bailey’s version of Ariel.
Costume designer Colleen Atwood created a life-like mermaid tail that was perfectly fitted to Bailey in order to give the appearance that the aquatic appendage was simply an extension of her body. To do this, Atwood, who has won four Academy Awards for costume design during her decades-long career, constructed the tail using 3D screening and carefully placed layers of silk to create the illusion of iridescent, shimmering scales whenever Ariel swam around. This wasn’t the final product that we see in the movie, though, and Bailey didn’t actually wear the tail for any of the scenes that took place entirely underwater. Instead, Bailey wore a motion-capture suit while filming and the movie’s visual effects team later used CGI to digitally edit the tail onto her body. The post-production technology scanned the hand-made tail that Atwood and her team created and later added additional layers of dimension and colour to create a final, more “realistic,” mermaid tail that now appears in the movie. Whoa.
Halle’s upper half is real, the rest is cgi (Hair, tail) and it all flows together perfectly. She looks like a real mermaid and the cgi is PERFECT. This new footage is really changing people’s mind. #TheLittleMermaid
— Flounder 🧜🏽♀️ (@lazyariel) April 13, 2023
Ariel’s new hairdo
It’s no secret that CGI played a huge role in the making of the movie, and that extended into the animation of Bailey’s iconic red Ariel hairstyle. Director Rob Marshall revealed that most of the movie’s underwater scenes were filmed with Bailey wearing a large wig cap that was covered in technological “markers.” Later, with the help of blue screen technology in post-production, the flowing combination of dreadlocks and loose pieces of hair were digitally attached to Bailey’s scalp to create the illusion of them floating through the water.
During the land scenes, Bailey wore extensions and her natural hair, which is styled in long dreadlocks that reach past her waist, a choice that was surely by design. Bailey shared in a recent interview that she’s had her dreadlocks since she was five-years-old, saying her hairstyle is part of the “essence” of who she is. As such, keeping her natural hair as part of her version of Ariel was extremely important to her. The film’s creative team agreed and hair designer Camille Friend devised a plan to maintain the health of Bailey’s locs while also creating a modern version of the classic red hairstyle that Ariel is known for. To do so, Friend explained that only the roots of Bailey’s hair were dyed the ginger-red colour she sports in the film and each of her individual locs were wrapped in the same colour. To preserve the health of Bailey’s natural hair, and for continuity reasons while filming, Friend said that the hair-wrapping process took about 12 to 14 hours and that the film probably spent approximately $150,000 on Bailey’s hair in total.
This picture for me is the most culturally forward aspect of #TheLittleMermaid production. The fact that they hired and paid black hair care professionals to properly do Halle's goddess locs as Ariel. May this become a standard onset for black actors.🙏🏾🧜🏾♀️ pic.twitter.com/sI5xjS9zUz
— HopingSomethingLessEvilThanTheBirdAppCatchesOn (@MsGo) May 26, 2023
The specific shade of her hair sparked some controversy on social media, with some moviegoers saying that the look should’ve been a brighter red more similar to the animated Ariel’s hair. While there were many options for how the live-action Ariel’s hair would look, Friend ultimately went with the more subdued ginger shade not only because it looked more realistic than a bright red, but also because it suited Bailey’s complexion better.
Regardless of peoples’ personal feelings, these aesthetic choices were made to honour the original animated Ariel while creating an modernized version of the princess for new Little Mermaid fans to admire and, more importantly, see themselves in — and if that doesn’t capture the true meaning of Disney magic, we don’t know what does.