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TIFF Lightbox unveils X-Men exhibit dedicated to Canadian artist Gordon Smith

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TORONTO - When Gordon Smith embarked on his career, there was no precedent for his creations.

Now, 30 years later, he is known as a pioneer in the field of makeup and special effects in film, especially when it comes to the films "X-Men" and "X-Men 2."

On Friday, the TIFF Bell Lightbox will unveil an exhibit of his works, including costumes for Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman) and the buxomly beautiful Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). Some of his tools and a makeup chair — in which many a famous bottom has sat — will also be on display.

Smith has made his career by using a form of silicone prosthetic technology that sticks onto the body and moves with it. Some of those pieces, such as Mystique's full-body costume, will be on display at the Lightbox.

"I have no training in it whatsoever. I kind of made it up as I went along, from the beginning of my career to the end," he says in an interview.

"I kind of ended up creating my own technology, which is radically different from the rest of the industry, and the whole industry now uses my technology and uses my approach, which I think is kind of cool. I'm still alive, and that happened," he adds with a smile. "So, yeah."

Up until Smith joined the industry, simulating skin or tissue was usually done with makeup, so the effect was opaque. Silicone wasn't used for prosthetic purposes at the time Smith started out.

Smith, an Ontario native, studied theatre arts at the University of Windsor, but he received no official training in his field since it was so new. That allowed him to be completely innovative, and he made a point of being an active participant in the development of his creations.

He makes sure to undergo exactly the same application of makeup and prosthetics that he designs for the actors. Testing it in that way allows him to make sure the costumes are comfortable, and that the actors won't be distracted by irritating makeup.

Smith has shown his commitment in other ways as well. One of his first jobs was to re-create an open-heart surgery for the film "Threshold." To learn what that might look like, he spent time in a morgue examining the parts of a cadaver.

Sylvia Frank is the curator of the event, and she said it's important to put the designs out there for educational value, as well as celebrating a great Canadian artist.

She said when she met Gordon a year ago, she didn't know much about him because so many designers and artists wind up in the background.

"We have great Canadian film designers, but nobody knows about them. And Gordon is somebody who, I think, the more you talk to him and the more you read about him, you realize he should be celebrated."

The free exhibit features parts of the costumes for seven X-Men characters: Wolverine, Mystique, Senator Kelly, Lady Deathstrike, Sabretooth, Toad and Nightcrawler.

Smith says Mystique's sexy, head-to-toe silicone coating is probably the most innovative costume he's come up with because it "sticks to the 3D shape of the body."

Doors open Friday at noon, and the exhibit will be on display until March 2013.

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