GOSHEN — Place a makeup brush between Sarah Elizabeth Miller’s fingers and she’ll create magic — just don’t ask her about algebra.
“I’ve always been an art kid,” Miller said by phone Wednesday. “You know, when I was a little kid, you hand me a box of crayons and scissors and I’m content for hours; you hand me some math homework and I look at you and start crying.”
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia — “North Hollywood,” as it’s known by some — Miller is a makeup artist for the Netflix series “Travelers,” starring Eric McCormack of “Will and Grace” fame. The Bethany Christian grad and 2005 Goshen College alumna also works special-effects wizardry in a Vancouver shop, “building prosthetics or whatever is required for a show or movie.”
“Doing all kinds of design work for theater has been my thing for years and years,” she said. “I actually started at Bethany doing makeup for theater productions; that was my main role from freshman year on.”
Earlier this week, Miller made her way back to the Maple City for the 2017 River Bend Film Festival where she’ll take part in panel talks and host a makeup workshop, during which she’ll age her own mother by about 20 years while shedding time on the other half of her maternal model.
“The makeup creates the overall look of the character,” she explained. “It makes the actor feel their character if maybe they have dirt smudges or a mole even, something as simple as that just to kind of round out the character.”
Growing up in a Mennonite home, Miller said her mom “liked family-friendly movies and my dad liked ‘80s action movies.” Her imaginative mind began molding after reading “lots of crime novels” and taking an interest in sci-fi and fantasy stories. Although theater opportunities were accessible at the local level, absorbing the energy of a feature-film production set Miller’s course.
“It’s interesting because I knew absolutely nothing about film because it’s not a prevalent thing in Goshen, at least it for sure wasn’t when I was growing up,” she said. “My senior year of college at Goshen, ‘Lonesome Jim’ came to town. That was filming here and I had a couple days I was able to take off school and I was able to go be on set for a little bit and talk to makeup artists there.”
Miller mingled with the pros, asking questions “without being too annoying.” She served as a production assistant for two days, toting the makeup bags of department heads one day and picking up an actor from Chicago the next — not exactly movie magic.
“I guess it still instilled some excitement in me because I went after it,” Miller said, laughing. “It’s funny because it (a professional career) was never the plan. It just fell into place.”
The inspired student graduated GC with a bachelor’s degree in art and a minor in theater. She served as makeup artist and costume designer on multiple student productions. During a 2011 student makeup competition in New York, Miller was notified she made the cut for the second season of Syfy network’s reality makeup competition, “Face Off.”
After progressing to the final round of preliminary judging, Miller was not selected for season two, but was summoned not long after for season three.
In early 2012, Miller was working in an office when “the producers messaged me said ‘Can you give us info for website and send pictures?’
“That was in the morning and a couple hours later they asked if they could fly me down to LA for a final round of auditions Monday,” she said. “I went down Tuesday for season-three auditions and got cast.”
Miller said the show pitted contestants against each other in creating “Star Wars”-themed characters, a “Resident Evil”-style zombie and faces from the darker “Grimm” television series, among others. She nearly made it to the end before being nixed in the ninth episode.
Today, Miller said her aim is upward, with sights set on working toward a department head position. Until then, she’s keeping cool.
“I just wanna keep making — I’m sure you probably can’t print this,” she said, “but keep making cool s*** with cool people.”
Follow Geoff on Twitter @glesar_TGN