While makeup is often used in film to make actors and actresses look more beautiful, it can also be used to make them look scary, beat-up, or inhuman. When a director needs a handsome actor to become a horrifying mutant zombie, he or she turns to the considerable talents of the special effects makeup artist.
Special effects makeup artists will spend much of their time using cosmetics and appliances to create the appearance of bruises, cuts, blood, old age, deformities, mutations, and more. This specialist artist is charged with creating monsters using makeup and prosthetics, often made of latex, silicone, or rubber. Special effects makeup artists are different from regular makeup artists: Instead of beautifying actors and actresses, they often spend their time doing the exact opposite. Even in the world of computer-generated special effects, special effects makeup is still important in helping create a seamless connection between live actors and actresses and the fantasy world around them; imagine Frodo with normal, hairless feet and perfectly rounded ears, and you understand how important the special effects makeup artist’s tiniest jobs can sometimes be. Artists in this position must answer to both the costume designer and the special effects department.
Skills & Education
Special effects makeup artists need all the same skills and abilities as their more conventional makeup artist brothers and sisters, including a background in cosmetology and extensive knowledge of makeup materials. However, they also need an education in other materials such as latex, rubber, fake blood, and other materials that will be used to create realistic-looking prosthetics; realism is the goal of all special effects makeup artists. Because their subjects will spend hours upon hours in the makeup chair being transformed into orcs, vampires, or Benjamin Button, special effects makeup artists need great communication skills to go along with their artistry and creative solutions.
What to Expect
Special effects makeup artists have performed their duties in the film industry since its beginning, and have helped contribute to the suspension of reality that is key to the immersive film experience. Because the job requires you to focus less on making actors pretty and more on making them look monstrous, bloodied, or alien, you will find your talents employed mostly on science fiction and horror films; though you’ll also be essential on any movie or television show that needs a character to get a black eye, age 20 years in a day, or come out of the closet as a strange half-plant, half-human creature. Long hours on set and making actors feel comfortable during the eight hours in the makeup chair are just a couple of the tasks you’ll face, but the rest of the job will be spent making artifice look natural.
Top tips for a career as a special effects makeup artist
- Have an interest in creative subjects
- Choose a suitable college course
- Apply for the correct level of jobs and work experience
- Maintain a decent portfolio and online presence
- Network within the industry
- Keep up to date with new products and techniques
- Be conscientious and self-motivated
- Be business-savvy, both about your own financial interests and working to job budgets
- Don’t be afraid of failure — mistakes are inevitable. It’s important to understand why things go wrong, so use praise and criticism constructively as they’re equally important. You’ll never grow if you don’t take them on board
- Don’t give up!