Makeup is often used in film to make actors and models more beautiful but it can also be used to make them look terrifying, battered, or cold-blooded. When a director needs an actor to become a shocking mutant zombie, they turn to the highly talented, special effects makeup artist. From Spock’s ears in the Star Trek movies to Uma Thurman’s radiant beauty, and Johnny Depp’s facial prosthetics in Edward Scissorhands, all sorts of movie magic have depended on the skill and creativity of movie makeup artists.
The movie director and the script may have a number of demands for intricate characters, and a film makeup artist may need to be skilled in creating classy, stylish looks or need to design or sculpt an actor’s appearance by showing age, injury or characteristics of a monster or cartoon character. From the earliest movies, makeup artists have had to syndicate their art with film technology. In the old silent films, makeup artists applied heavy yellow makeup to balance the effects of orthochromatic film that was impervious to the red end of the light range. There is a lot a special effects makeup that is not solely created directly by the artist and quite often, makeup and computer-created images merge together to create visions like Benjamin Button in “The Curious case of Benjamin Button” (2008). For that look, makeup was applied to actor Brad Pitts’ face in the usual way, but computer magic helped to age the actor.
Behind the scenes, the work of a makeup artist is a challenging one. But what exactly is it like to work as a movie make-up artist?
Working as a Movie Makeup Artist
The responsibilities of a movie makeup artist differ depending on the type of work and level of accountability that the makeup artist has. Union regulations categorise movie makeup artists based on the area of the actor’s body that the makeup is being applied to:
- A make-up artist is only able to apply makeup from the top of the head to the top of the breastbone, from fingertips to wrists and from toes to ankles.
- A body make-up artist applies makeup to any other areas of the actor’s body.
On the movie set, the makeup artists are allocated exclusive actors to look after and they will take detailed notes, sketches and photos as reference to help accomplish the right look. In order to maintain exactly the same look each day of filming, the makeup artist will usually make their own notes and take photos of the actor in make-up. During filming, the makeup artist will touch up the actor’s makeup and change it as required depending on which scene is being filmed
The actual process of applying the special effects makeup is a very time-consuming process, particularly if the make-up includes special effects. One example of how time-intensive the process is was turning Ron Perlman into Hellboy for the Hellboy movie. The makeup artist took two and a half hours every day to achieve the look which expanded into four hours with breaks for the actor. Even after performing such an enormous feat, at the end of the day, the makeup artist is then required to remove the actors’ makeup, hairpieces, prosthesis and other effects and store them for use the next day.