From massive scars and head wounds to flawless skin and supermodel good looks, many actors have only one person to thank – the make up artist. All sorts of cinematic magic have relied on the skill and imagination of the movie make-up artists.
Depending on the ideas and thoughts of the director and the script, film make-up artists made need to put their skills to the test and push the boundaries in order to get the perfect look. Make up artists need to be able to adapt from creating a sophisticated, high fashion look to showing an actor who has aged 50 years, has an injury or even looks like an alien or cartoon character. From the earliest days of the movies, make-up artists have had to combine their art with film-making technology. Actors in silent films, for example, had heavy yellow make-up to compensate for the monochromatic film that was insensitive to the red end of the light spectrum. Today, make up techniques and computer-generated images come together to create visions like “Spock”‘ ears from Star Trek and Hellboy’s red facial prosthetic.
Behind the magic on the screen, the world of a make-up artist is a demanding one. These facial “masks” can take hours to create just to be used in a very short seen in a movie, yet the movies would not be half as effective without these characteristics.
Responsibilities of a Movie Make-up Artist
The responsibilities of a movie make-up artist vary depending on the type of work and level of responsibility that the make-up artist has. Hollywood union regulations classify movie make-up artists based on the area of the actor’s body being made up:
– A make-up artist is allowed to apply cosmetics only 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 cosmetics as required to any other areas of the actor’s body. While the regular make-up artist generally works throughout filming, the body make-up artist is hired per day when needed.
Different Make-Up Artists and their Role in the Film
– The key make-up artist is in charge of the make-up department for a movie. They decide what will be the best approach to the make up of a certain character and make sure that this idea is seen through. During pre-production, the head make-up artist reads the script and meets with the director and screenwriter to discuss their needs and ideas for the film’s make up. This is done to make sure the final product shown in post-production is the same as the starting idea. The key make-up artist also will work with the main hair designer, costume designer, set designer and director of lighting throughout the film. Together they will discuss exactly what is that needs to be done in order to pull the make up off successfully. The head of make-up then researches and determines how to design the make-up and special make-up effects for the film. They will often need to work with special effects companies in order to pull off some harsher make up looks (such as scars, major wounds on limbs, major disfiguration of a body part etc.) The key make-up artist also hires the additional make-up artists needed, sets the work schedule and supervises the make up team during production.
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– The senior make-up artist oversees the work of the other make-up artists and usually become primarily responsible for the actions of all the make-up artists. This means making sure that actors’ make-up remains the same or changes as filming requires, such as the addition of scars after an accident or evidence of aging as the film progresses. This job is vital in a film and needs the artist to be 100% focused, commuted and knowledgeable about the script.
– Make-up artists do the actual work in making actors’ looks match the designs set for the movie. They also apply and touch up the make-up when necessary.
– Assistant make-up artists handle lower-level make-up chores such as fixing up mistakes in the make-up and assisting the make-up artists.
Working as a Make-up Artist in Movies
Working as a movie make-up artist means starting work very early in the day and working for very long periods of time. During daily production, the make-up artists need to be at the location before dawn each day to lay out supplies, get prepared for the actors and set up any other special equipment for each specific actor. The movie make-up artists work off a schedule of make-up, hair and wardrobe calls for each actor. The assistant director sets the schedule, based on the scenes to be shot that day and passes it out late the day before. This then lets all the different departments know what exactly will need to be done that day and how many hours they will be working for.
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Each film make-up artist is assigned specific actors to look after. The make-up artist will have detailed notes, sketches and photos as reference to help achieve the right look for their actor. Throughout the day, the make-up artist or an assistant will touch up the actor’s make-up and change it as required by the scenes being filmed at that time.
Achieving the right look can be a time-consuming process, particularly if the make-up includes special effects “Hellboy”‘s make-up took four hours everyday with only short breaks in between for the actor. Foam pieces covered the actor’s back, chest and head. Once everything was on, the suit had to be painted and hair was added. Imagine having to go through this process every single day?
At the end of the filming day, another long process has to begin for the make-up artists. The make-up artist has to remove all the actors’ make-up, hairpieces, prosthetic facial features (if any were used) and other effects and store them all so they are easy to find the following morning. While working as a make-up artist can be grueling but fun, movie jobs are not easy to find for most people and it is very difficult to break into the market of films. Becoming an experienced make-up artist means starting at the bottom, as an assistant. From there, an aspiring make-up artist has to work his/her way up the ladder by learning on the job, as well as building a strong portfolio of work and gaining a reputation with directors, actors and key make-up artists. For some it may take years to be able to achieve what they set out to achieve while for others luck and pure, raw talent may be enough to win them the job in a higher ranking.
Becoming a Make-Up Artist
Just like any other job in the film industry, you’ll need knowledge, experience, skill, luck and the right contacts in order to make your mark.
For starters, you shall want to consider the right education. The best way to start off would be through a cosmetology school. You may even consider an art school if you wish to work with the prosthetic side of the movie make-up world. These schools often include a movie make-up course in their curriculum and also can give you the chance to learn more about the film-making industry and how to become apart of it. In addition to this, schools with a film focus may be able to help you get internships, jobs and make contacts with potential clients. Once completed, you will have to pass a state licensing exam. This will give you the license to work as a registered make-up artist. Student films can give you a start on your work portfolio, which will be a valuable tool in seeking work and becoming successful in finding a job. Make-up artists and directors will then be able to sift through your portfolio to see what you are able to do and can therefore decide where to go from their.
Major Hollywood feature films require union membership which is unlike independent films. Although school will give you a good heads start, your training really will come from working in the industry itself. That may mean starting off with make-up in television or theatre, or even starting as an assistant to an already established make-up artist. By being on a set working with make-up challenges, you’ll learn how production works and pick up tips on how to be effective as a make-up artist.
With solid training behind you, a strong portfolio and your eyes to the future, you should be ready to create some movie make-up magic of your own.
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