What Does a Special Effects Makeup Artist Do?

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  • Written By: Nick Mann
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 21 February 2020
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Working as a special effects makeup artist is often fitting for someone with excellent artistic abilities and a love for film or theater. These individuals are responsible for choosing the makeup and other accessories needed to transform the appearance of actors in a production. While a degree in cosmetology is ideal, it's not usually necessary to obtain a position in this field. In fact, many people train under other professionals and work up to becoming a special effects makeup artist. Some of the main responsibilities of this job include researching character appearance, making character sketches, applying makeup, taking pictures of actors afterward and removing makeup.

For most productions, a special effects makeup artist will first research the appearance of each character. As part of this task, he will try to obtain a clear understanding of what each character's makeup and accessories should look like. Doing so is essential for effectively creating an appropriate look for each actor. To accomplish this, he might read over a script or communicate with a director or other individuals in charge of the production.


Once he has an idea of what each character should look like, a special effects makeup artist will usually make some sketches of each character. At this time, he will make a rough drawing of what he envisions a character should look like. He may also make notes of additional accessories that could be added. As he progresses, he will often edit his notes about a character's appearance until he is satisfied with the overall look.

After he has a final sketch, an individual will apply makeup and accessories to each character prior to filming or a play taking place. The complexity and amount of makeup can vary from character to character, but might involve adding wigs, making characters look aged and adding blood or wounds. In some cases, this might involve serious makeup additions for actors playing roles such as zombies or aliens and can take hours.

Many times, an individual will also take pictures of each actor after applying makeup. This is done to capture the exact appearance of an actor so that it can replicated later on. Doing this makes it easier for a special effects makeup artist to remember how each character looks and creates continuity.

Along with this, it's the job of a special effects makeup artist to remove each character's makeup at the end of each day. This includes taking off wigs, facial makeup and any other accessories an actor is wearing. He may need to also wash off an actor's skin to prevent irritation from chemicals within the makeup.


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Post 3

@Mor - I don't know if they'd bother with makeup at all in that case. It seems like the actors who are covered with digital effects usually end up wearing a kind of green-suit so that they can be translated into the computer.

But there would still be plenty of scope for makeup artists. Every time they have a massive battle scene it's still much more cost effective and realistic to create all the wounds with makeup rather than painting them on digitally and the same is true for more subtle features like elf ears or hobbit feet.

Post 2

@MrsPramm - I wonder how often they actually get to design the whole thing themselves though. Even if they used to get some creative control after reading the script and discussing it with the director, I'd imagine that these days they'd have to defer to the digital department, since a majority of characters end up being a blend of both digital effects and makeup (if they use makeup at all).

I could imagine the digital department designing the creatures and basically asking the makeup guys to create an additional version in case they need shots with the actors that require something extra.

Post 1

The coolest part of this job must be the creative control over designing the creatures that you're making the makeup for. Some of the aliens and other things I've seen onscreen over the years must have come out of some poor makeup person's nightmares because the average person just wouldn't be able to come up with something like that.

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