From The School of Professional Makeup
Prosthetics makeup and special effects makeup has, in one form or another, fascinated audiences from the early silent pictures to modern day blockbusters. Generations of makeup artists have created visual wonder and timeless images which have entered our pop culture and stirred our imaginations leaving some of us the with the indelible mark of thrill, horror and inspiration.
In the early days, special effects makeup in movies was certainly a struggle with the primitive products of the time. The classic Frankenstein movie is a typical example of waxes and collodion, used for special effects that looked good for the era, but were limiting and fussy for the longevity of the shoot. With the evolution of the industry, there are now various materials makeup artists can utilize in new and incredibly bold ways.
Prosthetics and special effects makeup artists wear many hats; designer, sculptor, mold maker, lab technician, painter and on set makeup artist. These titles utilize many disciplines in order to manifest certain effect and deliver the end product. Holistic training gives the artists not only the technical side of the trade, but the sensitivity and savvy to understand relationships within the crew infrastructure, and to deal professionally and confidently with producers and directors. With special effects makeup, the excitement is in the process. Starting with a brick of clay and finishing with a masterpiece is a truly amazing and rewarding experience.
Differentiating between prosthetics and special effects is important. Prosthetics is a process of life casting, sculpting, and mould making to develop an appliance from these procedures for facial or body application. Props are also manufactured by this venue. Special Effects is a broad-spectrum series of makeup applications, which may be executed literally in minutes or hours, depending on the nature of the effect.
A simple bruise (in any stage) or an advanced aging may be the agenda of the script that day. A wax nose tip elf or a decaying zombie may be their counterpart. Regardless of the effect, the FX artist must also know the "why" behind the creation. Why do the effects look the way they do? How does a drug addict in their late twenties prematurely age? What does a cadaver look like in stage two decomposition in a humid environment? The artist must research and be medically correct before adding, if at all, the Hollywood drama of slight exaggeration.
Although character makeup and casualty effects are timeless, the products and technologies are ever changing, which keeps the most seasoned artists engaged and continually learning. Script analysis, budgeting, understanding production procedures, and meeting time lines are also part of everyday life for the professional special effects makeup artist.
As long as there are filmmakers there will always be prosthetic & special effects makeup artists. Since the field of makeup artistry is continually evolving, if the writers can imagine it, makeup artists can create it.
Photo: Instructor Matt DeWilde with a student in The School of Professional Makeup's downtown studio.