How to Become a Makeup Artist
The duties of a makeup artist working in the film industry look similar to those performed by a makeup artist in any other setting. The big difference between film makeup artists and cosmetologists is that makeup artists working in the movies are often called upon to create a huge variety of looks. A make up artist in the movies turns the ingenue into a bombshell, helps build the makeup on the mutant villain, and even coordinates with the costume department and director on color choices and other design elements. Makeup is an essential part of the entertainment industry — characters become alive under the hands of a talented makeup artist, and creates a three dimensional visual effect in the process.
Actors tell us that makeup allows them to commit even more to a role — if they feel they have been transformed into the character they are playing, their performance will look more natural. Whether or not that’s true isn’t the point — actors like a good makeup artist the way a model likes a good clothing designer. The best make up artists in film are cursed by the fact that their work is so natural, you can’t actually see it, or at least you don’t notice it. Audiences require the skills of a good makeup artist as well — bad makeup on a character can make the story unbelievable. Good special effects makeup can convince us to believe, even if just for a moment, that the villain really is a robot covered in human skin.
What kind of work do makeup artists in film do?
There are four main jobs for makeup artists in a movie’s makeup department. How many makeup artists work on a given project is directly related to how much makeup work the film needs and the size of the film’s budget. Generally, these four jobs exist on just about every film set.
Key Makeup Artist
They key make up artist is in charge of the entire makeup department on a given project. The key makeup artist does all the design work for each character, and then assigns a makeup artist who will work on that character.
Makeup artists are the workhorse of the makeup department — these are the individual artists who physically apply the makeup on the actors face or body.
Makeup Assistants work directly with Makeup artists to perform some of the more routine makeup tasks like overall body makeup and tool organization.
Makeup Effects Artist
These are the makeup artists that get to do weird things to actor’s faces and bodies. Makeup effects artists design and build special make up effects with tools like latex, animatronics, and prosthetic pieces. For instance, if a guy gets shot in a movie, and a packet of fake blood explodes out of his chest, it is often the makeup effects artist that gets to create that effect.
What skills should a makeup artist possess?
The most important personality trait for any creative artist is plain old tenacity — the ability to stick to your guns and work hard under any circumstances. When you do your first work as a makeup artist, usually as an assistants on a crappy film set or the pilot of a television show that everyone knows won’t get picked up, think back to the free work you once did on equally crappy student films, or low budget university news programs. Constantly consider how far you’ve advanced rather than focusing on the work you’re not getting. Strange as it seems, the most important skill for a makeup artist (besides a knowledge of makeup technique) is a positive mental attitude. Think of it this way — all it takes to catapult yourself onto a feature film set is one good relationship with an actor, producer, or unit director. Many actors and directors develop an affinity for a makeup artist and will ask for them by name at the beginning of their next projects — instant job.
Having said that, it is important for a wannabe makeup artist to attend a good Cosmetology school, and get top notch grades. While attending Cosmetology school is not mandatory, it may be difficult to get work when you’re first starting out without the education a Cosmetology school gives you, the portfolio you’ll have after Cosmetology school, and the certification in your hand. Los Angeles and New York are jam packed with Cosmetology schools that offer make up courses aimed at people who want to do makeup for film and television. These focused classes help you learn the craft, and you usually get a chance to meet with people in the makeup industry. An internship formed through one of these schools could easily turn into a full time job. Honestly, any advanced courses in art, design, theater, or television and film will look good on a job application.
Another important part of a makeup artist’s education is simply to experiment with makeup. Play around with all the tools you can get your hands on and become familiar with as many makeup products as you can. Watch movies — I can’t emphasize that enough. You should have an entire vocabulary of film history to work with — watch old movies, watch new movies, watch bad movies, watch good movies. Doesn’t matter what it is, just watch it. Learn from the mistakes and successes of makeup artists that have come before you.
Got any last minute advice?
If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember to be kind to the first and second AD, or “assistant director”. They may not be the highest figures on the totem pole, but they are essentially in charge of a given shoot for a feature film, and making them happy will make your job a million times easier. Piss off one of the ADs and you’re likely to find yourself without a job. Trust me on this one. A good make up artist is worthless without the ability to listen to the directors, actors, and producers and do what they demand, no questions asked. You are a creative entity, yes, but you are also required to be a “people person”, a yes man, and know when to kowtow to the head honchos. Long hours on a movie set tends to draw the worst out of people, and you won’t be making a ton of money right off the bat, but if you pair your natural talent for makeup with tenacity (and a good deal of brown nosing) you should be able to advance up the ranks quite fast.