The Changing Face of Make-up in Film

Make-up artists have always been an essential part of the film crew. Transferring the art from theatre, make-up has made the stars on the silver screen more beautiful and more terrifying than anything we would ever see in real life. Directors like George Lucas have long relied on special effects make-up artists to create out of this world characters; and much of the guts and gore we see in film are all done by the make-up team.

The art of make-up has evolved into a new role with ever changing technology. Everything from the development of higher-resolution, 3D cameras, to post-production software like CGI, has had a profound impact on the film make-up industry.

Technology has replaced some of the work of make-up artists and has simultaneously made higher demands for perfection and artistry.

“A lot of effects that used to be make-up are now often CG, putting SFX makeup artists out of a job! It can often be cheaper and save time to do it ‘in post’ with varying results,” explains SFX make-up artist Florence Carter.

Yet high definition cameras of today’s film industry are unforgiving on special effects make-up, forcing artists to evolve higher quality silicone products, and innovate new ways of working. “Airbrushing is increasingly popular as the atomized make-up creates a fine layer of tiny dots on the skin that are less visible on the screen. Airbrushing has been popular for special effects make-up for many years for colouring, shading and when used with stencils,” adds Carter.

Silicone bald cap and mask by Florence Carter.

Prosthetic pieces by Florence Carter.

Most recently special effects make-up manufacturers  have had to work to develop products that look good in 3D films. Artists can no longer rely on flat angles to make their work look real. They now have to deve lop more extensive and full prosthetic, wax, and silicone pieces that look more real than ever. The development of 3D printing technology has had a profound impact on the creation of such designs, both in the make-up and visual effects industries.

Rick Baker is a seven-time Academy Award winner for special effects make-up. He was the force behind the look and feel of the characters in Star Wars, The Exorcist and An American Werewolf in London among many other films. He recently took his artistic visions and channelled them through a 3D printer, to help develop the technology and understand how to use it to create visual characters. After several trial and error attempts, he was able to create a Popeye piece doesn’t look like it came from a 3D printer. Make-up innovators like Rick Baker are proving that the way special effects are achieved is constantly changing.

To learn more about Special Effects make-up, or to get inspiration for characters, please visit Florence Carter’s website.

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