What Does A Special Effects Makeup Artist Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Alyssa OmandacCareer, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz

Special Effects Makeup Artists

Special Effects (SFX) Makeup Artists use makeup, latex, rubber, and other materials to alter the appearance of Actors in movies, TV shows, or theatrical performances. They apply makeup and artificial materials to Actors and extras.


Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.Confucius

Special Effects Makeup Artists are essential members of the art department for film, TV, or theatre productions. They help transform the appearance of Actors.

The work of a Special Effects Makeup Artist may involve adding makeup to represent the look of scars, tattoos, or other physical characteristics. They can also create the appearance of deformities and mutations.

Becoming a Special Effects Makeup Artist requires a wide range of skills. They need to understand cosmetology and the use of various materials to create realistic prosthetics. Some projects may also require hours of work and the use of multiple Makeup Artists.

What they do

Special Effects (SFX) Makeup Artists use makeup, latex, rubber, and other materials to alter the appearance of Actors in movies, TV shows, or theatrical performances. They apply makeup and artificial materials to Actors and extras.

Apply Makeup Effects to Actors

The main job of the SFX Makeup Artist is to apply makeup effects to Actors before filming a scene. They are typically among the first crew members to arrive on set, as some projects require extensive makeup effects.

Applying makeup may take just minutes or hours, depending on the complexity of the special effects. For example, creating the appearance of a bruise may only require a few minutes of work. Completely transforming an Actor into a creature could take all day.

Special Effects Makeup Artists often work in a dedicated trailer or room containing the various makeup and materials required for the job. The Actor sits in the makeup chair while the Makeup Artist applies the effects.

Collaborate with Multiple Teams

The SFX Makeup Artist is part of the hair and makeup department, which also includes the standard Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists. Depending on the size of the crew, the SFX Makeup Artist may report to the Key Makeup Artist, Art Director, or Production Designer.

On a typical project, the SFX Makeup Artist coordinates with the Costume Designer and Special Effects Supervisor. They collaborate to ensure that the face and body makeup effects work with the costumes and overall use of special effects in the scene.

Create Sculptures, Molds, and Prosthetics

Special Effects Makeup Artists may need to create molds and prosthetics to transform the look for an Actor or extra. For example, transforming someone into a monster may require a complete mask whereas creating the look for a broken nose may require a fake nose.

Prosthetics typically include flexible materials that are made from molds to achieve a specific look and fit perfectly on the Actor. The Special Effects Makeup Artist may start by sculpting the design of the prosthetic. A mold is then made from the sculpture.

A material, such as silicone or latex, is poured into the mold, creating the prosthetic material. After attaching the prosthetic, makeup is typically applied to blend it with the skin or other materials.

Reapply Makeup and Effects Throughout the Day

The Special Effects Makeup Artist is often needed throughout the day to reapply makeup and effects. Movement and sweat can ruin the appearance of the effects. To maintain a consistent look, the Makeup Artist may take photos from multiple angles to use as references throughout the shoot.

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What is the job like


You Get to Create Interesting Effects

Working as an SFX Makeup Artist is interesting, as you create a variety of effects, from monsters and zombies to scars and bruises.

You May Work with Recognizable Individuals

As you advance in your career, you may work on bigger projects with famous Actors and Directors.

You Do Not Need a College Education

Most SFX Makeup Artists do not hold degrees. They typically complete vocational training.

You May Work in a Variety of Locations

As a freelance worker, you can work anywhere that you choose and may need to travel to various locations for specific projects.


Some Projects Take Hours to Complete

Extensive makeup effects can take 8 to 10 hours to complete and you may need to reapply the same effects each day for weeks.

You Need to Constantly Look for New Work

SFX Makeup Artists are freelancers, requiring you to look for new work to maintain a steady income.

Where they work

Film Studios and Television Studios
Local and Major Theatre Companies
Festivals and Event Organizers
Theme Parks

Film studios, television studios, and Broadway theatre companies are common employers for experienced Special Effects Makeup Artists. However, many Makeup Artists enter this field in smaller markets, such as local theatre companies, festivals, and event organizers.

Some theme parks also employ Special Effects Makeup Artists to create specific characters or alter the look of employees to match the theme of the park. Most Special Effects Makeup Artists are freelancers and work for these employers on individual projects or contracts.

How to become one

Step 1: Start Developing Your Skills and Knowledge

High school students can prepare for this career by studying the special makeup effects used in movies and TV shows. Practice the techniques that you see on film to create original makeup effects for projects with your friends.

Step 2: Attend a Makeup Artist Training Program

A variety of vocational schools and technical institutes offer training programs for aspiring Makeup Artists, including SFX Makeup Artists. Attending a program helps you develop your skills.

Step 3: Find Work in Local Theatre Productions

After completing your training, start offering your SFX makeup services as a freelancer. Common starting points include theatre productions and other small local projects.

Step 4: Build a Portfolio

Maintain a portfolio of each project that you complete. Include high-resolution photos of your creations and makeup effects.

Step 5: Look for Bigger Projects

As you develop your portfolio and gain more experience in your local area, start branching out to major cities and entertainment hubs, such as Los Angeles and New York City. Look for bigger projects and continue to hone your craft.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Artist

People with this personality likes to work with designs and patterns. They prefer activities that require self-expression and prefer work that can be done without following a clear set of rules.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

Special Effects Makeup Artists should have outgoing, friendly personalities, as they may spend hours applying makeup and prosthetics to Actors. A friendly personality is also useful for networking and gaining helpful industry connections for landing new projects. Due to the long hours involved in this job, they should also have patience.

Standing out as a Special Effects Makeup Artist and continuing to receive work requires creativity and a flair for interesting designs. You should possess strong artistic abilities and an understanding of the various materials used to perform your job.

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