Make-Up Artist

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Make-Up Artist


Make-up artists have the power to transform a 20-year-old woman into a 50-year-old, or a Hispanic man into a Caucasian man. Make-up artists can add grotesque features to actors' bodies and faces, such as elongated Pinocchio noses or a third eye. Film and theater stars have built entire careers and personas with the help of skilled make-up artists. These artists prepare performers for appearances in stage, television and film productions by applying make-up to portray a character, enhance beauty or create special effects.

Creating character make-up requires careful historical research. Make-up artists must read and analyze the script and note all events that change each character's appearance, such as time periods, weather elements, injuries and sickness. Changes in a character's physical appearance are carefully recorded, as the make-up artist will have to duplicate the same look several times. Also, since films are shot out of sequence, they must be able to reproduce certain features, such as a cut, which might only appear in specific scenes.

In general, make-up artists must assess a performer's skin to ensure that make-up will not cause breakouts or skin irritations. They know how to properly care for and use numerous types of make-up and related equipment, including accessories, wigs, facial hairpieces and special adhesives. Make-up artists also have to take into account what kind of lights will be used as diverse pigments are affected differently by light and produce altered colors. They should also be able to create the illusion of three-dimensions using highlight and shadow and have a broad knowledge of skin care, esthetics, human anatomy and how aging affects the face and body.

Special effects, fantasy and action films have created alternative jobs for make-up artists, focusing on form-altering prosthetics and alien creatures, instead of glamorizing movie stars. For example, in Star Trek, some of the make-up artistry is a combination of prosthetics and touch up make-up. Other more fun techniques include painting on bruises, tattoos, and skin alterations. Even with the advent of computer generated imagery, film and theater stars must check-in with the hair and make-up trailer before heading off to a shoot.

Make-up artists need to build and maintain files of people's faces representing different nationalities, historical periods, and interesting or unusual looks. They also need to build a portfolio of photographs or videotapes of their best work to show potential employers. Make-up artists must supply their own equipment and make-up. A good, basic make-up kit costs about $1,000, but experienced, successful artists often have kits that cost up to $10,000. Finally, make-up artists are required to keep up to date with the latest make-up fashion trends and technologies.
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  Interests and Skills  
Make-up artists should have excellent color vision, creativity and imagination. They must be able to accept criticism and suggestions by directors and producers. They must be personable because they spend a great deal of time with actors when applying make-up; therefore they must make sure that the people who are getting made-up are comfortable. Thus, self-confidence and an outgoing personality work well on stages and sets.

On feature films, they often work with a team of make-up artists therefore, they need to be able to bounce ideas off coworkers and formulate a common look. They should be flexible and be willing to work extremely long hours. Make-up artists should enjoy compiling information about character requirements and developing innovative approaches to their work.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Create character drawings or models based upon independent research to augment period production files
  • Examine sketches, photographs, and plaster models to obtain desired character image depiction
  • Confer with stage or motion picture officials and performers to determine dress or make-up alterations
  • Study production information such as character, period settings, and situations to determine make-up requirements
  • Design rubber or plastic prostheses and requisition materials such as wigs, beards, and special cosmetics
  • Enhance a performers' features under conditions of close-up camera shots or the scrutiny of a live audience
  • Restore the normal color values of the hands and face under bright production lighting
  • Create special features or effects such as scars, aging or a particular look for a character (e.g. evil or suspicious)
  • Create the illusion of a distorted or alien body (often with the assistance of three-dimensional prosthetics) by attaching prostheses to a performer
  • Touch up actor's make-up between scenes, takes and set breaks
  • A typical day for make-up artists in the film industry may involve standing for as many as 14 hours per day. However, there is a lot of down time spent watching and waiting. Make-up artists work under pressure to finish the job within a set period of time, as they must have the actors ready for the scheduled shoot times. Depending on the complexity of the make-up, sometimes it will take hours of work to achieve the desired effect.
  • Make-up artists will travel to location shoots for television or film, and work in all kinds of weather and terrain. They are required to supply their own make-up and the bags they carry to work sites can weigh up to 25 pounds. Most people think the job is so glamorous however, there is a lot of down time and stressful situations.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Make-up artists work on a contract basis for employers in the film, stage and television industries, including film and video production companies, recording studios, television studios, theater companies, modeling agencies and dance and opera companies. Make-up artists work with news broadcasters and actors in television, motion picture, stage and theater productions.
  • Until make-up artists establish contacts and build a reputation in the entertainment industry, they usually do other types of work as well. They may do personal make-overs for people preparing for special occasions such as weddings, graduations, photography sessions or Halloween, work as sales clerks at cosmetic counters in department stores or as cosmeticians, teach in the fashion and modeling industry, or do work for funeral homes.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for make-up artists? Make-up artists can move into hairstyling, mask making or other related fields. They can learn how to create prosthetic limbs and body parts to incorporate into their make-up application and artistry and work on fantasy and special effects films. They could also teach make-up application at make-up artistry school or esthetician school.

Another area some choose to move into is sales, or working in retail cosmetics, doing make-overs. Some make-up artists may open up their own business and work for individuals at weddings and other functions. Also, if they keep their skills broad and learn various styles and techniques and move into fashion and other commercial work.

  Educational Paths  
There is no standard educational path or minimum education requirement for becoming a make-up artist. Due to increased competition in this field, most take courses in stage and film make-up offered in theater schools.

As with all positions in the film and theater industries, apprenticeship and on the job training are great learning experience. Also, volunteer work for local theaters, non-profit film companies or community cable television stations is a great way to gain experience and recognition.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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