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Careers in Special Effects Makeup

by Kristin Swain

When a director needs to give an actor a black eye, make him age 30 years in a few hours or turn the actor into a zombie, a special effects makeup artist is called in to make the transformation. As a special effects makeup artist you may work in film, theater, on television or in theme parks, among other places. To enter into this field you need to receive training in cosmetology and specialized training in latex, rubber, blood and prosthetic application. You also may need to relocate to a major city, such as New York City or Los Angeles.

Theme Park

Theme parks often have a need for special effects makeup artists to work year-round. These artists design and apply character makeup and prosthetics to park performers. In addition to working on regular characters and shows in the park, you may be asked to work special events at the park, such as holiday shows. In this position, special effects makeup artists may work all over the park to create looks for many different characters during a single shift. As an artist you must be able to apply makeup, wigs and prosthetics. You must be able to design and carry out the application of makeup from studying a template created by other makeup artists or character creators.

Movies, Theater and Television

Film, theater and television productions all need special effects makeup artists to help create practical effects on actors. The artists may create wounds, bruises, aging effects, add hair or build mutations on to actors. When working in theater the artist may have to do several makeup applications every day to make sure that the actors are ready for each performance. In film and television, creating the practical special effects makeup helps to develop a seamless viewing experience between the actors and computer generated effects. Special effects makeup artists in these industries should know how to create and apply rubber, latex and silicon appliances to achieve the costume designer's desired effect.

Special Events

Special effects makeup artists professionally enjoy the holidays. During certain times of the year pop-up, or temporary, events occur, such as haunted houses and hayrides at Halloween and holiday villages at Christmas. When these events need zombies or elves, special effects makeup artists are brought in. These artists are temporary or freelance contract workers who are employed for the span of the event only. They may work for several weeks before the event to build prosthetics and create the template for each character's makeup. The artists work daily throughout the event to dress characters before they go to greet or scare guests.

Creature Studio

Creature studios are contracted by studios to develop complex costumes for films and television, animatronic monsters for theme parks and special masks for theater productions, among other requested special effects looks and props. The creature studios that build these types of creatures may work in industries other than entertainment, such as fashion. Special effects makeup artists generally work full time at creature studios where work is contracted to the studio and can change frequently. To work at a creature studio, artists must study cosmetology, special effects makeup, sculpting, molding and animatronics.

About the Author

Residing in Los Angeles, Kristin Swain has been a professional writer since 2008. Her experience includes finance, travel, marketing and television. Swain holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Georgia State University.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images