How Movie Make-up Artists Work

Working as a Movie Make-up Artist

Turning Ron Perlman into Hellboy took between two and four hours every day.
Turning Ron Perlman into Hellboy took between two and four hours every day.
© Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images

Working as a movie make-up artist means starting work early in the day. During production, the make-up artists need to be at the location before dawn each day to lay out supplies and any special prostheses or other equipment for each actor.

The movie make-up artists work off a schedule of make-up, hair and wardrobe calls for each actor. The assistant director sets the schedule, based on the scenes to be shot that day and passes it out late the day before.

Each film make-up artist is assigned specific actors to look after. The make-up artist will have detailed notes, sketches and photos as reference to help achieve the right look. And for continuity, the make-up artist probably will make his own notes and maybe even shoot photos of the actor in make-up. During the day, the make-up artist or an assistant will touch up the actor's make-up and change it as required by the scenes being filmed [source: Penny Delamar].

Achieving the right look can be a time-consuming process, particularly if the make-up includes special effects. Turning Ron Perlman into Hellboy for the movie of the same name (2004) took two-and-a-half hours every day that stretched into four with breaks for the actor. Foam prosthetic pieces covered the actor's back, chest and head. A full-front facial prosthetic covered all but the actor's lower lip, which had its own piece. Once everything was on, the suit had to be painted and hair added [sources: IMDB].

Finding and working with the right materials takes creativity. While movie make-up artists often are adept at making molds for nose prostheses, they also have to solve dilemmas like making Eddie Murphy's bodysuit wiggle in "The Nutty Professor" (1996). The solution for that turned out to be nothing special -- just ordinary water balloons in strategic places [source: IMDB].

At the end of the day, the make-up artist has to remove the actors' make-up, hairpieces, prosthetic noses and other effects and store them all so they are easy to find the next morning.

While working as a make-up artist can be grueling but fun, movie jobs are not easy to find. Becoming experienced means starting at the bottom as an assistant, or perhaps even in television or theater. From there, an aspiring make-up artist has to work his way up the ladder by learning on the job, as well as building a strong portfolio of work and gaining a reputation with directors, actors and key make-up artists.

Does a career as a movie make-up artist sound interesting? Go to the next page to find out more about becoming one.