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How Movie Make-up Artists Work

Becoming a Movie Make-up Artist

Skilled make-up artists receive recognition like Rick Baker who won the make-up Oscar for his work on "American Werewolf in London."
Skilled make-up artists receive recognition like Rick Baker who won the make-up Oscar for his work on "American Werewolf in London."
© George Rose/Getty Images

Becoming a movie make-up artist often starts in childhood. At least, that's how it worked for some well-known make-up artists.

  • As a teen, John Caglione Jr., who won an Oscar for "Dick Tracy" (1990), experimented with face casts and did make-up for high school plays.
  • John Chambers, who earned an honorary Oscar for "Planet of the Apes" (1968), cut other neighborhood kids' hair.
  • Four-time Oscar winner Stan Winston drew and made puppets as a child.

That said, there's no direct path to becoming a film make-up artist. Chambers, for example, was an Army dental technician who honed his craft with prosthetics while working with disfigured veterans. Caglione went from high school to television, where he made cones for the Coneheads on "Saturday Night Live." And Winston received a college art degree before completing a makeup apprenticeship at Walt Disney Studios [sources: New York Times and IMDB].


As with any other job in the film industry, you'll need knowledge, experience, skill, luck and the right contacts. For starters, you'll want to consider education. That could be through a cosmetology school. Once completed, you'll have to pass a state licensing exam. Or you could consider an art degree from a four-year college or a degree from a two- or four-year college that offers film-related programs. These schools often include a movie make-up course in their curriculum and also can give you the chance to learn more about the film-making industry. In addition, schools with a film focus may be able to help you get internships and jobs and make contacts with classmates and alumni in the business.

Student films can give you a start on your portfolio, which will be a valuable tool in seeking work. Include photos of your work and sketches of your ideas to show how skilled and versatile you can be. Make-up artists and directors will leaf through the portfolio to see what you can do.

Independent films often don't require union membership, but major Hollywood feature films do. You'll want to consider meeting the requirements for union membership. To join Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, Local 706, in Los Angeles, for example, you'll need to have worked 60 days per year for three of the last five years on non-union film or television productions under contract with an employer within Los Angeles County. Union requirements vary, so check your local for its requirements.

Although school will give you a start, your training really will come from working in the industry. That may mean starting with television or theater, and it may mean starting as gofer for an established make-up artist. But by being on a set working with make-up challenges, you'll learn how production works and pick up tips on how to be effective as a make-up artist. You'll also be able to add to your portfolio and make contacts to help you move up.

To keep from being left behind, don't forget the inevitable link between make-up and technology -- and keep up with what's new. Learn about computer-generated images and how your work can combine with them for a better, cheaper product. And become knowledgeable about the high-definition world, with its more powerful resolution that demands carefully made-up performers.

With solid training behind you, a strong portfolio and your eyes to the future, you should be ready to create some movie make-up magic of your own.

For lots more information about movie make-up artists and related topics, check out the links below.

­Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "The Budget Book for Film and Television.” Koster, Robert. Focal Press, 2004, page 211. (
  • “The Complete Make-up Artist.” Delamar, Penny. Northwestern University Press, 2002, pages 125-126. (,M1)
  • "Emergency! Behind the Scene.” Yokley, Richard and Sutherland, Rozane. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2007, page 291.(,M1)
  • “Film Facts.” Robertson, Patrick. Watson-Guptill, 2001, page 148.
  • "The Hair, Makeup and Styling Career Guide.” Wright, Crystal. Set the Pace Publishing Group, 2003, page 6.16. (
  • “Hollywood 101.” Levy, Frederick. Macmillan, 2000, page 152. (,M1)
  • “Independent Feature Film Production.”  Goodell, Greg. Macmillan, 2003, page 116. (
  • Internet Movie Database: Listing for Lord Voldemort. (
  • Internet Movie Database: Entry for 'Hellboy'. (
  • Internet Movie Database: Entry for 'The Nutty Professor'. (
  • Internet Movie Database, listing for 'Dick Tracy'. (
  • Internet Movie Database, listing for 'Planet of the Apes'.
  • "John Chambers: Apes’ Makeup Won an Oscar." Mclellan, Dennis. Los Angeles Times. Sept. 1, 2001. (
  • Los Angeles Times blog, Entertainment News, June 2008, copy of studio release on death of Stan Winston. (
  • “Oscar-Winning Makeup Artist Goes Retail.” Fischler, Marcelle New York Times, by Marcelle Fischler, Sept. 28, 2003.­