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Special Effects Makeup Artists: Painting The Human Canvas

"Makeup is on every person you see -- from the news reporter in Venice, to the guy in the Ford car commercial, to the creatures in Star Wars," says Mary Hagen, school director of Elegance International (Hollywood, CA), the oldest makeup school in the country, continually accredited for over 30 years.

Combine the worlds of art, glamour, fashion, beauty, and design, and apply them to the human face and body -- that's the expansive world of being a makeup artist. Whether your interest is in preparing the stars for TV cameras, creating your own makeup line, freelancing on movie sets and commercials, or making fantasy come to life with special effects pieces, there are endless career possibilities within this exciting field.

Trade Textbooks for Technique
The makeup industry is a fast-paced world where the ability to execute under pressure is key. As a result, much of makeup artists' education is spent learning in the spotlight -- literally.

"The atmosphere at our schools is hands-on, applied education," explains Elizabeth Hope, school director at Makeup Designory (New York, NY). "We mimic the career-world setting -- our tests are timed as if the students are on movie sets, the lighting is actual lighting they would use in trailers, and we create the environment of what backstage at a fashion show would be like."

It also helps a makeup artist to walk a mile in the subject's shoes. "Our students don't work on models -- they work on each other," says Hope. "Until someone pokes you in the eye with a brush, you're never going to know how that feels! Our students learn to be sensitive to that."

The Magic of Special Effects Makeup Programs
When it comes to special effects makeup programs, the creative possibilities are endless -- your imagination can run wild with the continuously evolving techniques and materials used in rendering remarkable visual creations.

"In our preliminary special effects makeup program, students learn the basis of running foam, which is used to help create appliances -- makeup pieces attached to the body," explains Hagen. "Let's say you're going to create an accident victim. We teach our students to take a plaster cast of the subject's head, and then we use parts of their cast to create latex pieces that look just like the person's face. If we want to create a bruise, or a cut, we can do that and make several duplications at the same time. This way, if you're filming the same scene for a week, you can recreate the same look."

Not only do makeup schools teach the practical knowledge and techniques necessary to stay competitive, but they teach how to be business savvy as well.

"Students here learn about creating a budget," says Hagen. "One course involves coming up with an idea for a proposed movie, and then creating a character design, writing up a budget, and then presenting that to a panel. It's exactly what you'd have to do if you were on a movie set."

The Face of Change
The industry of media makeup is always evolving, but the advent of high definition television is truly upping the ante for artists -- and with that challenge comes opportunity. "High definition television has thousands more [pixels] on the screen - when you look at it, it's almost like the person on TV is standing right there in the room with you," says Hagen. "This means that our attention to detail needs to be greater -- everything is going to have to be made to perfection."

As a result, the demand for truly skilled makeup artists will increase. "Years ago, maybe someone who had a father in the movie industry could get put on a film set as an assistant," says Hagen. "We anticipate that in the next year or two basically every single person who works in the media makeup world will need a well-educated brain and a very skillful hand -- a real artistic ability -- to compete."

But along with evolving media technology comes advances in makeup technology as well -- particularly in special effects. "One of our faculty members is doing amazing work with animatronics -- makeup that literally looks like real animals," says Hagen. "He specializes in gorillas, but his production house works on all types of movies -- they did 'Jurassic Park.' One day he walked around campus in his gorilla suit and people ran screaming -- it looks, feels, and moves so realistically!"

A Touch of Competition
Well, maybe more than a touch -- you're not the only one who finds the makeup world fascinating, so be prepared to encounter a climate that forces you to truly know your stuff. "There are a lot of artists vying for each job, and most makeup artists freelance," explains Michael Baruch, CEO of Fred Segal Beauty School (Santa Monica, CA). "One way to combat this is getting representation from an agency."

However, the savvy makeup artist can parlay a break into the industry into countless other opportunities. "Let's say someone gets an opportunity to do makeup on a TV series," he explains. "Beyond that TV series, the actors involved will often be in many other ancillary projects -- ads, movies, appearances, talk shows, photo shoots -- and if they like you, they will hire you out for those as well. A position on a successful TV series could pay around $5,000 for two days of shooting, but those extra random jobs could pay as much as $5,000 a day."

With the right training at makeup schools, drive, and skills, the possibilities are virtually endless for today's media makeup artists. Whether you're touching up a news anchor during a commercial break, or turning a human being into an orangutan, the world is your canvas.

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