How to become a film makeup artist (with examples)

Updated 22 September 2023

A career as a film makeup artist can be an exciting prospect, as it allows you to work alongside directors and actors. The role gives you a chance to express yourself creatively and apply your artistic talents in a way that can get you recognition from others. Knowing how to become a film makeup artist can help you plan the initial steps of your career. In this article, we look at what a makeup artist is, what their job entails and the steps you can take to enter the profession.

What is a film makeup artist?

Film makeup artists are creative professionals who apply makeup to film actors so that their appearance is appropriate for the films they star in. They play a crucial role in film productions because they produce realistic visuals that align with the context of films. Depending on the production schedule, the working hours may vary considerably. They work alongside production teams, costume designers and directors to prepare actors for filming and ensure their appearance aligns with the director's vision.

Related: How much does a film director make? (Including duties)

How to become a film makeup artist

Here are some steps you can follow if you want to know how to become a film makeup artist:

1. Attend cosmetology school

Many private organisations offer cosmetology courses, and the schools go by various names, such as beauty and makeup schools, makeup academies and film makeup schools. Attending one isn't a requirement, but it can give you the relevant training to increase your chances of success. These courses typically teach how to cut and style hair, apply makeup and adhere to sanitation practices, all of which are important skills. Conduct some online research to find a reputable school that offers the kinds of skills you want to learn. Here are some other options for gaining relevant training:

  • Gain a bachelor's degree. Studying for a bachelor's degree in a course that covers film makeup as part of the curriculum can give you the skills you need for this career option. For example, a bachelor's degree in theatre may teach you the basics of film makeup application and how to do special effects makeup.

  • Complete a certification programme. There are certification programmes you can attend to become proficient in film makeup application, such as the City and Guilds Level 2 Certification in Makeup Artistry. Other, more advanced courses also exist, which you can progress to.

2. Gain relevant experience

A great way to gain real-world experience, develop your skills and potentially establish some valuable contacts in the industry is to volunteer at local theatres or university film and fashion departments. Theatre, TV and film often overlap, and some professionals work in a mixture of the three or progress from one to the next. Many of the practices you learn in theatre makeup application, for example, apply to TV and film, and vice versa. They all feature actors or presenters who require some level of makeup, so the skills are transferable.

You can also gain experience applying makeup by getting a job at a local beauty parlour or a makeup stand at a shopping centre. While it doesn't strictly relate to film makeup, it can allow you to work with different types of people, just like in the film industry. This is important because techniques and products differ when applying makeup to people of different ages and skin types, so it's a good way to experience this.

Related: What are film apprenticeships? (And how to find one)

3. Hone your skills

Being an effective film makeup artist involves understanding the visions of directors and producers and translating them into impressive designs. It also involves being highly creative. Here are some of the important skills and traits to develop for a successful career in this field:

  • Communication: Movie makeup artists work closely with actors and directors, so it's important to communicate well to understand their desired results and provide feedback.

  • Creativity: A successful film makeup artist understands the unique features and shapes of a person's body and face and the best ways to hide or highlight them, depending on the role or costume requirements.

  • Attention to detail: As a film makeup artist, you may complete your work under pressure while also focusing on fine details. The job may require long periods of deep concentration to meet meticulous requests.

  • Listening: A makeup artist listens to the expectations and desires of the director and applies their feedback.

  • Organisation: Makeup artists organise their tools and products well so they can find what they want easily and efficiently.

  • Dexterity: Applying makeup correctly and avoiding mistakes requires dexterity and hand-eye coordination.

4. Learn production basics

Learning what happens on a movie set can give you an idea of what to expect while there, such as who you report to, where to stand and whether you can talk to the director. It's also important to learn about the different departments, crew members and their duties and responsibilities so you know who does what. To learn about the production basics, you can access various online sources, attend local movie-making workshops or enrol in movie-making classes.

Related: A complete guide to the film production management process

5. Create a portfolio

Having a strong portfolio is one of the best ways to demonstrate your skills, as it serves as tangible proof of your capabilities. Take photos and videos of your best work, including various techniques, to showcase your talents to prospective employers. This helps them understand what kinds of styles and visual effects you can produce. A good tip is to partner with an aspiring professional photographer, as you can get some professional photos and both of you can build your portfolios.

There are many options for creating portfolios nowadays, including photo-based social media apps, websites or even creating a physical portfolio, though this is a somewhat dated practice. Consider the viewer when creating a portfolio, as you want it to be easy to access, visually pleasing and easy to share.

Related: A step-by-step guide to the film process (plus examples)

6. Network within the industry

It's highly beneficial to have industry connections, regardless of what industry you're trying to penetrate, but it's particularly useful in the film industry. This is because it's highly competitive, so you may be more likely to get a job if you know someone working on a particular set. Once you enter the industry and prove your capabilities, gaining future employment can be much easier. This is because many producers like to use the same talent that they've had successful productions with in the past.

As mentioned, volunteering can be a good way to get into the industry and allow you to forge valuable friendships and connections. Also, consider joining groups, unions and associations for film professionals and makeup artists, as this can help you network with the right people. You might find these kinds of groups online through networking websites. Once you join, you're more likely to hear about relevant opportunities and progress as a makeup artist.

Related: How to write a makeup artist cover letter (with template)

What do film makeup artists do?

Depending on the specific role of makeup artists, their duties can differ. Here are the four main categories of film makeup artists:

Key makeup artist

This is the primary makeup artist who usually directs the makeup department. They play an important role in deciding what makeup to use, such as special effects makeup and prosthetic features. Makeup assistants work directly below them, recreating makeup designs for other cast members. The key makeup artist maintains standards and ensures actors have the right makeup during all stages of production, delegating work to assistants where necessary. They're on hand for the duration of productions to ensure continuity in terms of actors' cosmetic appearances and apply touch-ups between takes.

Related: How to become a makeup artist apprentice (with skills)

Makeup artist

These professionals work under the direction of key makeup artists to apply their makeup designs to supporting actors. They implement the designs that the key makeup artist provides, ensuring continuity with the appearance of actors on film. They may also assist the key makeup artist in various other ways to help them meet deadlines and objectives.

Related: What does a film producer do? (With required skills)

Makeup assistant

Makeup assistants support makeup artists with various time-consuming aspects of body makeup application, such as body art and body painting. To improve efficiency in the makeup application process, they typically organise materials, such as makeup kits, and complete other helpful tasks. Because maintaining consistency between scenes is crucial and takes can happen over days and weeks, makeup assistants often photograph actors and use the images as reference points.

Special effects makeup artist

Special effects makeup artists help to create more extreme visuals through makeup, such as if the script calls for actors to look injured, alien, ghostly, undead or any other transformation that's beyond the scope of standard makeup products. This often involves using prosthetics and other materials, so familiarity with these is important. Combining makeup and other materials enables them to create realistic visual effects, such as wrinkles, abrasions, injuries and imitations of characters.

Related: Becoming a special effects makeup artist?


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