Special effects makeup artists apply makeup to people or prosthetic models to achieve a dramatic effect. They are primarily employed in the theatre and film industry where they utilise an array of tools such as makeup, wigs and prosthetic body parts to achieve striking, believable effects. Although the film and theatre sectors are the most obvious industries that would employ makeup artists, they also work on cruise ships, theme parks and burlesque fashion shows where skilled, accurate physical transformations are required.
The type of work undertaken by a special effects makeup artist varies widely depending on the project they are employed on. They may be asked to age an actor or actress by 30 years, or to transform a person into a zombie or a monster. The difficulty of such projects varies considerably and more dramatic transformations are typically only taken on by advanced artists.
There are no required courses to enter this career but completing modules at a cosmetology school or enrolling on a theatrical arts course covering makeup design will help refine your skills. Most special effects makeup artists start out as interns, shadowing more experienced artists and learning through observation.
A special effects makeup artist should have a creative mind and an intuitive understanding of how to combine colours to produce dramatic, believable effects. Excellent communication skills and an ability to maintain healthy working relationships with others are also important traits.
According to Prospects, the UK education and career advice website, a junior makeup assistant can earn approximately £200 for a 10-hour, whereas actual makeup designers can earn around £300. These rates are typical for low-budget films and TV productions and rates will be much higher for big-budget films that are released in cinemas. Salaries are usually open to negotiations and securing a positive reputation in your industry is likely to provide leverage to demand much higher rates than average.
The role can involve long, unsociable hours as productions are often running to deadline. A special effects artist is also expected to arrive on set early and to stay for the duration of filming or rehearsal as aesthetic touch-ups may be required at any time. Working environments vary from hot studios to cold, outdoor sets and extensive travel to shoot locations is often required. Most special effects makeup artists work freelance and often have agents who handle their bookings and prioritise workloads. Employers are typically located in larger cities, especially London, where a large number of television productions take place.