Special Effects Makeup for Movie Characters

Written by gabrielle black
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Special Effects Makeup for Movie Characters
Make-up can give the character the appearance of being ill or infected. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

The magic of the movies is made more believable with well-done special effects make-up used to portray a variety of conditions and unusual character types. Some basic types of special effects make-up include skin conditions such as boils and blisters, injuries such as abrasions, zombie make-up, and fantastical and animal make-up. Techniques for each of these basic types can vary greatly depending upon the detail needed for the movie shot and the budget available to the make-up artist.


Make-up can be applied to various parts of the actor's body and face to give the appearance that the character has an illness or is infected with some disease. One common example of this is special effects boils and blisters. The make-up artist can create reusable latex boils by building a mould out of clay and brushing on multiple layers of liquid latex. Painting the boils with make-up to make them appear puss-filled and swollen can add to the realism of the make-up. Applying the boils to the face requires sticking them on with a skin-safe adhesive such as Spirit Gum, applying alternating layers of liquid latex and nose putty, and touching up with flesh-coloured make-up.


Creating special effects abrasions is common for movie make-up artists. Abrasions can be small gashes in the skin or large openings with exposed bone and flesh. To create a convincing abrasion, the make-up artist utilises a building-up and peeling-away technique with nose and scar wax. The outside edges of the wax blend easily into the actor's skin, and the centre of the wax can be removed and roughed up to create the appearance of a tear in the skin. White bone wax or white make-up can then be applied to signify bone protrusions. The whole area is then painted with various shades of red and pink make-up, stage blood and gel, then sealed with a make-up sealer to prevent the special effects make-up from smudging or transferring onto costumes.


Decayed flesh for zombie make-up can easily be created with liquid latex applied with a make-up sponge and layered with ragged pieces of toilet paper. Once the layers are dry, the make-up artist picks apart certain areas of the latex to create sores and old wounds. The zombie is then given a base tone of cadaver grey and green make-up. Sores can be given rotten detail with black and dark grey make-up brushed into them. Sallow green make-up applied throughout creates the sickly look to the decayed flesh. The make-up artist adds the final details of cracked lines along the lips, then powders the face to set the make-up.

Fantasy and Animal Creatures

Special effects make-up can be used to create fantastical and animal creates by using various shading and make-up layering techniques. The make-up artist first finds a source image for the creature he will be creating with make-up for referral purposes. Latex applications can be added to the actor's face to drastically change the shape of the face. Layering and blending concealer using a brush allows the make-up artist to lay out the shape of the features on the face before adding any shading or detail. The artist should observe the curvature of the creature's nose structure, mouth and eye area and try to replicate these shapes through shading and lining techniques with the make-up. Adding spots or other details can help complete the illusion.

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