The Importance of Prosthetic Makeup in Film and TV

The process of creating a believable film or TV show is a difficult one, which requires various professionals to work on set such as costume designers, makeup artists, sound engineers, stage lightning professionals and many others. But one of the most important elements to consider when creating believable characters and storyline is makeup artistry. In fact, makeup artists are absolutely essential when it comes to TV and film as they help the audience believe that what they are seeing on the screen is real.

Regular makeup is used to either highlight the actor’s features, or the opposite, make them look worse (if the role and storyline requires that). But prosthetic makeup is different. It is used to create anything from bleeding wounds, to completely transformed facial features.

With the help of a special effects artist, an actor can transform into a totally different person, or even a creature, like Jennifer Lawrence in “X-Men” (the actress shared that it took 8 hours in a makeup chair to “become” the infamous blue-skinned shape shifter Mystique).

Prosthetic makeup (also called Special effects makeup or FX prosthesis), is the process of using prosthetic sculpting, molding and casting techniques to create advanced cosmetic effects. The history of prosthetic makeup is fairly new. It was revolutionised by Makeup artist John Chambers who first used the technique in the 1968 classic “Planet of the Apes”. Chambers, who was a medical technician in World War II made prosthetics and facial-reconstruction patterns for the wounded. Since then his technique was used to transform actor’s faces (and sometimes their full bodies), from subtle changes to creating a totally fantastical creatures.

There are so many amazing examples of outstanding makeup transformations of actors. Some of the most memorable would be “The Fly” (1986), which won an Academy Award for makeup artist Chris Walas and his team’s’ work in transforming scientist Seth Brundle into a human/fly hybrid.

While “The Fly” showed us how prosthetic makeup can convincingly change actors into insects, a more common use for prosthetic makeup is to change actor’s looks to make them appear as someone else. 2003 thriller ”Monster” not only earned Charlize Theron her first Academy Award, but also served as a great example of the power of prosthetic makeup. Theron’s transformation into the real-life serial killer Aileen Wuernos was so dramatic, in fact, that at first many did not believe that the role was played by the actress. This example shows that the combination of excellent acting chops and a skilled makeup team can help the film or TV series make a very strong impact on its audience.

Not only does makeup artistry allows the character to be more believable to the audience, but it also helps the actors get immersed in the character as well. Overall, it’s as important for actors and filmmakers, as it is for the audience.

What’s so great about working in the entertainment industry as an actor or a model is that one sees a variation of professionals around them, getting inspired by other people’s talent and maybe even developing interest in a profession like makeup artistry themselves. After all, it’s a well-respected profession in the industry: the work of incredible makeup artists who work with prosthetics is recognized by various categories in film and TV awards, such as the Emmys and The Academy Awards.

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