The Art of Special Effects Make-Up

Working for a small video production company in the San Francisco Bay Area means that you need to know how to do a little of everything. I have been lucky enough to be with the same production house for over 20 years. I started as a Production Assistant. Now I’m the Production Manager plus in-house make-up artist, occasional editor, camera operator (I won’t call myself a DP), director, producer, wardrobe, props master, and accountant. I’m sure I am forgetting a few things.
But this post is about when I started doing make-up and where I am now.
When I first started working for Atomic Productions in the mid-1990s, I was handed some old make-up and told, “Congratulations, you are our new make-up artist.” I had no idea what I was doing, and I was freaking out that I would mess everything up. Spoiler alert – I did! I mean, I didn’t even wear make-up when I was hired… It was definitely not in my comfort zone.
My first attempt at make-up was comical. Imagine an old black and white silent film; big powder puff applied straight to the face with a big puff of white powder going everywhere. Seriously, that happened, and we were on set. I’m grateful for towels to wipe people down!
Thankfully, I’m a much better artist now. Shout out to my mentors that taught me everything and the clients that trusted me as I was learning!
These days, I get excited when a client asks me to try something I have never done before. Such as creating a caveman & woman look. I altered patterns to sew their outfits, and I got to shop at the Bone Room in Berkeley to create prehistoric weapons and jewelry. I used fire, dirt, and shoe polish to age their clothes. Make-up is more than just what is on people’s faces; it’s the entire look. Props and wardrobe play a huge role in pulling any look off
So, when I was asked if I could do some simple, special effects make-up, I jumped at the chance.
The first special effects make-up I attempted was a black eye. It was for our independent short film we shot a couple of years ago. I watched multiple tutorials, looked at tons of pictures of black eyes, and consulted with other artists and make-up outlets to get the best tips on doing this. I practiced on myself and one of our production assistants. I posted pictures asking if the eye and cut lip were believable. I took feedback and kept working on the look. I had 2 weeks to perfect the look. I was pleased with my results and had other local makeup artists ask me to show them how to create the black eye. The secret, Kryolan bruising wheel
The most stressful special effect make-up was when I received a call from the client the night before the shoot asking if I could make someone look like they had an ear infection. Picture me Googling photos of people with colds and ear infections. And once again, Kryolan bruising wheel plus Ben Nye HD foundation palette and ta-da…one sick person! I wanted to make her look sicker, but the Doctor said to keep it minimal since she’s supposed to have an ear infection. So, her final look is what the client signed off on.
Make-up has become a passion, and you need to love what you do! I truly love my job at Atomic Productions. I get to do so many different things in video production that I never imagined I would do. I’m ready for the next project!

Atomic Productions is a full service film production company driven by customer service and creativity. Oh, and we watch Jeopardy during lunch.

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