How To Become a Film & TV Makeup Artist

The makeup department of any production takes on an essential role in giving characters a three-dimensional identity, enriching the distinctiveness of the actor/actress’ looks. However, jobs within this sector suffer a fierce competition, often together with a frenetic environment and long working hours.

What is the Job?
Depending on the production’s needs and budget, four different positions can be found in a makeup department:

  • The Key Makeup Artist, who is in charge of the makeup department. Their job is to design the makeup for each actor/actress and assign individual makeup artists to apply it.
  • The Makeup Artist is the individual who actually takes care of applying the makeup to the actor/actress.
  • The Makeup Effects Artist designs and create special makeup effects using prosthetics, latex, and animatronics. They are not always needed in movies or TV production, as their presence relies on the amount of special effects and CGI in movies.
  • The Makeup Assistant helps with some of the minor tasks requiring less experience, like body makeup and organization. This is usually a good position to obtain some practical experience in the field.

Key Skills
Being a very specific field, knowledge and practice of specialised techniques is essential. Makeup schools and courses can teach the basis of corrective, glamour, ageing practices. However, practical experience is fundamental to perfect your craft.

Additional techniques required include applying bald caps, facial hair, fake scars, bruises, marks, tattoos and body art.

Knowledge and experience of hair and wig dressing, and continuity hair cutting is also mandatory.

Additional Skills
As most jobs in the entertainment industry, being a makeup artist requires ability to work within a team under supervision. This translates into teamwork, communication and presentation skills, ability to work under pressure, respecting deadlines and commitment to long and variable working hours.

How to get to work as a Makeup Artist
As most specialised creative freelance jobs, experience is vital to gain credibility and obtain recognition. A good starting point for a career as a Makeup Artist would be participating in low budget production and student projects, even not necessarily in the same sector you would like to work in (i.e. cinema, theatre, TV, photography…).

As you start building a good portfolio and good connections, it will become easier to land better positions in bigger productions.

Education and training
Despite not being mandatory, makeup school/college is usually an important step both to learn theory and practice of the craft and to gain connections. Also, student projects will usually constitute the majority of a portfolio in the initial stages of a makeup career.

Additional courses can look good on a CV, especially if they provide a specific qualification which is important to the chosen production.

After cosmetology school and courses, most Makeup Artists kick off their career with assistant roles, which provide both experience and connection with the work environment.

Where it can take you
Especially in the initial stages, working hours are very long and the job itself can be stressful and demanding. While being talented and creative is a requirement, communication skills are essential too, in order to understand the directors and producers and achieve their desired results.

However, progressively building a very good portfolio, very talented artists can progress towards higher budget productions, landing very good positions with excellent salary perspectives and the chance to work with the stars of the industry.