The Makeup Artist – Exploring Two Sides

Apparatus | Megha Solanki

When watching your regular horror movies, one’s eyes turn towards and away from the disfigured, creepy monsters that are designed to scare us. The brain-eating, garish monsters that cover the expanse of a zombie film, keep the characters occupied and the audience captivated. The bloodied, crawling bodies and the tired dirtied survivors create a scene that depicts a contrasting picture of two groups of actors that are presented in the film differently. The presentation is provided through the use of make-up. The magic of make-up and the position of the make-up artist are influential for a film. The position of a make-up artist is one that has evolved throughout the span of movies, developing various nuances of its own, to present a group of people that are needed on the sets of a film for the representation of the characters on camera. This article follows two avenues, looking at makeup artists that deal with special effects make-up and helping in the creation of characters that are different than the rest. It then looks at make-up artists working in Bollywood who deal with the usual make-up of characters, styling characters to present them in normal situations within the movie. There is a contrasting picture between the makeup artists in the two spaces and this work tries to highlight this.


The makeup artist is an individual that works in tandem with the story presented in the film. An integral part of the film structure, the importance of the position of the makeup artist keeps growing with the moving times. This is also due to the development in storylines and world-building with regards to film and characters, an ever-increasing elaborate approach to unique and different visions that is put to life through the work of the makeup artist. Prosthetic and special effect makeup has been a part of film-making since early movies like Frankenstein in 1931. There are world renowned makeup artists known for their work in special effects. In this growing culture of horror and superhero movies, the development of characters and how they are represented on screen becomes important. Prosthetic makeup artists work in tandem with directors, stylists, character designers, and the storyboard in order to design the appearance of the character that is visually the best. A special effect makeup artist does not just work with the actor on how and on whom the makeup is to be applied but also works in developing elements of the character’s design. These include masks, fake body parts, fake wounds, etc. The special effects makeup artist is heavily involved in the character design and the movement of the story, as it is through it that the makeup artist marks and develops the progressive changes in the makeup and design of the character. Every change in the character is tracked by the makeup artist, throughout the span of the time covered in the script, minute details from tiny scars and wounds to the structure of the face and shape of the body parts are all worked upon. Character design is important for the makeup artist and they are a part of constant conversations, all worked before the filming begins and also through the filming to fit with the changes in the script.


To know more about prosthetic makeup artists, Heather Williams an intern at KNB EFX Group was approached. Williams studied at Cinema Makeup School studying both character make-up and special make-up effects. According to her, special effects makeup is a long and tedious process for both the makeup artists and the actors. It involves a lot of talking, making sure that the person is not allergic to the products that are going to be used on them, finding alternatives and replacements if they are allergic, taking measurements, making sure that the prosthetic fits– not just in terms of scale but also skin colour which includes making multiples of prosthetics, so that they have backups, making sure that they are always taken care of. Williams also gives importance to the products that are used, stressing on the fact that how the makeup artist has to be careful of both – the quality and the quantity of the products used. She highlights on the negotiations that happen between the makeup artists and the filmmakers to provide for the best products that can be used. The makeup artist has to be careful of how these products are used, taking care in each step of the process. Williams also talks about moulds and tools that are used in this process, stressing how essential they are and how sometimes the makeup artist has to make their own moulds because what they require is simply not available. When asked whether each artist has their own style, Williams replied affirmatively, pointing out the fact that they all approach their characters differently. That their interpretation of a character may be different than that of the filmmaker and how they negotiate when these differences are varied. She talks about makeup artists that she has worked under who have argued vehemently for their interpretations and come to a resolution that worked for both the makeup artist and the filmmaker. Prosthetic and special effects makeup is an elaborate job and the position that the makeup artist occupies is a highly-respected position that keeps gaining more and more recognition.


In contrast to this, the position of the makeup artist in Bollywood is a conflicted picture that shows clear signs of gender divide and domination of men. This is highlighted by the fact that till 2014 there was a clear demarcation in jobs assigned to either gender, where women were restricted from accepting makeup jobs and dissuaded from calling themselves makeup artists and men were not allowed to involve themselves in hairstyling. These were unofficial rules put forth by the Cine Costume Makeup Artists and Hair Dressers Association which were practised upon by the film industry until the Supreme Court lifted the ban. Since then the position of the makeup artist has come to be accepted in more fluid terms with the acceptance of women in the scene. Makeup artists in Bollywood also display hierarchies that are not just attached to gender. This is seen by the actors that the makeup artists are assigned, how much they are paid, etc. Major actors are known to have their own makeup artists that they prefer to work with even within films, who then work with the stylists to base on how the actors are to represent the characters. The hierarchy also shows in the quality of the products that are assigned to the makeup artist to be used on the actors.


Sangeeta Dave is a small-scale beautician, based in Mumbai who was approached in order to learn more about makeup artists in Bollywood. Dave holds an interesting position as she has been working in the film industry even before the ban on women working as makeup artists was lifted in 2014. According to her, she never handled the main stars of the film. Assigned under the lead makeup artist who was always a man, she worked on touch-ups of actors who had smaller roles in the film. She was a freelancer, drawn to the film industry to see the movie stars and being a minor makeup artist was just an easy way in. Through the conversation with Dave, a picture was painted that displayed the position of a small person within the larger mechanics of film-making. She wasn’t recognised as a makeup artist, looked at as an assistant, she worked as a “goffer”, running around the set, helping with minor jobs in terms of makeup and handling the products. Dave admits that she wasn’t talented with prosthetic makeup and such and therefore wasn’t qualified for the more advanced makeup jobs. “I studied makeup by attending different courses and learning under the people I worked”, she said, “This wasn’t a serious job for me but it was fascinating to observe. It was about studying characters, and working with the scene.” She elaborated on that by highlighting the need for makeup to show the exhaustion that the character feels after running a distance or the tiny bruises that have to show on the skin after a fight sequence. “It was fun to work with the actresses. Bridal makeup is the best. You get to use the best brands, try different lipsticks, blush…” says Dave in a phone conversation with the author on March 20, 2017. Dave doesn’t talk about the presence of women in the makeup industry but acknowledges the discrimination, especially during the time that she was working, saying that she was never termed as the makeup artist.


This shows the two completely different sides of the makeup artist in the film industry. It elaborates upon the indulgence in the craft of the work but also the discrimination and hierarchies that are present in the work. The makeup artist is integral to the process of filmmaking and there are varied ways in which one can understand the makeup artist. The job of the makeup artist represents crafts, negotiations and individuality through the work that they present. Makeup artists form a collective in the products and tools they use, the union they represent but they exhibit their individuality through their styles and work that highlights their artistry.


About the Writer

Megha Solanki is a MCPH student studying English Literature. She can’t choose between Disney and Pixar and obsesses over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She spends her time reading fanfiction.