How to Become a Special Effects Makeup Artist

Combine your love of makeup and TV and film with this awesome career.

Illustration of a hand applying green makeup to a woman's face

If you’ve always been obsessed with the Mask or the Joker, then you might have an instant fascination with special effects makeup. And if you want to be part of creating some of the most magnificent on-screen and off-screen looks, then you’ve come to the right place!

It’s time to put down your brushes and take note of how you can make it into media makeup and become an SFX makeup artist.

Is it the right job for me?

Before you jump into any career path, you need to make sure if it’s the right choice. And although working on a movie set may initially seem glamorous, working with theatrical and film makeup can be physically challenging. Indeed, you’ll be expected to work long hours (13-hour workdays are common), and you’ll spend a great deal of your time on your feet.

You will also need to work hard to build a personal brand and actively seek work, so if you want a steady income job with paid holidays, then you might want to consider working in a beauty bar or makeup counter to gain some valuable experience.

What qualifications do I need?

Although there are no formal educational requirements to become a special effects makeup artist, it’s a good idea to complete a beauty course in cosmetology and special effects. During your course, you’ll learn about prosthetics, mould sculpting, 3D effects, makeup brands and supplier information. Alternatively, you can teach yourself the ins and outs of special effects makeup by watching YouTube videos, experimenting on your own and using online materials and tutorials.

Once you have the basics covered, you could consider completing an apprenticeship in the beauty or media industry working as an extra pair of hands on a production set. During this time, you can shadow an experienced SFX makeup artist and start building your own portfolio, and the experience you gain will be a valuable addition to your CV.

What skills do I need?

While experience is important in the beauty industry, having the right skillset is also essential. Here are some of the most important skills and qualities you’ll need:

  • Creativity: You’ll often be required to read a script, interpret the character and create sketches and prosthetic ideas based on your vision. This is where creativity is essential. Even if you’re just working on a client-by-client basis, you’ll still need to use your creativity to adapt styles based on your customer’s interests.
  • Patience: As special effects makeup can take between 3 and 12 hours to finish a look, patience is key. Without it, you won’t be able to perfect your craft and finish the desired look. After shooting, you may then need another 2–3 hours to carefully remove the prosthetic makeup to ensure it doesn’t damage the actor/actress’s
  • Communication skills: As you’ll be working with a wide range of professionals, including directors, set managers, actors and suppliers, you’ll be expected to have great communication skills to clearly articulate your vision and ensure you’ve grasped the concept correctly. Therefore, you’ll also need to be able to listen and understand what is being asked of you.
  • Negotiation skills: If you’re going to work as a freelancer, you’ll need good negotiation skills to discuss your contract and agree on a salary for each individual job. These skills will also be essential when sticking to a set budget for equipment and bartering with suppliers for products.
  • An ability to handle pressure: Working on a busy set and towards tight deadlines can be stressful, which is why being able to handle a lot of pressure is essential. You might be required to finish special effects in a short timeframe, and this could mean a lack of sleep when working on a specific project.
  • Problem-solving skills: As in any high-pressure situations, problems can arise from out of no Your foundation may have spilt in your kit box, or a product might not work as well as you thought. This is where you will need to stay calm and improvise to find a quick solution to problems.


How do I land a job?

Landing a job in this creative field isn’t as easy as sending your CV to a selection of potential employers. Instead, you’ll need to put a lot more groundwork in to secure some high-paid gigs. We’ve listed the steps to take after the jump.

1. Get work experience

The best way to get your foot into the door is to work as a trainee for a well-known makeup artist or production company. You can even gain experience through local theatre productions, school plays, short films, adverts and art studios.

2. Build a portfolio

During your work experience, it’s important to take high-quality pictures of your work and build a strong print and online portfolio. Don’t forget to show a variety of styles to prove your versatility and creativity!

3. Stay active on social media

A social media presence is essential in any creative profession; indeed, done right, you can market your work and gain exposure, and this can lead to job offers. That said, you need to be active on a daily basis, posting vlogs and tutorials to showcase your talent and new ideas. You can create seasonal themes to keep your audience entertained and engaged with your work.

4. Find your niche

With such a vast industry, it’s important to discover what you’re good at. It might be working on the set of a horror film, creating casualty makeup or working with age prosthetics. You might even find that you prefer working with high-profile clients on calendar shoots and Halloween makeup. Whatever it is, craft your art and constantly create new and improved ideas.

What do I need in my makeup kit?

Now that you’ve determined that this is the path for you, you need to prep your kit with all the essentials. To ensure you don’t forget anything, we’ve listed the must-haves below:

  • mixing palette for modelling compounds, foundation and face paint colours
  • applicators, brushes, sponges (including soft and course brushes), swabs and plenty of makeup remover
  • a bruise and abrasions wheel
  • liquid latex which is used to create cuts, burns and lacerations
  • castor seal which is used above liquid latex and prevents discolouring
  • a 3D modelling compound for sculpting 3D skin effects
  • water-soluble glue, spirit gum and remover
  • fake blood.

Working as a special effects makeup artist can be exciting and rewarding, especially if you’re contracted on a large production. So, if you think you have what it takes to become a professional makeup artist, start practising and preparing a small sample of your work!

Do you work in the film industry or know anyone that does? Let us know your experiences by joining in on the conversation below.


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 22 February 2015.