Parts, Prosthetics and Zombie Punk
Behind the Glitz & Glamour of Special Effects Makeup

By Lauren Souch

Special effects makeup is not just about glamour and fun. There is a challenging side to the industry, and it often has to do with the demands placed on artists by film producers.

 

Where Did My Artist Come From?
Three main schools in Toronto have SFX makeup courses. Here, we give you the rundown of all of them – and the type of graduates you’ll be hiring.

Complections International has an eight-month program. Here, students learn hairstyling, fashion, stage and SFX makeup, prosthetics, and animatronics.

The School of Makeup Art has a six-month program where students study beauty, bridal and SFX makeup, hair styling, and prosthetics.

The School of Professional Makeup also has a six-month program. Students learn hairstyling, period, beauty, fashion and SFX makeup, and prosthetics.

Matthew DeWilde, a prosthetics instructor at the School of Professional Makeup says on-set work can sometimes get tedious for the artists, as they spend a great deal of time sitting around waiting for something to happen.

“You go in at three or four in the morning, you do your makeup, and then you have to baby-sit the actors until they get shot, and that can be two hours, or it could be 20 hours later sometimes,” he says.

DeWilde has been in the industry for most of his life, and has been working with prosthetics professionally for over 20 years.

 

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Samantha Carson is a recent 24-year-old graduate of Complections International and never intended to enter the industry.

She has always been interested in the media, and also had an interest in doing a trade. When she discovered she could combine the two by going to school for what she calls a “media trade,” it seemed the natural choice.

Immediately after she finished school, Carson lucked into a 31-day gig working on the set of a small independent film, Queen of the Zombie Punks. “It was rough at times, because it was 12-hour days, 15-hour days, and freezing cold because we were outside in October,” says Carson, who nonetheless describes the experience as invaluable.

However, the pay for this job was next to nothing, which according to Carson is a common trend in the industry. “I worked on what is known as ‘deferred payment’,” says Carson, “which I will never do again. Although the experience was amazing, not getting paid for 31 days of work really sucked. It's too much work to not get paid anything in the end.”

Carson says the most challenging part of the industry is finding work that comes with a pay-cheque. “You have to push so hard to get work because everybody expects you to do makeup for free,” she says. “People don’t realize how important makeup is. Small filmmakers tend to think, ‘oh we need makeup, and the artist will just do it for free because they want to be in a film!’”

To complicate things further, prices for special effects are increasing as new technology is developed. DeWilde says the recent influx of high-definition television sets and films has affected the industry. “Sculpting has to be more accurate and precise now,” he says, “and the way you design your mould has to be more accurate.”

DeWilde says this demand for accuracy has led to a shift from rubber prosthetics to silicone ones, which has increased the price for producers since silicone is more expensive. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “When you glue the prosthetics on they look real now, in person… so they look great on TV as well,” he says.

Silicone is also better to use because it takes less time to mould and set. DeWilde can make a mould using silicone in an hour, whereas using rubber would take a day. This fast turn-around has helped the artists greatly, as films often demand very short preparation time. “I think it’s always a matter of deadline and time, that’s always the killer,” he says.

When an artist is working for small films or TV shows, they could be looking at preparation time of as little as two weeks to create numerous prosthetics, bodies, or other needed items. DeWilde recalls one time where he was working on a series of 11 movies in one year.

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“We would have two weeks preparation, then shoot for three weeks, and immediately start a new film right after, or even during the first one,” says DeWilde. “The scripts never came in fast enough, they were constantly rewriting as we were working… that was murder. It was fun as hell though.”

Another problem makeup artists face is the illusion that they’re a ‘grocery store’ for body parts and special effects. “Sometimes [producers] think I have a supermarket of things, like they can bring a shopping cart down,” says DeWilde. “They’ll be like ‘oh, I need a robot, I need a body, but it’s not like that - you have to actually build everything for production.”

DeWilde often tells his clients looking for a simple item, such as a plastic hammer, to check the local party store. He says producers don’t always realize that something so seemingly simple can, in reality, take up to three days and thousands of dollars to cast, mould, and create. “I’m always battling with time and money with production managers,” he says.

Despite these challenges, many professionals and even current students are involved with a softer side of the business. People in the industry eventually “retire” from the film world, and then turn their attention to the medical side, helping patients with skin diseases or missing limbs get fitted with prosthetics. Many artists also stay involved in other charitable projects. “It’s not just all the glamour, fun and games,” says Laurie Ogden, coordinator at the School of Professional Makeup. “There’s a real charitable side to it, too.”

‘Look Good, Feel Good’ is a cancer organization that helps women who have gone through cancer treatment. The women learn to use makeup and wigs to help them feel better about their appearance after chemotherapy. “It’s really touching to hear these stories and see graduates involved in these projects,” says Ogden. DeWilde agrees. “The film side can be very pretentious and catty, so it’s nice to hear about the other side as well.”

 

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