Of the many careers that one can take working behind the camera in film or TV, makeup artists play a rather large and integral part in the movie-making process. But how much is actually involved in being a professional makeup artist working on the set of a movie or TV show? Makeup artist Harmony Chamberlain takes us through the steps these professionals go through each day on set, helping to achieve the vision of a director by helping the actors become the characters they are depicting.
HEC: What exactly does a makeup artist do?
As a makeup artist it’s your job to help create the look of the character, and through that aid the actor in fully transforming into whom they’re portraying.
HEC: Take us through the steps a makeup artist would go through in order to prepare for work on set.
The primary responsibility of the Key Makeup Artist is to read through the scripts several times over; break the scripts down by characters; and come up with how many different looks you’ll need for each character and what type. They then meet with the director to talk about get a feel for what their vision is, and also determine how the movie will be filmed (this is a newer one & a big one – ever since the rise of HD makeup artists need to be even more careful about what shows up on camera, because HD can pick up the tiniest brush stroke, airbrush is often preferred), you will also need to discuss what the makeup budget is for the film, so that you know ahead of time, in order to design looks within your budget and purchase supplies.
Then comes the extensive research of the time period, place, etc. to ensure accuracy; sketching detailed face charts for every look (face charts need to include exactly which types of makeup you’re using for continuity throughout). Then, they meet again with the director and get face charts approved and order all necessary supplies to put kits together for yourself and any artists working under you. For movies that require prosthetics or other makeup special effects, you also need to meet with the actors ahead of time to do casts and create molds.
After your looks are in order, you need to do makeup tests to determine how the makeup looks under the lights, in terms of the set, costumes, etc. and exactly how long it will take to apply the makeup. After the test, you make any necessary changes, if any.
When it comes time for filming, several makeup artists follow the Key’s designs. These artists arrive on set to get ready for the day and set up so you’re good to go at call time. You need to hang up face charts as your point of reference.
Once the actors come in, you cleanse faces and apply makeup – making sure you’re done on time!! – Time is money in film and your delay can hold up someone else’s job, which can hold up the whole production. Makeup works with hair and costuming as well, to get the actor ready, so there are a lot of integral pieces to the puzzle. Once you are finished with application take a shot of the actor’s completed makeup, for continuity. The artists then follow the actors on set with plenty of powder and appropriate makeup for any necessary touch-ups between takes.
If the cameraman will allow it, it’s helpful to be able to look at your work under the lights through the camera lens, so that you can be double sure it will read on film (even though this should have already been done in the test, it never hurts to make sure you don’t need any adjustments before filming begins).
After they shoot the first take, you need to photograph your work once more, again for continuity for future takes. After that, remain on set to apply powder, soak up sweat from the actors being under the hot lights and touch up makeup. – Often times certain makeup artists stay in the makeup trailer and some will remain on set, rotating when appropriate, but not necessarily following the person they just worked with.
Once shooting an actor in their look is complete for the day, help the actors remove their makeup, particularly with appliances which may be difficult to remove. Then, if shooting has wrapped for the day, clean up everything and get everything situated for the next day of shooting.
HEC: What other things have you worked on or want to work on in the future using your skills?
I got into makeup as an aside from my focus in college of theatrical costume design and fell in love with every aspect of it. In addition to film work, which is probably the most recent medium I ventured into, I’ve done a bit of every thing. Thinking back I probably started off, professionally, by doing makeup on photo shoots –which I will always love because of the tangible finished product in the end. (I should mention before makeup I did some work as a model so I already had photographer connections, which helped). In a similar vein; from photo shoots I began doing makeup for runway shows in NYC. I’ve done makeup for theme park attractions around Halloween and done makeup for dancers, specifically style for their performances. I’ve gone on tour doing makeup for rock bands – always an adventure, and had the unique pleasure of working on an off-Broadway, punk rock, Shakespearean musical. I’ve also done the typical makeup for proms, homecomings, weddings and other special occasions over the years, and while it may not sound quite as exciting as some other projects, the joy, and appreciation from each individual made it just a rewarding as the more high profile jobs.
In the future, I want to continue to be able to do it all. There’s not any medium I see myself ever walking away from, nor do I really know that there’s one that stands out as my favorite. I love anything that allows me to be very creative, and while horror and gore is my baby, I love being able to create beautiful fantastical things as well. Every face (and sometimes body too) is a canvas that can be transformed into someone or something different (actually many someone’s and somethings different) and I love that makeup helps make that happen.