How To Become a Makeup Artist for Films

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Becoming a film makeup artist allows you to work with movie actors and directors. You get to use your creativity to help create and apply masks and makeup or other ways of transforming an actor's appearance for a movie role. To become a successful makeup artist for films, there are several steps you can take. In this article, we'll discuss what film makeup artists are, what they do and how to become one.

What is a makeup artist for film?

A film makeup artist applies makeup to movie actors during filming, and they can play a vital role in helping the directors and writers tell a story on the screen. They may work closely with the production team and director, and their hours and schedules can vary significantly depending on the movie and shooting location.

Related: Learn About Being a Makeup Artist

What do makeup artists for film do?

The duties of a makeup artist for film may vary depending on their role. There are four primary job titles in the makeup department that determine what responsibilities a makeup artist may perform on a movie set:

Key makeup artist

The key makeup artist leads and oversees the makeup department. They plan makeup designs for the leading and supporting actors, including prosthetic work or special effects makeup. They also hire makeup assistants to recreate these looks in the rest of the actors. During production, the key makeup artist applies the day-to-day makeup to the lead actors and delegates tasks to their team, always monitoring the continuity of makeup throughout the movie shoot. They are also on set for touch-ups between takes.

Makeup artist

A makeup artist applies makeup to non-lead actors and the supporting ensemble. The key makeup artist supervises them and they implement the key makeup artist's original designs.

Makeup assistant

A makeup assistant helps makeup artists with body makeup applications, including body painting and body art. They may organize makeup kits and perform other minor tasks. They may also photograph actors' makeup to ensure consistency if the director requests a reshoot.

Special effects makeup artist

A special effects makeup artist transforms the appearance of film actors when they need to look undead, scary, older, beaten up, bloody, not-of-this-earth—any transformation that requires more than what regular makeup artists handle. They may use prosthetics, appliances, cosmetics and other materials to create realistic deformities, wrinkles, abrasions and more.

Related: How To Become a Makeup Artist

How to become a makeup artist for films

Here are some steps you can take to become a makeup artist for films:

1. Attend cosmetology school

Attending a cosmetology school isn't a requirement to become a makeup artist for films but it can provide you with a deeper understanding of various beauty services, including makeup application, hair styling and cutting, nail care and skincare treatments. You may also learn state regulations, bacteriology, sanitation and business skills.

Look for an accredited school that offers courses that specialize in makeup for films. Courses can take up to eight months to complete depending on the licensing requirements and curriculum. Cosmetology schools are usually privately owned and may cost anywhere from $7,000 to $17,000. You can ask about government financial aid options or loan programs the school offers. Other education alternatives include:

  • Getting your bachelor's degree: Another route is to get a bachelor's degree in theater from a college or university. Many of these programs integrate makeup into the curriculum, and some offer specializations in makeup. This program can help you learn basic makeup application, corrective and special effects makeup.

  • Getting your associate degree: You may also earn an associate degree in theater or drama at a community college. This type of program may offer courses in stage makeup, stagecraft, lighting and production. It can provide you with a solid foundation for future training, education and advancement.

2. Get certified

If you want to become a licensed film makeup artist, it's important to follow the state requirements where you plan to work. Some states require you to become a licensed cosmetologist, which may require a 1,500- to 2,000-hour training program. Other states have a makeup artist-specific license that requires you to complete a training program that may last between 300 and 600 hours. You can complete a state-required training program through vocational colleges or schools. Typically, there are two types of certification. These include:

  • Certified makeup artist: To get this certification, you need to pass a course focused on makeup application.

  • Licensed makeup artist: Licensed makeup artists have gone through a state licensing requirement, which typically involves taking a written examination. A licensed makeup artist differs from a licensed cosmetologist, who has completed licensing requirements and taken more extensive courses on a variety of beauty topics, not just application.

Related: What Are Certifications? Definition, Benefits, Types of Certifications and Examples

3. Hone your skills

Successful film makeup artists are creative in their craft, but also listen to the producers, actors and directors so they can achieve the desired results. You can increase your chance of success if you have the following skills or traits:

  • Communication: As a movie makeup artist, you will work closely with actors and directors so it's important to communicate well to understand their desired results and provide needed feedback.

  • Creativity: A successful film makeup artist understands the unique features and shapes of a person's body and face. They also understand how to best hide them or highlight them, depending on the role or costume requirements.

  • Detail-oriented: As a film makeup artist, you may complete your work under pressure while also focusing on fine details. Your job may require long periods of deep concentration to meet meticulous requests. It may also require you to solve problems, weigh various costs against benefits and create new ideas.

  • Time management: It's important to manage your time and other people's time as well. You may have to analyze each client's need and get the products or equipment necessary to complete the job within a set timeframe.

  • Listening: A makeup artist can listen to the expectations and desires of the director and apply their feedback.

  • Organization: Makeup artists organize their tools and products well so they can find what they want easily and efficiently while doing their job.

  • Dexterity: Applying makeup correctly and avoiding mistakes requires dexterity and hand-eye coordination.

4. Get hands-on experience

You can get hands-on experience by working at a makeup counter at your local mall or beauty store. There you'll find a range of personalities, ages and skin type. Individuals who need beauty help may turn to a counter artist as their go-to expert. Customer support is a major aspect of makeup services, and the counter is a good place to get the most experience and exposure.

Related: 10 Ways To Get the Most From Your Internship

5. Learn production basics

Learning what happens on a movie set can give you an idea of what to expect while there, such as who you report to, where to stand and whether you can talk to the director. It's also important to learn about the different departments, crew members and their duties and responsibilities so you know who does what. To learn about the production basics, you can access a variety of online sources, attend local movie-making workshops or enroll in movie-making classes.

6. Create a portfolio

Taking videos or photographs of your completed work can help you build a portfolio that shows your techniques and skills for future clients and employers to review. Ideally, a portfolio should highlight the variety of looks and styles you can create. You can work with photographers to create pieces that both of you can use in your portfolios.

You can display your portfolio on your personal website or social media account. Creating a basic portfolio website is easy and cost-effective, while also making you look more professional. You can also set up a separate social media page and post your photos there. Select a medium that's both easy for others to view and suitable for the type of makeup artist role you want to get.

Related: How To Create a Job-Winning Portfolio for Your Next Interview

7. Network within the industry

Working in the movie industry isn't just about talent, it's also about connections. Consider spending time at places where industry people go or using your social media to expand your network. Movie crews typically like using the same makeup artists for all of their projects, so it's important to make the best possible impression anytime you are around industry people, whether you are working or just networking.

There are also various associations, groups and unions for professional makeup artists that can help with meeting or networking with the right people. They often offer opportunities for members pursuing careers in makeup artistry to connect with employers and other professionals in the field.

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