Tag Archives: special effects

REVIEW: BOOK, Todd Debreceni’s “Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen” Second Edition

I purchased the original edition of this book shortly after its release in 2009, and read it from cover to cover in a day. Perhaps ‘read’ is not quite the right word- devoured, is probably more accurate! I was certainly hungry for the knowledge Todd had packed into it, and its sleek cover encased a particularly comprehensive guide to making and applying prosthetic makeup.  Now Focal Press have just released the Second Edition, with even more fantastic information and techniques.

Unlike a lot of the standard makeup tomes (although they are valuable repositories of information in their own right) “Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen” covers all of the latest industry techniques and materials. Not only does the book provide in-depth explanations, it is illustrated with fabulous photographs, in easy to follow chapters, covering the entire process of Prosthetic Makeups from Design to Application, and more! While perfectly suitable as a self-teaching manual – it is clearly laid out, like any good textbook, it also provides a great reference book for more experienced Makeup Artsist wishing to brush up on industry-standard techniques.

9780240816968

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So You Want To Be A Makeup FX Artist Pt 2: Breaking out and Breaking in…..

At the risk of repeating myself, and bearing in mind that these are points worth repeating, ad infinitum:
1.  If you decide to train in Makeup FX, you are NOT going to walk out of a classroom and into a job!
No-one is going to hire you right out of training to work on a big job. Or even a medium sized job. Matter of fact, almost nobody will pay you to work on anything right out of training.
Unless you have a fantastic portfolio of the right kind of work work, and the appropriate skills for that particular job, and unless you can demonstrate a proven ability to work on your own without constant supervision, and consistently produce a top-end result, no professional Production Company can afford to take you on and pay you.
Insurance restrictions and Workers Compensation laws  mean no professional production will take on people working for free, either.   Traineeships are practically non-existent for the same reasons.
You will need to aim a little lower to start with.
2.  There is no such thing as steady, full-time employment with regular hours and pay.  
Unless you are working behind the counter at one of the Makeup Supply Houses, selling products to the people who do the actual work.
3.   What work there is is temporary. 

We are all freelancers. We are contracted to work on a specific project for a certain period of time.  Which may be for a couple of weeks, or up to a the best part of a decade in the case of multi-film productions.  But when the project ends, everyone goes home, and everyone goes back to being unemployed.
4.  There is no regular Superannuation, Sick Leave or Holiday Pay.  
Yes those things exist  when you are employed by one production house in some countries, but only for the period of employment.  If you want to buy anything you will need to save up for it- no bank is going to give you a loan without a regular income. If you want to have a retirement nest egg you need to save it yourself.  If you want cover in case you suffer a period of extended illness, or are injured, you need to take care of that yourself.   Get insurance. Get health cover. Get a superannuation plan
5. Most FX Houses are a one-man show.  
The vast majority of existing, actual working FX Businesses in the world are one or two person operations, running out of what is basically a big shed. And some of those sheds aren’t actually that big….
They survive in a tough environment by doing all kinds of work to pay the bills. Occasionally and in the good times they get steady work and can be quite comfortable. But most of the time they do not employ extra people because a) they can’t afford to, and/or b) there isn’t enough work.

And just in case you haven’t quite got the idea yet- you know all of those “big” well-known FX studios you see on the behind-the-scenes DVD specials?  The ones where there are forty or fifty people in the background feverishly working on FX for the latest blockbuster?  The kind of place you dream of working in one day?

Well, guess what happens when that project is completed?  That big, powerful FX business goes back to being pretty much “one man in a shed” again.  And here I am talking about the kind of FX Houses that are responsible for working on the biggest films in the world….. in the hundreds of millions in budget terms.   Yes, them….
6. In between projects, even highly successful FX Businesses retain only a very small core staff.   Everyone else is hired and released on a contract basis, per project.
Occasionally there are a lot of projects back to back and people will get hired for one, stay on for the next and can end up working for the same FX company for years, but those situations are NOT the norm in this industry.
Fewer than ten percent of people in this business will ever work full-time with the same company for more than a few months at a time.  In between jobs, you are on your own.
7. Competition is fierce.
You really think you have a chance of getting work at a professional FX studio for that upcoming film you’re desperate to work on, simply by sending in your Makeup College portfolio, with its wonky bald-cap,  latex and tissue gunshot wounds, and that 1920’s Beauty look with the cheap acrylic wig?
(Because you’re really, really keen, right? See Point 1.)
Who is your competition?  People who have worked on some of the biggest productions in the world. People from all over the world! People with serious experience and skills at the pinnacle of the business. People who have been personally recommended to the people in charge of crewing up. (That last is a biggie…)  People with a professional reputation that justifies their self-confidence. Oh, and most large FX houses get literally THOUSANDS of applications to work there when there is a big film coming up. One particular place I know has them stored in the backyard in Freight Containers. The kind that go on ships.  Three of them, each stacked to the ceiling…   Get the picture???
So if you DO send off your CV and portfolio, don’t be too surprised if you don’t get a personal reply next week. Or ever… Realistically, who has the free time to answer hundreds or  thousands of unsolicited applications?
Now, tell me again, why should they hire you for that blockbuster on the basis of a few school assignments?
Just because your family and friends think you are terribly talented and bound for glory, does not mean you have the relevant experience and appropriate skills to do the job.
Or at least, NOT YET.
If you are thoroughly pissed off at me right now for being so blunt, and full of indignant self-righteousness (“how dare she tell me I can’t make it… I’m DIFFERENT… I’M SPECIAL!”)  or  if you are feeling moribund and totally depressed about your lack of future prospects, (“what’s the point in even bothering.. I’ll never get anywhere… I’m just wasting my time… “)   then I recommend you give up the whole idea of Makeup FX as a career right now!
If you are not a quitter, however, pull your socks up , take a deep breath, get a nice hot cuppa, and keep reading.

REVIEW, WEB: “Neill Gorton’s Makeup FX 911” on Facebook

So, you’re a working Makeup FX Artist, or just a keen beginner.  You have some questions you want answered- you might be trying out a new technique for the first time, or maybe you had an unexpected problem crop up with something you’ve done dozens of times before, and you aren’t sure what happened or why?  Where do you look for help?

Call 911!

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Setting Career Goals- Are You Going for Gold?

There was a lovely quote from Aussie Olympic swimmer Leisel Jones in the paper this morning.

In response to questions about her recent challenges in the 2012 London Olympics, she replied: “Smooth sailing doesn’t make a skilful sailor.”

How true this is. Yet, in our pursuit of our most fervent hopes and dreams, who amongst us would wish for a rough ride to the finish line? Surely we can simply stick to the easy path, and achieve just as much, if not more, than those who struggle? If we set our goals clearly and aim high, need we suffer in the attempt?

The Olympics are, so often, about expectation. The contenders, often young and in their early career, for whom nothing but Gold will shine. A Silver or Bronze is almost more devastating to them than never qualifying. Then there are the battlers, from countries with no history in their chosen event, or the ones who have self-funded and trained, often later in life, to fulfil their dream. They stand no real chance of winning against competitors with a lifetimes’ dedication and the financial backing of a nation, but for many of them just being there is the reward, and their triumph is achieved when the starter’s gun sounds. And, in London, we had the unusual case of Jones, who became the first Australian swimmer to compete in four Olympics, yet who has been criticised for failing to medal, and had people wondering if that achievement itself had been enough.

If you choose to work in the Special Effects Makeup Industry, you are choosing a rough road. That’s a given. Like any Olympic sport, many try to achieve greatness, and few succeed. But for many people, ‘just doing it’ is as far as their goal-setting ever got. When you have had your heart set on just being able to do Makeup FX, somewhere, somehow, that may be enough for you… Are you content to simply drift along through life, never knowing what is round the corner, as long as you are doing SOMETHING in that field? Then there are those who have a good run, who consistently achieve moderate success, or even, fleetingly, the glory of national or international recognition. At some point, your career will inevitably begin to wane, whether through age, ill health, or simply having lost touch with the up and coming in the industry, and therefore being deemed irrelevant. Do we judge our industry as harshly as the public judge our Olympians? Should we be allowed to pursue our chosen career as long as we choose, as long as we feel capable, or do we allow ourselves to be pushed aside in favour of someone younger and less experienced, but hungrier? And what do we do if that happens? Where do we turn then?

In order to be your best, in any field in life, even in life itself, we need clear and defined goals, and the discipline to pursue them. But goal setting is a risky business in itself. Set the wrong goals, and risk failure. It is sadly easy to spend too much time and effort climbing the ladder, only to realise, belatedly, that it was up against the wrong wall…..

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The “M” word…. Money, and how do I get paid for this?

After the idealism of youth, and the dewy eyed enthusiasm of the passionate beginner has worn off, and we have begun our fledgling careers in the Special Effects Makeup Industry, most people come to realise very abruptly, and not altogether pleasantly, that there is a long hard road ahead of them, and it isn’t going to be all roses and red carpets…. In short, you will have bills to pay, rent to cover, and you will look wistfully at your friends who have ‘boring’ jobs working in the local bank or as a plumber, who are buying new clothes every six weeks and jetting off overseas for their annual leave, and say “Why cant I afford to do that?”  You will have discovered the harsh reality.

It’s hard to make a living wage doing what we do.

And nobody, but nobody, teaches you about Business 101 when you are studying to be an “artist”. Lets face it, you wouldn’t have been interested if they wanted to- you thought that because you loved it so much, all you had to do was get out there, show the world how talented and enthusiastic you were and they would beat a path to your door… FX Houses all over the world would be competing to get you to come work for them, right?  Or not…. Continue reading


INSURANCE FOR SFX Makeup Artists and Technicians

When you first start out, dont forget INSURANCE!

When you work for a larger company as an EMPLOYEE, you will be covered by their public liability and indemnity insurance policy as long as you are engaged in work that you have been assigned.

When you are a FREELANCER, or as can sometimes be the case even when working for a larger company, a SUBCONTRACTOR, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for your own insurance.

So, if anything goes wrong, say an actor has an allergic reaction (whole different subject- to be covered in another post!!) and ends up requiring expensive medical treatment, or if the actor is injured in some way as a result of YOUR work, then YOU are personally LIABLE, not the production… nor the company that may have engaged you to do the work…. Of course the injured party may choose to sue them as well for having hired you in the first place, but in the end, its going to cost you.

A lot of people ignore insurance when they start out, they think its too expensive… but being sued for injury or loss of income is going to be a WHOLE lot more expensive, and given how hard it is to make any money in this business in the first place when you are in your early career, can you afford to take that risk?????

All countries have different legislation covering insurance and compensation so you will need to ask around for the best kind of cover. In the United States you may be able in many cases you can ad it as a rider to a home insurance policy for little to no cost. Australia is a little different, you can cover tools of trade at home or in the car, and public liability on the premises, but not on a worksite, which requires a separate policy…

Some places have policies specifically geared to the Film and TV production industry. You can also ask your local Government regulatory authority, Media Union or Professional Association for recommended insurers. If you can’t find those, then get some kind of Mobile Business Insurance if you are working on sets and locations, that will cover you for personal liability and tools of trade, (often these cover any assistants as well).

Don’t skimp- it could cost you your livelihood or your lifestyle!


The Power of No……

No matter where you are or what your circumstances, pursuing Special Effects Makeup as a career is going to be an enormous challenge.  It is one of the most highly competitive fields in the world, and yet the rewards are not monetary or even fame, but intrinsic to the creative process, and inherent in the actual work itself.  For people who are lucky to live in a time and a place when the business is good, and work easy to come by, they may not understand or appreciate the sheer numbers of people all over the world, in the most remote corners, who desire so passionately to pursue their dream, regardless of the whether or not there is a viable film and media industry where they live.  And yet, they do… WE do…..  all of us, just a little bit mad, and very, very, determined.

A dear friend and mentor of mine, a highly respected SFX MUA, said it best- “We are all missing the part of our brain that tells us when to stop…”

Many people ask for information and help on how to get this, that, or the other, achieved on a shoot, “with a very tight or non-existent budget” Fair enough. We all of us, apart from a fortunate few, start out that way, doing work for free or very little and without much to work with, its part of our training and necessary, if you can pull a rabbit out of a hat and get something onscreen that will pass muster when you have nothing to work with, then JUST IMAGINE what you will be able to do once you get some REAL equipment and materials….

But what really riles me, is when I hear “there’s no time to do this”.

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So you want to be a Makeup FX artist? Pt 1. Where Do I Start?

So, you have been doing what you are doing for a while, life was going ok, good, not great, and you have slowly come to the realisation that you have a niggling dream to work in Special Makeup FX…. Or perhaps you always knew you wanted to try for this, but you never quite knew how to start? You might be twenty and single, footloose and fancy free, or you might be married with a mortgage and kids….
I do empathize with you- I didn’t get into this until I was 40, and let me tell you it took me about three years to work up the guts to do it!! I flipped everybodies lives upside down in the process, because I had to move to the other side of the country for three months to train, and previously I had been home with my kids while they were little, so my husband suddenly had to rediscover (discover?) his domestic side and hold the fort whenever I was working! Fortunately for me though he realized I needed to do this and saw how much happier I was once I had so it all worked out, not everyone is that lucky. Also we have money from our other business so I can afford to just do the jobs I want- never had to take weddings to pay the bills.
So where do you start?

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How Time Flies… The Intensity of Creativity….

I was teaching a class in May, as Guest Tutor for PAC Screenworkshop 2, having been asked back as Makeup Instructor once again by Annie Murtagh-Monks, (Casting Director, Managing Director of the Association of Screen Professionals and Co-ordinator and driving force behind the Perth Actors Collective). Annie introduced me as an ex-alumni of the PAC workshops, also of the memorable Creative Intensive residential weekend workshops held at the old New Norcia monastery every year, and she asked me when it was I had done mine. Off the top of my head I estimated at least one of them was around 2005….

Well, out of curiosity, I was leafing through some paperwork in my office, and came across the original certificates of completion- turns out my first Creative Intensive was the 5th to be run, in July 2002, and the second was the 8th C.I. ever, in September 2003…. ( since those heady days they have a single weekend every year, they are up to C.I. 15 this October.) Looking back at the 9 years that has passed since my first C.I. has afforded me a unique perspective… and I just thought it might be interesting to share it with anyone who is currently in the midst of their own creative journey…

For anyone who doesnt already know, I used to be an actor. Admittedly, not a fabulous actor, as in those days I was restricted and restrained by the insecurities of youth and upbringing, my inner shyness and lack of self-confidence… Go ahead, I hear you laughing from here… but (believe it or not) I am actually a very private person and, especially in those days, rather controlled and emotionally self-contained, which is not the best thing for an aspiring actor to be…. I had not yet discovered the secrets of letting go and being myself, but was still in the grip of control issues and inner demons. Yeah- we all got ’em….

I had always held a yearning to act, but working in hospitality in my younger years kind of precluded that ambition, and it wasnt until I had my first child in 1995 that motivation met opportunity, and I joined my local community theatre group, at the local Irish Club.  (Coincidentally I also acquired my love of a properly poured Guinness during this period…).  Like anyone, I contributed to almost every role at some point during my internship in theatre, from Stage Manager, Costume and Sets, through Acting, often at the same time..  then studied Theatre Lighting at UWA and temporarily took over from our Lady of Light, Ms Fiona Reid, who was studying her craft at WAAPA.  I even directed a couple of plays, and had one delightful actor tell me that one day, I would write my own highly successful production and give him, in his own words, “Three Lines And A Gun”.    I still think that would make a great play or even film title, and you have my permission to use it, as long as I get a Thankyou in the credits!! Continue reading


BLOOD FOR FILM: Information, Ingredients and Recipes

The original version of this post was written for the Film and Television Institute in Perth, Western Australia a few years ago. It has since been updated and added to several times. In its current form it summarises the best and most accurate recipes and useful information currently available to Makeup Artists, to allow you to make your own Theatrical Bloods for Film, Tv or Stage.

THE HOLY GRAIL OF MAKEUP FX

As a Makeup Artist, I am often asked about the best way to make a CHEAP, REALISTIC artificial BLOOD, that won’t stain, and can be made in bulk for film and theatre.

The answer isn’t always what they want to hear, sadly, there is no such beast! As always, the classic designers triangle applies here: Good, Fast and Cheap. Pick two…..

Quite honestly, if you are only using a small amount then you are better off buying a good brand of theatrical blood as it will work out the same price to make your own and wont always be as good, and less fuss!

However, if you need a large quantity or are unable to source a good quality product in your geographic area, there are plenty of recipes around and one of those listed here is bound to suit your purposes.

In my personal Makeup FX kit I routinely carry between 12 and 16 different types of bloods at any one time. Yes, thats right- at least a dozen! The reason for is that there are many variables on a shoot, and rarely is one product suitable for every occasion. You need to mix and match. I carry runny bloods that dont dry, runny bloods that do dry, runny bloods that are mouth-safe or edible, bloods that stay where you put them, bloods in different colours in the above categories, opaque bloods, translucent bloods, blood pastes, blood that can be reactivated by a spritz of water, blood that will stay on underwater, blood that sets scabby, blood that looks fresh, blood for eyes, blood powder, blood capsules…. you get the idea?

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