Becoming a Hollywood Makeup Artist: Tips for Beginners and Pros

Production / October 27, 2014

Becoming a special effects makeup artist in Hollywood (or any other filmmaking hub) is a difficult proposition. Forging a successful career field that you love, whether that’s doing an actor’s base and eyeliner or really digging in and helping to create a monster through special effects makeup, there is no better time than now to make your move. Is that because there are more jobs? No. Is it because there is less competition? No. It’s because there is no time like the present to take action. (That’s actually true no matter what part of the film industry you work in.) The fact of the matter is that those who take action “now” have an advantage over those who sit on their laurels, trusting that they will simply be discovered due to their immense talent.

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
– Leonardo Da Vinci

You therefore need to get creative. That’s simply because, more so than in other areas of the film industry, the career path for special effects makeup artists is laced with stiff competition. This is increasingly true in all major cities with a thriving film community, cities like London, Vancouver, and New York…but especially Los Angeles. The sad truth is that there are more makeup artists than there are jobs. More than ever before, showing off what you can do in front of the right people is incredibly important. As notes, “To succeed, you have to think like a professional athlete: If you are going to train and compete, your goal is to beat your competitor.” (1)

Among some aspiring makeup artists there is, perhaps, a misconception that all special effects makeup artistry is making zombies and monsters. Those who have attended a school specifically for cinema makeup artistry quickly have their eyes opened. They discover that most movie makeup jobs are really more about using makeup for color correcting, neutralization, figuring out the perfect foundation color for an actor, and understanding which cosmetics work best under which lighting conditions and on which skin tones. In other words, most TV and movie jobs for makeup artists don’t even use special effects makeup. However, if you have this stuff down, noting that you can also turn Brad Pitt into the world’s scariest demon can be an added layer on your artist’s resume.

Getting good often depends on a strong knowledge base. Attending a special effects makeup school will go a long way. An individual can have immense talent, but most makeup artists are talented. But, take that talent, add the right knowledge, and that makeup artist can become great — even famous! That’s why we’ve created this brief how-to guide for becoming a Hollywood special effects makeup artist.

Professional schooling is must

If you aren’t working regularly yet, you should take advantage of as many resources to get you to that point as you can! “Get how-to and reference books and DVDs from the Make-Up Artist Shop, along with a subscription to Make-Up Artist magazine. It’s the voice of the make-up industry, with great interviews, news and techniques from working professionals.”(1) Additionally, if you’re in Los Angeles, there are a few good special effects makeup schools to choose from.

These include:

  1. The Cinema Makeup School
  2. The El School of Professional Makeup
  3. The CAMMUA-Couture Academy of Modern Makeup Artistry

If you contact these schools, be sure to ask about the instructors, the alumni, where graduates now work, and what type of makeup artistry they really specialize in.

Networking is a vital skill you must master

successful career path starts with being introduced to the right people. If you meet someone who has worked as a key-makeup artist, a key-hair designer, a set-designer, a costume designer etc. become their friend. Show these people some of your creations. Get their card. Give them yours. (You don’t have business cards? Get some made. Don’t have a website? Make one. Include many photo examples of your work. It’s your online calling card. Show off your portfolio every chance you get!) It’s all about marketing yourself and making sure you are the best of the best. In most cases, these people all work together in collaboration…and a key-makeup artist could hire you on the next project he or she works on!

What if you are already established and working regularly?

It would be easy to say you took action. You’ve made it. You came, you saw, you conquered. Now what? You are already working in TV or film on a regular basis…you don’t need advice on working in L.A. You must remember that there are always ways to improve your skills, and there are always horizons you have never crossed. If you’ve been straining to come up with something that increases your skill level and adds significantly to your portfolio, you need to remember that versatility is key…even if you’ve been working for a while.

As Billy B, a famous makeup artist (who started out with Mariah Carey), noted in an interview on, “It’s important to stay diversified, which may require some sacrifice. Think of this sacrifice as an investment in your career. For instance, you might need to turn down a paying job to do something for free that will enhance your portfolio. Look at this opportunity as an investment into the longevity of your career. If you are in an aspect of our business that requires a portfolio, you must dedicate yourself to keeping it fresh and current and showing your versatility.” (2)

Career inspiration

You may get some inspiration by heading over to the Youtube channel of Oscar winning makeup artist Rick Baker, who is known for his work on the original “Star Wars” and 2001’s “Planet of the Apes.” Or head over to Ve Neill’s website for some super cool big budget movie inspiration.

We hope you found this little how-to guide on becoming a Hollywood makeup artist enlightening. In a makeup artistry world of stiff competition, whether one is already a pro or is a total beginner, it pays to remember that there is no success without action. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

REFERENCES: (1) MICHAEL KEY, publisher of Make-Up Artist magazine; (2) – billy b: A Career in Make-up Artistry

LACS life
LACS life
Contributing writers from the Los Angeles Center Studios come from all facets of the film and television industry bringing fresh insight and innovation. From screenwriters, to crew, to makeup artists and location scouts, we’ve got contributors from every corner of creativity.

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