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Archive for September, 2016

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8 Tips for Halloween Prosthetic Makeup

When October 31st comes round, millions of people will be getting ready to get dressed up, go out and have fun. If you’re wearing prosthetics to take your outfit to the next level you are certainly going to stand out in the crowd, but you will also need to take a little extra care to make sure your makeup looks good when it goes on and stays looking good through the evening, so we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you look your best, based on feedback from our customers over the last 6 years.

1. Buy early and do tests

If you buy a costume, you try it on before the big night, right? If at all possible you should do the same with your prosthetics – but be aware that all prosthetics are not reusable. Our silicone prosthetics are 100% reusable and so they can be fully applied and painted for tests as many times as you like. Our gelatine prosthetics are intended to be used once, although some customers have managed multiple uses by not using too much adhesive and not blending the edges. If you are buying prosthetics that are not reusable you can still do a basic test by just applying adhesive in a few spots to tack it onto your skin for a test run. Trials will give you an idea of how easy or difficult it is to apply your prosthetic and how long it will take, which is good to know as you don’t want to rush your application. If you’re going to all this extra effort, you want to look good!

2. Start Clean

It’s always a good idea to clean both your skin and the back of your prosthetic with 99% alcohol before applying it to make sure you have absolutely clean surfaces to work with. Even if you don’t have cosmetic makeup or moisturiser on your skin, there will always be natural oils that will act as a barrier when you apply your adhesive, and you will have handled the prosthetic a lot before application so those oils could be on there too. You can buy 99% alcohol at most pharmacies and at various places online including Amazon UK and Amazon US. If you are ordering online don’t forget that it could take a little extra shipping time as alcohol is flammable (but completely skin safe) – so no smoking when you work with it!

3. Pre paint as much as you can

It’s far easier to paint colour into wounds before you apply a prosthetic – especially if you’re applying it to yourself. Use a fine brush and take as much time as possible to add details, highlight edges and create shadows; it will look amazing once it’s applied! Even non-wound prosthetics (zombie brows for example) can be pre painted if you like. Add a base tone, veins and spots and then once it’s applied you only have the task of blending your skin to match the prosthetic which can sometimes be a far easier job.

4. Bring extra adhesive

If you’re going out for the night with friends, it’s all to easy to forget about your prosthetic once it’s applied. On a film set, someone in prosthetics will have a crew of makeup artists standing by off camera to monitor and fix any issues as soon as they come up – on a night out you won’t have that luxury. Remember you are going to eat, drink, dance and generally have a good time, and all of that is going to take its toll on your prosthetic as the night wears on so bring a little extra adhesive and a few cotton swabs with you just in case you need to do a quick fix to keep your makeup looking perfect.

5. Take extra care with mouth prosthetics

If you are applying prosthetics around the mouth it’s going to get maximum wear and tear as it’s the most flexible part of the face and the most likely area to pick up moisture. We recommend using our NimbaFix Silicone Adhesive around the mouth (even for gelatine prosthetics) as it gives a little extra bond. And on that note…

6. Bring straws

If you’re going to a Halloween party, it’s safe to say that you’re going to be enjoying a few drinks. If you are wearing prosthetics that are near your mouth, bring a few drinking straws with you to avoid drinking from glasses when you can. You may feel a little odd drinking beer through a straw, but you’re already dressed as a zombie, so who cares?!

7. Removal takes time too

So the night is over, you’ve had a blast and you won first prize at the fancy dress party, and now it’s time to head home. Don’t forget that you still need to remove your prosthetic and more importantly, the glue underneath. Our adhesive remover soaks into the glue and breaks it down so you don’t need to scrub, but it will still take a little time to completely clean large areas. Lots of customers have simply gone to bed with a well powdered face to tackle the job the next morning with remover and a hot shower, which sounds like a good option for those who are going to party hard.

8. Have fun!

The reason you’ve gone to this extra trouble is because you want your Halloween to be extra special, so make sure you enjoy the makeup process as much as possible – it’s all part of the experience! Try rounding up a few friends who all want to wear prosthetics for the evening (our Zombie Walk Party Pack has enough kit for up to 7 people!) and help make each other up to get the best possible effect – watch our videos together to learn as many tips and tricks as possible and apply them all so you look absolutely killer when you step out, and be each others makeup artists for the evening; check in, help with touch ups and prepare for everyone to want to have their photos taken with you all night, because that is going to happen. Just don’t frighten too many kids along the way!

If you are going zombie this Halloween, check out the video below where we show you how to not only apply the prosthetic but also how to distress your clothing for maximum effect.

Got a makeup FX question or comment?

We love hearing from Nimba Creations customers, Cosplayers, Actors, Movie Makers and Makeup FX artists at every stage of their career. If you’ve got a question or comment about our products, Makeup FX or want to show off your lastest creation you can contact us via our Facebook Page.

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How to make a T-Rex

Way back in 2000, we were working out of a theme park in the south of England. It was a dream job building animatronic dinosaurs; we could build what we wanted, when we wanted, but of course Nimba being Nimba we wanted more, bigger and better.

We suggested to the owner that we leave the theme park and as an independent company, we build a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Full size, animatronic and the most realistic in the world. At first the owner balked at the sheer scale and cost of the project, so we mocked up a model of a smaller concept – a ‘captured t-rex’ where only the head and neck was visible with the ‘body’ hidden inside a vast trailer, but, after seeing a vision of what we wanted to create he simply couldn’t resist the idea of a full size, free standing Tyrannosaur in all its glory at the entrance to his attraction.

Animatronic T-rex
Nimbas largest project to date

Once he agreed, we actually had a mild feeling of dread – how exactly do you make a full size animatronic t-rex in North Devon?

The first task was finding a vast workshop not only big enough to house one t-rex, but three; the sculpt, the mould and the castings. We found an old meat packing factory on the outskirts of Barnstaple and started assembling a crew. We found a fantastic gang of FX newcomers in Andy Colquhoun, Charlie Bluett, Javier Aliaga and Simon Hall (who turned out to be so good that they subsequently went on to work on the likes of Dr. Who and Harry Potter).

For the sculpt, the only sensible choice was polystyrene. The cost of building an armature and sculpting in clay on this scale would have been astronomical, so instead we modified a scale model by Tony McVey, bread sliced it into 5mm thick slabs and used a projector to scale up those slices to full size onto vast pieces of polystyrene. These were then cut out with a hot wire tool, reassembled and supported with scaffolding to produce a rough sculpt at full size.

T-rex sculpt
Reassembled slices made a rough sculpture at full size

Over the next few weeks, the crew used sandpaper and wire brushes to refine this rough shape into a beautiful sculpture. Oil based clay was used on the head to create intricate bumps and scales as we knew this would always be the focal point.

T-rex head sculpt
A lot of work went into detailing the 13ft long head sculpt

With the sculpt complete, it was time to make the mould. The only feasible way to create such huge moulds was to use a spray rubber system to capture the surface detail followed by a spray plastic system to create a shell or ‘mother mould’ to hold the shape. We then handed most of these moulds to a local boat maker to turn out fibre glass castings. The sections we cast in house were the flexible ones; the neck, arms and a section of the tail (which, considering the neck section was a 6ft long tube that needed to be cast in mesh infused silicone, was no easy task!)

t-rex moulds
Just a few of the huge sculpt sections being moulded

While castings were being created, we started on the animatronics. The legs were constructed out of 4 inch box section, the neck was a triangular ‘space frame’. From the start we knew we needed to over-engineer the whole structure as it was so huge we couldn’t risk a breakage that could hurt someone. The hydraulics and pneumatics were driven with systems similar to those used in Jurassic Park; the heart of the hydraulics was a unit the size of two washing machines, but a lot more pricey!

The only way to support such a vast structure standing on two legs at the theme park was to pour a huge, deep, concrete pad into a hole in the ground to balance out the weight of the animatronic above ground. The concrete was reinforced with steel mesh and two heavy steel struts were carefully positioned to stick up out of the concrete to meet with the legs of the t-rex. Because this was the only way of supporting the huge model, it was never fully constructed in the workshop. It was transported to the park in several sections on the back of flat bed lorries (much to the surprise of the motorists who passed our convoy that day).

T-rex base
The support structure being encased in concrete on site

Once on site, there was no way of getting vehicles to the patch of grass that our t-rex was going to live on, so everything had to be carried by hand (well, by many hands) from the entrance of the park to the concrete pad. Using only a single scaffold tower and a pulley, the pieces were attached and welded one by one, building up the animatronic to a height of 16ft at the hips.

Animatronic T-rex
Tom and Andy finalise the power system

While it was wonderful to see the creature coming to life after 8 months, the miserable weather was a constant hindrance. Pouring rain may have set the scene well for a full size Tyrannosaur, but having to weld in puddles is not the best way to work. At one point on closing the door to the control panel, the t-rex suddenly became self aware, woke up, raised its head into the air and jammed it down with full hydraulic force into the nearby scaffold tower which drove a metal pole inside the mouth then out through the muzzle of our shiny new dinosaur. Miraculously the damage was only cosmetic, and half an hour with a little fibre glass fixed the damage and the mend was invisible. Rain and electricity do not mix – who knew?

Despite all of our trials and tribulations, the t-rex we created still entertains crowds to this day. Sometimes you have those projects where, if you fully understood the magnitude of what you were undertaking, you would never have done it – but the sense of achievement you feel when its done is immense and lasts a lifetime. Naivety can be a useful ally at times.

Robots Book
Our T-rex build featuring in the book ‘Robots’ by Daniel Ichbiah

The t-rex has gained attention for Nimba Creations all over the world, appearing in newspapers, magazines, various special effects books and even on the cover of a sci-fi novel. We even showed a photograph of the finished piece to a very young Daniel Radcliffe when we met him on a business trip to Scotland and the second Harry Potter was being filmed nearby, and he loved it. Even wizards are excited to see real dinosaurs.

Meg
Our T-Rex fighting a shark (?) on the cover of the novel ‘Meg’.

It wasn’t the last animatronic we would ever make, but it was certainly the largest and the one we are most proud of to this day. Now we focus on our online shop and the production of thousands of prosthetics, there is no sculpt, no mould, no matter how complex, that phases us. We literally created a monster.

Got a makeup FX question or comment?

We love hearing from Nimba Creations customers, Cosplayers, Actors, Movie Makers and Makeup FX artists at every stage of their career. If you’ve got a question or comment about our products, Makeup FX or want to show off your lastest creation you can contact us via our Facebook Page.

 

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Prosthetics – to reuse, or not to reuse?

We had been asked about reusable prosthetics hundreds of times before we created our first silicone appliances. It sounds like an easy enough task to produce something that can be used time and again; there are hundreds of rubbers of all different strengths on the market. The problem was creating something durable, flexible and reusable with invisible edges, which is pretty much the holy grail of prosthetics (in fact finding the holy grail might be easier!)

We used gelatine for our prosthetics from the outset; it’s flexible and recyclable (the overflow material can be melted and used again) which made it economical, but not really reusable. A lot of customers had reused our pieces by not using too much adhesive to apply the prosthetic and not blending the edges, but we never felt comfortable calling them truly reusable.

Ripped Face prosthetic
Our Ripped Face is now made in both single use and reusable materials

Foam latex was one option, but it presents problems. First off, some people are allergic to latex. Not a huge portion of the population, but as we sell in thousands to people round the world we were bound to come across people who would react badly. On top of that, foam latex is only so reusable. Foam Latex appliances are soft and light which is great, but soft, light prosthetics can tear, and foam latex will eventually dry out and crumble as it’s exposed to daylight.

The only other option was silicone. the problem with that was that in order to get invisible edges, silicone prosthetics are encapsulated, which means a very thin layer of flexible plastic is sprayed into the prosthetic mould before the silicone is poured in. When the prosthetic is applied, alcohol is used to melt the edges of the plastic into the skin, making the join disappear. A fantastic technique, but once again this meant that the piece wasn’t truly reusable – once the edge is melted, its gone forever.

So, against all of our artistic instincts we chose to do the exact opposite of what we would usually strive for; to make prosthetics with a defined edge that wouldn’t be blended away. Tom sculpted beautifully detailed upper and lower face prosthetics to produce a full face zombie effect, and he finished them with a neat, thin edge that was very slightly rounded (almost impossible to see) to avoid tearing.

Reusable Silicone Zombie Brow
The first reusable prosthetic was our zombie brow

Before the application day, we were wondering how we would make the edge disappear. Blood? Dirt? Sweat? We kicked around ideas and decided we would just have to wait until the prosthetics were on our model to see what would work best, and film whatever we did so our customers could get the same effect. However, when the day came around, we simply forgot about it. The edges ‘disappeared’, despite the lack of any blending at all. Sure, if you looked hard for them you can see them, but how many people in zombie prosthetics get examined up close? For the most part our customers would be either at parties, performing at haunted houses or be filmed in the half light of a horror film. It worked, and no one was more surprised than us at just how well it worked.

Silicone Zombie Makeup
The full makeup… spot the seams?

After we had applied the prosthetics (and filmed the process for the video at the bottom of this post) we headed out to a secluded farm house to shoot our ‘movie scene’. Tom brought out all of his best movie making tricks (creating cobwebs on a zombie using nothing but glue and two blocks of wood…? The guy is old-skool cool!) and we fired up the smoke machine for a long night of filming a guy in military costume creeping around a creaking, groaning, dimly lit house before he met his inevitable demise. The highlight of the evening (for most of the crew anyway) was listening to 3 grown men shut in an old, dusty cupboard built into the fabric of the house along with lights and cameras, trying to act and direct in the near dark.

A few months later we released Sil-Blend, a two part paste that can be used to blend the edges of our silicone prosthetics if you really do want to make the seam disappear. By mixing parts A and B in equal amounts, you can add material to the edge of the prosthetic creating a perfect blend – however it permanently adds material to the prosthetic, so you need to give it a little thought before applying.

Sil-Blend Silicone Blending Paste
Sil-Blend was the answer to blending edges on our silicone appliances

You can enjoy the fruits of these struggles in the video below, and if you would like to try some of our reusable silicone prosthetics, you can see the full range on our website – we’ve added werewolves, vampires and lots of other cool pieces – and if you do make sure you show us your application!

Got a makeup FX question or comment?

We love hearing from Nimba Creations customers, Cosplayers, Actors, Movie Makers and Makeup FX artists at every stage of their career. If you’ve got a question or comment about our products, Makeup FX or want to show off your lastest creation you can contact us via our Facebook Page.

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How to Go Full Zombie

We had been selling zombie prosthetics for a few years before we put together our first full kit. We liked giving people the ability to mix and match their prosthetics to customise their own looks, but we also wanted to give people the worlds first movie quality ‘zombie in a box’ which would give our customers everything they needed to look like an extra from The Walking Dead in one complete pack.

Zombie Makeup Kit
Kit – prosthetics, adhesive, blender, blood & paint

Tom sculpted zombie brow and mouth prosthetics that would still look great when they overlapped, so users could have some adjustment for different facial sizes, and he also sculpted gruesome looking teeth with a ripped lip into the mouth appliance, because everyone loves that over-the-top look but most people can rarely achieve it on their own. For films and TV, ‘out of the mouth dentures’ are made for a specific actor which not only gives them gnarled teeth but also hides their lips; then prosthetics are sculpted to fit over the top of these dentures, revealing the exposed gum area and giving a terrifying skeletal look.

Walking Dead Zombie
Dentures used on The Walking Dead image © AMC

You can see how this effect would be problematic for the casual makeup artist! Sculpting the teeth right into the prosthetic meant that we could get a similar look, and providing the wearer blacked out their own teeth (easily done using tooth enamel our even just food dye) the effect was very convincing, especially for an ‘out-of-the-box’ zombie… in fact, every time we see the video (which you can watch at the bottom of this post) we forget that the teeth we are seeing is the prosthetic, not the actors teeth!

Zombie Mouth prosthetic
Yep, the teeth are gelatine too!

World War Z was due for release later that year (2013), so for the ‘movie’ portion of our makeup video we decided early on to film a running zombie. Not everyone likes the idea of fast zombies, but we wanted to go with something that felt fresh and up to date, so we decided a high octane zombie chase would be a great way to showcase the zombie kit. One of the advantages of living and working in the Scottish Highlands is that everyone knows everyone, and lots of people have access to things you would never have access to in London. So when we were chatting to a friend in the local pub on Loch Ness and he offered access to a helicopter and pilot for the day, we almost bit his hand off at the shoulder – zombie style!

World War Z Style Trailer
‘Copters & zombie chases, a typical Nimba work day

On the day of the shoot our model, Graham Hay, spent a couple of hours in the makeup chair before we headed over to PDG Helicopters to film our chase scene. Luckily it was a fairly cool day so Graham, in makeup and with a boiler suit over his clothes, and our co-pilot played by Simon Swinton in full flight kit didn’t overheat as we spent hours trying to capture the chase on film. With the shots being filmed from a car driving towards a helicopter with blades spinning while another person hangs out of the window with the camera trying to focus on the action, being part of the shoot felt like being in the movie itself. It was adrenalin pumping, exciting and sometimes scary, and we loved every second of it.

So, here’s the video, including our little movie plus application and paint instructions for the prosthetics. If you’d like to have a go yourself, you can get yours by visiting our Zombie Prosthetics Kit page – we even throw in a free copy of our Ultimate Zombie Makeup Guide DVD which includes the video in full HD – don’t forget to show us your results!

Got a makeup FX question or comment?

We love hearing from Nimba Creations customers, Cosplayers, Actors, Movie Makers and Makeup FX artists at every stage of their career. If you’ve got a question or comment about our products, Makeup FX or want to show off your lastest creation you can contact us via our Facebook Page.

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A Day of Filming in the Glorious Highlands

A couple of months ago we were driving through Glen Shiel (a gorgeous spot in the Scottish Highlands not too far from our workshop) on a misty, moody day and we decided there and then that we needed to film something there to capture it. We hadn’t released a new makeup video in a while so we thought that would be an ideal excuse to start movie making.

Glen Shiel
Glen Shiel; an awe inspiring place

The first How To videos we made back in 2009 didn’t have movie sequences – or music! When we filmed the application of our Hospital Zombie Prosthetic, we realised the door our model was standing next to looked like something from a medical facility, so after the makeup was done we got him to stumble through it into the sunlight; low and behold, it looked like a shot from The Walking Dead, and we had established our own style of makeup video where we showed a movie scene (or as we call it a ‘vignette’) so our viewers can see the prosthetics in action and see how our products can look in their own productions.

Bringing Game of Thrones to the Highlands

The landscape in Glen Shiel immediately made us think of Game of Thrones. It was epic and mysterious. As luck would have it we were already in the middle of producing some prosthetics which, if applied to the right person would be reminiscent of The Mountain in his zombie state – we called them our Decayed Flesh Prosthetics (available now in our shop). We found our own man mountain in a local named Hamish Moir and decided to have him rising from a loch in ethereal surroundings. Our first choice for a loch to film at was Loch Killin, a beautiful, secluded spot not far from Loch Ness (Loch Ness itself had also been a consideration but this was the height of the tourist season and would have been far too busy from all the best angles). Our location manager Ryan Lancaster suggested we try Loch Kemp instead; it was equally secluded and beautiful but had the added bonus of being more easily accessible and there was even a small cabin on the site where our cameraman could stow his gear and Hamish could warm up between takes. It was perfect. Our location liaison Russell Bain got the permissions we needed to film there and we were ready to go.

Loch Kemp
Loch Kemp; an ideal filming location

We took a day in Glen Shiel to get shots of the misty mountains for the opening of the vignette. Luckily, the sunny morning gave way to a drizzly afternoon and we were able to get the moody opening shots we needed to set our scene.

The Day of Filming

It was an early start on a Saturday morning when we rolled into the workshop to apply and film Hamishs’ makeup application. The first thing we had to do was get him into a kilt, wrapped around him in the old style – not the type you buy off the peg these days, but a single length of fabric that is laid on the ground and pleated before the wearer lies down on it, the fabric is wrapped around them and the whole thing is held in place with nothing more than a belt… you can see why we needed to do this before applying prosthetics!

After a couple of hours in the makeup chair, Hamish was ready to go. We loaded up the truck and took him out in sunglasses and a black hoodie in an attempt to hide his face from passers-by… we didn’t want him frightening small children! It took about an hour and a half to get to the location and as we approached we saw a plume of smoke coming from the loch. That’s when we knew our crew was already there, firing up smoke machines and camera kit. Our cameraman, Steve Nelson had driven up from England two days earlier. and being the consummate pro, he was ready to shoot the moment we arrived.

The day was long but every minute was productive; Hamish spent hours dunking himself in the chilled loch never complaining once. Ryan ran back and forth on the shore like a mad man, waving a smoke machine and creating our ethereal mist. Steve lined up shot after shot, filmed on a Red Epic Dragon camera (the same kind used to film Prometheus) and even stayed calm when, during one of his chest high wades into the water for close ups, he tripped over backwards, almost submerging the eye-wateringly expensive camera in the Loch. Thankfully even though his vision was obscured by a hood, Hamish ‘safe hands’ Moir grabbed the kit and saved the day… phew!

Hamish Catches the Camera
Hero Hamish catches the camera and saves the day!

Despite a hellish midge invasion at one point that made Hamishs’ legs look like a well used dart board, everyone ploughed through the day and we got all the shots we needed, filmed at 100fps to give us crisp, hi-res slow motion shots that looked incredible. We reviewed each major take as we went, and everyone was excited about what we had captured. We were eager to get wrapped up, get Hamish out of makeup and get to a computer screen so we could see what we had filmed in all its glory.

3am, pizza and beer

Steve was leaving for England the next day and still had the job of processing, colour timing and converting every single take to prepare them for editing. So, after a full day of makeup and filming, pizza was ordered, the beers came out and the eyes were propped open with matchsticks while the process ran into the early hours. Steve left for England after an amazing amount of hard work, and now we could start the edit.

Ancient Warrior
Long days, hard work, totally worth it

Another week of pizzas, beers and 3am finishes resulted in the video below. Sometimes when we’re making our videos, we are asked “is it worth it?” We often ask ourselves that question when we are tired and angry at some technology or other that’s in the way of us finishing the project, but the answer all the way through this one was a solid YES. From the first shots we took of those mountains, we knew we were going to create something epic; we knew that we had actually managed to translate the lofty concept that we had in our heads into something real, something we could be proud of and something that would represent Nimba Creations perfectly. We couldn’t have done it without Ryan, Steve, Russell and Jade (our hard working lab tech who cast the prosthetics and held down the fort while the rest of us were getting eaten alive by midges in a loch).

Tom and Hamish
Tom and Hamish review the footage on location

So, here is our full video including the makeup application (you can buy our Decayed Flesh prosthetics here). We kind of love it.

Got a makeup FX question or comment?

We love hearing from Nimba Creations customers, Cosplayers, Actors, Movie Makers and Makeup FX artists at every stage of their career. If you’ve got a question or comment about our products, Makeup FX or want to show off your lastest creation you can contact us via our Facebook Page.

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How to get into Special Effects

We are asked a question so often I thought it best to commit my thoughts to virtual paper. The question is “How do you get into makeup special effects?”

I totally understand the question. This is such a specific and exciting career even the most casual observer has got to wonder this, let alone
someone with the desire to have a go themselves.

Where I started

Let me explain my journey into this amazing art. To begin with, I’m (at the time of writing) 52 years old,

The early days...
The early days…

and I started out in the dark ages…before the internet. I used to have to ride my dinosaur into town to use the public library. That’s a lie, I never had my own dinosaur, I had to take a public transport dinosaur.

 

I was always interested in illusion. I first wanted to be a magician, but I was awful at it. The next thing I knew The Planet of the Apes TV show was on the air along with Star Trek and then eventually Star Wars came out. Special effects started being discussed and documented as something more than the generic term “camera tricks”. That was enough for me, I knew, in some manner, this was what I was all about.

 

As a teenager magazines like Starlog, Cinefantastique, Cinemagic, Fangoria and eventually Cinefx started coming out. In dribs and drabs, they divulged little hints as to how TV and film illusions were crafted. I found myself unable to decide what area of fx work I wanted to get into so I dabbled in everything. I started making my own sci-fi and horror short films on Super 8 cine film. My Dad used to collect antique cameras so trips to photography conventions with him and the occasional job lot of kit he purchased would yield a usable camera or bit of lighting kit so I was very fortunate. My films were, of course, packed with every type of effect I could think of.

Start with what you’ve got

The mask is good but the costume sells it...
The mask is good but the costume sells it…

I remember wanting some proper bright and glowing, back lit slasher film style titles for my film “The Planting”. What I needed were some lithographic negatives made from my marker pen and paper artwork. There was a local printer who did the work for me in exchange for a few afternoons of my stuffing envelopes for them. Fair deal, the barter system, I love it!

My Dad worked as a manager of a local lumber yard and hardware store. I was a regular fixture here. I used scraps of wood off cuts from the saw room, boxes of plaster of Paris, pots of enamel paint and other such “off the shelf” treasures to fuel my creative experiments. “Whatcha makin’ now Tom?” was a common question at LeFevre’s Lumber Yard. You can make props and models from an array of materials from so many sources.

It’s never too early to start your portfolio

I made sure that I filmed and photographed everything I made. I knew photographic evidence of my skills, of my unstoppable passion to “make” no matter what my knowledge or budget was critical to proving to whoever would look that I was “the man for the job”.

This remains true today. If you are as passionate as you would have someone think surely, you have a huge portfolio of things wild horses could not stop you from making?

You must have a portfolio of up to date projects. Prove your passion, creativity and determination. Don’t have 82 photos of the same thing, have at least 2 pictures each of 82 things!

Build Up Your Core Knowledge

Zombie makeups were different back in the day...
Zombie makeup was different back in the day…

I permanently had two books signed out of my school’s library. Richard Corson’s Stage Make Up and Al Taylor and Sue Roy’s, Making a Monster. Those books were mine! I just let other looks at the covers of them occasionally.

I learned everything from Stage Makeup. I made sure I not only looked at the latex and effects section, but I also made myself practice the fantastic illusions created in the book by using basic painting techniques and hair work. I knew that the flashy stuff was all well and good but when combined with a rock solid knowledge of the core principles of paint, colour, highlight and shadow one could become a powerhouse. The basics are just that, basic principles…basic, not easy. Man, there is some skill in doing stage makeup well. Learn how and why to use highlight, shadow and colour and most of all learn why it works.

Don’t be overly tempted to go for the latest and trendiest techniques and materials. They are usually ingenious but are no replacement for core skills like sculpting, painting and observation. There is no magic wand, no one material or technique that makes instant, perfect results. The quality of work is like luck, “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get”…it’s a trite saying, but it is true. Anyone can be taught a process or how to use a material in a matter of days. You can’t teach the result of endless hours of practice and discipline.

Don’t stop learning

One of the key things I see in every successful makeup special effects (Makeup FX) artists is an almost compulsive need to know how and why things work and how those things interact with other things to make another thing. You can’t fake this curiosity, and you can’t do without it. Learn to learn. Practice seeing how and why things are done and apply the principles you observe to the core processes of your craft.

I can’t think of the number of times I have thought and heard, “Ahhhhh, that’s how those are made. I wonder if that type of thing would work for making a …”

Get your work out there

I would show my work to anyone who would look at it and often to those whom I had cornered and left them no choice. Alcone Theatrical Supplies used to have an office in Midtown Manhattan. Makeup artists would put together a photo collage of their work, and Alcone would allow them to post it on their office wall. A lot of people got work this way back in the dark ages, me included.

We have the internet now. There are many forums out there for aficionados to showcase their work. I suggest you use them. They can be a great place to learn from. Like with everything online they can also be a place where a small number of people jockey for position, strive for selfish ego boosts, arguments and try to hold court but luckily these people are in the minority, just keep in mind the core reason you are there, to learn and share knowledge.

Taking Action breeds Results

Not TOO bad for my first old age makeup...
Not TOO bad for my first old age makeup…

Before (and many times after) becoming a professional makeup artist I offered my work to other peoples ambitious efforts. I did make up for local theatre groups, university filmmakers, stills photographers, shops who wanted attractive window displays and other makeup artists who had little or no money but would offer credit and experience on their project. I can’t think of the number of low budget projects I did for free or for train fare and lunch money. This is a part of the craft…slave labour…within reason.

I know some don’t think this is good, but I believe that if you are fair to yourself, you can build valuable experience, knowledge and contacts while working for little or no money. In my day it was called “paying your dues”. Don’t let people take disrespectful advantage of you but remember, you are getting something from it too, it’s a deal, an arrangement, an agreement.

It’s your portfolio that gets you work

There are a LOT of courses available to the aspiring makeup artist out there. Many are very, very good. Many are not. What they can do is introduce you to processes, materials and techniques. Some give you tutelage under the observation of a more experienced artist, and that can be very helpful indeed. What they won’t give you is a certificate that will GET you a job or guaranteed wage. They give you an opportunity to learn what is on offer, to build your experience and contacts and to fill your portfolio even more. THAT is what will get you work.

The Most Important Thing

Finally, your state of mind is essential to your success. Your portfolio and where your head is at will make your career. Humble confidence, honesty regarding your skill level (and in general) and respect for the fact you don’t know everything combined with a calm enthusiasm for learning and willingness to work hard will fling doors open. Go in ready to work, get yourself there and home again. People who are running projects need warriors who are paying attention and don’t need any babysitting or nose wiping. Be a warrior with your head on straight, self-motivate and get on with the task at hand with solid core skills and a mind keen and sharp and you will be back again and again and again.

Me as an albino hit man for a futuristic western.
Me as an albino hit man for a futuristic western

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