Getting to Know the Makeup Department

AUGUST 23, 2021
Makeup artist applying makeup to an actor on set.

If you’ve been booked by Central Casting, you know that creating your look is a big part of the job. As a Background Actor, you’re often tasked with not only putting wardrobe together, but doing your makeup for your booking. While health and safety protocols vary by production, it’s likely that you will still have some interaction with makeup artists while on set. To help you get to know production crew, here’s an intro to how the makeup department helps bring a character’s look to life.

What does the makeup department do?

On set, hair and makeup are often referred to as one department even though they are technically separate. The makeup department is responsible for all makeup used in a scene, from basic everyday styles like in Good Trouble, Cousins for Life, and Run the World to looks that require special effects makeup like in The Mandalorian, American Horror Story, and The Orville.

In addition to making an actor look good on camera, makeup helps bring a character to life, informs the setting, and has to fit within the overall aesthetic of a production. Film and TV makeup artists deal with more than just foundation, blush, and eyeshadow. They are also responsible for creating makeup and prosthetics that can age an actor, show an injury, turn them into an alien, and much more.

Roles within the makeup department

The production designer oversees the entire art department, including the makeup department. They are responsible for the overall physical look of a project and work with the makeup artists on the general makeup design for the movie or TV show.

Key makeup artist

As the head of the makeup department, the key makeup artist oversees the makeup design for the entire production, while ensuring continuity throughout filming. They often will apply makeup to lead and other principal actors, especially for special or hard to produce looks.

Makeup artist

Makeup artists are responsible for applying makeup to talent, including Background Actors when necessary.

Special effects makeup artist

Looks that make an actor appear significantly different than they do in real life are usually handled by special effects makeup artists. Their responsibilities can include old age makeup, fake wounds, prosthetics, and turning actors into otherworldly creatures, like Vision in WandaVision and various aliens from Star Trek: Picard.

Makeup assistant

Makeup assistants can help apply makeup in some cases, but their main duties include organizing makeup kits, photographing talent for continuity, and other small tasks assigned by the key makeup artist.

How to prepare your makeup for set

Depending on the production, Background Actors are usually responsible for doing their own makeup and showing up to set camera ready based on the notes given in your booking details. Be sure to follow these directions carefully so you can create the desired look for your role.

For some projects, the makeup department may instruct you how to add the finishing touches with the products you bring with you. Other roles you book may require more collaboration with makeup artists, like if special effects makeup is involved.

Want to learn more about crew members you may work with when booked as a Background Actor? Find out How Production Design Influences Background Work and Who’s Who on a TV and Film Crew.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Industry Essentials