In the early days of filmmaking, many actors applied their own makeup, an endeavor that involved greasepaint and powder and layers of pancake makeup to counteract the challenges presented by black and white film. The term “makeup” as a noun was popularized by Max Factor (1872-1938). A talented wigmaker, he also formulated the first cosmetic specifically for use in film.
In fantastic cinema, the tremendous creative use of makeup by Lon Chaney (whose seminal work included The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera) and Jack Pierce (whose achievements included the Frankenstein monster, The Mummy and The Wolf Man) brought the art to new heights in design sensibility and execution that have not been surpassed in many ways.
Time is an important consideration in Cinematic Makeup Design. First, an actor’s makeup needs to be consistent shot-to-shot, even when consecutive scenes are filmed out of order. Second, makeup must ring true to the historical time period of the film. Third, special care must be taken when depicting wounds like cuts and bruises that heal over time.
The tradition continued in fantastic films, handed down from Stuart Freeborn (who worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and more) and Dick Smith (whose resumé included Taxi Driver and Amadeus) to Rick Baker (whose groundbreaking work includes An American Werewolf in London and 2010’s remake of The Wolfman) and a legion of others who followed.
Special Effects Makeup and Creature Design can be a time-consuming process. Less involved effects could be as simple as a prosthetic nose of latex. More sophisticated systems include full creature suits an actor can wear, and animatronics—remote-controlled systems that use mechanical devices to produce a lifelike performance from puppets or models.
The process of Creature Design begins with simple sketches and a momentous amount of imagination, and ends with 3-dimensional characters that range from grotesque monsters to mythical beauties. Small-scale models, or maquettes, are sometimes made to test a design’s viability.
Makeup and Creature Design are critical components of the Cinematic Arts. Both serve the story playing out onscreen, fully transporting audiences into the narrative.