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How to Become a Special Effects Makeup Artist

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Whether you were inspired by the era of Universal monsters in old films or the prosthetics of the horror and slasher movies of the 80s, chances are you may have been inspired and asked yourself, “How do I become a special effects makeup artist?”

These highly specialized makeup artists work in many different industries, with most of them working in the motion picture and video industries, personal care services and radio and television broadcasting.

Most live in California, New York, Texas and Florida, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. While it’s a small field that can be hard to break into, few can argue that it’s not totally fun and rewarding. But how can you make your dream a reality?

How to Be a Special Effects Artist

The first step toward your dream of being a special effects artist (or SFX makeup artist) is to gain training and experience as a makeup artist, making special effects your specialization while obtaining your certification. Simply put, a good special effects artist needs realistic, hands-on experience at applying prosthetics, understanding skin and anatomy, working with chemicals, communicating with clients and understanding color theory. These are all things that can be learned while achieving your certification.

Skills Needed to Be a Special Effects Makeup Artist

  • Customer Service: Communicating with clients with personal needs is vitally important across the entire makeup industry, but it’s even more important in an industry that relies on interpersonal networking.

  • Fine Arts: Composing art, providing and taking feedback and performing well under pressure are all factors here.

  • Management: If you’re going to have your own business and be owning your own time, you’ll need to be good at managing time and resources.

  • Safety Adherence: Dealing with chemicals and equipment can be dangerous if proper maintenance practices are not in place.

  • Dexterity: As with most makeup artists, a steady hand when applying creams, dyes and prosthetics to clients’ faces is important.

  • Creative Thinking: Thinking out of the box to solve problems quickly for a director is what will get you known in the industry.

  • Organization and Scheduling: This industry operates on tight and yet ever-changing schedules. The mantra of the film industry is “hurry up and wait” for a reason. Having a good concept of time management is important.

  • Design: Sitting down with a producer, PA or director to create a plan is a part of the process, and you’ll need to produce feasible results.

  • Flexibility: Sets and lighting may change quickly, and a makeup artist may need to be on set to make abrupt changes.

  • Dependability: Part of the “hurry up and wait” mantra is that you’re expected to be present, prepared and ready on a dime. Offing a consistently dependable service is how to stand out in the industry.

Education Requirements for a Special Effects Makeup Artist

Most people will need a vocation school certificate, an associate degree and/or years of on-the-job experience. There aren’t really shortcuts; you’ll want to find special effects makeup classes nearby that will help you learn the basics of makeup application. Most in the industry have at least a basic cosmetology license. To “get in the door,” many will choose to try to get work as a SFX makeup assistant on major projects.

Finding the Right Special Effects Makeup Schools

While some industry experts have created their own special effects makeup colleges, these programs can be unreasonably expensive and offer no realistic opportunities for placement after graduation, which is why so many choose to get a basic makeup certification and take specialized classes from there. For example, one famous two-year program for exclusively SFX makeup is priced at more than $40,000!

Of course, you’ll want to find the school that fits you and your goals. Do you want to work in the general makeup industry and work your way into the field? Would you like to work in Broadway? What sort of specialized classes does the school in question offer for specifically SFX?

Those outside of California might be wondering, “Are there any special effects makeup schools near me?” Our Florida campuses offer comprehensive skincare certifications along with specialization in areas like special effects, camouflage and high fashion makeup, which can help you reach your SFX dreams!


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