The Special Effects Makeup Artist

This Week's Film Crew 101 Guest:

Matthew Mungle has over 200 film and tv credits to his name as a special effects and prosthetic makeup artist. Matthew has worked on Hillbilly Elegy, The Irishman, August Osage County, Frida, Schindler’s List, Outbreak, Casper, and the movie that won him his Oscar, 1992’s Dracula. In addition, Matthew has worked on numerous television series including The X-Files, CSI, John Adams, The Big Bang Theory, New Girl, and Salem. Today, Matthew talks with Toni about how he got started in the industry and shares some tips for how to set yourself up for success on any project.  


Listen To The Episode Here:


The Special Effects Makeup Artist

Also referred to as an SFX Makeup Artist, a Special Effects Makeup Artist works to transform actors by using prosthetics and makeup. They utilize a variety of makeup techniques to create wounds, abrasions, or scars on the actor -- sometimes transforming the actors into monsters, aliens, and a variety of other characters.  The Special Effects Makeup Artist is a member of the makeup department and works in tandem with the Makeup Department Head to achieve the looks that are needed for a film.

During prep, the Special Effects Makeup Artist will read the script and conduct research, planning for special makeup looks and what kind of makeup supplies, equipment, or tools will be required to achieve the appropriate look for an actor that also fits the director's vision for the project. After breaking down the script, they will design the looks and speak to the producers about makeup effects and what kind of budget will be needed to effectively implement them. 

The SFX Makeup Artist may meet with the actor at this point to get feedback on the look and whether or not it is comfortable -- especially if a look requires extensive prosthetics or even a bodysuit. If they have an opportunity to practice the looks beforehand, it will help them plan how much time will be needed during filming to achieve the desired look. 

Depending on the project, an SFX Makeup Artist can be hired before or after the Makeup Department Head, but it is necessary to maintain excellent communication throughout the pre-production and production process to ensure that the team dynamics stay positive and that the department as a whole stays within the production budget. Sometimes, the Producers on a film will budget specifically for Makeup Effects, which may change department hierarchy and communication channels. 

Each day, the Special Effects Makeup Artist will arrive in their trailer and begin to work on the special effects looks that are on the schedule for that day. They will do what they can to make the environment comfortable for the actor while they are applying the special effects makeup, particularly as the process could take multiple hours to complete. While this reduces stress on the actor, it also requires communicating with the AD department in regards to how much time is needed for them to prepare the look for filming.

If they are in a time crunch or need to work with multiple actors at the same time, the SFX Artist can work on prosthetics or special effects on one actor while another department, such as the production design department, helps complete the special effects look on another actor. Continuity photos help ensure that the design looks the same each day of filming. The Special Effects Makeup Artist will guarantee that their designs meet their expectations before filming. 


What’s the Special Effects Makeup Artist good at? 

Communication: A SFX Makeup Artist needs to listen well and communicate clearly with their team about what is required to achieve the best special effects makeup possible. This will help the makeup department as a whole.  


Flexible: Because the special effects makeup artist works with people across a variety of departments, they must be open to feedback and ideas about their designs in order to collaborate effectively with others. 


Collaborative: The SFX Makeup Artist must be willing to talk to departments as well as the actors about their designs. This will help make sure that actors are comfortable wearing the looks and that they don't require a lot of time to put on the actors -- this will help keep the shooting schedule on track and within the production budget. 


Good bedside manner: SFX Makeup Artists benefit from having a personable bedside manner in order to maintain a good atmosphere for the actor while their looks are being applied. 


Who does the SFX Makeup Artist work with?


1st AD

Makeup Department Head

Props Department

Production Design Department 

Costume Department 

Grip and Electric Department

Special Effects Department 


How do I become a Special Effects Makeup Artist?  

Get a good background in beauty makeup or "straight makeup" -- this will give you an advantage when you want to transition into SFX Makeup because you will have a network of makeup professionals in the industry that can help you gain experience on a variety of projects. 

Learn the basics of prosthetics. Start on silicone and learn how to work with it -- HD Cameras pick up every flaw in the skin and will need to know how to match the silicone with the actor's skin as closely as possible. It's also a good idea to learn the techniques of foam latex, latex, or gelatin so you'll know what to do if it is required of you to work with that material on a shoot. 

Start out as a PA on set and learn the dynamics on a film or tv set and work your way up in the makeup department. During this process, keep your skills sharp and build your portfolio! 

What is the salary range?

Varies depending on which part of the industry you are working in. but the range of salary for an SFX Makeup Artist can be from $21,000 to $127,000 per year (on average).  

Books about Special Effects Makeup: 

Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Hand Book by Dick Smith

Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen: Making and Applying Prosthetics by Todd Debreceni  


Learn More:  

Learn more about Matthew Mungle:

Learn more about Toni Marlo:


 Thank you to our sponsors, the Cherokee Nation Film Office! 

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