How to Work With a Special Effects Makeup Artist (Fake Blood Included!)

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Photo Source: Andreas Gradin/Shutterstock

Special effects can be a tedious, delicate, and time-consuming art form (trust me, I’ve been working with special effects makeup in film for 14 years). And in an industry where time is money, it’s easy for a special effects makeup artist to feel the pressure—especially when you feel like the whole production is waiting on you.

To help a makeup artist use his or her time as efficiently as possible and to help alleviate stress, the best thing an actor can do is show up on time and ask any questions before sitting down in the chair. Remember: Sometimes actors are in makeup for hours, so it’s important to mentally prepare yourself for the process, use the bathroom before you get started, and make sure you’ve eaten.

Come prepared for special effects makeup application and try to ensure there are as few interruptions as possible—i.e., don’t check your phone every five minutes—to allow the artist to stay focused and maintain timing. And if you do need to get up, adjust your body, or even sneeze, let the artist know!

If you’re working with fake blood, get ready to have some fun! Depending on the effect the production is going for, there are several different types that all need to be handled differently. For lower-budget films, homemade blood (Karo syrup and food coloring) is often used. Then there’s blood gel, stage blood, blood paste, blood powder, gelatin blood, blood palettes, airbrush blood, greasepaint get the idea.

This stuff is a blast to work with, but it can be messy and sticky. It can also stain skin, clothes, furniture, and other materials, so be aware of what you’re touching on set after using or performing with it—and if you’re the one doing the application, the tools you use, too. Some fake blood products come with applicators, but you can get creative and use your own tools. I like to use a plastic syringe for precision, but spray bottles, eye droppers, brushes, and spatulas all offer their own singular effects.

And when all is said and done, you’ll have to remove it. The best way I’ve found, whether it’s homemade or stage blood, is to get rid of the bulk of it with a washcloth soaked in warm, soapy water or by using baby wipes. (These are a personal favorite, since they’re effective and gentle on the skin. Your skin goes through quite an ordeal with special effects makeup and fake blood, so you want to be as kind to it as possible in the removal and aftercare.)

If there are still stains or faint marks left behind, shaving cream is a lifesaver. Just get a can of basic, nonfancy shaving cream such as Barbasol, rub it into your skin (or fabric or furniture), and rinse with warm water. The foam prevents the dye from seeping into your pores or the fabric, and it won’t dry out your skin. For stubborn stains, try a little rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or toothpaste. Or you can make a paste with water and baking soda. Nail polish remover also works if you’re desperate, but think of it as a last resort, and never use it on your face.

Dealing with greasepaint or oil-based makeup? You’ll want to fight like with like and remove it with jojoba oil, coconut oil, baby oil, or good ol’ fashioned cold cream. And if you’re lucky enough to work with gelatin blood, then don’t worry about any of this because that stuff peels right off!

Christine Herbeck is a New York–based hair, makeup, and special effects artist with 14 years of experience working in film and fashion.

*This post was originally published on Oct. 5, 2017. It has since been updated.

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