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History of Makeup in Film

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Published: Mon, 07 May 2018

Makeup has been around and enduring changes since 3100- 2907 BC. Men and women in Egypt started with creams to keep their skin soft and glowing. Soon other countries started created their own form of makeup. Makeup has been around for centuries and is still widely used today.

The egyptians used dark green colors for eyeshadows and for mascara they would tint eyelashes with kohl. Sometimes they would use the kohl for eyeliner. This kohl was actually made from soot. In Rome they had the same ideas on how apply makeup but the ways they did it were dangerous. The Romans believed that to be rich your skin had to be pale. To achive this look they would use chalk and even white lead.

Because these methods were so dangerous many women died due to lead poisoning it caused a lot of health problems such as hair loss,stomach problems and death. Eventually they started making makeup products from natural food ingredients. In the victorian era it was believed that if you were wearing makeup then you were a prostitutes or actresses. Any heavy makeup or even a slight color change in hair, they would be looked down upon.

By this time makeup was evolving and people got tired of using harmful chemicals on their face. Women had stopped using kohl for their eyelashes and started using hot wax and other oils. Instead of using flour to powder noses Max Factor created a press powder around 1914.

In film makeup actors would usually do their own makeup which caused them to just grab anything. Most of the products they used contained lead and mercury. To get the desired look they would use an extremely heavy grease paint that was pink in color to re correct the lighting from the film equipment. If the paint was applied to lightly the actors would look pale. To try to fight that they would also use black and red liners to try to hollow out their eyes. They would sweat under all of those stage lights and every mark on their face would show. Max Factor and George Westmore realized this was a problem so Max created a special kind of grease paint that was a lighter product. You were able to build it up to however thick you wanted to and it hardly showed any harsh lines. He would set that grease paint with his “pancake” makeup which was really his new pressed powder. They still used the red and black liners to hollow out their eyes.

His pancake makeup was used in Vogues of 1938 and Goldwyn’s Follies. It was only used in movies but soon everyone was wearing it offscreen. Max Factor went on to create his beauty empire. He started making foundations, lipsticks, eyeshadows, cheek tints etc. George Westmore went from a wig maker to a makeup artist. George invented a lot of tips and tricks for cinema makeup. Even the invention of false lashes. George opened a tiny makeup studio in 1917. He had big clients like Mary Pickford. He actually found a way to “fake” her curls everyday.

Film makeup has not changed. They use safer materials that have actually been tested. Also, they have also gotten more creative. For example they have been able to make rubber pieces to attach onto the skin and how to paint faces to look more like a character or a monster. Spirit gum was also introduced to the makeup world along with latex. The latex works great for making small wrinkles. Lon Chaney used to use wire and toilet paper to curve his nose up for one of his roles. It was a very dangerous way to curve his nose because the wire would make his nose bleed.

The first time that horror makeup was used in a movie was Nov. 30th in 1925 with the Phantom of the Opera. In order to get the makeup effect, Lon Chaney would put his wig on along with a prosthetic piece for his forehead. He used black shadow for the underneath his eye to make it look like his eye was pulled down with a little bit of white on his bottom lash line to make the eye appear bigger. Also, he used a fish skin material and glued it down with spirit gum. They tried to glue his nose down with just spirit gum but it would always fall back down. They had wires running from his nose into his wig piece and the wire was secured with the fish skin. They also had little wires for his mouth. His face had little tiny wrinkles all over the place white and black makeup was used to make him look a bit deadish. Then the last step was to give him new teeth to complete the look.

In 1935 The Bride of Frankenstein was the next movie to use special effects makeup. Normally actors would do their own makeup but for this movie they brought in a makeup artist named Jack P. Pierce. Jack created two scars under her chin that went into her hair. The scar making process took about an hour. They covered her face with foundation lipstick and false eyelashes. Then for her hair they just combed her hair upwards onto a little cage and added grey streaks. The creature of the Black Lagoon in 1954. The costume was made from molded rubber sponge.

In 1973 The Exorcist used some sort of forehead piece. They covered up her eyebrows. Also, they used latex to create the cuts on her face and a little bit of bruise colors around her face to make her look possessed with the help of contacts. To create the vomit they used pea soup.

In 1977 The Incredible Melting Man came out. For this makeup look they gave the actor an oversized helmet that they painted to look skeletal then with a flesh tone. Then they would put syrup and paint all over the mask. Each take they would have to apply more and more so it would look fresh.

Next is Alien from 1979. For this movie they used a soft modeling material and snake vertebrates. Also, they used cooling tubes from a car. In 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street became popular because of Freddy’s burns across his face. To create these burns the makeup artist used individual pieces to lay on the actor’s face. First, he started off by securing a bald cap on with spirit gum then latex. Then had to block out the eyebrows and his beard with a glue stick so the prosthetic pieces would not get stuck to the hair when he glued them down. He put the head piece on first, then the neck piece, he would secure the face piece and then the chin piece. All together there was 11 pieces that were put on. The makeup took about three hours to put on and taking it off. When all of the edges were blended and secure he would go over all of the “burns” with red paint then very lightly with a white color. The face pieces were sculpted out of silicone so they wouldn’t have to start from scratch each day.

In 1990 Edward Scissorhands came out and they brought in a mechanic to work on his hands. For his makeup he has a pale shade on his face, the underneath of his eyes have dark bags and that can be done with just a black eyeshadow that’s lightly dusted. For the cuts on his face a small layer of latex is all the sfx makeup this movie needed.

In 2000 The X-Men was released. For Mystique they had a full body cast to sculpt the 110 pieces. About 60% of her body was covered in prosthetics. They did plaster casts of mostly all of the cast members. Also, they did casts for Wolverine’s hands. The makeup took around seven hours for just Mystique.

2004 Hellboy was released. The makeup for Hellboy took four hours. First they used all foam pieces. They applied his back piece and put it over his head to attach to his chest. The last pieces that were applied were the facial prosthetic pieces that only left his lower lip. He was then painted all red.They would attach the lower lip part right before they started filming so he could eat or drink.

Special effects makeup has gotten more advanced as the time goes by. The artist now have the choice to make prosthetics to make their job easier. The variety of makeup choices are larger. For example airbrushing in now a possibility. Instead of having to hand paint all of the prosthetics, it takes less time to airbrush than to paint every individual piece. Once you’re done airbrushing you can spend more time focusing on the more important details.


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