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The work of a makeup artist can involve something as simple as making a performer look their best before the camera to completely transforming their appearance through use of prosthetic attachments. The earliest examples of theatrical makeup date back to the Middle Ages when makeup effects were used to represent God, angels, and devils. Today makeup designs may include complicated animatronic wings, detailed rubber masks, and radio-controlled mechanical creatures. Effects may be created using rubber, plastic, fiberglass, latex paints, radio-control units from model airplanes, and steel cables.
Not every project involves prosthetics and special effects. Makeup artists also apply "clean" makeup, which is a technique of applying foundations and powders to keep actors and models looking natural under the harsh lighting of stage and film productions. Makeup artists accent, or downplay, an actor's natural features. They conceal an actor's scars, skin blemishes, tattoos, and wrinkles, as well as apply these things when needed for the character. Having read the script and met with the director and technicians, makeup artists take into consideration many factors: the age of the characters, the setting of the production, the time period, lighting effects, and other details that determine how an actor should appear. Historical productions require a great deal of research to learn about the hair and clothing styles of the time. Makeup artists also style hair; apply wigs, bald caps, beards, and sideburns; and temporarily color hair. In many states, however, makeup artists are limited in the hair services they can perform; some productions bring in locally licensed cosmetologists for hair cutting, dye jobs, and perms.
After much preparation, the makeup artist becomes an important backstage presence during a production. Throughout the making of a film, makeup artists arrive early for work every day. Applying an actors' makeup can often take many hours. Makeup artists are required to maintain the actors' proper makeup throughout filming and to help the actors remove the makeup at the end of the day. With the aid of fluorescent lighting, makeup artists apply the makeup, and they keep their eyes on the monitors during filming to make sure the makeup looks right. The makeup production crew is also responsible for the mechanical creatures they create, repairing them and keeping them in working order for the duration of filming.
Most makeup artists for film are in business for themselves, contracting work from studios, production companies, and special effects houses on a freelance basis. They may supplement their film work with projects for TV, video, commercials, industrial films, and photo shoots for professional photographers. Makeup artists for theater may also work freelance or be employed full time by a theater or theater troupe. Makeup artists for theater find work with regional theaters, touring shows, and recreational parks.