Prosthetic makeup

Prosthetic makeup (also called Special make-up effects and FX prosthesis) is the process of using prosthetic sculpting, molding and casting techniques to create advanced cosmetic effects. Prosthetic makeup was revolutionized by John Chambers in such films as Planet of the Apes and Dick Smith in Little Big Man.


The process of creating a prosthetic appliance begins with lifecasting, the process of taking a mold of a body part (often the face) to use as a base for sculpting the prosthetic. Lifecast molds are made from prosthetic alginate or more recently, from skin-safe silicone rubber. This initial mold is relatively weak and flexible. A hard mother mold, typically made of plaster or fiberglass bandages is created overtop the initial mold to provide support.

Once a negative mold has been created, it is promptly filled with gypsum cement, most commonly a brand called "Ultracal-30", to make a "positive" mold. The form of the prosthetic is sculpted in clay on top of the positive. The edges of the clay should be made as thin as possible, for the clay is a stand-in for what will eventually be the prosthetic piece. Along the edges of the mold, "keys" or mold points are sculpted or carved into the lifecast, to make sure that the two pieces of the mold will fit together correctly. Once sculpting is completed, a second mold is made. This gives two or more pieces of a mold - a positive of the face, and one or more negative mold pieces of the face with prosthetic sculpted in. All clay is carefully removed and the prosthetic material is cast into the mold cavity. The prosthetic material can be foam latex, gelatin, silicone or other similar materials. The prosthetic is cured within the two part mold - thus creating the beginning of a makeup effect.

One of the hardest parts of prosthetic make-up is keeping the edges as thin as possible. They should be tissue thin so they are easy to blend and cover giving a flawless look.

Conflict with CGI

As the film/television industry continues to grow, so do the capabilities of the technologies behind it. Since the debut of newer technologies, many have feared that CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) will put practical SFX makeup out of business. More can be done with CGI than can be done with makeup as some things simply aren't possible when working in reality. Many views circulate on the subject.

Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, two experienced SFX artists from Amalgamated Dynamics near L.A., share what they see as the middle ground on the subject. In an interview, they explain that most movies use (out of necessity) a combination of practical effects and CGI. They see CGI as a tool that can be utilized in a good way or a bad way, just like practical effects.[1] Tom Savini (an SFX artist known for his work in Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow) states: "They still use the make-up guys to design the creatures and that’s what they work from. I don’t think you’ll see make-up effects guys hanging out on corners with signs that say: WILL DO EFFECTS FOR FOOD.”[2]

Real-World Use

Special Effects Makeup isn't only used in films. A branch of SFX called Moulage is the process in which makeup is used to simulate different wounds and trauma in order to prepare medical, emergency, and military personnel for what they could experience in the field and lessen psychological trauma.

Notable artists

Notable examples

See also


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