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How CGI Is Changing The Art Of Makeup






Special effects are the cornerstones of making movie magic. For the most part, effects are traditionally divided into the categories of optical effects and mechanical effects.  Just to clarify the difference, "visual effects" often refers to digital post-production and "special effects" refers to on-set mechanical effects and in-camera optical effects.


The world's first "trick photograph" was created in 1856 by combining different sections of 30 negatives into a single image. Then later in 1895, Alfred Clark created what is commonly accepted as the first-ever motion picture special effect. This effect was generated while filming a reenactment of the beheading of  “Mary Queen of Scots” by placing a Queen Mary dummy in the actor's place and them restarting filming. "Such special effect techniques would remain in use for the next century."


With the advancement of computer animation software and camera technology, studios nowadays can bring just about any idea to life using computer- generated imagery (CGI). CGI has undergone tremendous changes since it was first introduced to film around the 1980’s, but what some filmmakers don’t realize is that it has the ability to make or break your work.


Since the 1990s, CGI has come to the forefront of special effects technologies. CGI gives film-makers greater control, and allows many effects to be accomplished more convincingly and even at lower costs. As a result, many optical and mechanical effects techniques have been replaced by CGI effecting the jobs and livelihood of many (including the makeup artist).

Creature makeup effects in Hollywood can be traced back as far as “Phantom of the Opera” in 1925. As cinema became more sophisticated, creature creation and makeup effects evolved to meet the demands of the era.  By the 1970s artists were building mechanical sharks, werewolves, and aliens.  There was a time when makeup effects were generated solely by the mechanically ingenuity of artists like Dick Smith & Rick Baker. These artists created their own creatures without relying on a computer to do the work for them.  In fact, Dick Smith (the Godfather of Makeup) created one of the first mechanical makeup effects when the possessed Regan for “The Exorcist.”


In today’s world, we no longer need to build mechanical sharks to complete the story.  Today all creatures and effects can be shot on a green screen and created in a computer. In addition to creatures being computer generated, there is the on going issue of makeup artist’s work being digitally enhanced or altered by a third party. And in recent years there has been a huge debate over the artist having control over the final product that appears in the theater. In fact, there is much talk of CGI techs possibly being required to work with the makeup artist to ensure the original makeup design in not altered. To avoid this ongoing problem, many makeup effects houses are starting to blend traditional creature creation with full digital services. So what does this mean for the future of makeup artistry? Are makeup creature effects going to eventually become exclusively digital? Will the creature creator phase out or evolve?


The truth is we don’t really know what the future holds. But what has become clear, like it or not, digital is here to stay. And like the evolution of car and automotive industry, we too must adapt and change with the times if we want to stay working.  The best thing we can do is stay informed, evolve with the times, and make sure we have a voice in the final product. After all, it is your name credited to the work that is shown on the screen so why wouldn’t you want full control or final say?