Special FX makeup is one of the most transformative tools in Hollywood and beyond. A good makeup job can turn a regular person into almost anything imaginable. Some of the most amazing transformations have turned models into mythological creatures. Other makeup artists use special FX makeup to enhance and contour bodies. Regardless of how you choose to use special FX makeup, full body characters are some of the most interesting projects to tackle.

Continue reading to learn how you can create a full body character with special FX makeup.

Inspiration

If you’re interested in special FX makeup, you can probably recall a few looks that have sparked your passion. We’ve seen some crazy things in this industry. But with special FX makeup, crazy can be good!

The looks that inspire you can be full of texture—gory or glam! If you are looking to create a full body character with special FX makeup, we recommend sourcing inspiration first. A great place to start is fantasy and horror movies. There are a lot of cult favorites in terms of special FX looks. But don’t feel restricted by mermaid and vampire effects!

You can combine elements from different characters as well. If it doesn’t exist now, it will by the time you’re done! For example, you could use the body of one character and the facial features of another as inspiration. Don’t be afraid to use a design board to help plan your look. Lay out some of the colors, textures and props you would like to incorporate. From here, you can visualize how the details will work together. You’ll want to start thinking about the materials you’ll need as well.

ellf woman in a forest

Tools

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced special FX makeup artist – no tools are off limits! Some of the best ones can be found at your local dollar and hardware stores.

While it would be impossible to list every tool you’ll need for special FX makeup, we can tell you about some common ones. These are staples you should always have in your special FX kit! Some examples of tools and products you need are as follows:

  • Body paints
  • Cream makeup
  • Latex
  • Bald cap
  • Prosthetics or molding clay
  • Wigs
  • Vaseline
  • Colored contacts
  • Liquid, gel, capsule and powdered bloods
  • Palettes
  • Injury wheels
  • Sponges
  • Makeup and paint brushes
  • Adhesives
  • Eyebrow creams
  • Glue removers
  • Hairdryer and tools
  • Rubbing alcohol

Prosthetics

Again, with special FX makeup, anything goes! You may not want or need prosthetics, but they sure can elevate a look. Affordable, good quality prosthetics can be hard to find. That’s why many makeup artists choose to make their own!

If you would like to go this route, be sure to do your research! Some prosthetics can take multiple days to build, dry, and then make adjustments to. This is why it’s so important to plan your looks out in advance. Otherwise, you’ll end up with goopy, unrealistic prosthetics. Or worse – a rubber hand wound from your department store’s Halloween section.

Adequate time and preparation is the best way to create successful special FX looks. Don’t rush the process!

special effects makeup with girl covered in glass shards

The Canvas

One of the best parts about being a special FX artist is that your canvas is living and breathing (even if they don’t look it)! The human canvas usually requires a bit of prep. You need your model to have a solid base before you can get into the fun stuff!

Depending on the look you’re trying to create, you’ll need either a dry or tacky base. If the look you’re going for requires blending you should opt for a tacky base. These paints are oil based and don’t dry completely. It’s a great option if you’ll be building color in your special FX look. For special FX looks with finer details you should opt for a dry base. Water paints accomplish this well and they dry fairly quickly.

If you’re doing full body paint remember that certain body need different paint types. Whichever one you choose, make sure your base is dry before moving on to additional special FX. A solid base is a predictor of how well your final look will turn out! In order to keep your base solid, you may want to consider using antiperspirants under the makeup application. If you want it to last you better hope that sweat doesn’t cause unwanted melting effects!

Besides painting your base, you need to prepare your model for any prosthetics or accessories you will be using. Bald caps are often used at this point. If you are doing full body paint, you should also cover any areas your model requests! Cue the pasties and lycra underwear! Whatever you do, stay away from cotton!

blue body paint

Play Time

Once you’ve prepared your canvas and all the necessary prosthetics, you can start working on the fun stuff. At this point, your creativity will really start to flow. It’s time to start the makeup application!

If you have chosen to use prosthetics or additional textures, you’ll want to apply them first. This‘ll allow you to cover up any messy edges later on with makeup. Just be sure to allow enough drying time between layers and applications.

Once the prosthetics are dry and secure, you can start working on the details. Remember the difference between tacky and dry paints! For zombie looks that require blending, use oil based paints. For aged skin, water based paints will allow you to create those fine wrinkles and textured details.
Try playing with different applicators to add realistic elements to your look. Ordinary objects like toothbrushes and sponges can create awesome effects. We’ve seen people create scales in no time with fishnet stockings and some airbrushing. Get creative! If you are ever unsure about a technique, try it out on paper first. The best part about makeup is that it’s adaptable!

Make it Last

So, all the details are perfect and your look is ready for its big reveal. No really – you’re pretty sure there is an actual corpse bride sitting across from you right now. The last thing you want is for all your hard work to wear off. Unfortunately, no special FX zombie lives forever. BUT, there are a few things you can do to make your makeup look last a little longer.

Setting powder is obvious, but not always possible. Depending on your look, it may not be an option. Setting sprays are usually a safe bet for any look. But it isn’t always strong enough. Especially if your model has to be in costume for 14 hours! In this case, hairspray is a great option. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but it creates a film over wherever it’s sprayed. You may also consider buying seals to make special FX looks last. Depending on how long the look needs to last, usually using hairspray as a sealant will work fine if you’ve created a solid base!

The world of special FX makeup is fantastical and intriguing. It’s easy to get excited and carried away when creating looks—especially full body ones! The goal here however, is to create a realistic and detailed version of a character. This requires proper planning and patience!

actress covered in special effects makeup wounds

Are you interested in learning more about Special FX Makeup? Check out this list of 5 special effects jobs you may not have known about!

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