13 minute read

PHYSICAL AND VISUAL EFFECTS - Job Title: Special Makeup Effects Artist Or Effects Makeup Artist

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionPHYSICAL AND VISUAL EFFECTS - Job Title: Stunt Coordinator, Job Title: Aerial Director/coordinator, Job Title: Visual Effects Supervisor


Job Overview

When a cosmetic effect is required for a motion picture, television program, or print ad, that goes beyond what the straight makeup artist would do cosmetically, a special makeup effects artist is called in. “Whether it is the addition of a prosthetic or the reproduction of an actor in the form of a puppet or mechanical monster, it falls under the category of special makeup effects,” say makeup effects artist Gabe Bartalos, who specializes in the design, sculpture, fabrication, and application of animatronics and prosthetics makeup effects.

“Generally, a job begins with meeting the director to discuss his vision and special effects needs. I'll get a copy of the script, read it through and make notations, and then I begin breaking it down scene-by-scene and making a list of requirements. Next, I sketch out initial ideas to show the director and ensure we're on the same wavelength. Sometimes I'll make what is called a mock-ette, like a clay illustration.”

Bartalos then develops a cost projection to submit or “to see what is realistic to achieve.”

“Once a budget and sketches are approved, I often sculpt another model before we begin on the full-size work. Then, we set about sculpting the life-size monsters over armatures and mechanical frameworks. We bring the actors to the studio early on in the process to take measurements and cast their face and body, and may have them return as work progresses to ensure pieces fit correctly and work as desired.”

Once the sculpture of a face is completed, it is segmented: face, cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead are separated to make the finished prosthetics easier to apply. “The sculpture could take up to a week or more, depending on the complexity of the design; when you segment it, you have about another week of mold making. After the molds are finished, you get into running the foam rubber—the foam rubber has four components that are mixed together in a temperature controlled room and poured into the high temperature molds. Then the molds are stuck in an oven for three hours at like 250 degrees. When you open the mold, out come soft spongy foam rubber pieces. These are the actual prosthetics that will travel to the set to be applied to the actor. You run as many of these pieces as you need for shooting days. (Pieces are used once and thrown away at the end of the day.) If we're shooting three days, we'll run an extra set as a safety.”

Bartalos must arrive on set a couple of hours before shooting begins to glue the foam rubber prosthetics to the actor's face. “Usually I'm there the entire day, keeping an eye on the makeup, knowing that the wear and tear of a day, the actor's facial movements, and heat of the lights takes a toll on it. You keep your colors and adhesive standing by and you touch it up, as it needs it.

“You're kind of a pep squad for the actor—this poor guy, buried in all this rubber for the whole day—you encourage him, or maybe offer a thumbs up/thumbs down to the different expressions he is trying.

“It is fun to see the actor bring your work to life. It's kind of the punch line to the whole process.”

At the end of the shooting day, it is no small task to remove the special makeup effect. “A heavy prosthetic makeup can take up to 30 to 40 minutes to be removed. You go in with a skin sensitive oil that breaks down the adhesive and you slowly work it off the face, so that after a whole day of shooting, when their skin is a little more sensitive, it's not going to get beaten up. The prosthetic goes in the trash, you put some cold cream on the actor and send them off to take a shower. And get ready to do it all over the next day.”

Shooting days are long for makeup effects artists. If the production were shooting 14 hours, from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 P.M., special effects might arrive around 4:00 a.m. to begin applying makeup, so that the actor can walk on set by 7:00. At the end of the day, another hour or two may be required to remove the makeup and prepare for the following day. “The hours can be grueling,” Bartalos says. “The way I look at it is, I think makeup effects is one of the fun-est forms of the arts for cinema, so I figure the long hours are the trade off. If you're getting to do something this cool, they're going to make you earn it.”

Special Skills

Makeup effects artists should be skilled in sculpting and have the ability to sketch their ideas. They should possess an understanding of cosmetic chemistry, makeup application, lighting, anatomy, and color theory.

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

“Get your hands on a camera and start creating effects for your own movies. It's a great way to see what works and doesn't work, at your own expense. Take risks and try anything, just to see what you can do. Then, put your name up on the board at film schools and volunteer to work on independent student films to gain more experience. Once you have footage of some work you've done, start applying to work at a big effects shop to gain professional experience, or try to land work on an independent film. Look for a mentor—someone who has been in the business for a while that you can learn from and go to for advice.

“This job is all about your sculpting and painting talents. Get a block of clay from an art store and start modeling a face, a hand, a character, trying to get what's in your head through your hands into the clay. Take a pad and a nice pencil and start doodling and doodling. Start practicing; tighten those skills. Spend hours making some cool drawings and some sculptures. Take pictures of your work or a color copy. Then take the images and photos you've created and start banging on some doors because everyone, including me, is always keeping their eyes open for new talent to surround themselves with—to be inspired by, to be supported by. You never know what the next job needs. It may need a bunch of new people to crew up to get through the job.”

Professional Profile: Gabe Bartalos, Makeup Effects Artist and Owner, Atlantic West Effects

“I have always loved movies, especially fantasy films,” explains Gabe Bartalos. From a very young age he was captivated by the fantastic creatures and special effects he saw on the big screen. Recognizing their son's burgeoning passion, his parents gave him a Super-8 camera for his twelfth birthday. With neighborhood friends, Bartalos began to make his first movies. “Our films always had special effects in them and I started to zero in on that aspect. As I became more involved, I realized that artwork was the driving force behind the effects. When you see a decapitated head or a skinned body, if you look at it, there is a lot of artwork that lies behind the gruesome sight. I began to realize this was a great way for me to take all the painting and drawing that was my second love and channel it into my first love—movies.” Throughout junior and senior high school, Bartalos took every art class and worked to develop his artistic talents.

While attending a horror/fantasy/sci-fi convention, “a gathering of filmmakers, film fans, and merchandisers,” Bartalos heard that a film called The Deadly Spawn was being shot in New Jersey. Visiting the set, he was offered the opportunity to be an extra for a scene, and more importantly, he met Arnold Gargiullo, the man responsible for the film's special makeup effects. “He was very approachable and friendly, and lived two towns away from me in Westchester, New York. He said, ‘Come on out to my studio, punk, and let's see your stuff.’ I went out and showed him my humble, but ever-growing and enthusiastic portfolio.”

What do you like least about your job?

“Budget restraints. I hate when you have a great idea and the director loves it, but it has to be scaled back considerably because there isn't enough money.”Gabe Bartalos

What do you love most about your job?

“I love sculpting and painting. I'm fascinated by faces and their expressions. I love getting my hands dirty with cement, clay, plaster, rubber, and blood. I love movies, especially genre fantasy films … I love coming up with a bizarre idea, sketching it out, sculpting up a model, and having the director say, ‘That's exactly what I visualized. How soon can you build it?’“—Gabe Bartalos

Gargiullo told Bartalos he could “come and clean some buckets and the floor for no money” and get a chance to see that the work was not as “romantic” as he might suspect. “I was more than happy to do it. I was basically a sponge, soaking up information. It was a pivotal point for me, of hitting another level, where suddenly I could see what I called ‘real’ materials being used: resin, plaster, urethane, and foam being mixed properly. It was amazing.”

Over time, Bartalos was added to the payroll. He was invited to visit the sets of films Gargiullo was working on and entrusted with more responsibility in the shop, as a mold maker and fabricator. “I was probably 15 or 16 years old, going out on the film sets and learning set etiquette very quickly: when to shut up and stay out of the way, and how to be a professional in sometimes difficult situations.”

After high school graduation, Bartalos entered art school at Syracuse University. He continued to receive offers of work from Gargiullo, and returned to the workforce after completing one semester, spending the next year and a half working on a wide array of films, doing straight makeup, beards, wigs, and prosthetic work. “It was really a crash course, a wonderful education: hands-on in the makeup effects industry.”

While Bartalos was honing his craft, gaining experience, and making contacts, the industry was evolving. Makeup effects artists were becoming film superstars. “People like Tom Savini became my idol. He was responsible for the ultra-violent splatter films of the early ‘80s. At the same time, Rick Baker emerged. Because of his outstanding work on American Werewolf in London, makeup effects was acknowledged by the Academy and made an award category.” Baker took home the Oscar, the first for makeup effects, aside from a special award for Planet of the Apes in 1966. “It was a groundbreaking time. Rick Baker really took the art aspect of effects and brought it to the forefront, where the better your artwork, the better your gags will look. That became a whole new rush for me.

“It also marked the end of what is often criticized as the easy fix of blood effects. It opened up the door for nicely crafted creatures, elegant sculptures, cool demons, and graceful monsters. It really fueled the flame of, ‘Hey, I could actually make money doing this!'”

Bartalos began looking through local trades for opportunities to branch out on his own. When Gargiullo turned down work on a film called Spookies, he suggested Bartalos. “Arnold had done some gags, but gracefully left and let me tackle some of the others. That was exciting, seeing my own creations on screen.” The job led to work on Killer Dead, “a massive zombie film,” shot in Connecticut and upstate New York. Bartalos designed the effects and managed a team of workers, using his apartment as a studio. “We had up to 40 zombies going, three-quarters of them actors in makeup and masks.”

In 1986, a 20-year-old Bartalos and his dog relocated to Los Angeles with “a list of three or four effects shops.” Within his first week, he landed a job at MMI studio, working on effects for a film called The Dolls. A month later he was on a plane to Italy with a crew of two others, assigned to supervise the film's effects.

Upon returning to the States, he took a job as a sculptor and mold maker with Reel Effects, then crewing up for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. The company later sent him to Houston, to work on The Lamp. While there, he received a telephone call from Tom Savini, who was in Austin working on Texas Chain Massacre Part II, inviting him to join his crew when The Lamp finished. “Working with Tom was a real thrill. It was his work on Friday the 13th that began my fascination with horror in films and the execution of executions.”

Once back home in Los Angeles, Baralos continued to see the value of working for studios, constantly refining his craft, but began to also look for projects he could do on his own. One that came his way was Brain Damage, shot in New York. Directed by Frank Hennelotter, Brain Damage quickly became a horror favorite and began a collaboration between Bartalos and Hennenlotter that spanned many years and genre classics such as Frankenhooker, Basket Case 2, and Basket Case 3.


* “Take every art class you can, from drawing to crafts and sculpting. Rent movies and study the special effects and try to recreate some of what you see on the screen. Be constantly working on the design of something. Each time you build a mask or monster, whether life-size or a model, even if it doesn't work, you learn something.”Gabe Bartalos

Soon afterward, he received a call from idol Rick Baker, who was crewing up for Gorillas in the Mist. “I was so happy and honored to join that team. I spent a couple of months working on what he was hoping would be—and I think he accomplished—the ultimate gorilla suits that could cut in with footage of live gorillas—a really hard thing to do. It was amazing: idolizing him in the past and then working closely with him. I realized he was a real gentleman and fantastically talented. Though he had a large crew supporting him, he was the driving force behind everyone.”

Bartalos later worked with Baker on a number of projects, including The Beauty & the Beast television series, Coming to America, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Something Is Out There, and Michael Jackson's “Moonwalker” video.

Having gained a reputation for creativity, dedication, and dependability, effects shops began to call on Bartalos when they had tight deadlines to meet or needed additional workers to complete a project. In 1988, he opened Atlantic West FX, initially working out of his apartment. With more and more work coming his way, Bartalos rented studio space, later hiring additional effects artist to work for him.

This led to more film projects such as Dead Space, Fright Night Part 2, Timemaster, Blookrush, and the massive dinosaur construction for Douglas Trumball's Back to the Future, the Ride, shot in IMAX for Universal Pictures. “I long admired Doug's work. He was always resurfacing with an industry advancing process. As I sculpted T-Rex, I was impressed as to how specific he was about some of the details, while other aspects he let me run with.”

In 1991, he met video artist Matthew Barney, who needed some satyrs built for his film Drawing Restraint. Happy with Bartalos's work, Barney hired him for five films shot over eight years that involved amazing locations from Budapest, Isle of Man, and Canadian Glacier fields, to deep underwater locales off the coast of Florida, and the extreme tip of the Chrysler Tower in New York City. The films were layered with heavy metaphors, bizarre sets, and to keep Bartalos busy, a wide variety of beautifully executed mythological character makeups.

Between film projects Bartalos honed his makeup effects skills by working on a series of covers for Rolling Stone, shot by high profile celebrity photographer Mark Seliger. Highlights included turning David Spade into a Pan-like character and the now infamous Marilyn Manson “naked feather shot.”

Bartalos was recently contacted by Los Angeles-based Imaginary Forces to create the disturbing anatomical disintegrating effects for the current antismoking campaign.

Specializing in design, sculpture, and application of prosthetics makeup effects, Bartalos's Atlantic West Effects’ additional credits include Freejack, Playing God, the Leprechaun series, Side Show, Sometimes They Come Back, Genii, Slaughter of the Innocents, and Skinned Deep.

Additional topics