Achieving the details behind character makeup and masks in science fiction and horror films and those seen at events such as Comic-Con is no easy feat. We spoke with two makeup artists to learn more on what goes on behind the scenes and on set.

Natalina La, a makeup artist with 15 years of industry experience (her work from New York's Comic-Con was featured in the Toronto Sun), became intrigued by this specific type of work while in theatrical makeup class. "Seeing the way you can transform a person to any fantasy creation, this has been my inspiration," she said in an interview. The process is very different from how traditional makeup works, she tells us, even though basic concepts such as blending and proper color combinations apply. However, she adds that there is more material involved such as latex, 3D skin and prosthetics, and she has on occassion had to go to Home Depot to get material.

"I can create anything my imagination comes up with, from gruesome, bloody, deformed zombies to a very elegant and beautiful fairy, depending on the vision," says the makeup pro. "For example, doing a simple facial modification such as a zombie I would start by laying tissue paper and cotton to create rips into the sculpture, forming an illusion of cut-up flesh, adding different dimension of colors and fake blood to give it a more realistic touch. A more intense look would require creating a prosthetic or face mask. I would start by sculpting clay into a shape that I want to create, then cast the mold and remove the clay, adding liquid latex in its place. Once the latex is dry, I can proceed to apply the mold to the face or any body part desired before beginning the painting process to develop more depth and realism."

Anthony White, a makeup pro and hair stylist whose work has appeared in indie films such as Justice Woman and A Night In, was interested in this career path from an early age. "As far back as I can remember I've always loved big, production-style makeup. Like most makeup artists, we absorb the movies and shows of our childhood. For me it was Elvira, Tales From The Crypt, and movies like Witches and Death Becomes Her that made me realize this is something people do. But it wasn't until high school that I started to get involved," White said in an interview.

Cast as a jester in a school production, he received a makeup kit with instructions on how to apply stage makeup and this was like "opening Pandora's box." White also began participating with a local medieval fair and was playing a prisoner in a stage combat show, sparking a passion for horror makeup. From there, every path with his career has involved makeup.

There are far fewer rules, according to White, when it comes to these types of makeup work. "If something works, use it! If you are needing the skin to look charred or torn, or cut, you can achieve this with endless combinations of what may work for you at the time. You may build up lots of scar tissue with tiny bits of tissue and latex till you get the texture you're looking for, then go in with your paint job to pull out the character details, or you could use a heavier paper like a brown paper bag, for instance, and stain it with coffee and real dirt and break down the fibers in the heavy paper before doing your application and paint job to get even more subtleties out of what you're trying to do.

"When doing, say, a movie off-site, out in the elements without air conditioning, you have to adapt really quick. Unlike standard makeup where the main challenge is to impress the costumers and sell makeup, which it turns out can be harder at times."

Knowing the basics of color theory and its importance is still key when it comes to this type of makeup work. "Blending, balancing, and correct color tones are the backbone of the makeup world, whether you are working on high-fashion shoots, movie sets, Shakespeare in the Park, or the next Swamp Thing movie," he said. "If you don't understand color theory and the difference between warm tones, cool tones, highlighting and low-lighting, you won't have a foundation in which to grow. You must have a working knowledge of your subject's under- and outer-tones and where to go to bring these tones out, or suppress them, exposing hidden beauty or the intended look. "

As for inspiration, White begins the process by putting himself in the shoes of the characters for a few days. "Live them. Feel them. Eat what they eat. Watch what they watch. Get to feel it in your bones, then slowly let that hand guide you. Let the subtleties show you what you want to reflect. After that, the creative process can take over organically and the process is born fresh every time and that becomes our baby. It's the only way to make sure what you're putting out is true and unique to you as an artist."

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