Designing and Executing Character Makeup

Designing and Executing Character Makeup

As a makeup artist, one of the most exciting and creative aspects of our job is designing and executing character makeup. Whether it’s for a film, theatre production, or special event, character makeup allows us to transform individuals into fantastical beings or bring historical figures to life.

Step 1: Research and Concept Development

The first step in designing character makeup is thorough research. It’s essential to understand the character’s background, personality, and the overall vision of the project. Dive deep into the script or source material to gain insights into the character’s traits and motivations. Collaborate with the director, costume designer, and other members of the creative team to ensure a cohesive look that aligns with the production’s vision. 

Develop a mood board or sketch to visualise the concept and gather inspiration from various sources such as art, fashion, and historical references.

Step 2: Skin Preparation and Base Makeup

Before diving into the creative aspects of character makeup, it’s crucial to prepare the skin properly. Start by cleansing the skin to remove any dirt or oils. Then, moisturise to ensure the skin is hydrated and smooth for makeup application. Applying a suitable primer helps to create an even base and improves the longevity of the makeup. Choose a foundation that matches the character’s skin tone and apply it evenly using a brush, sponge, or fingers. This step provides a flawless canvas for the character makeup and ensures that the colours and textures applied later will stand out.

Step 3: Feature Enhancement and Transformation

Now comes the fun part – transforming the individual into the character! Use various techniques to enhance and alter facial features. Contouring is a powerful tool to sculpt the face and create the illusion of different bone structures. 

Highlighting brings forward specific areas to add dimension and radiance. Shading helps to create depth and shadows. Experiment with different colours, textures, and materials to achieve the desired effect. Consider using prosthetics or special effects makeup to create unique characteristics or physical transformations. This step requires precision and creativity to bring the character to life.

Step 4: Detailing and Fine-tuning

Pay attention to the smallest details to truly bring the character to life. Use precision brushes and makeup tools to add intricate details like scars, wrinkles, or tattoos. Blend and layer colours to create depth and dimension. 

Continuously refer to your concept and make adjustments as needed. This is the stage where you can experiment with different techniques and refine the character’s appearance. Take your time to ensure every detail is perfect, as it can make a significant impact on the overall portrayal of the character.

Step 5: Setting and Finishing Touches

To ensure the character makeup lasts throughout the performance or event, set it with a suitable setting spray or powder. This step helps to prevent smudging, creasing, or fading of the makeup. Gently mist the setting spray over the face or use a brush to apply setting powder, focusing on areas prone to shine or movement. 

Next, consider using makeup sealers or waterproof products if the character makeup needs to withstand sweat or environmental conditions. Finally, complete the look with appropriate accessories, such as wigs, masks, or prosthetic props, to enhance the overall appearance and immerse the audience in the character’s world.

Step 6: Collaboration and Feedback

Throughout the process, collaboration and feedback are crucial. Work closely with the director, actors, and other members of the production team to ensure everyone is aligned on the character’s visual representation. Seek feedback from the director and actors during makeup trials and make necessary adjustments to achieve the desired character portrayal. 

Effective communication and teamwork are essential in bringing the character makeup to its full potential. Embrace the collaborative process and be open to suggestions and ideas that can elevate the overall performance.


In conclusion, designing and executing character makeup is an intricate and rewarding journey. It requires creativity, technical skills, and a deep understanding of the character and the production’s vision. By following these steps and embracing the collaborative process, you can bring characters to life and contribute to the overall success of the project. Remember, each character is unique, and the possibilities are endless. So, let your imagination soar and create captivating character makeup that leaves a lasting impression.

Written by Niall O’Riordan FX 

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