Stellar Uses of Prosthetics in Film

Stellar Uses of Prosthetics in Film

Cinema, as a medium of storytelling, has always relied heavily on the visual component of its narratives. One of the most transformative aspects of this visual storytelling is the use of prosthetics. These ingenious creations, ranging from subtly altering an actor’s features to crafting fantastical creatures, stand as a testament to the magic of movie-making. As an experienced FX makeup artist, I have always been enthralled by the artistry and technical prowess that goes into these stunning transformations. Here are some of the most remarkable and impactful uses of prosthetics in film.

Harry Potter Series

The goblin characters in the Harry Potter series are an outstanding example of the transformative power of prosthetics. Each goblin, with its unique appearance, was brought vividly to life with a distinct prosthetic mask. The makeup team, under the guidance of Paul Spateri, utilised the potential of prosthetics to create an entirely new race of magical beings, each with their own individual characteristics. This use of prosthetics not only added depth to the characters but also enriched the fantastical world of Harry Potter.

A Monster Calls

The film ‘A Monster Calls’ showcases a character that is far from your typical monster. The tree-like creature, played by Liam Neeson, is designed to evoke both terror and empathy. To achieve this intricate combination, the team at Spectral Motion created a blend of animatronics and prosthetics that seamlessly brought the creature to life. This character serves as an example of the emotional depth that can be achieved through the skilful use of prosthetics.

Mrs. Doubtfire

Robin Williams’ incredible transformation into Mrs Doubtfire stands as one of the most iconic prosthetic makeovers in film history. The prosthetic makeup, masterfully designed by Ve Neill and Greg Cannom, did more than just disguise Williams; it transformed him into a believable elderly woman. This transformation enabled Williams to deliver a heartwarming and hilarious performance that still resonates with audiences today.


The task of turning Ron Perlman into the demonically endearing Hellboy was a colossal undertaking. Makeup artist Jake Garber and his team used prosthetics to create Hellboy’s distinctive look, from his filed-down horns to his oversized right hand, showcasing the ability of prosthetics to create characters that are both fantastical and oddly relatable.

The Shape of Water

In Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’, a full-body aquatic creature suit was crafted for actor Doug Jones. Makeup artists Shane Mahan and Mike Hill transformed Jones into a being that was both fearsome and intriguing, demonstrating the depth of creativity and technical skill that prosthetics can bring to the table.

The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep’s transformation into Margaret Thatcher in ‘The Iron Lady’ is an excellent example of the use of prosthetics for ageing. Makeup artist Mark Coulier subtly aged Streep, making her a convincing match for the former Prime Minister at various stages of her life. This masterful work shows how prosthetics can be used to portray different ages convincingly, allowing for a more realistic depiction of a character’s life journey.

Star Wars Series

The Star Wars series has given us numerous memorable characters through the use of prosthetics. From the wise and powerful Yoda to the aquatic Admiral Ackbar, the creative use of prosthetics has played a significant role in creating George Lucas’s expansive galaxy. The series showcases how prosthetics can be used to create a wide variety of characters, enhancing the richness and diversity of the Star Wars universe.

The Chronicles of Narnia Series

The Chronicles of Narnia series features a host of non-human characters, each brought to life through the use of prosthetics. Perhaps the most notable is the lion Aslan, whose majestic form was created using a combination of animatronics and prosthetics. This character serves as a testament to the ability of prosthetics to create lifelike, non-human characters that resonate with audiences.

The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger’s unforgettable portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight owes much to the prosthetic scars that gave the character his chilling grin. The prosthetics, coupled with Ledger’s brilliant performance, made the Joker one of the most iconic villains in film history. This character serves as a reminder of the power of prosthetics to enhance an actor’s performance and create a truly memorable character.

Pirates of the Caribbean Series

Bill Nighy’s character, Davy Jones, in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, is an impressive display of the combined power of prosthetics and CGI. This combination created a convincingly terrifying sea monster, demonstrating the potential of integrating prosthetics with digital effects.


The art of prosthetics is about more than just altering appearances—it’s about creating characters that resonate with audiences, advancing the art of storytelling, and expanding the realm of the possible. These examples serve as a testament to the remarkable talent of makeup artists in the film industry and the transformative power of prosthetics. The innovative use of these tools allows for the creation of a broad spectrum of characters, from the eerily realistic to the awe-inspiringly fantastical, enriching the cinematic experience for audiences worldwide.

Written by Niall O’Riordan FX

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *