Eight of the best film transformations using makeup
Jane McGuire

Eight of the best film transformations using makeup

Film TV Makeup classes

First published date July 15 2011 Amended date August 12 2014

Special effects makeup is much more complicated than applying a little blusher to a celebrity’s cheeks; armed with the tools of the trade, a special effects makeup artist can successfully transform an actor’s look. Film and TV makeup classes teach you how to completely change an actor’s features to fit in with the director’s brief for the stage or camera. It’s important to remember that the actor’s ability to use his or her face is a vital part of getting the character across, so wearing a mask is often not an option. An exciting and varied job, you could be using paint, plastic and powder to create The Grinch one day and The Dark Lord the next; for some extra inspiration, take a look at eight of the best film transformations using makeup.


Jim Carrey as The Grinch

When Jim Carrey became Dr Seuss’s Christmas hating villain, just painting his face green was not an option. Worried he wouldn’t be able to make his exaggerated comical expressions, Carrey was transformed using rubber moulds attached to his face. Taking nearly four hours to apply and an hour to remove, Carrey went through the ordeal every day for five months. After initially struggling with the confinement of the latex layers, Carrey said afterwards, ‘There was no skin to be had – literally everything was covered. It was impossible to scratch your nose. It was literally a lesson in Zen.’ The entire film had a team of sixty special effects makeup artists and each piece applied to Carrey’s face could only be used once, meaning by the end of filming he had gone through 8,000 facial appliances and 3,500 ears – something worth appreciating this Christmas.


Ralph Fiennes as Voldermort

Almost unrecognisable when personifying The Dark Lord, the team of makeup artists on Harry Potter had a well known brief to follow when creating this famous baddie. The Oscar nominated actor embraced the hours he spent in the makeup chair, saying this helped him get into character. Using makeup the team replaced Fiennes’ forehead using gelatine to make his brow cover his eyes, changing his face shape and creating the dark Voldermort-esque sockets. They also applied a bald cap and a smooth, longer forehead and added false teeth; however the iconic snake-like nose was added after filming with special effects.


The Walking Dead Zombies

Special effects makeup artist Greg Nicotero has won two Emmy Awards for his outstanding prosthetic makeup in The Walking Dead, where the zombies feel almost too lifelike to watch. Sharing some backstage secrets, Nicotero uses liquid latex to stretch the skin, creating the rotting look by applying oats over the top. Gelatine is used on fresh wounds, which turns to the consistency of rubber after being heated; liquid latex is then layered on top of this to create the look of torn flesh – scary stuff.


Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice

Ve Neill is one of the most renowned special effects makeup artists in the industry, winning three Academy Awards and nominated for eight Oscars. She is also the brain behind Pirates of the Carribean and Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. Using a bald cap and a wig, Neill later announced that her test looks on Michael Keaton were too real for Burton’s comical film. Using two swollen lips on either side of his nose to make it look broken, moss using coloured foam, pale yellow makeup and dark rings around his eyes using shades of plumb and brown, Burton’s iconic villain was born.


Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Anyone who has sat through the three hour tale of Benjamin Button will have been blown away by Brad Pitt’s transformation. Taking six hours to get the makeup on, Mr Pitt repeatedly got up at 2am to begin the process. Despite the fact that 52 minutes of the film are completely computer generated, with no real life clips of Brad Pitt, the rest of the film needed careful makeup changes as Benjamin Button got younger. Makeup artists explain how they used paper thin appliances on Pitt’s face, starting at aged 76 and then working down, changing the wrinkles and eyebrows to sculpt each age.  


Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor

Oscar winning, special effects makeup legend Rick Baker had his work cut out when joining the team behind The Nutty Professor. Eddie Murphy almost became a one man cast, playing multiple members of the morbidly obese Klump family, meaning each day involved three to five hours of makeup application.


Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire

Who doesn’t love Mrs Doubtfire? The Hollywood classic that has become one of the most famous makeup transformations in history, as Robin Williams puts on a mask and turns himself into the Scottish nanny. Looking so real that he reportedly walked around in real life incognito, transforming Williams’ face was a little more technical than just moulding a mask. In the film Daniel Hilliard is seen putting on a single piece; however the actual makeup team used eight pieces to create Mrs Doubtfire. The four and a half hours a day spent in the makeup chair paid off, with Mrs Doubtfire winning an Oscar for best makeup in 1994.


Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street

One of horrors greatest bogeymen, Freddy Krueger was the burnt alive baddie we all hid behind the sofa from in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Special effects makeup artist David B. Miller was the talent behind Freddy Krueger’s face and spent a long time researching real life burn victims to make him look as authentic as possible. It took four hours each day to apply the layers of makeup and rubber to Robert Englund, but we are sure you will agree the end result is pretty impressive.


If you find yourself itching to go and create the bad guys of the future, a film and TV makeup course could be a great place to start. Get practising and be the envy of all your friends on Halloween! 


This content was updated on 12.08.14

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire received her BA (English) from the University of Loughborough. A yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth, in her spare time you will probably find Jane in the gym or online shopping.