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CGI: The Special Effects Makeup Artist’s Secret Weapon

In the film industry, one has to be very creative when bringing stories to life. In many cases, this means bringing on a team of special effects makeup artists and using CGI. But it may surprise you to learn how these two special effects can be employed to enhance one another. CGI is, more often than not, a valuable tool in the special effects makeup artists’ tool kit. CGI not only enhances makeups (yes, I said “makeups,” it’s an industry term), but it can be used to make essential corrections for continuity’s sake as well. 

CGI is really helpful for these makeup artists when it comes to filling the gaps between production and performance. There are some effects that are simply easier to use CGI for, such as special effects involving blood. Multiple-Oscar-winning makeup artist, Ve Neill, says that CGI is “…great for bloodwork — it saves time for cleanup between shots.” When we understand CGI not only as a creative tool but also as a means of convenience and efficiency, its role relative to special effects makeup artists becomes far more important. Time is often money, and this is especially true in the film industry when filmmakers have a limited budget and amount of time to shoot for. Being able to use CGI to add blood effects in posts, rather than stopping between scenes to clean up a huge mess, gives makeup artists more time to work on prosthetics, applications, and touch-ups, rather than clean-up.

Sometimes there are cases where CGI is necessary to correct special effects. One instance of this is when actors begin to sweat in their prosthetics. Prosthetics are often used to add to actors’ faces and limbs to create more detailed and realistic looks. Because these prosthetics are made from materials that aren’t exactly breathable (such as latex), they can trap a lot of heat in actors’ bodies, causing them to sweat profusely. Sometimes makeup artists are able to step in to fix their makeup and wipe off the sweat, but this isn’t always possible. For example, if an actor was sweating through their prosthetic while filming, the makeup team couldn’t step in front of the camera to fix it. In these instances, CGI can be used to make corrections. Mike Marino, a special effects artist who is in high demand within the industry, described the importance of CGI in these instances, stating, “… things happen, like an actor pokes a hole in his face [prosthetic], or he’s sweating so bad, and he doesn’t wanna get touched up,” he goes on,” We’ll tell the continuity person, ‘Hey he’s sweating, and I can’t fix it, [so it should be fixed in post-production with CGI].’”

It could be argued that CGI enables makeup artists to be lazy, as it could compensate for the makeup artists’ shortcomings; however, this is not true. If anything, it motivates makeup artists to do even better jobs, as the addition of CGI in posts has the potential to enhance their work making for incredibly convincing special effects. This is true in the case of Marino, who claims to “never rely on visual effects to fix my makeup.” While CGI is able to enhance makeup and correct some mistakes (like an actor sweating through their prosthetics), it does not completely eliminate the role of special effects makeup teams. Special effects makeup artists are essential members of film crews, especially when actors need to be transformed into otherworldly creatures or into older versions of their characters. Special effects makeup can be invaluable in helping actors get into their roles by bringing their characters to life, and the makeup makes for more realistic effects, even after CGI is added in the post because it provides a base to be adjusted and tweaked if needed.

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