What do Makeup Artists do on Film Sets?

Mar 10, 2023 | Film Makeup, Freelance MUA

The makeup department is the team responsible for the way actors and performers look on screen. Makeup Artists are responsible for creating makeup hair designs, special makeup effects and prosthetics, body makeup, facial hair, wigs, contacts lenses and even teeth – whatever the script requires.

Film makeup artists are responsible for helping to bring the characters to life on screen.

The Makeup Department get actors ‘Camera Ready’

The makeup department creates looks for all the characters in the film. This can include everything from making an actor look dirty to aging them several decades.

The makeup department are often first in on a film set as they get all the actors, performers, supporting artists, background artists and any stunt actors ready for the day, before the cameras start filming.

There is a structure to a makeup department and the team in that department. The team structure and numbers within makeup departments will vary greatly, dependent upon the scale and budget of each film production.

On film productions you will find that there is a chain of command in the makeup department. You need to learn the hierarchy of the department, so you understand what is expected of you and to whom you answer.

Makeup Department Structure

Remember – team structure is always dependent upon the scale of the production and budgets. The list below is only a guide:

  • Head of Department (HoD) or Makeup Designer
  • Key Hair and Makeup (US)
  • Supervisor/Crowd Supervisor
  • Makeup Artist
  • Junior Makeup Artist
  • Trainee Makeup Artist


  • Prosthetic Makeup Artist
  • Wig Maker
  • Personal Makeup Artist

It is important to know that in the UK, Hair and Makeup is one department on most film and television productions.

However, in the USA (and on some bigger budget UK productions) the department is separated into two – the Hair Department and the Makeup Department.



The designer is employed before the film production begins. The designer works closely with the director and producers. The designer is responsible for bringing the designer’s vision and  film characters to life, on screen.

They lead the hair and makeup department and often recruit the team members for the duration of the film production.

The designer breaks down the script andidentifies all the hair and makeup requirements in the script. They create the makeup department production folder with all the notes about actors and detail all the hair and makeup changes in every scene in the film.

The Designer will also work closely with the lighting and camera departments to test how hair and makeup looks on screen before filming. They also work closely with the costume department to ensure each character’s hair and makeup complements the overall look.

During film shooting the Designer will oversee the hair and makeup processes on the main team and may also work as a personal makeup artist for a principal actor.

A designer in an incredible artist, is responsible for the department budget and for managing the team. They work under incredible pressure, are often overworked, and stretched in all directions, for prolonged periods of time. They carry the overall responsibility for how successful the hair and makeup will look on screen, in the film.


The Supervisor will often run the crowd department on a large-scale production. The crowd makeup team create all the hair and makeup looks for supporting and background artists in a film production.

On bigger productions there can be hundreds of supporting artists performing in a shoot and it is a huge undertaking to get them all ready, for the start of a day’s filming. The Supervisor will often manage large teams of Dailies makeup artists who work like a ‘makeup army’, often in large tents to prepare all the supporting actors.

The Supervisor can also act as the Designer’s righthand woman/man. They are often an all rounder with advanced makeup and people skills. They are the main point of contact for the rest of the team.

 A good Supervisor helps ‘shield’ the designer from unnecessary disruptions to their work.


In the US the Key Makeup artist is the Head of the Makeup Department. The Key Makeup artist oversees the makeup design for the entire production and ensures the continuity throughout filming. The Key Makeup artist will often apply makeup to lead and principal actors, especially for highly technical makeup looks.


Special Effects Makeup artists are highly skilled artists who are responsible for applying highly technical, prosthetic and special makeup effects to actors. They can transform performers with techniques such as old age makeups, fake wounds and prosthetics applications for highly creative, creature inspired transformations and much more.


The Prosthetics Makeup Artist is a specialist role in the makeup department – in fact on bigger budget productions there may be a separate prosthetics department that operates alongside the makeup department.

Prosthetic artists are responsible for designing, creating and making prosthetic special effects makeup. They are responsible for creating a script breakdown that will identify all the prosthetic makeup requirements for the characters and scenes from the film script.

They work from detailed designs and drawings to achieve the required look. Prosthetic makeup artists are skilled at sculpting, mould-making and casting as well as applying and removing prosthetic makeup appliances and pieces. They use advanced materials such as silicone and making specialist appliances such as bald caps.


The makeup artist will create the hair and makeup looks on actors and accompany them to set for the duration of time they are on set during the filming day.

The makeup artist will monitor the hair and makeup throughout the filming day. They check the actors before the cameras start filming. The makeup artists remain on standby and are ready to step on set, to ‘touch-up’ hair and makeup whenever necessary. Makeup artists are also responsible for maintaining continuity throughout the film shoot.

Makeup artists are also responsible for the ‘de-rig’ – when they remove all the makeup and wigs etc. and return the actors to their pre filming state.


The junior makeup artists will assist the makeup artists by supplying brushes and products, helping prep actors such as washing their hair, helping to alter and repair wigs and toupees, running errands, and making sure the actors are well looked after.

Juniors are also involved in crowd days by helping prepare facilities, working on hair and makeup of large numbers of extras, standing by to help assist with continuity and may also look after minor characters.


The role of the trainee will vary from one film production to another depending upon scale and budget. Most are heavily involved in continuity at the start of the day by handing out continuity sheets to daily makeup artists and prepping kit bags for the rest of the team.  This might include hair dryers, towels, etc for scenes in wet weather conditions or prepping hot flannels for de- rigging at the end of the day.

Trainees will also do the ‘breakfast run’ for makeup artists during the makeup call. The makeup artists often do not have time to stop for breakfast until after all the actors have been prepped for set, so trainees will collect breakfast orders whilst they continue working.

Trainee’s also help prep makeup stations for makeup artists as well as maintaining suppliers, consumables, doing runs for fresh supplies in the makeup truck. They wash brushes, keep the makeup truck clean and tidy.

Trainees are also responsible for updating continuity notes and taking photographs, which is key to maintaining continuity throughout the production.

How long does it take to progress in your film makeup career?

As a single parent early on in my film makeup career I was under enormous financial pressure at the time, so it was very challenging for me to work at the trainee daily rate. Consequently, I was in a great hurry to move up the makeup career ladder.

This is not always the best approach. You may make the mistake of taking on work you are not professionally ready for because of financial reasons.

Don’t be in a hurry

The biggest lesson I learned was don’t be in a hurry.

Even as a highly talented artist you may still need more experience – especially in working with and managing a team – before you progress.

Take your time. Being a trainee is a very secure place to be in your early career, as everyone understands you are still learning.

You are in a safe place if you make mistakes and in a good makeup department you will be supported as you learn to navigate the complex challenges of working in the film business.

Work on a wide variety of film productions

You will benefit from working on a wide variety of different types of film productions – from lavish period dramas to budget indie films to action packed block busters.

Every job will teach you something as well as help you further develop your creativity and productions skills. It will also help you gain vital experience in navigating the often complex, chain of command on a film set.

Wide and varied experience will teach you to manage the challenges of working with a wide variety of people from a vast array of different backgrounds and how to steer and manage a highly effective team.

All this takes time – so don’t be in a hurry. Take every opportunity that comes your way to broaden your experience and that challenges you creatively.

Most of all enjoy the ride!


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