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Prosthetic makeup is a type of effects makeup used frequently in film, theater and television. By sculpting enhanced body parts that are based on the wearer's actual body, makeup artists are able to achieve very real, believable results. With correctly applied makeup, a human being can age, grow, change shape, or become a whole different species, all through the skill of the makeup artist.
Most prosthetic makeup begins with making molds and casts of the actor's body. Using traditional sculpting techniques, the makeup artist or sculpture will create a lifelike model of the actor, giving them a base on which to work. This process, called lifecasting, typically is done during pre-production, long before the movie even starts to shoot.
With the lifecast, the makeup artist can then begin to alter and change the form to fit the design needed. Depending on the needs of the production, they can add scarring, wrinkles, veins, or skin discoloration to create age or injuries. The prosthetic makeup process can also give alien features to a familiar form, such as pointed ears, extra teeth, or even additional appendages.
The materials used in prosthetic makeup can pose some difficulty, as the finished product must be worn against an actors skin. Moreover, if the completed prosthesis is to appear real, it must move and look like skin. The most common materials used in final prosthetic masks and body parts are compounds composed of foam latex and gelatin. Good makeup artists must always have a backup plan, as some actors may have allergic reactions to one material and need a different choice.
Application of the prosthetic can take several hours, depending on the complexity of the mask or body part and the amount of blending needed to make the piece fit seamlessly with the actor's body. Using airbrushing and traditional makeup techniques, makeup artists will work around the edges of the prosthetic, making sure the skin tone matches and the edges are invisible. Because prosthetic makeup is now so commonplace in movie making, actors may have stipulations in their contract regarding how much time they can spend in a makeup chair per day.
Prosthetic makeup artists often work in concert with special effects wizards to create a completed effect. For the Harry Potter film series, makeup artists made the basic prosthetic mask for the evil Lord Voldemort, while computer effects were responsible for the character's snake-like, flattened nose. By combining the extraordinary abilities of prosthetic makeup artists and special effects designers, films are able to create creatures that capture the spirit of almost any fantastical creation.