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Long and irregular hours make it a tough existence

Published on Thursday, 16 Dec 2010
The specialeffects make-up artists were kept busy, ensuring that Sammi Cheng and Andy Lau looked obese in the 2001 romantic comedy Love on a Diet.

Thanks to the imaginative and meticulous work of special-effects make-up artists, the usually fit and fabulous Andy Lau Tak-wah and Sammi Cheng Sau-man became an obese couple in Love on a Diet, a 2001 romantic comedy about a woman's stumbling efforts to shed pounds in order to win back her love.

"Special-effects make-up changes the face and the shape of the body completely to achieve the desired effect," says Davina Cheung, a special-effects make-up artist with Beauty Tech, a Hong Kong training institute offering make-up courses. "We present outrageous and frightening looks to the audience."

Cheung adds that unlike regular make-up that seeks to conceal unsightly areas and highlight one's best features, special-effects make-up is about creating realistic, believable looks, using paint, glue, foam latex and prosthetics, among others.

In Hong Kong, professionals in the field are hired mainly by television stations, movie production companies, advertising firms and theme parks. Most work on a freelance basis, while established make-up companies specialise in the technique.

A career in the field typically starts with an apprenticeship. "The pay is [low], with no more than HK$5,000 a month," Cheung says. "You also need to learn on the job, which is tough." Experienced professionals earn about HK$30,000 a month, while lead make-up artists can earn up to HK$60,000.

Various programmes offer training and internships in special-effects make-up in Hong Kong. Beauty Tech, for instance, offers a 12-session certificate course for individuals with basic knowledge in make-up for about HK$10,000.

Cheung says that working hours are long and irregular. "It may take hours to set up and remove the make-up. Artists have to stay on site all the time during the movie shoot."

But newcomers have to be patient, she adds. "Don't back out easily. It takes time and perseverance to build your network and find job opportunities."

Look of things

  • Make-up artists can specialise in special effects make-up
  • They have to be willing to work long and irregular hours
  • Obviously, they should be okay with ugly, disgusting looks

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