Haunted House Make Up Tips - 60 Actors in 60 Minutes

Mon, September 14, 2020

60 Actors in 60 Minutes

By Ken Franklin, Co-owner of FaceFXmakeup.com
 
 
Putting on makeup for a haunt event isn’t as easy as some might think.  There is more to it than slapping a little white paint on a face and sending them out in the dark.   The quality of your work matters to both the audience and the actors and your efficiency matters to your producer.
 
When I became the makeup department head for a large west coast haunt many years ago, I was faced with an actor force of 60+ and a fuzzy time frame of about an hour to get everyone in made up.  I was also faced with managing a makeup team that fluctuated from 5-13 people on any given night. Under this model, the consistency and quality of our work was unpredictable.  “Makeup” had a reputation for always being late and consequently, was treated more as an afterthought rather than a critical piece of the event which wasn’t meeting my goals or the business goals for the haunt.
 
My challenge was to get “Makeup” out of the critical path and improve the quality so that it became a significant feature and draw for the haunt.   To do that meant understanding the problem so I enlisted the help of my wife, who is a systems engineer in real life, to dissect the issues and come up with a workable solution.
 
We came to the conclusion that there were three significant components to the problem:
 
  • Equipment/Materials
  • Environment
  • Execution
 
Our objectives were to optimize the tools and materials, set up a healthy/safe environment and control the execution so that there is no wasted/duplicated effort and minimal rework.  This article will describe what we did to address the issues and is not intended to push any particular brand or product.  If you would like to know more about the products we’ve tested and what we settled on, please contact us at info@facefxmakeup.com.

Equipment/Materials

You need to find tools that fit your objectives.  If you are sponging on greasepaint and you find that you aren’t finishing the volume of actors you need to in the allotted time, then you need to find a different model.  You can throw more people at it or you can look for a more efficient way to get that color on their face.  We chose the latter and added airbrushes to our arsenal.  After our analysis we recognized that the majority of in-house actors were in basic ghoulish makeup or just needed eye black to hide behind masks.  These are two things that airbrushes, in the proper hands, can do in a fraction of the time of conventional methods.  In addition to the speed factor, airbrush makeup doesn’t need to be set with powder.  An experienced makeup artist can finish a ghoul in minutes; eye blacks in seconds.
 
When selecting an airbrush, pick one that is intended for makeup application.  Pick one that does not have an exposed needle tip that could injure you or your actor.  There are a lot of models available so my suggestion is to do research before making the investment.
 
Another point in favor of airbrushes is that there is no direct contact between you, your actor and the makeup.  With the standard sponge method, we were plagued with actors and artists getting colds and spreading illness throughout the team.  Even with the best hygiene in the makeup room, we were not able to stop the traditional “haunt plague”.  Our theory was that the less time we spent in the face of each actor was better for them and better for us.   It worked!
 
This isn’t to say that bristle brushes and sponges are obsolete.  Those tools should be put to use where they work the best.  Brushes are great for detail work such as eye liners and character lines.  Sponges are great for applying makeup such as rubber mask greasepaint and for texturing.  They definitely have a place in our makeup arsenal.
 
Next you need to examine the makeup you are using.  Some makeup is specialized, such as rubber mask greasepaint so if you are doing any sort of rubber work, you can’t avoid it.   Always use a good quality makeup and stay away from the cheap dime store seasonal stuff.   For airbrush, there are several brands of makeup that are suitable for haunts.  Our criteria included cost, availability, durability and cleanup.  Some are easily sweated off while others have to be removed with a solvent.   We settled on one that meets our criteria consistently.  It’s your choice.   Airbrush makeup comes in a wide variety of colors so if you have a special color in mind you can probably find it.  We, on the other hand, use primarily black, white, blue, green and red.  We can achieve virtually any effect we need with those colors. 
 
If you move to airbrushes like we did, take inventory of what makeup effects are not going to fall under that category.  Pick a minimal set of makeup that will cover those needs.  We found that it works better if you don’t have a lot of makeup laying around that you don’t use.  You can use water based or cream based but you may not need to have both so standardize on the product that gives you the most bang for the buck.  Try not to target the tasks that airbrushes are doing and visa versa.
 
Blood is another product we use a lot and there are many products out there to choose from.  I personally avoid any product that leaves a stain on the skin.  That becomes a nuisance for both actors and makeup crew.  We stick with a couple of good gel bloods because they stay where you put them and keep the same look for the duration of the event. 
 
Specialty makeup effects that involve appliances can benefit from the optimizations described previously but should be considered separate from the streamlining we are targeting.  There are techniques we use to make appliance makeup go faster but I’ll save those for a later discussion.   In this article, we are focusing on the low hanging fruit!


 

Environment

Now that you have settled on a set of tools you will need to set up your makeup room.  I use the word “room” loosely.  Your area may be a dedicated room or a corner of some open space somewhere.  The important thing is that you control it and that everyone respects it as specifically for makeup.
 
One way or another, define the bounds of your makeup area.  Within these boundaries you are king/queen and only those that have business with you can enter.  Joking aside, you must be able to control the activities in the makeup area otherwise it becomes pandemonium. Everyone wants to hang around and watch what you are doing – because it’s cool!  You can’t blame them but this kind of activity works against your objectives so you have to minimize it.
 
The size of the area should be scaled to accommodate the equipment and the number of people you expect to have in the area at one time.  There has to be room to move effectively. Always remember that ventilation and airflow is an important factor.   You don’t want the area to be overrun with clouds of overspray airbrushes or hairspray.
 
Your work area should be set up in a way that promotes the flow of actors through it and then, out the door.  We set up ours with the airbrush station first.  This is where the majority of actors will be made up.  The next station is where brush and sponge work is done,  This is where we add cuts, scrapes, tattoos etc.    The third station is the blooding station.  For us, this is a table with a microwave to heat up the gel blood plus applicators and paper towels.  It’s usually a very messy place so we set it apart from the rest of the stations.
 
The last station is for appliance work.  In our configuration, this is where a total makeup is completed with the exception of blood.  We keep a separate airbrush unit here so that there is no interrupt between this station and the flow going through the other stations.  The appliance station can scale as large as you need it to.  Our haunts usually have a small number of actors in appliances working the crowds so we can get by with one artist.

Execution

The execution part of your effort is the most critical.  You have to take what you’ve built and use it properly no matter how sophisticated or basic your materials are.
 
We defined roles for everyone on the makeup staff so that there is minimal overlap.  Our staff consists of:
 
2 airbrush makeup artists
1 Appliance artist
1 blood artist
1 detail artist.
1 gatekeeper
 
For us, this configuration produces 40-60 actors in one hour including multiple appliances.
 
The process starts with the Gatekeeper.  This person controls the flow into the makeup area which involves monitoring the activity and directing the next customer to the available artist.  The rest or the actors are “encouraged” to wait outside the makeup area. In the absence of this person, the airbrush artists share this role because they are the first station.  The goal here is to minimize unnecessary traffic.
 
The actor stops at the airbrush station and informs the artist of which character they are playing.  We keep character designs and pictures posted in case we need them for reference.  It is important that the airbrush artists are able to makeup any character.  Actors like to have “their” artist work on them but this is a luxury and not always practical.  When airbrush work is done, the actor is passed either to the blooding table or the detail artist.  When completed, the actor leaves the makeup area.  To support this flow there are no mirrors in our makeup area.   All mirrors are placed outside the area so that your work can be admired without bottlenecking the system.  We also keep chairs out of the makeup room except for the appliance station.  Actors don’t have time to sit and neither do we.
 
Another of our goals is to reduce cross contamination of makeup stations.  One of our biggest problems has been that blood products end up in the other stations, soiling brushes or getting in the mechanics of an airbrush.  This sticky situation is usually caused by artists trying to do both airbrush and blood or some other combination with blood.  This contamination can shut down an airbrush and stall the whole process.  It is important to stay in your role and not try to do everything – counter intuitive to most of us.
 
When the last actor exits the room you can give your team a high five and begin cleanup and teardown.  The last task of the evening is to prep for the next night.  You want to be able to walk in and be productive immediately so cleanup is essential.  
 
As a precaution for unplanned touchups and late actors, one of the staff hangs around with a makeup kit.  This is also the person that performs any necessary appliance removal after the evening’s event is over.
 
When you successfully optimize your efforts you will find that you have more time for artistic control.  That makes the actors more convincing and makes you a more satisfied makeup artist.
 

BIO
Ken Franklin has been a Special Effects Makeup Artist for 17 years in the San Francisco bay area and department head for multiple haunted attractions.  He is co-owner of FaceFX Makeup which supplies Grex Airbrush equipment and makeup to the haunt industry.  www.facefxmakeup.com
 

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