The Flourishing Art of Special Effects and Prosthetic Makeup
As Ethiopian films fundamentally offer ‘normal’ characters with minor or no special
features on their bodies, the role of special effects and prosthetic makeup has been very minimal in Ethiopian film making. That might be about to change as a new breed of young talent is taking up special effects and prosthetic makeup. Kiya Ali explores.
The works of behind the scene professionals usually goes unnoticed in the cinema industry. But all the scary characters in a horror movie or mystical beings like aliens, monsters and magical creatures in Sci-fi come to life on account of the hard work of behind the scene professionals like prosthetic and special effect makeup artists.
Boni Abera is a third year accounting student at St. Mary’s University. Upon completion of her accounting education by the end of June, she had a plan to study make-up art during the rainy season. The Coronavirus pandemic has, however, forced students and other segments of the society to stay at home, disrupting their plans. Despite the unexpected obstacle to her plans, Boni has made the best out of her stay at home to work on work on her talent. “Before the advent of COVID-19, I was at home for a month on account of our semester break. During that time, I looked for schools that provide advanced training in make-up art but I couldn’t find any,” said Boni.
Finally Boni decided to join one of the schools that provide introductory lessons during the Ethiopian winter. The Coronavirus pandemic then made its landfall in Ethiopia and extended her break. During that time, she started learning about special effects makeup from YouTube uploads. “Once the state of emergency declared that schools are going to stay closed, I started to teach myself the basics of special effects makeup using online tutorials and practiced using homemade materials,” she stated.
Despite her interest in doing special effects make up, Boni does not remember exactly when she got the inspiration to join Ethiopian cinema as a special effects makeup artist. “I think in the process of teaching myself, I became more interested in special effects makeup,” Boni reckoned. As with almost everything worthwhile in life, her journey has set her on a collision path with some hardship. One of the challenges she is facing is absence of enough materials in the market to practice and advance her craft. As a coping mechanism, she substitutes the missing materials by homemade equipment and substances like flour, Vaseline, lipstick and the like. “I recently wanted to do some special effects makeup but I couldn’t find the necessary materials at cosmetic shops. Most of the sales people didn’t actually know about the materials, let alone have them in their shops. Only few professional makeup artists know about the makeups required to do bruises, wounds and scars. “This is the biggest challenge I’m currently facing. But this wouldn’t stop me. As I can’t get scar wax, I’m trying to use wheat flour and Vaseline to do scars,” Boni explained.
Bethlehem Abebe is another special effects makeup artist. An architect by profession, Bethlehem worked as a set designer in a production company. Besides her responsibilities as a set designer, she also does regular makeup and special effects makeup. With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic in Ethiopia, Bethlehem has been forced to stay home. “I had plans to do special effects makeup before the pandemic and staying at home has given me more time to concentrate and focus on the craft,” remarked Bethlehem. Bethlehem has done amazing work during her stay at home. She has done characters like Gollum from the Lord of the rings, Maleficent, and Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. For the time being, Bethlehem is focusing on Hollywood characters. “As I couldn’t find a character with special effects or prosthetic makeup in Ethiopian films, I’m forced to focus on Hollywood characters. But in the future, I have a plan to create Ethiopian characters with unique features,” stated Bethlehem.
As with Boni, finding the right type of makeup is also a big challenge for Bethlehem. “I use normal beauty makeup products such as foundation, liquid eyeliner and eye shadow to do prosthetic and special effects makeup,” she noted.
Comedy dominates the genre of films made in Ethiopia. Horror and Sci-fi films with aliens are almost non-existent in Ethiopian film. That makes it hard for special effects and prosthetic makeup art to grow. “If writers don’t create characters that needs special effects and prosthetic makeup, the role of makeup artists in Ethiopian cinema remains peripheral. It seems that the utter absence of such characters in Ethiopian films would be broken, if makeup artists decide to write scripts themselves. To push the profession forward, writers would play a great role by creating unique and iconic characters,” Boni explained.
Iconic characters with prosthetic and special effect makeup tend to stay long in the minds of the audience as they have unique features and looks. Boni believes that Ethiopian writers don’t dare create monstrous characters as they assume makeup artists capable of springing to life such characters are not available in Ethiopian cinema. “There are cleaver makeup artists but the profession is still at its infancy. When more makeup artists show what they can do using various platforms such as social media, I believe Ethiopian writers would get the inspiration to create unique characters and bring them to their audience,” Boni reflected.
However, the role of special effect makeup artists is not limited to the production of feature films. They can also be involved in documentaries, advertisements and TV programs like ‘Yetezegaw Dossie’ that narrates criminal incidents. Therefore, it can be used across the different dimensions of films.
There is a big difference between regular and special makeup artists. Regular makeup artists beautify actresses and actors. Far from enhancing the appearance of actresses and actors, special effect makeup artists connect performers to their role. These modifications can appear as deformities, bruises, abrasions, wounds, among others. If done correct, special effects and prosthetic makeups will help the story of the character in such a way that the viewer will understand the character by simply looking at them.
Prosthetic makeup artists use prosthetic sculpting, molding and casting techniques to create a make-up look that totally transforms the natural look of actresses and actors. So, prosthetics is the process of creating advanced cosmetic effects that will describe the role of character, age and special appearance. Prosthetic makeup is used to create an iconic and unforgettable character. On the other hand, special effect makeup is the process of applying the pre-made prosthetics or some types of makeup on the skin to bring minor changes. Special effect makeup is used to create wounds, scars and wrinkles for aging effects by applying directly onto the skin. It’s used in theaters, movies, promotions and the like to make the feature of the character older or to show wounds. In a nutshell, where prosthetics ends and special effects makeup starts can be considered as a grey area.
Body painting is another art work that is flourishing. Hana Tesfaye, an architect, is among a few people working on body panting in Ethiopia. Although body painting is not a recent trend, it is not common in modern art work in Ethiopia. A number of tribes around the world have been using body painting as a form of expressing their own culture for centuries. The traditional art involves painting the body with clay and other natural pigments. Hana stated: “Body paintings by the Hamer and other ethnic groups in Ethiopia can be taken as an example. The modern paintings are more complex and intricate.”
Unlike art works that are painted on canvas, body painting would last for a few hours. It is temporary. Although body painting used to be related to artistic practices of ancient art form and tribal cultures, a number of contemporary artists have begun to create artworks on the human body. In addition to its artistic value, body painting is used in anatomical education adaptability as a tool for learning both gross and surface anatomy, as well as for introducing clinical examination skills.
Body painting is used in various events such as in performances, events, parties, fashion, trade shows, music videos, and photo shoots. “What makes a body painting exceptional and interesting is the canvas is a human body. It is an art that breaths and moves,” Hana concludes.EBR
9th Year • August 1 – 15 2020 • No. 89