The Magical Brush: Evolution of Make-up in Hollywood

Written By Sonali Chowdhury, Hollywood Story

An essential part of movie making and one of the most powerful visual tools in the hand of the makers is the subtle and often underrated art of make-up. From simple beginnings it has evolved into a modern day hybrid of prosthetics and graphics. After the magical ride of Hollywood special effects Rockying brings to you a rare focus on the evolution of the art of movie make-up.


Boris Karloff as the Mummy

Boris Karloff as the Mummy

Hollywood started its relation with the art of make-up in the same vein as theatre. The aim was very simple: to make the actors look as presentable as possible. The make-up artists struggled mainly with mascara, lipsticks and blushes to transform the actresses (and even some dandy actors!) into magical beauties. Early stars such as Greta Garbo owed a lot to early make-up greats like George Westmore, who worked on almost 2/3rds of all movies produced during the silent era! Also significant were the early horror classics such as THE MUMMY where make-up turned actor Boris Karloff into a monster with ease.

Greta Garbo: the first style icon

Greta Garbo: the first style icon


Audrey Hepburn getting her make up on

Audrey Hepburn getting her make up on

The rise of Divas saw the birth of thefusion between high fashion and Hollywood. Legendary beauties like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe owed much to the hard working make-up artists who worked behind the scenes to give them looks that would inspire a generation. Also, Hollywood hairstyle and make up tips inspired millions of ordinary women across the globe and even today remains the source from which most copy their styles. Be it Jennifer Aniston’s hairdo in FRIENDS or the carefully puffed up hair-do of Elvis Presley during his heydays, Hollywood became the altar at which fashion fans worshipped.

Elvis and his famous hair do

Elvis and his famous hair do


Creating lifelike apes in PLANET OF THE APES

Creating lifelike apes in PLANET OF THE APES

Hollywood make up moved from being an extension of popular fashion to a powerful tool of character creation in the early 70s.From beautification alone, the focus was now on creation of characters who relied on advanced prosthetics in order to look believable to the audiences. THE PLANET OF THE APES (1968) was one of the early pioneers giving us talking apes that look real even by today’s standards. The sudden spurt of sci-fi movies post STAR WARS also gave the make- up artists an opportunity to go insanely creative. However, it was not all fancy face paint and outlandish hairdos. Winners of the Oscar for best make up included movies like GANDHI, where Ben Kingsley and Roshan Seth gave us images of the Mahatma and Pandit Nehru that will live on in our memory forever. Later winners included Robin Williams’ cross dressing act in MRS DOUBTFIRE (that ‘inspired’ Kamal Hassan’s CHACHI 420) and even the subtle, period make up in TITANIC.

Robin Williams as MRS DOUBTFIRE

Robin Williams as MRS DOUBTFIRE




Computers changed everything in Hollywood, including make-up. Modern motion capture tech includes a procedure that involves placing tiny sensors on dozens of muscles on an actor’s face. These sensors pick up every muscle movement as the actors acts in front of the camera. Later, the acting is retained even as the data from the sensors is used to give the same actor a whole new face, a wonderful effect that would be impossible without CGI. The dramatic face sported by Bill Nighy as Davy Jones in the PIRATES OF CARRIBEAN franchise and the amazing prosthetic and CGI combo on Brad Pitt in CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON are sterling examples of this bold new step in Hollywood make up history.

Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Nothing is beyond possibility on the silver screen and the movie maker’s imagination is now the only boundary!

About the Author: Keeping her eyes closed, with long breaths and a gentle sound many mistake for snoring, actually helps Sonali think better. Or so she says. People question about these daily “thinking sessions”, mostly conducted on a comfortable couch or bed, while she claims that the long overdue best-seller she’s been working on (for quite some time now) will silence all the cynics. Till then she dreams on...

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