The following is an interview with professional makeup artist Melissa Wagner. In this Halloween-themed interview, Fanboy Comics’ Bryant Dillon chats with Wagner about how she got her start in the makeup industry, the best foundations and powders to use to achieve Kirkman-esque zombie makeup, and why Rick Baker is the man when it comes to makeup effects.
This interview was conducted on October 26, 2012.
Bryant Dillon, Fanboy Comics President: How did you become be a professional makeup artist and what made you want to go into the profession?
Melissa Wagner: I started doing makeup while in college as a way to put myself through school, as well as using it as a creative outlet. I basically apprenticed under a talented artist who had previous experience in entertainment and went on to open a small retail business where we did services for all the local high school formal dances, bridal events, special occasions, and holiday and Halloween parties. It wasn’t until the last few semesters of film school that I really considered doing makeup for entertainment.
BD: Do you have any recommendations for those looking to enter the profession?
MW: Really think about what sort of makeup you want to do, first of all. If you want to work at a counter or sell cosmetics, you don’t really need professional training for that, just natural talent. But, if you want to do more, consider where you want to take it as a career, whether it’s print, beauty, bridal, theater, film/television, special effects, etc. It’s more than just putting powder on someone. If you decide to go to beauty school, really research what the curriculum is and decide if it’s right for you. Same goes for any makeup school. Tons of people go and learn to apply fake beards and aging techniques and will never use them once they finish. And, if you can, find someone who can mentor you; they are the ones who will teach you more than any course could ever hope to.
BD: Can you tell us a little about your professional experiences as a makeup artist? Do you have any favorite past projects on which you have worked?
MW: Some of the most fun projects I worked on where during film school on some of the thesis shorts for the television department (which was my major – Television Production). We were all sort of flying by the seat of our pants to get projects done on time, sort of “in the trenches” together. And, they all varied: comedies, action, drama, docs. Interestingly enough, professional sets are the same, only the “machine” is a little more precise and the equipment is newer.
BD: Are there any specific inspirations that influenced your makeup work or style?
MW: Rick Baker is my makeup icon; he’s a legend. His special effects style is very distinct and has almost a caricature quality to it. Even his monsters have a sense of whimsy to them; they have that little something extra and that’s something I appreciate and appeal to. As far as beauty and glamour, I look at the history of fashion and lifestyle trends. I like to take vintage and retro looks and modernize them so they don’t come off as “costumey.”
BD: What has been the most difficult aspect of working as a professional makeup artist? Were there any major hurdles that you had to overcome?
MW: The hardest part is developing the network, like any profession. Especially in today’s economic climate, it’s all about who you know, regardless of industry. And, sometimes you have to take the gigs that don’t pay well, because it’s a passion project, or it’s for a non-profit, or a photographer really wants to work with certain talent and they bring you on board but it’s comped. All of this introduces you to more people, builds your network, so that the next thing you know, the camera guy you talked to about bicycles gave your number to the line producer for a series pilot.
BD: We’ve heard a rumor that you’re the go-to gal for authentic zombie makeup. What experience do you have with the walking dead?
MW: You mean other than the cache of zombies I have wandering my backyard? Kidding. During college, I actually worked on several projects that all included zombies; it was pretty weird, actually. And, who hasn’t wanted to just rip into someone’s brain, am I right?
BD: Do you have any easy makeup tips or suggestions for those looking to join the zombie hoard this Halloween?
MW: Yes! Don’t go crazy with the black around the eyes/orbital area. Experiment with reds/purples/grays for bruising and making the eyes and cheeks look recessed and hollowed. Mix olive/khaki greens with light foundations or powders to give skin that “dead” look, just don’t go overboard with the green; you’re not trying to become The Grinch. And, blood. LOTS of blood. On your face, neck, chest, hands, clothes. The more blood the better in my opinion. Cause really, zombies, not exactly known for their table manners.
BD: What is your preference: running zombies or shambling zombies?
MW: I do a lot of running for exercise, so I like to think I keep my cardio up so I can outrun a zombie should I need to, but my aim isn’t that great, so I’d probably do better against a shambling zombie. As far as movies and TV go, I like my zombies to fall somewhere in the middle. Too superhuman and it’s too unrealistic, too slow and it’s too easy. I really like how AMC’s The Walking Dead utilizes their zombies; they use a happy medium as far as zombies and motor function goes.
BD: With Halloween just around the corner, do you have any costume suggestions for our readers? How about yourself – any favorite costumes from past Halloweens?
MW: If I dress up at all, I end up taking costumes to an extreme where I want it to be period/character accurate, so I have been known to spend a lot of time and money on costumes. Now, I just want to be comfortable, and if I go to a party, I usually put something together out of clothes from my closet. My favorite costume is actually one I helped my sister with; I turned her into a dead Little Red Riding Hood, but still kinda pretty. ‘Cause as girls, we still ultimately want to be pretty on Halloween.
BD: Do you have any dream jobs or projects that you are dying to get a chance to work on?
MW: I’d die for a chance to work with Rick Baker! Even just making coffee runs. I’d drop everything I was doing for a chance to work with that man! I’d also love to be a part of a Tim Burton project. I love his style and the creative team he has. They really do great things with color and texture. Also period dramas.
BD: Creative types usually have great taste! Once our readers finish applying their zombie makeup, what Halloween entertainment would you recommend? Are there any favorite Halloween movies, activities, or traditions that you would care to share?
MW: There’s always Santa Monica Blvd. in WeHo to show off all your hard work on Halloween! As far as for me, for the last 8 years or so, some friends and I get together every Friday night for Scary Movie Night starting around mid-September and watch all manner of scary or monster movies, and the last Friday before Halloween is always a vampire movie. Not a glamorous party, I know, but after doing makeup all day, everyday, the last thing I want to do is my own, ya know?
BD: Where should our viewers go to learn more about you and your work? Are you on Twitter or any other social media sites?