"When I was starting out, I really appreciated that I had an opportunity to spend a month in a shop," says Toby Lindala, owner of Burnaby, BC's Schminkën Studios, a special makeup effects production house that designs and fabricates pieces for the local film and television industry. "I learned a lot from that."
An Advisory Board Member of the Makeup Design for Film & Television program, Toby's now paying that opportunity forward to aspiring makeup artists. Schminkën is one of three makeup studios that regularly provide mentorship placements to select Makeup Design students. Masters FX and WCT Productions also participate.
"We're always trying to involve the professional community with the program so that students have the advantage of rubbing elbows with professionals and getting different perspectives from that community," says Head of Makeup Design Stan Edmonds.
These mentorship placements began in 2006, when the Makeup Design program expanded to one full year of intense study and practice. Students, like grad Crissy Renaud, began applying to spend 40 hours-plus volunteering under the local film and television industry's best. Taking place in the program's final term, such opportunities couldn't come at a better time for hungry students preparing to enter a competitive job market.
"I wanted to work in the industry, not hop from set-to-set," Crissy says. "So I knew this was what I should do."
The staff at WCT Productions put her to work: "I did everything from assisting life casting, making paint for an artist on set, cleaning molding, and sculpting." After finishing her placement, Crissy spent a month in contact with her former mentors before they hired her to assist with some work for Reaper, the television series.
Now she's mentoring WCT's incoming Makeup Design students.
A New Crop
November 2009's round of mentorship placements saw four current Makeup Design students getting their hands dirty in the day-to-day operations of a makeup effects studio. Dili Hafezi and Mandy Imeson spent over a week with Lindala at Schminkën, while Jon Berezan and Kate Middleton went to Masters FX.
But, as Stan explains, getting into one of these shops is no easy feat:
"We set up professional interviews where students have a time and place to go... These shops, they don't treat them like students. This is real."
"I went into all three [interviews] with a resume, portfolio, and an over-the-head mask I made," says Mandy, whose makeup skills were displayed on live television this past Halloween when she made over Global BC's weather personality, Arran Henn.
"I brought in a few pictures of some of the prosthetic makeups I have done," says Jon. "As well, I brought along physical examples of my work, like my over-the-head mask, prosthetic pieces I have sculpted, molded, and coloured, molds I have made, and facial hair pieces I have created."
Students are grilled about every aspect of special makeup effects fabrication and design in each interview.
"It's a real mixed bag of disciplines in this industry," Toby says, "and there's a large technical component. It's very much art and science. So a huge part of the job is product knowledge and technique knowledge."
Hoping to keep future applicants on their toes, he remains vague about what he typically asks in an interview:
"I usually ask some technical questions just to make sure they've been paying attention and absorbing the information," he explains. "It's one thing to sit in class and run through the process, it's another to be present and focused through that and retain the details of how the materials work... If you don't know what a material is soluble by, or what it takes to release that material from another, those sorts of things... then you can't work in a shop. Something's bound to go wrong."
Key to a Career
Stan has often seen students land their first industry jobs out of their mentorship experience. A few have gone on to contribute to the creation of special makeup effects work for local television series like Supernatural, Stargate Atlantisand Stargate Universe, alongside films such as The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and the upcoming Tooth Fairyand Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
"It's proven to be a direct link to a career move for some," Toby explains. He's hired Makeup Design grads before to help out when the incoming work has demanded additional hands. But, as with every other entertainment arts discipline, it's not all glitz and glam right out of the gate.
"A lot of it is also cleaning. Coming in and cleaning and working as an assistant in the shop [can be] an amazing experience."
Toby started out just like that when he was 18, assisting a makeup artist who was working on a horror film. While it was all volunteer work, he credits that experience as the beginning of his now-lengthy career.
Stan also emphasizes these opportunities as the first potential milestones in a young makeup artist's career:
"[These makeup studios] are always looking forward to having new students coming in," he says. "What happens is, when they have people they really like, [those students] end up on a roster, the way any makeup artist would. So if the shop gets busy and they have to pull in a lot of people to do bigger jobs here and there, they've got this little hirable list."
These mentorships also provide Schminkën with a special added benefit: "It keeps our team focused and passionate about what we're doing as well. It's nice to get that fusion of fresh energy of artists who are excited about prosthetics and learning new things... It's refreshing, really."
As more grads are hired due to positive mentorship placement experiences, there has also been a growing demand from Makeup Design students to experience what it's like to work in a professional studio.
According to Stan, when the program first introduced these opportunities to students, about one quarter to a third of each class would apply. Now, however, at least half of the aspiring makeup artists at VFS want their chance to shine.
Luckily for them, the three participating makeup effects studios have increased their intake of students - when there's enough work to go around, that is.
As the main bridge between VFS and the three studios, Stan is proud to see the high level of professionalism his students have displayed, even when faced with a potentially competitive atmosphere. "The students have been really supportive of each other," he says, noting how they've helped one another prep for their interviews.
Though Makeup Design students already learn how to design and fabricate special makeup effects during their year at VFS, Stan explains that, in professional studios like Schminkën, WCT, or Masters FX, they have the chance to observe on-the-job makeup artists who have been working in the big leagues for decades. And that can make all the difference when they're heading out into the industry after graduation.
Toby is more than happy with the arrangement. One of the first groups of mentorship students to come through was instrumental in executing a high-volume workload Schminkën was dealing with at the time.
"They basically jumped in as full crew members. We really needed them there at that time and that capacity. And that, again, is part of the business: it's just being ready when that opportunity hits."
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