Special Effects Goes Mainstream

Article and multimedia by Nora McCarten

If you’ve seen Batman v Superman, American Horror Story, or any of the Pirates of the Carribbean films, you’ve seen Richard Redlefsen’s work. Working in the film and television industry since 1998, Redlefsen is one of the most sought-after special effects makeup artists in the rapidly expanding arena of special effects, commonly referred to as “SFX.” As TV shows and movies like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Star Wars dominate mainstream media, SFX makeup and artists like Redlefsen have never been more prominent.

For nearly the past decade, zombies, vampires and aliens have dominated big and small screens — all characters that require hours of behind-the-scenes cosmetic work. That can involve prosthetics, custom-made masks and a variety of gory substances including artificial blood, pus and brain matter.

Video: A special effects makeup artist at work

As artists like Redlefsen commercialize SFX on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, the art form is becoming more welcoming to newcomers. Gabriella Ruvane, a 21-year-old freelance makeup artist who trained at the Make-Up Designory in Manhattan, is excited by how established artists have opened the door for newbies in the industry.

“Social media has helped up-and-coming artists like myself gather inspiration and see what kind of SFX transformations people respond to on Instagram and YouTube,” Ruvane said.

Interactive: Inside Gabriella Ruvane’s SFX kit.