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Make-Up and Hair Designer - Film & TV

Make-up and Hair Designers usually work on feature films and high budget television dramas and must be proficient in both make-up and hair techniques.  Make-up and Hair are key elements in the overall design of films or television productions, creating a look for the characters in relation to social class, and time periods, and any other elements required to create the desired illusion.  Make-up and Hair Designers are responsible for the overall design, application, continuity and care of make-up and hair throughout the pre-production and production periods. 

The work involved ranges from creating contemporary looks to recreating period designs and styles, and transforming actors' physical appearance.  Make-up and hair effects include the design and application of wigs, hairpieces, hair extensions, facial hair, bald caps, tattoos, body paint; as well as medical effects such as cuts, scars, bullet wounds, burns, bruises, blood and the physical symptoms of various diseases.  Ageing and death effects are also the responsibility of the Make-up and Hair department. 

Make-up and Hair Designers are employed throughout pre-production and production, and usually work on a freelance basis.  The hours are long and the job can involve long periods working away from home.

What is the job?
Increased multi-skilling in the UK film and television industries has meant that personnel are required to be proficient in both make-up and hair, and the departments are often merged.  Make Up and Hair Designers' responsibilities vary depending on production needs.  The Make up and Hair departments may be combined, with a Make-up and Hair Designer in charge; or they may be separate with a Chief Make-up Artist and a Chief Hairdresser controlling their respective sections.  On larger film productions two or more units may work simultaneously, with Chiefs overseeing hair and/or make-up on each unit and the Designer in overall control.  A team of Make-up/Hair Artists and Assistants are usually employed in the department, and there may also be Trainee positions.  Make-up and Hair Designers work closely with, or may also take on the role of, Personal Make-up Artists and Hairdressers, working exclusively on particular (usually principal) performers. 

Make-up and Hair Designers are recruited during pre-production, and work closely with Directors, Performers, Costume Designers, Directors of Photography, Production Managers, Accounts Department personnel, Assistant Directors, Floor Managers, Location Managers, Wig and Facial Hair Makers, Dentists, Opticians, Specialist Hairdressers, Prosthetic Artists, and Make-up and Hair Suppliers, as well as with members of their own Department,  They assess make-up and hair requirements, set up the Department, recruit staff, and prepare the make-up and hair budgets and schedules.  On larger productions Make Up and Hair Designers may recruit Chief Make-up and Chief Hairdressers or/and a supporting artist Co-ordinator, and delegate responsibilities. They facilitate and manage trainees.

During pre-production Make-up and Hair Designers liaise with Directors and Costume designers to ensure that the overall design is consistent with the production concept for both principals and supporting characters.  They break down the script scene by scene to identify the required make-up and hair styles.  They make detailed notes for each character, taking into account a number of factors including: the effect that story time may have on each character's "look"; whether location shoots will expose performers to any extreme weather conditions; whether any doubles are required for stunts etc.

They assess whether an Actor's face and/or body needs to be changed by using prosthetics or special effects.  They research the appropriate make-up and hair for the production's time period.  Make-up and Hair Designers assess the creative and technical requirements, and present their initial ideas to the Director.  They oversee the preparation of the departmental budget, and estimate the costs of staff, facilities, resources, hired pieces, and any wig or prosthetic construction.  They negotiate terms with appropriate suppliers and wig and prosthetic makers, provide them with design specifications, and ensure that they deliver to specific deadlines.  They discuss colour palettes with Production and Costume Designers. 

They make appointments for, and if necessary, go with actors to wig fittings, facial hair fittings, prosthetic castings, optician and dental appointments.  They ensure that actors are comfortable with their look, and check for any allergies.  They must carry out full risk assessments, and develop procedures to control risks.  On studio based productions, Make-up and Hair Department personnel usually work in special make-up/hair rooms.  On locations Make-up/Hair buses are generally used, and rooms or tents equipped with make-up mirrors with lights, tables and chairs, ventilation, etc.  Make Up and Hair Designers must collaborate closely with Location Managers to ensure that all working areas comply with the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

Prior to shooting or recording Make-up and Hair Designers select the staff for their department, and explain the design brief to ensure that the look is consistent.  They prepare the overall departmental production schedule, and oversee the day to day breakdown of responsibilities.  In collaboration with Assistant Directors/ Floor Managers they calculate accurate call times for staff and performers.  They draw up and distribute notes about principal and supporting actors, detailing each scene's make-up/hair "looks" and changes.  These notes are vital for maintaining continuity throughout the production. 

Make-up and Hair Designers work with the Camera department on test shots to see how make-up and hair looks under different lighting conditions.  On studio television productions they liaise with Lighting Directors and Technicians to ensure that skin tones, etc., are in keeping with the overall design concept.

They supervise the make-up and hair processes throughout each shooting day, and ensure that continuity is maintained within their department.  They keep accurate records of monies spent, and liaise with Accounts Department personnel to ensure that they stay within budget.  Make Up and Hair Designers also oversee all publicity shoots.  Once productions are completed they are responsible for the return of all hired items, and for preparing final records of all monies spent.

Typical career routes
Make-up and Hair Designers are usually experienced personnel who have been employed in the film and/or television industries for 10 to15 years, working in a variety of genres including commercials, pop promos, corporate productions, light entertainment, documentary dramas, etc.  They may have started their careers working as Trainees, progressing to Make-up and Hair Assistants, to Make-up and Hair Artists working on larger and more complex productions, and finally to Make-up and Hair Designers.  Progress through the department is usually based on skills and experience, which is acquired by on the job training, while assisting established Make-up Artists and Hairdressers.

Essential knowledge and skills
Make-up and Hair Designers oversee their entire department, and need excellent leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills combined with self assurance and confidence.  They must be able to understand others' ideas and concerns whilst trusting their own opinions and instincts.  As Designers work closely with Actors in a physical sense, they must be tactful, sensitive, patient and able to put people at ease.  The work can be physically demanding, and requires stamina, as it involves many hours of standing or bending over Actors. 

Make-up and Hair Designers must have artistic and technical skills, creative flair, a strong sense of colour, design and drawing, and a large cultural knowledge base in terms of period make-up and hair, and also with regard to Costume, Art literature, and social and cultural history.  They should be able to translate abstract ideas into practical applications, quickly and efficiently.  They need the manual dexterity required for the application of make-up and hair products and effects. 

They should understand how lighting can affect make-up, and the differences between the effects of film, digi beta, high definition, etc.  They must keep up to date with the latest products, equipment and techniques.  Language skills may be helpful for foreign shoots, where the team may include local Make-up and Hairdressing personnel.  All members of the Make-up and Hair Department are expected to have their own kits. Key Skills include:

  • strategic planning, scheduling and budget control abilities;
  • highly developed research skills;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • effective presentation skills;
  • confident team management and motivational skills;
  • effective team building;
  • ability to work under pressure to external and departmental deadlines;
  • creative problem solving skills, combined with a flexible attitude to changes;
  • good IT skills;
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

Training and qualifications
All Make-up and Hair Designers should have achieved at least a Level 2  vocational qualification or equivalent in Media Make-up, and a level 2-3 NVQ in Hairdressing or the equivalent of two years experience.  As it is essential that all Make-up Artists keep up to date with new methods and materials further qualifications and skills may be acquired by attending specialist, industry approved short courses.  Make-up and Hair Designers should also have recognised Health and Safety qualifications, and must be able to carry out risk assessmentsA full EU driving licence is essential.

Individual course accreditation in certain subject areas is currently being piloted. As part of Creative Skillset's and the UK Film Council's Film Skills Strategy, A Bigger Future, a network of Screen Academies and a Film Business Academy have been approved as centres of excellence in education and training for film.

Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset is the Sector Skills Council for the Audio Visual Industries. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Creative Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive  CreativeSkillset/BFI course database. Finally, Creative Skillset Careers is UK's only specialist media careers advice service; for detailed media careers information and advice, visit


  • BBC
  • BECTU - the trade union represents Make-up and Hair personnel


  • Broadcast - the weekly newspaper for the UK TV and Radio industry
  • Televisual - the business magazine for the broadcast and production industry
  • The Make-up Artist Magazine
  • Stage Screen and Radio
  • Screen International
  • The Technique of the Professional Make-up Artist - Vincent J.R. Kehoe ISBN: 0240802179
  • Special Make-up effects - Vincent Kehoe ISBN: 0240800990
  • The Complete Make-up Artist - Penny DelemarISBN: 1861528906
  • Fashions in Hair - Richard CorsonISBN: 0720610931
  • Fashions in Make-up - Richard Corson. ISBN: 0720611954
  • A Colour Atlas of Diagnosis after Recent Injury, P.D. London. ISBN: 0801662958
  • Make-up Continuity Sheets - Linda Morton

Download this job profile in pdf format:
Adobe Acrobat DocumentMake-Up & Hair Designer - Film & TV - Job Profile

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