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Prosthetics Artist - Film

Prosthetics Artists work on feature films and in television on commercials, pop promos, corporate productions, light entertainment programmes, documentary dramas, etc.  Prosthetics are appliances made of rubber, plastic, gelatine, silicone, or any other material that can be affixed to an Actor's face or body, in order to change their shape and/or appearance. 

Prosthetic Artists create specialised items which can be bought or hired for the production.  They liaise with the Director, Make-up Designer, Production Designer and Actors in order to design, make, apply and maintain prosthetics in line with the Make-up design.  They may change the face and hands, or even the whole body of the Actor. 

Prosthetics Artists may be hired for the duration of the production, or they may work as Dailies, hired on a temporary basis, usually to work on large crowd scenes.  They are usually employed during pre-production and production, and normally work on a freelance basis.  The hours are long and the job can involve long periods working away from home.  

What is the job?
Prosthetics Artists hired for the duration of a film break down the script to analyse what Prosthetics are needed for which character.  After an initial meeting with the Make-up Designer and Director, Prosthetics Artists are briefed and given detailed drawings and specifications.  Very occasionally, due to time restrictions, the brief may be rough, and the Prosthetics Artist must use their own design skills to interpret ideas.  They may also carry out their own research and present alternative designs, styles or colour palettes to the Director and Make-up Designer. 

Prosthetics Artists estimate the time needed for, and the cost of, creating prosthetics, agree terms with the Designer or Producer, and make the prosthetics.  They usually work from their own homes or studios.  However, on very large productions a specially created workshop may be based within the production area, and Prosthetics Artists may work as part of a larger team.  They may create bald caps (from measurements provided by other production personnel), or original small prosthetic pieces, such as facial parts or scars.  They may also work from life, taking casts from an Actor's facial features, head or body, checking whether the performer has any allergies or other sensitivities, and patch testing the adhesives and chemicals to be used. They explain the process to performers, and make sure that their skin, hair and clothing are suitably prepared and protected before taking the cast. 

Prosthetic Artists keep accurate records of formulas, timing and processes, to enable future replication.  When the prosthetic has been made, they use the appropriate colouring and finishing techniques, and deliver it to the production. Normally Prosthetic Artists apply prosthetics to performers themselves.  As this can take many hours, they may employ an Assistant, or work with a Make-up Artist.  Occasionally Prosthetics Artists may be responsible for special effects such as wounds, bruises, black eyes, etc.  After applying the prosthetics, they usually stand by on set to ensure that the prosthetics are sustained under shooting conditions.  They store prosthetic pieces between takes and shoot days, to avoid damage or distortion.  Prosthetics Artists may also work as Dailies in the crowd tent, applying prosthetics working from an original model, or from photographs.

Typical career routes
Most Prosthetics Artists start their careers as Trainees within the Prosthetics department, learning from experienced Prosthetics Artists, honing their skills and learning new techniques on the job.  Progress through the department is usually based on skills and experience, which is acquired by on the job training.

Essential knowledge and skills
Prosthetics Artists must understand how to translate abstract design ideas into practical applications.  They need creative flair, and craft skills, combined with a strong sense of colour and design.  They should have a good understanding of anatomy, and a talent for sculpting.  They must be adept in mould making, casting, part casting, and removal procedures, and should understand how to join body sections together.  They must know how to work with industry standard materials such as foam, latex and silicone.  They should also be proficient in techniques such as face and body ageing using prosthetics, and creating bald caps, false noses, wounds, scars, skin diseases and tattoos.  Good make-up application skills are useful. 

Prosthetics Artists may also be skilled in animatronics, special effects make-up, creature creation, or model making.  Scenes involving prosthetics are occasionally mixed in with Computer Generated Images during the editing process, and an understanding of such procedures may be useful.  If wigs are very stylized and an integral part of the overall design, they are designed and overseen by Senior Prosthetic Artists, while more conventional wigs, e.g., those provided to age characters, are usually overseen by Make-up Designers.  Prosthetics Artists work closely with performers in a physical sense, and must be tactful, sensitive, patient and able to put people at their ease.  The work can be physically demanding, as it involves many hours of standing or bending over Actors.

Key Skills include:

  • effective communication and diplomacy skills;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • good presentation skills;
  • ability to work effectively both independently and as part of a team;
  • ability to work under pressure to external and departmental deadlines;
  • good IT skills;
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

Training and qualifications
Most Prosthetics Artists are self-taught to an intermediate level of proficiency. They may acquire further skills by taking a short course, a BA degree, or vocational qualifications in Prosthetics, Model-making, Make-up or Sculpture.  Alternatively, to enter the film and television industries, they may compile a portfolio of their work, including photographs and designs, and approach a senior Prosthetics Artist for a placement as a Trainee.  At all levels personality and the right attitude are extremely important.

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 Creative Skillset/BFI course database. Finally, Creative Skillset Careers is UK's only specialist media careers advice service; for detailed media careers information and advice, visit http://www.creativeskillset.org/careers/.

Websites

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

Publications

Download this job profile in pdf format:
Adobe Acrobat DocumentProsthetics Artist - Film - Job Profile


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