Makeup is not just a face you put up for the audience; it is a persona you adopt when you’re in the film industry.
With the evolution of cinematography and a new generation of debuting actors, makeup also revolutionized as we moved from the stage to the silver screen. The early film industry was deeply inspired by theatrical techniques which were soon deemed unsuitable for the screen.
From standing for hours under glaring lights with makeup melting off the face to cameras zooming in on the finer details for close-ups, Hollywood is marked by some radical changes in the area of makeup. These changes have not only served evolving trends but also contrast in style and technique to the previous looks.
Here is the path makeup followed from the early days of cinema to current times.
Early Film Industry
There is no denying the relationship makeup has shared with theatre. There were a lot of difficulties that surfaced in the makeup techniques used earlier. One such problem was the usage of orthochromatic light by early filmmakers. With its limited color-range, it could only detect a few tints, reacted to pigmentation, darkened fair skin and compromised the visibility of bold reds.
In order to make do with the techniques and material available, Caucasian actors coated their faces with pink greasepaint, applied thick, charcoal eyeliner and put on deep red lipstick to avoid their lips from looking pale. Even though it helped deal with the orthochromatic lights on the set, it naturally wore down as actors perspired under the thick layers and intensely warm lights.
The Mid-Teens Crisis
With celluloid or nitrate films restricting the options available to actors, they undertook the responsibility of grooming their appearance themselves. While it may have been a convenient option for the actors themselves, it hugely compromised on the uniformity of their look in different scenes. Met with the onset of close-ups it brought celebrity faces under further scrutiny.
This called for placing greater importance to makeup refinements which would make the actors suit well to the new perspective. With a growing need for an eye for detail, an opportunity for makeup artists arose to fill this niche in the industry. Two names that became well-known as progenitor artists were Max Factor and George Westmore.
Technicalities of Technicolor
Factor’s invention of greasepaint was used as the first makeup in Cleopatra (1912). 2 years later he came up with a twelve-toned cream product which alleviated the need for applying thick layers of paint and substituted it with a thinly-applied formula for better coverage.
With the advent of panchromatic films in 1920s, color disparities lessened and more hues added to the color-range. In the year before his demise (1937), Factor adapted to the new technique of dying black-and-white films called Technicolor.
Even though it helped eliminate the tiring process of hand-painting films, it compromised the outlook of makeup. Since Technicolor required specialized cameras to complete the three-strip process, color supervisors had to monitor makeup to make sure it was within the prescribed limits.
Adapting Pancake To Modern Screens
In order to work with the newest filming technology for colored films, Max Factor had to make certain adaptations. He did this by altering theatrical Pancake makeup into a water-activated powder which could easily be applied with a sponge. This helped in sidestepping the shortcomings of Technicolor films.
Since the thick greasepaints were inappropriate for screens, these water-soluble powders perfectly fit the film’s needs. It reflected well in photography, allowed a delicate, translucent look and eradicated the unappealing sheen brought by Technicolor.