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Masters of Makeup: The 7 Greatest FX Men in History

Written by: Chad Lutzke

It’s true, there is a growing unemployment line for the makeup artists of old, as the computer wizards and their pixilated blood take over the world, while the men who created the hands-on art pick up their grease paint, Karo syrup, and rubber and go home.  Fortunately, shows like The Walking Dead and films like Hellboy still utilize much of the old school techniques and prove that there’s still a place for it, as they turn stomachs and widen eyes across the nation.   Addicted to Horror Movies takes a look at seven of the best and/or most accomplished makeup artists to have ever blessed us with their work.  While a name may not ring a bell on some, you’ll certainly recognize their contributions to film.


  1. Lon Chaney:  Anyone who knows anything about horror knew he’d be the first to be mentioned here.   Considered the pioneer of monstrous makeup and deemed the Man of a Thousand Faces, Chaney brought to the screen images that would horrify nearly a century later.  But Chaney wasn’t putting his seemingly primitive techniques on actors sitting patiently in a chair.  He was a one-man show.  He applied the art on himself before playing the part. Most notably known for his roles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera, Chaney would put himself through painstaking sessions of makeup and self contortion to strike fear and/or sympathy into the audience.  His makeup kit is now held by the Los Angeles County Museum.


  1. Jack Pierce:  Without Jack Pierce, every Frankenstein-influenced image, plush toy, cartoon, or likeness wouldn’t have a flat-top head.  That was Pierce’s doing.  Mr. Pierce’s body of work is extensive.  Working tightly with Universal through the 30s and 40s, he was particularly remembered for his work on iconic films such as The Mummy, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula.  While makeup artists had started using rubber appliances, Pierce preferred his own technique of the building up of facial features using cotton, collodion (a liquid plastic), and nose putty.  It’s interesting to ponder what the world of horror would look like without the influence of Mr. Pierce.


  1. John Chambers:  While Mr. Chambers’ name is not wildly known, his iconic work is—most notably as the creator of Spock’s ears in the Star Trek television series, as well as the makeup for the original Planet of the Apes film franchise. I listed John Chambers here because of the impression he left in the makeup community.  Even Rick Baker, Mr. Monkey Man himself, is quoted as calling Planet of the Apes “one of the most important makeup movies ever.”  For his work on the film, Chambers won an Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup—an award category specifically created for Chambers and his work on the film and the first award given for makeup.


  1. Dick Smith:  This entire article could easily be filled discussing the many great creations Dick Smith has constructed–from The Exorcist and Ghost Story to Scanners, The Godfather, and Amadeus.  If this list of makeup gurus were in any particular order of superiority, Dick Smith would be in the #1 slot.  Though Mr. Smith passed away just last year in 2014, everything he learned he has taught to others.  Smith was generous with his craft, teaching people like Rick Baker and others the innovative techniques he utilized to bring life to ideas that, until then, had only looked good on paper—techniques that he himself pioneered. Smith’s old age makeup tops all else, and even to this day old age makeup is something that most artists having a difficult time getting right.  But Smith had it down to a perfect science even in the 70s.  Turning a 43-year-old Max Von Sydow into an 80-year-old man in The Exorcist that still holds up remarkably well 40 years later is no easy task.


  1. Tom Savini:  The 80s gave birth to a splatter subgenre, and certainly credit should be given to Tom Savini as the delivering doctor of the blood-spattering baby. Before filling condoms with blood and covering actors with prosthetics, Savini saw gore first hand as a combat photographer during the Vietnam War.  It was zombie guru George Romero who gave Savini his first crack at grossing out audiences in Romero’s film Martin.  Savini helped bring Romero’s undead franchise into full color in Dawn of the Dead.  It’s fair to say that Savini’s work would be the catalyst that escalated Romero’s “dead” films to the status they would ultimately achieve and have been unapologetically imitated ever since.


  1. Rick Baker:  Anyone working along side Dick Smith as a makeup assistant during the filming of The Exorcist is destined to walk away with more than enough knowledge in the craft to be successful.  Mr. Baker’s resume is both lengthy and impressive with films like An American Werewolf in London, Videodrome, Harry and the Hendersons, Men in Black, The Ring, and Hellboy, he’s created some of the screen’s most memorable images.  And because of Baker’s life-like renditions of chimpanzees and apes, his name became synonymous with primate makeup.  He became the go-to guy for such films as King Kong (1976 and 2005), Greystoke, Gorillas in the Mist, Mighty Joe Young, and the Planet of the Apes remake.  But his knowledge was not limited to that of appearance.  He even suited up in a handful of the movies and played the part, even as King Kong himself in the 1976 version.


  1. Tom Sullivan: The director of a movie can make or break it.  In the case of Evil Dead, it made it.  Sam Raimi’s execution as a young filmmaker experimenting with makeshift rigs, mixed with an unrelenting passion to create, made a masterpiece that will forever hold up and is arguably the most popular cult horror film ever made.  But let’s face it, as great as the unrelenting audio was with the suffering screams of the deadites, the abundant amount of blood splashed in the face of our hero Ash Williams, and Raimi’s unique camera shots and delivery, Evil Dead would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the craftiness of Tom Sullivan.  I know Tom a bit.  We’ve hung out at my house a few times, and I’ve no doubt he’s humble enough to admit that he might not belong in a list with the likes of Lon Chaney and Dick Smith, so think of Tom as an honorable mention—but one that made an impact more than most who’d gone to school for years to do what he did.  Several decades later people are still sporting their Evil Dead swag with the images he created; be it shirts with Cheryl peeking up from the cellar floor or some kid’s cell phone cover that resembles Sullivan’s book of the dead.  It was the crudeness of Sullivan’s work that made the long-lasting footprint in the genre.  Everything he used was nontraditional, from chicken bones and clay to acrylic paint instead of makeup, oatmeal and hard contact lenses that temporarily blinded the actors (and I’m not even mentioning his stop-motion animation at the end of the film).  Yes, Tom Sullivan is certainly worthy of a mention.

Rick Baker cites film makers’ dependency on computers as one of the reasons for his retirement in 2015.  How long until others follow?  I know I’m not the only audience member who wants the latex rubber over the pixels.  Let’s hope the younger generations get to experience getting their hands dirty in the goo rather than arcade eyes from a computer screen.

About The Overseer (2283 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

2 Comments on Masters of Makeup: The 7 Greatest FX Men in History

  1. Excellent choice of pics to use here, Matt! You made my piece look that much better!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great piece here. I was not even remotely aware that Lon Chaney did all of his own make up and special effects. Being one of those who does enjoy the goo over the pixels I really appreciate this article. Thank you for the information.


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