Beth Harkess, a Special Effects make-up artist local to Exit 6, talks to us about her getting started, being inspired by the greats, how low-budget shorts can still benefit from great SFX make-up, and the benefits of using Instagram to showcase her work.
Hello Beth, great to be speaking with such a talented artist right on our doorstep! What made you want to become a special effect make-up artist?
At the age of 13, I started playing around with makeup and created all sorts of makeup looks from watching YouTube videos. It wasn’t until I started watching The Walking Dead and found out that being a Special Effects Make-up Artist was an actual job! The Walking Dead has been a really inspirational series. I’ve met Greg Nicotero at Walker Stalker and he gave me personal feedback on my work and gave me advice for future makeup looks, which was incredibly helpful.
I used to be scared of horror films but now I love them! Favourite films that inspired me would have to be An American Werewolf in London, The Thing, Day of the Dead, Creepshow and many more. From then I started experimenting with all products to create different effects. The reason I love make-up is you can literally transform anyone into something completely different, whether this is an alien, aged person, creature or zombie. The possibilities are endless with what you can create.
What were some of your first experiments and what work are you most proud of to date?
My very first make-up look was a simple cut on my arm. I used materials such as PVA Glue and tissue (wouldn’t use that now!), my mum’s foundation and acrylic paint. For my first time, it didn’t turn out too bad. From my initial work I can say that I’ve improved a lot. One of my favourite pieces to date would have to be 'Ripped Off Face', showing muscles of the human face with the prosthetic face of my own. The process took a while but it was worth it in the end.
What’s some recent make-up effect work you’ve seen that’s impressed/inspired you?
Recent films, it has to The Darkest Hour, shows amazing transformation, turning actor Gary Oldman into recognisable Winton Churchill. The amount of detail and the consistent make-up look throughout the film. Wonder, showing facial differences of Treacher Collins Syndrome. Transforming the actor Jacob Tremblay to show this condition is incredible. Hereditary being so graphic and gruesome. It was just an insane film, the effects being shocking but will definitely be remembered.
You showcase a lot of your work on your Instagram feed, how useful do you find that as an outlet for your work?
I love using Instagram to showcase my work. It is a way I can share photos and connect with other make-up artists on the same platform. Where you can inspire each other and spark ideas from. You get to follow other make-up artists and see what they have been creating too. Instagram is also helpful because you can interact with your followers, getting feedback with questions, comments and likes. It comes in handy as an online portfolio too.
What kind of projects and filmmakers are you looking to get involved with?
Ideally, I would like to work on films where I could showcase my creative make-up. I would love to work alongside my roles models such as Rick Baker, Greg Nicotero, Ve Neill, Stuart Bray and Neill Gorton. Just pick at their brains for all of the knowledge they know... not literally. I am very fortunate this year to have worked on a Walt Disney film that comes out in 2019 with other special effect artists (can’t discuss too much about it due to contract terms and film confidentiality). It has given me a fantastic insight to actually be involved in a professional film production. My ultimate dream would be to write, produce and create my own horror/thriller film but that will be way off into the future. Success doesn’t happen overnight and I am open to any job opportunities that come along to expand and develop my skills.
Special effects make up can cover a wide range of methods, would you say you have a speciality?
My aim is to be a prosthetics/special effects make-up artist for a film but I also have a love for filmmaking and editing. So as long as I am in the film industry that would be the goal. I have recently become aware of medical prosthetics and how they can be used to rebuild people’s faces and limbs after facial or body trauma due to accidents and illness. This is an area that I wouldn’t have thought about before. Overall the Special Effects industry is vast. From moulding, mask making, puppets, animatronics, prosthetics, etc. the list goes on, but I would love to try everything within the industry.
Do you think it’s possible for short films with low budgets to still have good quality special effects make-up?
Most definitely! Creating latex pieces or using sculpt gel can create awesome effects for the screen. You can make your own fake blood too just by mixing corn-starch, red food colouring and corn syrup. Using coffee grains and latex to create a textured skin or red yarn to create veins. It’s mainly just experimenting to create different effects. Watching tutorials on YouTube (Freakmo Channel is very good) shows brilliant step by step on how to create realistic cuts using liquid latex, but I would say it all lies in technique and saying ‘’less is more’’.
What projects are you currently working on or have lined up next?
I am currently working on a personal project, painting on mirrors with a theme of music and film icons. I am booked to do Vintage Make-up at Goodwood Races in September, Zombie events coming up, and Halloween Make-up bookings. I will be going into 2nd year of University studying Make-up at the Arts University of Bournemouth.
We're saving the most important question for last... will we be seeing you at Exit 6 this year?
I will definitely be there! Looking forward to it!
You can follow Beth on Twitter: @BethHarkess
Find her work on Instagam: @BethEffects_
More information available at her website.