"Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen" Book Review

Written by Robert Gold

Published by Focal Press

Written by Todd Debreceni
2008, 344 pages, Reference
Book released on December 24, 2008


I fell in love with horror as a kid in the 1970s, watching the classic Universal monsters; Frankenstein was the best. The stylistic look of the picture and the intense design of the creature sparked a lifelong interest in horror cinema. I read legendary artist Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup book and followed that with Tom Savini’s Bizarro (later reissued as Grande Illusions). Knowing I wanted to make movies for a living, I focused on the world of special makeup effects. In college, I did a lot of the makeup for theatre productions and taught a class in stage makeup, where I learned the most about technique and application.

Over the years I shifted focus to different aspects of film production, but am always pleased when the opportunity on smaller jobs allows me to help out with blood or simple effects. I would never go so far as to call myself an artist, but I can talk to the people in that department and understand their needs. It was always difficult to find an affordable book that was worth the price. Jack Kehoe’s Special Makeup Effects was the next major print release on the subject and included a more detailed look at prosthetic appliances. Savini soon released Grande Illusions Book 2, an awesome source of information, but like so many others, it suffered from the idea that the reader already possesses advanced skills and skips over some of the details.

Legendary artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist) set the precedent that the industry thrives on open communication and discourages “secret formulas” as counter-productive wastes of time. Despite the willingness of seasoned professionals to share information, there simply wasn’t a solid reference book that specifically revealed the process behind the new designs. Genre magazines offered interviews with the leaders of the industry and home video releases began including behind-the-scenes glimpses of their work. Despite these growing outlets, novices were most in need of a cookbook-style manual that laid out the directions like a recipe. Today’s aspiring technicians can easily find tips on the internet, but the material is often incomplete or disjointed when it comes to being practical.

With his aptly titled Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen, Todd Debreceni has corrected this oversight that has long challenged aspiring makeup artists. Previous books on the topic focus primarily on two-dimensional stage makeup designs that emphasized the manipulation of the face’s natural highlights and shadows. Complex three-dimensional prosthetic makeup effects received little coverage or suffered from vague explanations. Debreceni exclusively studies the latter art form, providing detailed step-by-step instructions from design to application. This textbook comes highly recommended to anyone interested in pursuing a career in this field.

Todd Debreceni (Bat Boy, the Musical) is an award winning makeup artist who has worked in film, television and theatre for 30 years. He encourages serious readers to take the book to their local copy shop and have the spine replaced with a spiral binder so that pages can lay flat in a workshop environment, thus making it more accessible as an instruction manual. Debreceni begins by stressing the importance of a basic understanding of human anatomy and how it relates to sculpture and encourages assembling a collection of reference photos for any intended makeup (i.e. elderly faces). He offers step-by-step instructions and explains the material thoroughly to readers of all experience levels and even includes illustrations and photo examples of the process.

Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen systematically breaks down a wide range of concepts and materials, including how to create and sculpt for special effects, what kinds of tools you will need, how to care for an actor’s skin, how to create lifecasts and apply prosthetics, as well as advice on how to create your own portfolio. The book also includes a tutorial DVD. As I read through this book, I was reminded of the class I taught in college and how useful such an aid would have been.

Numerous artists have started their own educational programs including Dick Smith, Joe Blasco, Stan Winston and Tom Savini (to name only a few). I learned the most about makeup application by teaching others, and I will gladly recommend that schools consider this book as the standard text. Todd Debreceni has created a guide that is a love letter to the industry and anyone with a serious desire to create special effects needs to pick up this book immediately.



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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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