For one of the most popular and often required movie makeup looks out there, there is very little educational info available online about this makeup. So take a look with me at the ins and outs of dirt and breakdown makeup and how to create realistic and authentic looks for the screen. So if you’re ready to learn some insider tips and tricks, let’s get started!

dirt and breakdown makeup part 1.
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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Understanding the landscape and dirt color of the filming location is crucial for creating authentic makeup looks
  • Why it’s essential to respect and follow instructions from department heads, designers, and directors
  • How collaboration is key to any successful dirt of breakdown heavy project.


click here to read the transcript!


Episode 43: Show notes

bokeh photography of person carrying soil

As a makeup artist with many, many years of experience in film and TV, I’m often asked about dirt makeup, also known as breakdown makeup.

It’s crucial to bringing characters to life on screen, yet many struggle to create realistic and authentic breakdown makeup looks.

Understanding the landscape and the type of dirt is essential.

It’s important to be aware of the filming location and the story’s setting to ensure that the makeup harmonizes with the environment.

However, it’s vital to follow the lead of your department head or designer when it comes to choosing colors and products. The specifics may vary depending on your role, so it’s crucial to be adaptable and respectful of instructions.

In addition to the physical environment, it’s crucial to consider the setting of the characters.

Are they in a historical period or a contemporary location? This detail can provide creative cues for enhancing breakdown looks and adding an extra level of authenticity. Moreover, timing and hygiene also play significant roles in creating believable breakdown makeup.

How long have the characters been in their dirty area? Do they maintain cleanliness despite the surroundings? These are questions that should be addressed through open communication with the makeup designer, department head, and director.

Collaborating with the hair and costume departments is incredibly vital in bringing the entire look together. This open communication can help in executing the makeup effectively. Continuity becomes extremely important, especially in projects that span longer.

Creating realistic and authentic breakdown makeup is an intricate task that involves attention to detail, open communication, and the ability to adapt to varying requirements. These elements are crucial in bringing characters to life on screen and ensuring that the makeup enhances the storytelling.

Stay tuned for part two of my dirt and breakdown makeup episodes next time.

Click here to listen to this episode!


Episode Transcript

[00:00:00]: One of the most often requested and needed makeups on set for film and tv shows would have to be for dirt makeup aka breakdown makeup. It’s a really common ask, particularly if you’re day checking or working in the crowd room or tent, and your job is to make up the background performers.

Whether it’s a period project or set in contemporary times, breakdown makeup is in high demand on movie and tv sets the world over. But what’s interesting is just how many of us can struggle to create a realistic and authentic-looking breakdown makeup.
So I wanted to explore the breakdown makeup and hopefully give you some pointers to help you show up next time and create realistic dirt and breakdown makeups and effects.

[00:01:29]: So what’s important to know about your dirt makeup looks? First is the landscape and the dirt color and type. Of course, you should try to be aware of the location where you’re going to be filming, where the story takes place.

And in fact, before we get started, I just want to preempt this with the fact that obviously some of this information will change depending on your role. So if you’re doing principal cast, obviously you’ll know in advance where the locations are and that sort of thing.

So just be open that some of these words of wisdom, words of advice are very dependent on your role. So a day checker is going to be given different information than someone making up the number one on the call sheet, for instance. So, definitely take that into consideration. Okay, so let’s get back into it.

[00:02:25]: Of course you should try to be aware of the location where you’re going to be filming, where the story takes place, and where your characters will be. Sometimes, these places can have a very different landscape or produce different dirt colors on the skin. And the makeup that you use should be harmonious with the environment that the characters are set in.

Now, it’s incredibly vital that you follow your department head or designer’s lead on what colors and products to use. And of course this one may change depending on your exact role.

On any given project, for example, you showing up as a day checker, you might be inclined to bring your own dirt and then they’ve supplied one shade of dirt. So if that’s the case, obviously you’re going to use what’s been supplied for you. And by the same token, you may have your own favorite product that you like, but perhaps that color reads differently with the digital cameras being used to film.

[00:03:24]: Or perhaps the director has a particular aversion to, let’s say, orangey or red dirt tones. This exact thing happened to me once, and I had to hand mix all of my dirt colors for our 40-plus additional makeup artists. And maybe the bigger picture involves other departments as well. The production design, costume, and hair design also go as far as the undertones of the dirt.

Now, this may be a conversation that happens very early on in the conceptual talks at the very beginning of production. You just never know what has been discussed or set in place way before you showed up. So the takeaway here, respect and follow your instructions. It’s also important to know the setting of your characters.

[00:04:12]: Are your characters reenacting a scene set in 1970s Africa? Will you add sweat, a little sunburn, or exposure makeup under their dirt? Or perhaps they’re in a Japanese pow camp in the middle of winter in World War II? Maybe this calls for a little redness on the tips of the performer’s noses. A subtle red nose like the one I’ve got right now. If you can’t hear my voice, I’m so sorry.

A subtle red nose can help convey the cold temperature of where these characters are set. The location and setting can help give you creative clues, clues about how to enhance your breakdown looks and give them that extra level of authenticity.

The location will affect the aesthetics of your breakdown makeups for sure, and another thing to consider is timing. How long have your characters been in their dirty area or out and exposed? Perhaps you can use dirt to tell the story of their emotional journey as well, and continuity becomes extremely important in these situations and on projects that take place over a longer period of time. So definitely be aware of the time frame of your character’s journey.

[00:05:25]: And hygiene is another thing, too. It may also be that your character takes a lot of baths or showers in the story, and that they actually keep themselves quite clean in amongst a dirty time or location.

All these things require conversations, questions that you can ask your makeup designer or department head and the director prior to shooting and makeup tests. So collaborating with the hair and costume departments is really incredibly vital.

And just generally, having great open communication channels can help you to do your job more effectively. Stay tuned for part two of my dirt and breakdown makeup episodes next time. Here on five minute face talk. See you soon.

[00:06:10]: Bye.

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