Creating a Zombie Makeup With Your Airbrush

by Bradley M. Look


It's early on a Monday morning as I sit writing this latest article, on the Western street at Universal Studios' back lot in Hollywood, California. Stunt men, dressed up as cowboys, gallop past on horses leaving a cloud of dust behind them. Grips are busy setting up large arc lamps, while the rest of the crew stand about anxiously waiting for the first assistant director to call out for last looks. The sun begins to burn through the fog as it rises above the tops of the fa├žade of the old west. As I collect my thoughts to continue writing, a tram loaded with tourists pulls up and stops momentarily, with cameras madly clicking at us. Now I know how animals in the zoo feel!


Anyway, since I have covered the basic equipment needs as well as airbrush makeup product lines, we're finally ready to move on to demonstrations of actual makeups!


I decided to create a character makeup that is a cross between a zombie (very traditional Halloween fare) and that of Mr. Hyde. And to make this makeup easy to duplicate by any of the AirbrushTalk readers, I decided not to use any foam latex prosthetics (also known within the makeup field as "appliances"). The makeup will be created solely using only shadows and lowlights--a technique that can yield quite impressive results. The reason I mentioned "lowlights" as opposed to the commonly used highlights is that unlike more traditional painting techniques that are applied to a flat 2-D surface, the airbrushing is being applied to a 3-D surface, namely a human face. Since the lighting is not a fixed source and the makeup will be seen close-up by discriminating eyes, a strong fixed highlight doesn't look natural, especially if you want to apply this makeup for a party or a haunted house environment. So with no further ado's, let's get started.


To begin any makeup, the model needs to have a freshly scrubbed face. Do not apply any oily moisturizer beforehand; otherwise the makeup won't adhere evenly to the skin. Here is my victim, uh, I mean model, Clayton Stang, sans makeup.


I like to create mixed medium makeups, so I start by applying a cake makeup foundation in a jaundice yellow shade to Clayton's entire face, using a dampened synthetic sponge. A makeup brush was used to apply makeup under the eyes and around the ears. Cake makeup is a water-activated product that is available in a wide variety of not only skin tones, but also in a complete spectrum of colors. Brand names for cake makeup include Ben Nye's Cake Foundation and Magicolor, Kryolan's (not the paint company) Aquacolor, and Mehron's Starblend and Paradise. See the listing of makeup retailers from the previous article to purchase any of these products.

Next, I applied a mixture of my yellow base with that of a paler cake makeup. This was applied to the high points of Clayton's face to delineate the facial forms. After the makeup has dried (you can speed up the drying process by using a hair dryer on a cool setting), it is powdered and then a makeup sealer is lightly misted over the entire face and neck. When using makeup sealers, always be sure to follow the manufacturer's complete instructions for application. Makeup sealers include Mehron's Barrier Spray, Ben Nye's Final Seal, Kryolan's Fixer Spray, and Premiere Products Green Marble. Once the sealer is dry, you may need to powder it lightly to remove any tack. The under painting is now sealed and we're ready to move onto the airbrushing.

To begin the spraying process, I used a subtle shadow color to block in the hollows of Clayton's face. When airbrushing the face, it is always important to work between 3 and 6 psi. Also, do not spray product in the eyes, ears, or the mouth.


If you're working on a model who has never been airbrushed before, it is helpful to move the gun over his face while depressing the trigger so that he gets used to the sensation of the airflow without flinching. Once he is used to the air movement over his face, you can load your airbrush with product and begin spraying.

For the next step, a mixture of a brown-green color was sprayed in a loose, broken fashion over portions of the face to give the skin a mottled appearance.


Now to give the face more dimensions, low lights were finally added to create stronger high points.


I wanted a more period looking zombie, so I decided to lengthen Clayton's modern sideburns by hand laying human hair into spirit gum adhesive. Then using a comb as a shield, I sprayed the sides of the head to gray the hair. It's important to work from the root to the end of the hair shaft to impart a more realistic appearance, otherwise the color looks like it's just sitting on the top of the hair.

As you can see, costuming completes the overall look.


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