The ghosts, monsters, aliens, and magical and supernatural creatures we see on-screen and in the theatre have been brought to life thanks to special effects makeup artists! As the technology needed to bring imaginary worlds to life has been quickly advancing thanks to SFX makeup, it has become an essential part of the movie industry.
Iconic characters such as The Terminator, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Joker, The Mummy, and many more were created by great special effects makeup. SFX makeup artists also create credible-looking injuries, wounds, and surgeries in medical TV shows and movies.
We spoke with special effects makeup artist Islam Alex to gain insight into the world of SFX makeup.
By Farah ElAbd
What made you get into the field of special effects makeup?
I was studying fine arts during university because I loved painting and sculpting in particular, and when I found the special effects makeup field it was as if that career was made for me. It combines everything I wanted in a career; there’s nothing routine in it as each project is different, it allowed me to be artistic, to work with many different materials, and be involved in projects with people I admire.
I started in 2009 as an assistant to SFX artist Tarek Mostafa who really pioneered the field in Egypt. My first projects with his team were the movie La Taragoa Wala Esteslam and the series Abwab El Khof, which made me settle on this career.
Are there differences between doing makeup for movies and TV shows?
There used to be, back when the cameras that were used to shoot were different, but now it’s pretty much the same quality. Since movies are more likely to be seen at any time, unlike a TV show which is restricted to a specific airing time; movies are more favored among artists in the industry.
What have been the most memorable projects you have worked on?
My career and the projects I have worked on are divided into two phases: the first was when I was working in Tarek Mostafa’s team up until 2019, and the second started when I left and began working on my own.
During the first phase, special effects makeup was not a necessity in the movie industry, we were getting one movie or maybe two a year. Some of the memorable projects back then were El Kabeer Awy, Al Fil Al Azraq 1, Welad Rizq 1, El Harb El A’lameya El Talta, and Cima Ali Baba.
Then when I started working alone, I began with the movie 122, Paranormal series, and B 100 Wesh, which really took off in Ramadan. Most recently were El Aref, El Ens W El Nems, and the movie Reesh (Feathers) which won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Islam Alex
What makes you decide to choose your projects?
I’m not going to say I don’t think financially, but it’s not my first concern; it is the details in the project that can showcase all of the talents. I love what I do to a degree of almost craziness; I currently took on too many projects, which can cause problems because of conflicting schedules, but I couldn’t turn down any of them because of how good I think each one is!
I choose based on the details, the director, the actors, the story, and many other things such as how many difficult and different characters there are that will require a multitude of special effects makeup and materials.
How has the SFX makeup field changed from say 10 years ago?
Like I said earlier, in the past we would get a movie or two a year as there were not many or any big projects that required special effects makeup, and so people didn’t really pay attention to it that much. Islam Alex
But lately, the special effects field has started to have its own space and presence; viewers are focusing more than ever on details and their standards of makeup and effects are constantly rising, especially as they compare to foreign movies and shows.