Tips on Three-Dimensional Makeup

Modeling with highlights and shadows causes the audience to change its perception of an actor's face, but it makes no attempt to physically change any of the actor's features. Three-dimensional makeup, on the other hand, builds on the actor's own features with a modeling substance that can be molded into a desired shape, and actually alters the actor's face.

It is risky to place three-dimensional makeup on muscle tissue that moves as an actor speaks and changes expression, such as the cheeks. It can wrinkle, bubble, or fall off. But the nose, chin, cheekbones, and forehead are bony structures that offer a solid foundation for three-dimensional makeup.


Nose putty is the most common, but don't restrict it to only fantastic or striking noses. A slight alteration in the nose can make a tremendous difference in a character's appearance, and it is easy to apply. Several things should be kept in mind:

Use the least amount of putty to do the job. Remember, it should look integral to the face, not "stuck on."

Make a profile sketch of how you want your nose to look. Keep it in front of you at all times when applying the putty.

Use two mirrors so you can see your profile easily as your work progresses.

Make sure your skin is dry and free of grease and makeup.

Coat your fingertips with a lubricating jelly to keep the putty from sticking to them.

Warm and soften the putty by kneading it or placing it near a heat source for a few minutes until pliable.

Always keep any makeup substance away from your eyes.

Stick a softened ball of putty on the area of the nose to be built up. If it doesn't stick well, paint the nose with spirit gum (a liquid gum adhesive), let dry, and apply again. Blend the edges of the putty into the skin, shaping the nose as you work. Keep putty off the cheeks and nasolabial folds. Blend the edges to a smooth finish with lubricating jelly. When it is all dry, stipple lightly to give it texture, apply foundation, and powder. Putting rouge on the nostrils helps to make it appear more natural.

To remove the putty, use a thread or dental floss held tightly between both hands. Run it along the base under the putty and pull it away from the face. Be sure to remove your makeup from the putty before you remove it if you want to use it again.

Using putty to build up the chin requires spirit gum to hold it in place. Apply it only to the bony area of the chin. Putty may also be used to hide your eyebrows so that thinner ones may be painted on.

Liquid Latex

Another three-dimensional makeup substance is liquid latex. Commonly used to create texture and wrinkles for old age, this liquid rubber comes in a bottle to be applied with a brush, or as a foam for making latex masks. Dustin Hoffman wore such a mask as the 120-year-old man for the film Little Big Man in 1970. If you pull your cheeks tight with your fingertips, and apply liquid latex, releasing it after it has dried, it should form wrinkles and lines. It is very good to age the hands. However, one must be careful not to move too much, as the latex can separate from the skin. A light layer of oil or grease can prevent skin irritations and also keeps facial hair from embedding into the latex, which can be painful when the latex is peeled off. Mixing latex with a small amount of cornmeal or wheat germ will give the skin a rough or scaly appearance for special effects.

Latex can also be used to create fake scars. Apply spirit gum first, then a thin piece of cotton or tissue. Brush on the latex and let dry. The area can be roughened by pulling tiny bits of the tissue out. Add a dark color to the "scar" then apply your foundation. You may also model a scar with latex on a piece of glass and shape it with a palette knife. Dry it with a hair dryer and peel it off. Apply it to your skin with spirit gum. Latex pieces can be peeled off, and a good makeup remover or rubbing alcohol is used to remove the spirit gum.

Products available from PNTA:

Ben Nye: Nose and Scar Wax, Liquid Latex, Clear Latex, Castor Sealer, Spirit Gum Adhesive, Spirit Gum Remover, and Wrinkle Stipple

Kryolan: Tuplast (special order), Noses, Mustaches, Beards, and Water-soluble Spirit Gum

Reprinted with permission from the February 1997 issue of Performance! by Olympic Theatre Arts. Article written by Patty McManus.