Makeup and Clothing Tips For Video

Bright lights glaring, camera in tight, tape rolling… cue talent

Oops…what’s that glare where your subject should be? This is no time to realize the talent’s forehead reflects light like a beacon, or the color of the talent’s clothing clashes with this upholstery.

Makeup and wardrobe are often overlooked in pre-production planning. You ignore them at your peril.

Even the simplest production suffers when makeup and wardrobe concerns are not properly addressed. The CEO loses credibility when he perspires under the studio lights; so does the diesel mechanic dressed in a pale blue cardigan sweater and white slacks.

Master the basics of wardrobe and makeup, and your videos will improve dramatically.

Facing Up to Makeup

When you think about someone, what do you remember most? Most people remember the face. Like it or not, its the face that serves as the basis of both first impressions and lasting memories.

When you listen to a person, either on TV or in person, you naturally direct your attention to the speakers face. Thats because the face plays a significant role in non-verbal communication. It stands to reason that the face deserves careful aesthetic consideration, especially for videomakers. As the center of attention, its the face that requires careful makeup.

There are three basic ways to use facial makeup: to improve appearance, to correct appearance and to change appearance.

The everyday makeup applied by many women and an increasing number of men improves the appearance of the face.

With the help of makeup, you can cover up minor skin blemishes, accentuate the eyes and even emphasize preferred features.

Makeup can also perform minor miracles, visually correcting small facial imperfections such as circles under the eyes, sagging chins and misshapen noses.

Sometimes you will need to completely change the appearance of talent, say an actor portraying a character. These transformations may include changes in age, race, gender or even species. With makeup youll find it fairly simple to improve appearance, a bit harder to correct appearance and quite complicated and time-consuming to completely change appearance. Fortunately, most videomakers dont often need to transform a 20-year-old actress into an 80-year-old grandmothera job best left to the professional cosmetologists.

But all videomakers need to know the basics.

You start with skin tone. If you have any doubt how important skin tone can be, just think of a poorly adjusted color television set where tint, color saturation, brightness and contrast levels appear as if set at random, and skin tones turn green or red or purple. Since most viewers dont have access to a color bar generator to calibrate their TV, they resort to skin tones as the reference point for color and tint adjustments. Makeup allows you to ensure that your talents skin tones appear natural on your video.

Begin with foundation, which evens out skin tone and serves as the base for makeup to follow. Choose the shade of the foundation carefully, matching the natural skin tone of the talent as closely as possible.

A general rule of thumb: warm colors are best for television makeup. Avoid cooler colors; since television lighting already accentuates these colors they often appear exaggerated on camera.

Consider the effects of the lighting on the set where you shoot. If you apply makeup to talent off the set, you should do so under lighting similar in color temperature. Why? Because makeup applied under fluorescent lighting looks much different under studio lighting; the change in the color temperature of the light source alters the appearance of skin tones. Always use a color monitor to check your talentwhat looks good to the eye might prove unacceptable on video.

Fair warning: its possible to go too far with makeup. The painted face of the clown is appropriate for the circus, not for the up-close world of televisionunless of course you make circus videos.

Remember the difference between makeup techniques for the stage and those for video. Stage makeup dramatically highlights facial features, so you can see them from the last row in the theater.

For video, you want everything to look good in close-up. The lights tend to wash people out making them corpse-like. Properly applied makeup brings them back to life.

These makeup differences present a dilemma for videomakers taping theatrical performances. Should you design the makeup for the theater-goers or the TV viewers?

The best answer: compromise.

For most video, however, the right makeup is transparent, undetectable to the camera. The idea is to make people look natural. As a viewer you shouldnt even know its there, but rest assured, its there. The only time a viewer should notice makeup is when its purposely applied poorly.

Making Up the Talent

Not all of your subjects will turn their faces over to you for makeup without a fight. Men may be particularly difficult to convince, especially if theyre not professional talent.

If, after looking at your male talent on a monitor, you decide makeup is necessary, be tactful. Suggest the need for makeup but dont appeal to his vanity. Rather, appeal to his desire to perform well on camera. Explain the need for makeup in technical terms; say that cosmetics will overcome some of the shortcomings of the video medium, thereby making him appear more natural.

Most large drug stores can supply you with the materials needed for basic makeup techniques. Theatrical supply retailers offer a more complete line of professional products.

With a little practice, your talent can apply their own simple makeup. Dont forget to direct them to apply makeup on hands, arms and other areas exposed to the cameras scrutiny.

Hair also plays a significant role in the on-camera appearance of talent. Both the style of the hair and overall grooming must complement the performers “look.

Usually the best strategy is to choose one hair style and stick with it. Make sure your talent maintains this same hair style throughout the shoot: if your talents hair was impeccable in the morning, but tussled after a windy break outside, fix it. You dont want such an unexplainable change to befuddle your viewers.

Its true that not every video situation requires makeup. Still, a little attention to makeup can make the difference between amateurish and top-notch professional work, especially in close-ups.

Clothes Make the Video

The clothing worn by talent is as important as their makeup. In big-budget productions, a fully staffed wardrobe department provides the clothing, or costumes. A wardrobe person remains on the set during the shoot attending to every clothing detail.

Corporate or industrial productions can seldom afford such luxuries. For these productions, the talents clothing usually comes from the talents personal clothes closet.

Here are a few tips to help your talent make better clothing choices.

1) Remember, this is a twodimensional medium. Often this means the television camera doesnt flatter the human form; TV has a tendency to put a few extra pounds on a performer. Avoid needlessly baggy clothing since this only compounds the problem. Horizontal striped clothing makes people look broader and shorter; vertical stripes make people look thinner and taller. Be sure to use this phenomenon to your benefit, not detriment.

2) Know your colors. TV is a color medium, but a very biased one. Certain colors dont fare well when processed through television; you must be careful to avoid overly bright, highly saturated colors like reds, oranges and yellows. Youll achieve better results with earth tones, especially browns, greens and blues. Try using clothing with pastel colors.

3) Be careful of contrast. The television signal has a difficult time accurately reproducing large differences in contrast. Avoid clothing that combines both very bright and very dark colors. Its possible to wear relatively light or dark clothing if the material isnt reflective, as long as you dont wear both extremes at the same time. A good rule of thumb: stick to colors near the middle of the brighmess spectrum. These colors also have less effect on skin tones.

4) No tiny patterns, please. Avoid tight or close patterns like small checks, herringbones and narrow stripes. These patterns swain videos ability to reproduce them accurately. The result: an unintended moire effect, a vibrating rainbow of colors. This effect distracts viewers. Wide stripes and other large patterns work well on camera, as long as theyre not overpowering, or too high in contrast.

5) Consider the set. Choose clothes that work well with the setting; they shouldnt blend into, or clash with, the background or the furnishings.

6) Keep it simple. For most non-dramatic productions, the talents clothing should appear attractive and stylish, bnt not too conspicuous or flashy. Remember, the goal is to focus the viewer on the productions message, not the talents wardrobe. Accessories such as shiny, dangling earrings that dance with light under studio illumination are an example of something to avoid. Remember, too, that todays fashion is tomorrows faux paz. The trendier you dress your talent, the more dated your show will appear in a few years.

Dramatic productions may demand period costumesfrom turn-of-the-century pioneer wear to space-suited aliens. For these special needs, try theatrical costume shops. Dont worry if theres not one nearby many will ship apparel right to your door.

If budget constraints preclude professional costumes, other options do exist. Check your local fabric store for clothing patterns; many pattern books include designs for costumes. With a little help from someone handy with a sewing machine, you can obtain first rate costumes on a budget.

Dont know a seamstress? Ask the sales clerks at the fabric shop; chances are theyll direct you to someone who can help.

Dont forget to try thrift shops and stores specializing in Halloween garb. Other sources of costume help: high school and college drama departments, and local theater groups. But remember this when choosing theater wardrobe items for television work: the construction of outfitsespecially the detaildesigned for stage often proves too coarse for the close-up scrutiny of video.


Clothing Hazards

Certain video situations present particular wardrobe challenges for the videomaker.

Using a chroma-key background complicates wardrobe selections, especially when it comes to color. Chromakeying is an electronic process that replaces a specific color in a video image with an entirely different image. The most common example of chroma keying is the weather set of a TV news program.

On TV you “see the meteorologist point to Cleveland on the weather map, but in reality hes pointing at a wall painted an even color of blue or green. The map is electronically superimposed over the colored wall.

What happens if the forecaster wears a blazer the same color as the background? It appears as if you can see right through his body; a map of Ohio replaces his torso. A nice special effect for a science fiction flick, but not particularly apt for a newscast.

Hats can present another big challenge. The brim of a hat throws a shadow that can easily obscure the face of the talent. Here, the best solution is to reposition the light to overcome the shadow.

Eyeglasses can also be a videomaking hazard. Studio lights can bounce off eyeglasses right into the camera not a pretty picture. If your talent needs corrective eye wear to read cue cards or a teleprompter, theres not much you can do. Of course you can always suggest they memorize their lines.

What if your script calls for the use of eye wear? In this situation, the use of glasses is a deliberate wardrobe choice, not an optometric necessity. Maybe your talent plays the role of a scholarly professor; having her wear eyeglasses will increase her credibility. So have her wear the glasses at the beginning of the scene to establish the “scholarly look. As soon as possible, direct her to take off the glasses. You can also try using eyeglass frames without the lenses.

Sometimes everyday attire isnt the best choice for on-camera credibility. Even if a male scientist usually wears a suit and tie, most audiences will perceive him as more believable if he appears on camera dressed in a traditional lab coat. This positive use of stereotypes helps viewers quickly identify the roles performers play.

If you repeatedly shoot the same items on hand. The harried groom might forget his cummerbund or bow tie; you could save the day if youve got some on hand.

Remember, the best time to consider clothing choices is during pre-production. Before the shoot, take a long critical look at the entire set for any mismatched colors, patterns or other visual chaos. Coordinate the color of the background, furnishings, clothing and props during pre-production meetings. Even makeup should complement all other elements of the scene.

A little planning here can save a lot of headaches later. For training productions, be sure to acquire the appropriate dress well in advance.

The telephone installer should appear in the official company uniform, and the firefighter in protective garb. Use any specialized gear thats required for the job, like goggles, gloves, boots or breathing masksas long as they dont obscure the talent completely from view.

Dress for Success

Remember those debates between presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John Kennedy back in 1960? This first “marriage of political debate and television provides one of the best lessons in wardrobe and makeup.

Nixon refused to concern himself with matters of makeup and clothing. The result: his rumpled suit blended into the background of the studio scenery, giving him a disconcerting “body-less look, and his face displayed a lifeless complexion.

Kennedy, on the other hand, used the medium effectively by paying special attention to his makeup and wardrobe.

The rest, as they say, is video history. Make the right clothing and makeup choices on your next production, and you, too, may change the course of history.

David Welton is an independent video producer and college television production instructor.

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