Makeup is most often used in the pursuit of beauty, but VFX makeup has a completely different aim.Prospero’s older sister asks me to look down, then blends blue glitter all over my eyelid before fussing with my hair. I’m covered in turquoise tulle and about nine years old, backstage at my neighborhood theatre group’s production of The Tempest. My character, Ariel, is a powerful sprite, a fact that I will brag about to my third-grade classmates. Memorizing half of that Shakespeare play was a slow process, but magically transforming into the character only took 10 minutes and an old eyeshadow palette. Over the years of my childhood that I participated in this local theatre group, costumes and makeup became my favorite part of performing. Mascara, lipstick, pure pigments: all these products applied to create the character and emphasize your features so that someone in the back row could see every expression on your face.
I’m thankful that my first experiences with makeup had such clear purpose. The next time I used cosmetics was to cover up acne in middle school, which had none of the artsy aspects I’d liked from theatre. Appreciating makeup on my own terms again has been a process, but watching VFX YouTubers reminds me of those early experiences.
What is VFX makeup?
VFX stands for “visual effects,” or the art of manipulating imagery beyond a live action film shot. This can mean a CGI dragon bursting through a house, or flames engulfing a stunt double or the post-battle burns made with makeup on an actor.
The long history of theatrical trickery birthed the process of VFX once cameras became readily available. The growing film industry led to a new era of cosmetic innovation, like lip gloss being invented for silent movie stars. Cinema has been entwined with cosmetics since its conception, and VFX YouTubers really demonstrate this. Their techniques are usually drawn directly from on-set experience. It’s common for beauty vloggers to have side jobs as makeup artists while producing videos, and VFX Youtubers like Glam and Gore typically work on film or TV sets between fresh tutorials. For these reasons, the VFX genre of YouTube feels more directly tied to the entertainment industry than normal makeup videos.
My Ariel costume in 2006 probably shared a similar process to the Ariel costume of 1611, with quick makeup and fabric creating the character backstage. But if you can start and stop the camera at any moment, you can dedicate much more time to building an image. VFX YouTubers truly take viewers behind the scenes as they construct familiar characters or wild new inventions.
Outside of any soundstage, it’s fun to see everyday objects transformed in a new context. A condom covered in NYX’s best-selling color corrector to make a nose for Squidward is the perfect example of this. Polymer clay is another; VFX artists mold intricate decorations and prosthetics for a full-body look.
How can I profit from VFX makeup tutorials?
An avid beauty viewer will recognize most of the products in a VFX kit, yet there’s a range of grease paints and artificial materials only used for special effects: it’s hard to imagine incorporating fake dirt into my everyday routine. These cosmetics come with their own guidelines, especially when adhesives are involved. You can experiment with a contour palette without any risk, but this level of VFX cosmetics requires real background research. However, these new materials also create more opportunities for affiliate links and sponsorship, opening the vanity even wider for potential YouTube income streams.
Good lighting and camera equipment feel especially important to show off all the ghoulish details.
Like other channels, VFX videos can be monetized through Adsense, although I imagine some of the gorier content could be subject to closer review. YouTuber-branded merchandise like coffee mugs or t-shirts is also an option, assuming the creator has an audience large enough to warrant that investment.
Harnessing the VFX appeal
There’s a certain ingenuity that I admire in VFX videos, like using a q-tip to fake a cheek piercing. Natural beauty has been the dominant trend for the last few years, and while I love a dewy highlight, it’s fun to see creators go the absolute opposite direction of no-makeup makeup.
VFX artists craft the fullest of full faces, bringing in body paint and wigs much more often than normal makeup vloggers, without even mentioning fake blood.
The tutorials demand a little more commitment compared to traditional makeup channels, just from a logistics standpoint: Whether YouTube is a full-time job or not, it’s more convenient to create a look you wouldn’t have to shower off before leaving the house. VFX is a cinematic term, and these creators seem more directly tied to the entertainment industry as well, whether they’re inspired by movie monsters or producing tutorials on days off from set. Good lighting and camera equipment feel especially important for this genre to show off all the ghoulish details.
VFX channels have similar trends and tags to other makeup vloggers, like letting social media polls determine a tutorial or shooting videos in locations relevant to the final look. For more in-depth tutorials, the final look is typically blurred out in the thumbnail to preserve the surprise. This practice summarizes the appeal of VFX videos, in my opinion. You watch somebody utterly transform from a normal-looking person to a crusty mermaid or reanimated corpse in 15 minutes. VFX videos are certainly popular around Halloween for fun costumes, but people come back for that transformation long after the fake spider webs are gone.