How Has Technology Affected Theatre Costumes & Makeup

Technology has helped makeup artists and costumers become more creative and historically accurate.

You may not think that electricity and computers have much to do with costumes and makeup, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. As technology has evolved, theatre makeup and costuming departments have benefited and adapted to new advances, both directly and indirectly. The technology of theatre design continues to grow as new techniques are learned for creating this old art form.

Effects of Stage Lighting

One large effect that technology has indirectly had upon stage makeup and costumes is through innovations in stage lighting. In previous times, plays were performed in either natural outdoor lighting or dim indoor lighting. Electricity and the light bulb ushered in a new era for artists who had to compensate for the fact that strong stage lighting washed out skin tones and made actors’ features appear flat. Thick cake makeup and highlight effects were born out of this need. Colored lighting gels furthered the challenge, causing artists to consider the effect that certain colored gels will have upon an actor’s makeup.

Silicone and Latex

Silicone and latex are flexible materials that have been used for the creation of prosthetics and special effects makeup since the mid- to late-1900s. As scientists learned to synthesize these materials into workable mediums, artists benefited by finally being able to completely and believably reconstruct the appearance of an actor. Using moulds and the free application of silicone and latex parts, makeup artists can create masks, scars, horns, differently sized noses and a plethora of other pieces.

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Airbrushing

Airbrushing is commonly associated with computer graphics, but is also used in the world of theatre makeup. With an airbrush, forced air is transmitted through a tube that contains pigments of color. This color is mixed with the air and can be applied to the skin. Airbrushing works well for characters who need a great deal of bold color coverage, such as monsters, aliens or fantasy creatures. The pigments allow for the artist to blend various colors with accuracy and ease.

Materials and Manufacturing of Costumes

Innovations in technology have aided in costume manufacturing by providing methods of making costumes more affordable and readily available. This has allowed for a greater ability to harness historically accurate costume pieces. Synthetic materials, such as polyester or nylon, are readily available and inexpensive to use in the creation of a costume. Industrial sewing machines have reduced the time it takes for costumers to create their pieces, giving them the ability to make more items in a shorter amount of time.

Changes in Research

As computers and the Internet have developed, makeup artists and costumers have benefited by being able to gain insight and inspiration from resources around the world. Whereas actors may have worn a stock king or queen costume a couple hundred years ago, an artist can now easily research the difference in costuming for every era and see what other theaters have used to represent a specific time or location. Costumers and makeup artists have at their disposal literally millions of pieces of data to help them create an ensemble.

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