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On Set With...Robin Mathews

by Alice Lennon
On Set With...Robin Mathews

We had the pleasure of catching up with the very busy, Oscar-winning makeup artist, Robin Mathews. Robin kindly took the time to answer our burning questions and shared with us some of her best experiences working in film and told us all about the products that she simply can't live without. 

When did you know you wanted to become a makeup artist?

I’ve been acting since I was very little and after a year at Louisianan State University, I attended a wonderful acting conservatory in Los Angeles “The American Academy of Dramatic Arts”. We were taught theatrical Makeup class there and the Makeup teacher, Scott Ramp of “The Scream Team”, offered to teach his best students how to do full facial prosthetics and work for his company at Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest every Halloween (a huge roller coaster park in Los Angeles). It was a great, busy training ground to learn prosthetics and MUFX on about 30 actors a day. I loved learning specialised skills that the general public marvelled at. Of course I’d been doing makeup since high school for our theatre department, but the Magic Mountain experience was really when I thought about this being a career.


Which 5 items could you not live without in your makeup kit?

That’s such a hard question because in my industry- the Film and TV industry- the Makeup needs are always changing. New HD cameras are coming out very quickly and they are constantly demanding changing MU techniques. I think it’s so important to always be researching and trying out new products because what worked perfectly on your last film might look terrible on a new camera. That being said, here’s my top 5 (well, maybe a bit more than 5!)

      1- Skin Illustrator palettes and liquids. I use them all day, every day for everything from covering tattoos to colouring appliances. They are definitely a staple in every film Makeup artist’s kit. I could pretty much do anything with these palettes and do.

      2- Gommage products. There are a lot of different gommage gels and liquids out there. I’ve tried most of them and they all seem to work well. The 1st one I ever tried was Koh Gen Do Gommage Gel. I recently tried Sonia Roselli’s Sex Appeal and that seemed to be very friendly to sensitive skin. Exfoliation is one of the most important processes in doing a beauty makeup. If you have dead skin underneath, no type of foundation will camouflage it on an HD camera. I also always stay stocked with Dermalogica Daily Resurfacer Pads. They do not need to be rinsed off with water; hence you can start the rest of your makeup application right away after using it. This is very helpful because while working on sets, we don’t always have access to running water or the little extra time it takes to use a gommage product. I cannot express enough how important it is to use an exfoliant before you do a beauty makeup application.

      Using a Clarisonic on a daily basis will actually change your skin for the better. I don’t say that about many products. But that’s long term care. You’ll be pleasantly shocked at the results of using a gommage or the Dermalogica Pads prior to a MU application.

      3- I use a ton of different foundations for all different skin types and projects and as I mentioned before, I’m always researching new ones. One of my favourites I’ve loved for a long time that still works beautifully today is Chantecaille Future Skin used with their Water Flower Fluid Moisturiser (they really do work best together as they were made to do so). It just looks beautiful on camera and you can apply it very sheer for a “no MU look” or stipple it in certain areas for more coverage. I also cannot live without Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder for under the eyes and Laura Mercier Translucent Powder for the rest of the face. I use those 2 powders on every beauty application and have for years because they are that good. Of course like all MUFX, I go through a ton of RCMA No Color Powder.

4- Anything made by the Maekup brand. David Stoneman makes it and he is a special effects makeup product genius. I started out absolutely falling in love with his blood line and then discovered all of his other miracle products such as his Dry Lip and basically every single thing he makes. Since his company is located in the UK, it can be difficult to find his products in the US. You’re very lucky to have access to all of his products at The Make Up Armoury. (And I’m jealous! :/)

5- The Beauty Blender or high end, very dense non-latex sponges (such as the Alcone Non-Latex Wedges). When you’re working for film on HD, you need to be able to recreate the texture of real skin to fool the camera into not seeing the corrective makeup. These both do this very well. They allow me to apply a sheer layer of foundation and then stipple a bit more coverage where needed so the camera sees skin and is fooled. The cheaper latex sponges do not work for this.

Also, one of my pet peeves is seeing eyeshadow on the tops of the lashes! Ugg, I see it all of the time! You cannot get tight enough to the very base of the lashes on the top of the lash line by using a mascara wand. I always apply my mascara with a small fan brush. Even for make ups where I’m not applying mascara, I’ll mist the fan brush with water to make sure there is no powder on the upper lash line. Finally, the only eyelash curler I’ve ever found that works is the Shu Eumura Eyelash Curler. If you’ve never used one, get it, you’ll become an instant fan.


Which iconic makeup / sfx look do you admire? And why?

      The first two films that really made me pay attention and admire MUFX were “The Exorcist” and Tom Berenger’s scars in “Platoon”. To bring things more current. I remember watching “La Vie en Rose” and being blown away by the Makeup and Hair. That became my goal, if I ever got the chance, to do such a hugely drastic transformation that looked so effortless and invisible on screen. Even though it was a totally different type of film, I modelled my makeup design for “Dallas Buyers Club” after my makeup inspiration from “La Vie en Rose”. My favorite make-ups are the ones that completely transform the person, but the audience never notices anything on screen. Some great recent examples of this are Jan Sewel’s work in “The Theory of Everything”, and Love’ Larson and Eva Von Braun’s “A Man called Ove”. The makeup from “The Revenant” rocked my world too. Although there was obviously a ton of makeup in that film, it all looked so natural it never took the audience out of the movie. Having done two huge “extreme location shooting” type films myself, (“Wild” and “Into the Wild”) I know full well what goes into doing MU on a film of that nature and it is no easy feat!

What is your top tip for starting out in the industry?

      Constantly study, read and ask every question you can think of to your mentors and others already successful in the business. Never stop researching and studying. Ever. You’ve got to network constantly when you’re just starting out. The PA on a small student film today may be the producer on a huge feature in a few years. Keep your relationships up with everyone you know in all aspects of the business and make sure everyone in your life knows you’re a professional Makeup Artist in Film and TV (or whatever aspect you want to specialise in). You never know where a random job contact might come from. Learn set etiquette and NEVER schmooze with actors or producers, etc. on other people’s jobs. Be respectful of the Department Head that hired you and never try to “work” that job to your future advantage. Did I mention learn and practice proper Set Etiquette??!!!

What is your life mantra?

      Two rules I live by at work:

If the audience notices the makeup on screen, then I’ve not done my job properly. If they notice the makeup, it’s just taken them out of the story and brought them into current reality. It’s not meant to be about the makeup, it’s about the story; the actor on the screen. The makeup is just a film-making tool to help tell the story.

Sean Penn taught me a very important lesson in the beginning of my career: When working on a film set, “Never question, never debate, just get it done now”.

Also, every good crew member on a set is a problem solver. That’s the majority of what we have to do every day is solve new problems that arise. You’ve got to be a great problem solver.


What do you feel is your greatest achievement to date?

     With all humility, I’d have to say winning an Oscar and a Makeup Artist and Hairstylist Guild Award for best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling would have to be the answer to that question.

What’s your favourite film and why?

      “Gone with the Wind” for the sheer enormous, epic size of the production. And to do such a filmmaking feat back in 1939 on top of that… impressive. I could also watch “The Godfather” films over and over and over again. Scarface, Casino, …ok, this could turn into WAY too long of an answer so I’m going to stop here.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?

      Hmmm…Not sure I’d want to live without the modern conveniences we have now. Maybe to travel to the future might be cooler? Although I LOVE researching the past when shooting Period Films! The research is one of my favorite things about my job. I can’t get enough of it. I’m always compiling reference pics and info into tons of files I have on my computer even when I’m not shooting anything.

What were you doing this time yesterday?

      Flying back from Paris where twice a year I teach a Master Class on TV and Cinema MU at Le Cite’ du Cinema which is run by Make Up For Ever <3