This East Coast Native Turned Her Love Of Monsters Into A Special Effects Career

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You could say that Cris Alex was destined for Hollywood. And on her graduation day from special effects school, the budding makeup artist made it happen. While most other kids were partying well into the night, Alex packed up her car and made the drive from Pittsburgh to L.A. at 4:00 in the morning just to get a jump-start on her career.

Her love for horror films like The Nightmare on Elm Street persuaded her to begin courses in special effects makeup. “I remember watching all these special, behind-the-scenes features on movies as a kid. I was particularly enthralled with Jurassic Park and the animatronics in the film. I always thought it would be cool to do that for a living, but I knew I’d have to get to Hollywood to do it,” the 29-year-old native East Coaster says.

Five years later, Alex has built up an impressive résumé of makeup, prosthetics, and fabrication for such blockbusters as Man of Steel and X-Men: Days of Future Past as well as TV shows like Desperate Housewives, Sleepy Hollow, and CSI. There was even that time she worked as a makeup assistant on an Alicia Keys music video.

But it wasn’t an overnight success. Alex started her sojourn in L.A. by placing Craigslist ads, doing trade work to build her portfolio, and, slowly but surely, meeting the right people. “I can’t say enough how important it is to make connections,” she says, “that was how I got work, because the people I met would recommend me for jobs.”

Alex has successfully been able to make makeup her full-time career (she even recently won the national title forRAW Artist of the Year) while also finding time to create her own artistic work, including her high-fashion self-portraits. Horror fan or not, she’s got happy ending written all over her storyline. Read more about Alex below, including her first-ever beauty buy, what’s behind her personal minimalist look and why you can always find her at Michael’s Craft Store.

So, given that you do such elaborate makeup work, I could imagine you personally have a pretty interesting look yourself.

“I’m actually very minimalist. I don’t do too much makeup on myself anymore other than a little tinted moisturizer and mascara and maybe a little lip balm. Since I do makeup constantly on other people, I’m comfortable with wearing barely anything and rocking that look.”

Interesting! Do you remember the first makeup product you purchased?

“The first one I really remember is saving up for Urban Decay in high school. I had generic drugstore products before, so that was my first higher-end item. I was obsessed with their color palettes.”

In the years since, have you had any interesting professional encounters with makeup, maybe something you tried that didn’t go as well?

“I’m never worried if a look doesn’t come out right; you can always redo it. I do whatever I feel like, as any artist should do, and see where it will take me. My belief is you have to experiment and have fun and worry less about the rules of makeup.”

Where do you get some of your ideas?

“Well, there’s the one picture with the octopus in my mouth, for example. For that one, I was walking in a grocery store and they were selling octopus salad, and I thought it would make a fantastic picture. Other times it could be a color I really like or a seasonal thing. Also, I walk through Michael’s [Craft Store] all the time looking for stuff that can inspire makeup.”

Are there any new looks you’re working on that might debut soon?

“I’m playing with the Skin Illustrator brand of makeup right now. They usually market for special effects, but instead I’ve been taking their palettes and creating beauty looks. The palettes are alcohol-based and resistant to water so you can do a lot more with them.”

Beyond special effects, is there anything else you’d say you specialize in when it comes to makeup?

“I like making my own lashes. I started it in makeup school, and it evolved to be more refined. Unfortunately, I can’t give away my secrets on how I learned to do it.”

Fair enough. How about then giving some tips on how to get started in special effects makeup for people who may be curious?

“There are a lot of great tutorials out there that people should check out. Special effects is something that, the more you play with it, the more you find your groove. I’ve tried a lot of different people’s techniques; some don’t work for me, some I’ve taken and expanded upon. Experiment with it, practice a lot, and don’t be afraid of using odd materials.”

Do you have any other creative interests?

“I love photography, so a good chunk of the photos in my portfolio I’ve shot myself. I also love airbrushing.”

What are some of your favorite beauty products right now?

“Urban Decay Lip Primer Potion I love to death. Skin Illustrator has an Alchemy Palette of all metallic colors, and I use it a lot for metallic eyeliners; it comes out exactly like you see in the palette. Personally I love Kiehl’s Tinted Moisturizer. I also use a lot of Smashbox’s foundation and primers, like the Artificial Light Luminizing Lotion, which is great for photo shoots. A new product I’ve discovered is Inglot Cosmetics AMC Eyeliner Gels, which are great because you only need minimal touch ups on set, which is the goal for every artist.”