NEWPORT — A group of theater, film and television enthusiasts looked over a table filled with bloody hands, fractured fingers and burned skulls as they anxiously awaited special effects makeup artist Michele Mulkey’s presentation Saturday afternoon at Perry County Council of the Art’s Landis House in Newport.
The crowd laughed as Mulkey broke the ice saying, “We’re going to have a barbecue after the presentation today.”
Mulkey is a 1993 graduate of West Perry High School and has been in the special effects makeup and prop-making business for more than 14 years.
She began her presentation by explaining the different products used to make prosthetics, fake blood, makeup and props. She then began applying makeup to volunteer Elle Shumaker. Twenty minutes later, Shumaker looked as though she had been hit in the head with a baseball bat. With a swollen, bruised and bleeding head and a bruised and cut lip, her imitation injury looked extraordinarily believable.
“Lighting and makeup can really make or break a scene,” Mulkey said. “Application can take hours upon hours, but even after 18 hours on the set I come home with a smile on my face. I love my job.”
Her next victim was childhood friend Heather Zimmerman. Mulkey applied a prosthetic 22-caliber gunshot wound made to Zimmerman’s hand. When she was done, it looked just as though Zimmerman had been shot right through her hand.
Years of practice
Zimmerman said Mulkey’s love for gory makeup began as a teenager.
“One day I went to go pick up my little brother from Michele’s house after she watched him for a few hours, (and) he came out to the car limping with bruises all over him and blood running down his face. I freaked out! It was Michele’s masterpiece,” Zimmerman said.
In college, Mulkey realized her passion for special effects makeup could turn into a career. Mulkey pursued a degree in performing arts theater at Harrisburg Area Community College. When she didn’t fit the part for a role in a play she was working on, her mentor, professor Brenda C. Eppley, assigned her to special effects for the fight scene instead.
“From that point I knew I wanted to do makeup,” Mulkey said.
When she graduated from HACC, Mulkey moved to Los Angeles to follow her dreams and attended Make-Up Designory, a professional makeup school. When she got her foot in the door at a special effects shop in L.A. after graduating, her career snowballed. Her talent as a makeup artist and prop maker has landed her on the sets of many feature films and television shows, such as “Charmed,” “C.S.I. Miami,” “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “Sin City.”
“The entertainment industry is all about networking and personality,” Mulkey said. “People remembered me and my personality and that’s what got me rehired time and time again.”
Props and beauty makeup
Along with applying special effects makeup and prosthetic wounds, Mulkey also enjoys making props and owns her own studio. Throughout her career she’s made all types of props, from retractable swords to dead bodies.
“Nothing in the movies is real. If you see someone walking in a movie with a sword, it’s just foam painted to look like metal. It’s ruined movies for me forever,” Mulkey said.
Mulkey is known in the industry for special effects, horror and sci-fi makeup application, but she has done beauty as well. She raved about the cast of “Petunia,” where she applied beauty makeup.
“Thora Birch and Brittany Snow have an amazing sense of humor,” Mulkey said.
Coming back home
Although the excitement of living and working in L.A. and New York had her attention for years, Mulkey has since moved back to Perry County. Her home and studio are located outside of Blain.
“Pennsylvania is such a great place to live. I’ve been to many places in my career, but this place is beautiful, and a lot less expensive,” Mulkey said.
In addition to her makeup and prop work, Mulkey is an adjunct professor at HACC. She is currently teaching a theater makeup class for the Performing Arts program.