How To Dirty Your Actors Without Using Dirt

    Across popular movies there have been teams of make-up artists getting the right look for characters who seem to never take showers. I’m talking Sam Neill in Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Matthew McConaughey in Mud, and Jack Sparrow.

    You get the point. Whenever a character rolls in the mud or falls off a pirate ship, there needs to be an authentic dirty look for the character.

    I researched different ways to get the dirty look for any upcoming short films where I would need to portray a character who skips on the washing.

    Here’s what I found.

    Before I get into the steps of applying make-up, you’ll need to find these supplies:

    Supplies needed:

    • coffee grounds
    • loose tea leaves
    • lotion (sunscreen)
    • brown eye shadow (I used Vino colour)
    • wet sponge
    • willing victim…er, helper

    After acquiring these supplies you’ll be ready to start with step one.

    Step 1: apply eyeshadow

    In this step, you’ll use your index finger to apply the eyeshadow to the parts of the face where you think someone might get dirty. I noticed that the forehead and the upper parts of the cheekbones get dirty more than other parts, also the nose.

    If you don’t want to get your hands dirty then you can choose to use a small make-up sponge.

    Gently rub the eyeshadow back and forth over the surfaces you think is best. After doing this in all of the appropriate areas you’ll be ready to move onto the second step.

    Step 2: mix lotion with coffee grounds

    For this step, first ground the coffee beans, preferably of a darker variety, and then mix with the lotion. I used sunscreen in this step, and it worked well. This step is quite messy.

    You don’t need to use much of either. Small chunks of coffee and a bit of lotion should do the trick. After mixing the lotion with the coffee grounds, then move onto the next step of applying.

    Step 3: apply the mixture

    As far as applying the coffee/tea and lotion to the person’s face, you’ll need to do step 2 a few times, as there may be a few spots to cover.

    Do a little mixing, then a little applying. A little mixing, a little applying, you get the drift. Apply the coffee and lotion to the same places which you touch in step 1, to have those layers.

    Add to any place where you think dirt would be, say if the victim fell down face first into the dirt. With the coffee grounds, you don’t need to apply heavily, just a few small chunks here and there, unless you really want you character to look like dirt was just caked on.

    After doing this enough times you should get a result similar to this one. (For me, I was trying to get a “stuck-on-a-deserted-island-for-years” look).

    After you’ve gotten all the shots you need with your actor, wash the makeup and coffee off with warm soap and water. Once you’ve washed the coffee and lotion off as well as the make-up, be sure to dry with a clean towel.

    And there you have it! You now know how to make your characters look as dirty as ever, and best part is, you don’t even need to use dirt!

    What is nice is you can also apply the make-up in a variety of places on the face as well as a variety of thickness, to get a unique look for each character in your film.

    Hope this makeup tip helps all you independent filmmakers out there who are trying to get that professional look.  

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    • Keaton is an actor and writer who works with the Initiative Production Company in Brisbane, Australia. Native to Alaska, he enjoys staring at the stars while contemplating the meaning of life.

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