As low-budget and independent filmmakers, there are many instances where you have to make do with what you have, as in this example: special effects for making your character look sick.

The problem with low-budget filmmaking is, well… the low budget. But, fret not! If you want to include characters in your story who are extremely sick, tired and gaunt, but don’t have the fancy SFX makeup, no problem.

This DIY will show you how to create this look. Bear in mind, this is only one of many methods you can use to make your characters look like they’re on their deathbed.

Here is a way to achieve this look quite convincingly with stuff you or your girlfriend/sister/wife probably already owns.

What you’ll need:

  • A makeup sponge
  • Water
  • Foundation/press powder lighter than your actor’s skin colour
  • A variety of makeup brushes/cheap art brushes
  • A lip liner with a red-purple base
  • A brown/grey eyeliner
  • Brown/grey/khaki Eyeshadow

A rule that always applies for makeup: Use clean brushes and wash them when you’re done!

1. The Face

Start off by applying foundation on the face, neck, chest and ears. You can use liquid foundation, but in this case we used press powder which gives the face a matte finish.

Apply the powder with a slightly wet sponge. When applying, have your actor crease his/her forehead. This will accentuate the creases and make your actor look gaunt and tired.

You can stop as soon as your actor looks pale enough.

2. The Eyes



Use a thin brush to lightly apply the lip liner around these areas of the eyes: the eye line, below the waterline and in the corners of your eye. Use your finger to blend it well.

If it’s too red, use the same manner to apply the brown/grey eyeliner over the red tones. You want it to look realistic, so play around with the colors you have and blend them well. If you went a bit overboard with the colors, dab the press powder over it.

3. The Cheekbones



To make the cheeks look sunken in, use a blush/contour brush to lightly apply dark eyeshadow to the temples, below the cheekbone and along the laughter lines.

Again, if you apply too much, fret not. Just dab the pressed powder over it and blend it out.

4. The Lips



With the wet sponge, apply the pressed powder to the lips. Make sure not to just apply it to the front of the lips, but the inside as well so when your actor opens his/her mouth, you won’t notice the redness.

With a thin brush, apply the lipliner & eyeliner to accentuate the creases on the lips. In this way, the lips will look dry and cracked.


5. The Acting abilities


All the special effects will not be convincing unless your actor can act. To practice, do it like this guy and walk around the office to see people’s reactions (#methodacting). Their reactions will show you if you’ve been successful…

And voila! You can convince anyone. Here is the lovely Jennifer Holt who created this look so convincingly.

I love the film life in the way it trains you to be creative and innovative in problem-solving, there is always a way!


  • Annette is part of the acting team with The Initiative Production Company. She is a German South-African, loves the smell of freshly baked bread and constantly has a list in her head of countries to visit and more languages to learn.


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