Makeup Artist Zhang, Who’s Styled for Award-Winning Movies, Inspired by SFX Makeup TV’s Face Off

Makeup Artist Zhang, Who’s Styled for Award-Winning Movies, Inspired by SFX Makeup TV’s Face Off

Makeup Artist Zhang, Who’s Styled for Award-Winning Movies, Inspired by SFX Makeup TV’s Face Off

"Winning an Oscar for Best Makeup is my dream and goal. The special effects makeup in the movie ‘Poor Things,’ particularly on actor Willem Dafoe, is nothing short of spectacular—this multiple Oscar winner earned Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. And, actor Dafoe's transformation is astounding, as the makeup seamlessly blends with his natural features to create incredibly realistic and sometimes unsettling characteristics. From intricate prosthetics to meticulous detailing, every aspect of the special effects makeup adds depth and authenticity to the characters, enhancing the overall storytelling experience. Dafoe's ability to embody these roles with such authenticity further highlights the brilliance of the special effects makeup team's work, showcasing their skill in bringing characters to life on the screen.”—Makeup Artist Xurui Zhang 

Makeup Artist Xurui “Fiona” Zhang loves contributing her own type of storytelling as she has done while working on several films that have earned Grand Jury awards, an Award of Distinction and also Official Selection honors. And, Zhang, who grew up doing special effects makeup for her friends, especially during Halloween and when they were performing in music videos, talks about how her makeup role makes invaluable contributions to storytelling on movies and commercials:

“I love the job I have of supporting actors to help tell their characters’ stories. For example, each character has their own unique style and appearance, so makeup artists are needed to design them. An actor can change their temperament by varying their makeup and hairstyle. The makeup artist's job is to help transform each actor into their character in the movie.”

Indeed, makeup artist Zhang, who also dabbles in other forms of storytelling from directing to filmmaking, has a degree in Art Design and Animation from her native China, but also a Master of Fine Arts degree in Filmmaking from New York Film Academy. So, she brings storytelling and valuable artistic skills to the table, suggesting, “I have always been very meticulous, so I bring a lot of attention to detail, and a high degree of patience to the table.”

Growing up, Zhang loved watching the outstanding animation work of Oscar-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, particularly his film, Howl’s Moving Castle, which deeply influenced her. Known as the “Japanese Walt Disney, she says of this filmmaker: “I greatly admire Hayao Miyazaki because each of his films has reflected the social phenomena of their time. Watching this animation at different stages of my life has given me different insights.” And, she’s gone onto now admiring special effects makeup characters, like The Night King from Game of Thrones, the Joker from Batman: The Dark Knight, the T-800 from the Terminator, and Johnny Depp’s main character in Edward Scissorhands, created by Tim Burton.

Indeed, they are some of the most memorable creations in modern filmmaking.


Zhang has handled Hair and Makeup on the following short films that have earned awards and honors, including: What Dictators Dream About (Grand Jury Award, and Filmmakers Award); I Can’t Run Away (Audience Choice Award for Short Film 2022 at the Los Angeles Asian Film Awards); Incident (Official Selection at LA Shorts International Film Festival, 2023); Horseback (Award of Distinction, Canada Short Film Festival 2022); FoFo (Official Selection at Micheaux Film Festival); Perfect Resonance (Official Selection at Prague International Indie Film Festival); If We Have Next Life (Best Drama, at FilmCon Awards). Additionally, on Sour Soy Sauce, as both the director and makeup artist, she earned an Official Selection at the DWF (Dances with Films) Festival, explaining, “This is the first short film that I wrote, directed, and personally did the makeup for. The reason I took on the role of makeup artist in addition to directing is that I felt no one else could better transform the actors into the characters I envisioned.”

And, she loved bringing the story to life. Xurui Zhang talks about legendary filmmaker Stephen Spielberg; about her love of special effects makeup like on TV shows like Face Off and in the Oscar-winning movie, The Whale; and what invaluable contributions she made to various projects.


Beyond Sour Soy Sauce, briefly tell us what you’ve brought to the films that you’ve worked on, several award-winning ones?

I Can’t Run Away needed the actors to switch between looking very disheveled and very beautiful, so a makeup artist was essential to achieve these transformations. Horseback was a film about the Chinese Mongolian ethnic group, and because it involved minority costumes and appearances, a makeup artist with an understanding of the real history was key. What Dictators Dream About was a movie about current affairs and politics. Because the film included many close-up shots, it was necessary for me to make the actors look flawless. The Incident required special effects makeup, so my responsibility was to ensure that these special effects makeup looked realistic. FoFo featured child characters, so there was an added emphasis on makeup techniques to ensure their appearances were appropriately handled. Perfect Resonance also featured many close-up shots and required actors to sweat, among other things, so I needed to constantly ensure that the actors' makeup remained intact. In If We Have Next Life, while the makeup in this film may’ve been ordinary, it still required the makeup artist to transform each actor into the characters described in the script.

How did you get into special effects makeup?

During the pandemic, not wanting to wait around for work, I learned special effects makeup. I’d watched a show called Face Off about special effects makeup, and these techniques deeply intrigued me. I was motivated to further pursue studies in this field. After having studied “Beauty & Special Effect Makeup “ at Coca FX Studio, I now have those skills in my bag. And, I closely observe movies that use them.

Then what’s your take on Brendan Fraser, who won a Best Actor award for The Whale, which also earned a Best Makeup for the outstanding work by the creative team on Fraser’s character?

I was very impressed with the special effects makeup for this awesome movie The Whale because instead of using post-effects to turn Brendan Fraser into a 300-pound fat man, it was done entirely with special effects makeup. And, it was very realistic, which shocked me very much. Moreover, after watching the behind-the-scenes video, I also realized that in order to make the actors feel less hot, they had a cooling tube in the fake skin similar to that in a racing car driver's suit to cool the actors. And sometimes when the actor was getting really hot, he had to eat ice to lower his body temperature and cool down.

How do makeup artists segue from the real to the virtual world?

I’m all about using my makeup skills to further the storytelling, like director Steven Spielberg’s team did in his very enjoyable movie Ready Player One—a sci-fi adventure film that tells a treasure hunt story set in a virtual reality world. In this movie, makeup plays a crucial role in creating a contrast between the virtual reality world and the real world. The characters and environments in the virtual reality world undergo meticulous makeup and special effects, immersing the audience in a fantastical and imaginative environment. Additionally, makeup helps the actors portray a variety of virtual characters, adding more fun and visual effects to the story. I’m so excited that this industry is full of so many wonders and things to learn.

Check out Xurui “Fiona” Zhang’s website and IMDb page.

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  • Oliver Brown

    The behind-the-scenes insights into the making of The Whale and the innovative techniques used to create realistic special effects makeup were eye-opening. It’s impressive how practical effects can still outshine digital ones in creating believable transformations. Zhang’s continuous learning and adaptation during the pandemic to master special effects makeup show her commitment to her craft. Her story is a testament to the importance of perseverance and passion in achieving one’s dreams.

  • Alex H

    Xurui Zhang's work on diverse projects, from I Can’t Run Away to Horseback, showcases her versatility and understanding of different cultural contexts. Her attention to historical accuracy and the ability to adapt her techniques to various storytelling needs are commendable. It’s clear that makeup artistry is not just about aesthetics but also about contributing to the narrative and character development in films. Zhang’s holistic approach to her craft is truly admirable.

  • Maria Dzibrova

    This is a perfect example of how passion, combined with hard work and continuous learning, can lead to success in the creative industry.

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Ashley Jude Collie

Entertainment Expert

Ashley is an award-winning journalist/author/blogger who has written for Playboy, Toronto Star, Movie Entertainment, Sports Illustrated, Maclean's and others. He's interviewed various "leaders" in their fields, including: Oscar winners (Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, Alicia Vikander, Jane Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Geena Davis, Anthony Hopkins); Grammy winners (Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube, Pete Townshend); MVPs in sports (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, Kobe Bryant); and, business leaders (Amazon's Jeff Bezos). He has an upcoming novel, REJEX, coming out on Pulp Hero Press. And he has written several episodic TV shows, appeared on CNN, and blogged for Mademan, Medium, GritDaily and HuffPost.

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