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Today's Tip: Don't set zombies on fire. You just create a flaming torch heading right for you!


Airbrush Makeup Tips & Techniques For Haunted Houses By Stiltbeast Studios Owner Allen Hopps
1/8 HP, 40 PSI Oilless Airbrush Compressor


As for the compressor you can buy anyone, just depends on the price you are willing to pay. Do you want a good or bad one? This one from Harbor Freight works fine for my needs.

It is also acceptable to use the same compressor that you use for animations. You will need to run the air to your make up room. Then you will need to put a regulator and moisture trap on the line. Put them close to the airbrush so the artist can adjust the air and drain the trap. You also should drain your compressor at least once a weekend if you are not in the habit of doing so.

When I worked at Skull Kingdom, we had a huge compressor with a long hose going to the make up room so there was no noise. I prefer the small compressors. They are light and quiet and that’s valuable to me.  Get the kind that shut off when they have pressure.  My old one does not and is really annoying.

Pressure For Makeup

The lower the pressure the more control you have and the less paint you apply. The higher the pressure the reverse is true. Use no more than 40psi on a face. It will not damage them but they will flinch so much that application is impossible.

Detail techniques will require lower pressure; your paints viscosity will determine the pressure needed to move it. Veining and fine lines work best for me from 5 to 7 psi.


There are dual action and single action airbrushes, they both have their pros and cons and they are both useful to the airbrush make up artist.

Single Action – Only one button/action push down for air and paint at the same time. These guns are crap for detail but lay down a great base coat. I recommend having a second person do the basing out. They do not have to be trained as they are only using one button to make a person a different color. That way your artist does not waste precious detail time just applying a base color.

Normally these are external mix, which means that paint and air meet just outside of the nozzle and that means less clogs and easier cleaning.

Double Action – A double action airbrush has a higher learning curve to become proficient. These work by the trigger being pulled back for air and being pushed down for paint. It is a tricky maneuver but is easily attained with practice. Drills will sharpen your skill quickly. These guns give great detail and will do the brunt of the work.

The Artist

The artist themselves must be prepared to apply makeup. As they will be working in close proximity to actors they will need to have good hygiene and a pleasant or non-existent odor. They should have clean hands and a bottle of hand sanitizer at their station. If the face is touched then they should sanitize their hands in between. Breath mints are not a bad idea either.

The first time the artist applies make up to an actor they should do a lot of reassuring talking to the actor. The actor is standing there with their eyes closed and someone is shooting stuff at their face. Talking to the actor reduces flinching, the air will be cold so that won’t help. Say things that let the actor know what is going on.

“I am about to spray near your eyes”

“I am going to start far away and then get closer”

At all times the artist should be aware of how close they are and where their hose is. It is easy for your hose to rub the breast of someone while you are applying make up.

Mixing the Makeup

Mixing the Makeup

I use hobby store acrylics. Get the ones that are all acrylic, DO NOT USE CERAMCOAT (a brand) is not as nontoxic as the label says. Chemically the acrylic is safe on skin and it does not smell bad when atomized. I mix it roughly (depending on the temperature) 60% distilled purified water and 40% acrylic paint. I have tried several brands of the airbrush makeup and they were not for me. The water almost costs as much as the paint, but the results are great.

It helps to put some or all of the water in first that way the paint goes into the water and the water envelopes it as opposed to the paint sticking to the sides of the jar.

As opposed to a precise ratio what you are looking for is a paint that feels right, I can tell by moving it in the bottle if it is mixed to thick, to thin, or just right. It seems complicated but an artist can pick up on this very quickly. Paint that is to thin will spider due to air pressure, to thick and it will not

Storing Paint

Storing paint from weekend to weekend is fine if the paint is kept at room temperature in a sealed container. Remember that an airbrush bottle has two holes in it so it is no way sealed.

From week to week I store my paints in a Tupperware container with an inch of water in the bottom and the lid on. The environment is so moist that the paint does not dry up or solidify.

Cleaning Your Airbrush

Specific instructions on cleaning you particular airbrush I cannot give as each one is constructed differently. I can give good generalities and practices.

At your area have a tub of water/Windex  (10% Windex 90% water) that the whole airbrush as well as the artists hand will fit into.

The airbrush is fine completely submerged for long periods of time (a week is stretching it). When I am finished with make up I remove the bottle from the airbrush and dunk it in the tub, I push and pull the button all the way and run a good bit of liquid through the airbrush. Then I leave it in the tub until I can clean the airbrush.

The time to clean the airbrush is not an hour or two before you start doing make up, it is a day or two before so you have time to fix anything that’s wrong. Good prevention makes for easy cleaning. An airbrush that sat and allowed paint to dry in it is much harder to clean that one that was sitting in a tub of cleaner for a day or two. It should be a simple matter of taking it apart wiping parts off and putting it back together.

They are complicated bits of machinery sure, but if focus on cleaning one part at a time you will be fine. Cleaning one airbrush should take about 20min or so.

Ultrasonic Cleaner

I use an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner to help me clean my airbrushes. It was fairly inexpensive and works well to help clean, it is not “set it and forget it” but it helps clean the bottles as well as the airbrush its self. I remove the needle and put it in for a few cycles.

Pick Floss

Another useful item for airbrush cleaning dollar store dental pick floss things. They have a very small pipe cleaner like thing attached to the end of a handle, very nice for cleaning tight spots. They are sometimes labeled as a disposable inter-dental brush.

For long- term storage (like until next season) I like to put it together and shoot some Rem Oil (or 3 in one, or WD-40) through it so the innards get coated.

*Once a year I have to replace my trigger pin in my Passche airbrush, the ammonia in my cleaning mix (instead of Windex) would rust it through. They cost about $10 to replace and I just keep one in my kit. The airbrushes I use now cost $15 so I will just keep the parts that still work and buy a new airbrush. The workload is shared by six airbrushes so they last longer.

Color Palettes

Because my show has multiple attractions I make a color palette for each show. It is normally six colors. By using the same colors in the make ups it helps tie the actors together and to their house. I find using the color palette for each house really helps me define the look of that particular show.

When choosing colors I try to draw some from the sets of the show as well as colors to contrast with those. I also include notes for the artist.

Here are some samples of  the color palettes I use in my shows

Midian hill Asylum
Do not baseout the actors looking for a silent hill / video game feel. Heavy mottling and heroin eyes on all.

– Maroonish Red
– Purpleish Blue
– Mustard Brown
– Bone White
– Purple Black
– Brownish Green

Sawney Bean’s Castle
Not based out heavy veining on all, different types of sores, inbred hills have eyes feel. Balding unevenly. Jaundice tones to skin.

– Blue
– Burgundy
– Jaundice Yellow
– Eye White
– Dark Walnut Brown
– Purple

Death Trap Maze
Only victims get airbrushed. Black eyes, busted lips, cuts and scrapes, Dirty. Only five colors are needed

– Yellow
– Bruise Purple
– Blood Red
– Redish Black
– Deep Green

Base out in light gray , or light green, old dry zombies, not fresh ones.

– White
– Black
– Gray
– Green
– Light green
– Deep purple

Pirates of Peril Point
Base out in white, scary guy #1 in black, highlight with fluorescents, Or sea creature look.

– White
– Black
– Fluorescent Green
– Fluorescent Blue
– Fluorescent Yellow
– Fluorescent Pink

Sticking to a color palette for your attraction helps define the look and allows you easier preparation of paints as it tells you which ones need to be made up. I form my palettes by doing a few test make-ups and seeing which colors I reach for the most. Then mix the base out colors in base out gun bottles and the other colors in regular bottles

 Applying the Makeup

What works best for me is to determine how weather or not characters should be based out or not. If you are going for realism then I would not base out. If you are going for extreme make up then base out the actor in an appropriate color. Make up is easier to apply if you base out in a lighter color. I will base out first, then apply shadows, then highlights, then I will apply details. I have a few terms that I use to describe or define different make up techniques. They describe techniques that can be combined in limitless ways to get good looking make-up jobs.

Base Out
This is a changing of the actors skin color all showing skin should be airbrushed with the base out color

Veins or Veining
This is many fine squiggly lines that look like veins showing through the skin, they normally start at the temples and move into the face and or at the neck and move up towards the face. The way veins are oriented in the body make them believable

Mottling is used to break up large expanses of the face or to tone done an make up job that is to bright. The artist quickly moves the airbrush in organic patterns over the face not completely covering the skin or base color but giving it the influence of that color. Great technique for zombies and sick or infected people.

Heroin Eyes
This is a deepening of the lower eye sockets by adding color to them, standard heroin eyes are maroonish, but they can be done in many colors depending upon the needs of the character

Finishing Mud
This is applied before the airbrush is used. Mud is used for a variety of effects, from hair styling, beard styling,  hair removal (visually), and eyebrow protection. This is an amazing product! The brand name is st.Ives mud mask. Available at family dollar stores and Walgreens stores

Scary guy #1
This is a make up job that is fast to apply and the basis for many other make-ups. (i.e.-scary guy #1 with blue veins…) With dark paint the artist accentuates the low points of the actors face. Below the cheekbones, the eye sockets, nasal labial fold, skull arches, Throat accentuation, and brow  and jawbone accentuation.


Basic Makeup Areas Example

This rendering shows the basic areas to apply make up for scary guy#1. Every face is different so the areas are different. The lines should not be forced, they should follow the contours of the face of the actor.

** A note on shading- If both sides of an area are feathered out then it becomes a giant smudge, If there is a definite line or edge on one side then it is a shaded area. This is very important to rember when defining the cheek bones

** There are times when what the artist wants to do is irrelavant due to time constraints, equipment failure, or difference in actor structure. It is important that you are able to think on the fly and come up with functional solutions.


Quick-Change Airbrush Kit

Quick-Change Airbrush Kit
– Switch paint colors in seconds.
– No need to clean gun between color changes.
– Adjustable paint flow and spray patterns.
– Chrome-plated brass nozzle.
– Includes five 3/4 ounce cups, suction hose, 6 ft. air hose, and 1/4″ NPT adapter; Nozzle size: 0.0275″, Air requirement: 15 to 60 PSI

Deluxe Airbrush Kit

Deluxe Airbrush Kit
– Professional quality chrome-plated brass airbrush with anodized aluminum needle cover.
– Slim, comfortable grip.
– Easy-to-clean anodized aluminum housing. 30 PSI continuous working pressure.
– Adjustable air flow control.
– Comes with 22 cc glass jar, 5 cc metal cup, storage case, metal hanger; air outlet.
– Air inlet: 1/8″-27 NPT

Professional 6-Color Airbrush Kit with Holder

Professional 6-Color Airbrush Kit with Holder
– Paint with six colors without having to stop and clean your airbrush. Comes with seven 6 foot braided air hoses with 1/8″-28 NPS fittings and 1/4″-18 NPT adapter.
– Six siphon feed air brushes connect to the base for regulated air supply
– Six glass 3/4 ounce color cups
– Dual action trigger for one-finger control of airflow and pattern width
– Internal mix air brush is designed to assure uniform coverage
– Rotates 360°
– Color coded for easy identification
– Stable suction cup base

This airbrush set is what I use the most for airbrush makeup at my show. It comes with six dual action airbrushes six bottles and an octopus type air distributor so all the airbrushes run off of one compressor. It costs $130 and is invaluable to me for the time it saves. One artist uses this set up, it saves a ton of time because to change colors on an airbrush it takes about 30 seconds or more to get the old color out of the airbrush. That is wasted time and pre-show you need every scrap of time you can get for makeup.


1/8 HP, 40 PSI Oil Less Airbrush
1/8 HP, 40 PSI Oil Less Airbrush

1/8 HP, 40 PSI Oil less Airbrush Compressor

Quiet operation. Delivers 0 to 40 PSI constant pressure for a quality finish. Works with all airbrushes.
– Auto shut off at 40 PSI, auto-on at 3 PSI – Adjustable pressure regulator with moisture trap
– Direct hook-up with all airbrushes using universal 1/8″-28 NPS – Fitting with 1/4″ NPT male adapter
– Thermal overload protection with automatic reset
– Rubber suction cup feet for stability
– Built-in carrying handle for maximum portability
– Includes 10 ft. coiled air line, Teflon tape, easy-to-read pressure gauge; 1/8 HP, 115 volt, 2 amps, 1750 RPM; Overall dimensions: 9-3/4″ L x 5-3/8” W x 9-1/4” H – Weight: 7.85 lbs.

About the Author Allen Hopps – Stiltbeast Studios

Allen has been doing airbrush make up for six years. All of his airbrush work is Haunted house based and his solutions and instruction are practical for the hectic Haunted House makeup room. He can train your staff or simply help you set up a system that will work for your show. Take advantage of his experience and save the hassle of trying to troubleshoot and find systems that work in the demanding Haunted House environment. Allen airbrushes 30 actors every show night in an hour and a half.  Depending on the level of detail you want in your makeups, even higher numbers are possible.


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