How to do HD Make-Up

I had the privilege of working with one of South Africa’s leading film and television make-up artists, Hester Magson, while working on the SABC1 show Spirit Sundae.

Hester has a make-up “spray gun” of sorts that she imported from the USA. It is used to apply foundation in even distribution, and the results, especially when viewing in HD, are amazing.

I asked Hester more about this wonderful technique, and below is a video that demonstrates this method.

1. What is this system called and where did you get it from?

The system is called an airbrush. I have been doing a lot of research on High Definition make-up for about 7 years, when I realized that High Definition TV might influence the make-up technique that I was currently using. I discovered lots of products that are applied by hand and then the ones that are applied with the airbrush. I then contacted different houses and got samples from the different houses in different countries. I tested them on camera and finally, after 5 years, discovered this specific brand called KETT.

KETT was developed by a make-up artist called Sheila Mckenna in the USA in 2000. It was the first airbrush make-up technique that was developed especially for High Definition Television. She also designed a compressor for the airbrush that is light and fast which makes it easy to travel with. I enrolled in a course given by her in New York and I then qualified as a High Definition Airbrush Make-up Artist. I now import Kett cosmetics and the airbrushes.

2. How does it work?

Before High Definition (HD) the lens of the camera acted as a forgiving filter for its subjects. Now it is highlighting and magnifying the flaws of performers. Colours are 6 times brighter and the sharpness of HD TV is 6 times greater. Therefore, skin and hair must be in immaculate condition.

Microscopic drops of the product are sprayed as a mist, to which a thin layer of the cosmetic keeps the natural texture of the skin. The natural oils of the skin absorb the foundation – this does not mean it penetrates the skin. The molecules in the product are so small that it forms a second layer on the skin. The cosmetic works when the particles in them reflect light instead of absorbing it. The camera also reads these fine molecules as pixels – this is one of the reasons that the camera reads perfect skin, it cannot read the flaws under the foundation.

3. What makes it different from normal foundation or foundation in spray cans?

The cosmetic works when the particles in it reflect light instead of absorbing it, some of the cosmetics in the standard range do exactly the opposite. The other HD foundations have an alcohol base which causes them to dry quickly. It also dries the skin out and can be damaging to the skin. Kett is water based and can be used on all skin types. There is an alcohol based range, but this is used for special effects make-up.

Kett is practically invisible for the “Hi-Def Eye”. It covers the complexion evenly and lasts up to 12 hours. It is cruelty and fragrance free and has no silicone. Normal foundation is also mostly cream or oil based, with a thicker consistency for good coverage.

4. What are the differences between this technique and applying normal foundation?

It’s ultra hygienic – spraying the make-up from a distance considerably decreases the risk of contaminating the cosmetic through direct contact with the skin, whereas normal foundation is applied with a latex wedge sponge or a foundation brush.

It’s economical – to cover the whole face evenly with foundation, only five to 10 drops of the cosmetic is required, whereas normal foundation gets soaked up in the latex sponge or foundation brush and a lot of the foundation is lost. When foundation is applied with the finger method, chances are that it will be uneven.

Speed – using an airbrush cuts the application time in half as well as the number of touch ups.

The make-up lasts 5 times longer than normal foundation due to the fact that it absorbs the natural oils in the skin, forming a second layer of skin. Normal foundation is mostly cream or oil based and sits on top of the skin. It slides off in hot conditions or sinks away into the pores and looks uneven after a few hours.

5. How many other make-up artists are using this system in South Africa?

I have trained 6 make-up artists and I am aware of 11 others who are doing airbrush make-up. It’s expensive to replace your whole make-up kit with all the old style make-up and our rand is not very strong at the moment. It might be expensive to start out but is definitely economical in the long run.

Make-up artists are also not keen to use the new technique yet because we are still on the analogue system. Even though we are using Hi-Def Television screens and cameras, the broadcasting system has not been switched to full HD yet. This will hopefully happen in 2015. I am hoping that make-up artists, producers and directors will have a mind set change by then.

I also apply eye shadow and blusher with the airbrush, which in turn saves more time and money.  The whole look is flawless! As far as I know, I am the only make-up artist in South Africa with this skill, as the norm is to apply foundation only with an airbrush.

For more information, visit Hester Magson’s Facebook page “FACE AHEAD” or her website


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