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UK Career Coach and Creative Business Coach

Holby City to House of the Dragon: Interview with Makeup Designer Vicky Voller

Updated: 7 days ago

In episode 2 of the podcast Inside Entertainment Industry Careers, we explore the exciting world of hair, makeup, and prosthetics with Vicky Voller, a makeup designer for film and television. Gain insights into the day-to-day working life of an MUA as we explore Vicky's experiences working with actors and crew on various high-profile TV and film productions. She shares insights into her career journey and also offers advice for those who aspire to become makeup artists.

Makeup Artist to Prosthetics: The Career Journey of Vicky Voller

In this week's podcast episode, Vicky Voller, a makeup designer for film and television specialising in hair, makeup, and prosthetics, shares her journey and experiences of working in the industry. She discusses how she discovered her passion for makeup artistry and the training routes available.


Vicky highlights the differences between working in theatre and TV, emphasising the discipline required in the theatre. She also talks about her favourite projects, the importance of teamwork, the continuous learning process in the industry and choosing a reputable academy with industry-experienced tutors.


Lastly, Vicky offers advice for aspiring makeup artists, including the need for dedication, a hunger for learning, and the key employability skills of flexibility, collaboration, and networking. Vicky highlights how a positive attitude and good interpersonal skills can be just as important as technical expertise.



Introduction and Career Beginnings


Emily: Did you always know that you wanted to work in hair, makeup and prosthetics, or was there one pivotal moment when you thought, yes, this is the career for me?


Vicky Voller:

I actually wasn't aware that you could make a career out of being a makeup artist. When I call it a makeup artist, I mean hair, makeup, and prosthetics. I have always wanted to paint, and I sort of had the feeling that I would live in Paris and paint in a studio. Very romantic, I know. My mum had a neighbour who worked at the BBC as a vision mixer, and one day, she asked me if I would like to come up for the day and just see what it would be like to be a makeup artist. So I went up, not really thinking much about it. I went up to Shepherds Bush Theatre and saw Are You Being Served? I don't know whether that was before your time or not.


Emily:

I do remember it. But I'm unsure if all our listeners will.


Vicky Voller:

I was absolutely transformed by what I saw into wanting to be a makeup artist. I'd never seen a wig put on to look like a real wig. And I'd never seen a man transformed from looking like he normally looks when he walks into the makeup room and then walking out and being a complete character and then playing that character. And I just was sold. And I not only wanted to be a makeup artist, I actually wanted to be a makeup artist at the BBC, funnily enough. And so that was what I always told everybody I wanted to do. When they asked me what my second choice would be, I always said there was no second choice. That's what I want to do.


Emily:

Wow, that's a very clear vision of what you wanted to do as a career.


Vicky Voller:

Yeah, it was very clear, and there was no sort of thinking about what plan B was. I always wanted to do that, and that was all I would ever say I wanted to be.


Training Routes in Hair and Makeup


Emily:

So, how did you decide on the training routes and the courses that you took to work in hair and makeup?


Vicky Voller:

It was very different in my day. I was incredibly lucky because the BBC had a two-year training course. Every two years, they would put out there that they were looking for people to train, and you would fill in a form and hopefully get an interview. The year that I got in, there were 4,000 applicants. I'm sure there'd be more nowadays, and only 12 people got in, so I was very, very lucky.


Two years before that, I got an interview, but I didn't get in, and they failed me. And they failed me on hair. Now, hair is such an important part of being a makeup artist, and I wasn't aware of it at all. I just wanted to paint faces, so I went and did a three-month training hair and barbering course. Then, I worked as a hairdresser for the rest of the two years, applied to the BBC, and got in.


Nowadays, it's different because there are different makeup academies. When I say makeup, they do barbering, they do hair, they do prosthetics, so they all come under one umbrella, and you can choose which length, of course, you'd like to do because some people come from being a hairdresser and then want to come into the film industry. So you can do a year course, or you can go to LCF, where you can do the two-year course, or you go to these private academies, and you can choose between six months, nine months and a year depending on where your starting point is really.


Emily:

So, are there lots of different routes available now for pretty much everybody?


Vicky Voller:

Yes, and there are lots of barbering courses that you can take, or you can just do period hair, or you can go into theatre. There are so many avenues now, which wasn't the case when I joined the BBC, so I think everyone's very lucky now. Unfortunately, for private academies, you need to save up or get a grant.


The Difference Between Theatre and TV


Emily:

And you just touched upon the theatre. Is there a great difference between working as a makeup artist in theatre and TV?


Vicky Voller:

Yes, there is. I mean, theatre's live, and I think it takes a different type of person who wants to go and work in the evening, whereas evenings have never really appealed to me. I've always wanted to be at home and rest in the evenings rather than do a live show night after night and probably a matinee day as well, where you do two shows. And I think it takes a different kind of person.


Nowadays, there are a lot of men and women coming from theatre, hair and makeup, and you can tell when somebody's done theatre because they're very disciplined because, obviously, it's a live show. It's a bit like you can always tell when somebody's done ballet because they're very strict with their hair and very strict with a few things. I find that theatre people are like that as well, and that's a good thing; that's not a bad thing.


Emily:

It sounds a little bit like theatre work as an actor and learning lines; you can't shout cut, you've got to be disciplined as it's working with a live audience.


Vicky Voller

Yes, and you know, if a wig's going to come off, you don't want it coming off on a live show; you want it coming off on something where you can cut and go again. So I think that's where that strict discipline comes from. You only get one choice when it's live.


Favourite Projects and Challenges


Emily:

It's interesting to hear about the difference between the two mediums. So, out of all of your experience, because it sounds like you've got so much experience, what's been your favourite project that you've worked on so far?


Vicky Voller:

Gosh, that's a tricky one. I think the reason why most people become makeup artists is because of the variety, and no two days are ever the same. And so I don't think I really have a favourite. I would probably say that the most challenging job that I've ever done would be for Horrible History, and I did it for three years. You had to do everything with nothing, and you had no money and you had no time. So you'd begin the day, and you'd go, I don't think I can achieve today. And then you get to the end of the day, and you'd achieved it, and you'd go home, you'd get up, and you'd come in and think the same again the next day. So, I think that probably stands out for me because it was the most challenging.


I think the most exciting job I've ever done was working as a personal assistant to Rowan Atkinson on Johnny English. When I got that job, I was very excited to be a part of the process, the look, and the visual story because Rowan's so visual, and, you know, he can do Mr Bean, but there are no words. So, I loved being a part of that process. That was quite exciting for me. I really enjoyed that job. You know, just doing things like on Johnny English when he has a fire extinguisher all over his face, he has the foam. And so I used egg whites because I didn't want him to get the foam in his eyes because you're not meant to point a fire extinguisher at somebody's face, especially not the leading man. So there are lots of things that the viewer doesn't see, but they all need to be thought about and carefully executed so that we can carry on and use him after that scene.


Emily:

So that's egg whites for the foam, which is interesting. Are there any other things similar to that when you're doing makeup?


Vicky Voller:

I think all the time you're thinking because you've got to look after your actors. So when you're doing silly things that are meant to look funny, obviously, you have to be safe. And everything that you put on an actor's face has to be for the face. And you don't want somebody swallowing something that they shouldn't be ingesting. And you don't want anything near their eyes. You don't want anything on their skin that might actually have a reaction. So that's all part of the challenge each day, I think.


Variety and Inspiration in Projects


Emily:

You've also worked on House of Dragon, which is such a popular show. What was that like?


Vicky Voller:

I would say that House the Dragon would be my favourite show for variety and for all the people who work there because you can one minute be doing beautiful hair that women can sit on. It's beautifully braided and crimped, and then the next person who sits in your chair could be an undead person, or the next person who sits down could have half prosthetics and half makeup.


The next person who sits down could just be your run-of-the-mill, dirtying down. And sometimes, with the white wigs, we'd put on half-bald caps underneath because of the dark hair showing through. So, the variety that you have on House of the Dragon is so lovely to work on because every day is different, which is what I love about the job.


Emily:

Is it such a visual masterpiece to watch as well?


Vicky Voller:

Yes, absolutely. And you work as such a team. I've never worked on the main team, that's Amanda Knight. I've always worked in the crowd, which has been Sara Kramer. Sara runs probably one of the best crowd teams, and everybody is challenged, but you're not over-challenged. So she'll give the work to the people who want it or are asking for it. And so you can only but learn on that job and come away as a better makeup artist. It's very challenging but in a good way.


Emily:

Do you feel that you're always learning? Do you think that regardless of how many years in the industry you've had, it's just a continual learning process?


Vicky Voller:

Yes, I do. And I think that you can learn something new every day. Sometimes, people talk about how they've done something, and you're listening, and you want to do it like that. It's interesting because we all get to the end, but because we're artists, we all do it differently. And I kind of think that's why a lot of people do it because you're allowed to put your own interpretation onto it.


The Importance of Teamwork


Vicky Voller:

Obviously, you're given a fitting sheet, and that's how it needs to look when you've finished. However, how you get there is kind of your challenge, which is lovely. And also, for me, it's also about the people that I work with because I've worked on jobs where there hasn't been a makeup, hair, or prosthetic challenge, but I look back on them really, really fondly.


Only Fools and Horses I loved, and every time I see Nicholas Lindhurst or David Jason in something, I think, oh, what's this? Do I need to watch it? I worked on Friday night dinner, and we used to have such a nice time there. We worked from 10 am in the morning until 10 pm at night because the exteriors were always outside because it was always Friday night.


So, we would work in a blacked-out house during the day. And then, as soon as it got dark, we'd go outside and shoot the exteriors. So it was kind of a weird environment in which we were working. But it was so much fun because we were all trapped in a blacked-out house together and then out in the freezing cold together. So, the people and the team you're working with are probably just as important as the work you're doing.


Emily:

So that's a really good skill to have then the team working skill.


Vicky Voller:

Yes, definitely. And I would say that when I've interviewed people to work with me, it's interesting because 60% for me is their personality, that they're going to work as a team, that we're going to get on, and that there's not going to be an atmosphere. You could be incredibly talented, but I think if you don't have that team skill, you probably won't achieve as much as you'd like to.


Emily:

That's a good tip for our listeners as well in terms of being yourself when you're there and interviewing.


Vicky Voller:

Yes, definitely. Also, for those who are interviewed and have been to an academy or college or university to learn what they need to learn to go then and have an interview, somebody says, as I always do, they said, bring your portfolio along. They sit there, and I turn the first page, and they say, now this isn't very good, or this isn't my best or this, but actually it's not about what's in the book, it's actually giving me a place to talk to them and say to them, what did you make this out of? Why did you make it like that? And it's actually a way of talking to them.


Working with Daniel Craig and James Bond


Emily:

Those are some nice tips for our listeners. Thank you. So before I move on to another question, I have to ask: You worked on the James Bond movie, didn't you? I have to ask this question: How was it working with Daniel Craig?


Vicky Voller:

Yes, I did. Daniel Craig had his own makeup and hair artists, both of whom I know and who are lovely. I didn't speak to Daniel Craig when I was working on it. I was on the main team, but I was doing Daniel Craig's doubles. Well, I should say bond doubles. So I was doing stunt doubles that looked like him. But no, I never spoke to Daniel Craig, but everybody says that he's absolutely lovely. And he seemed very, very nice on set as well. That was another dream come true, really. I grew up watching James Bond with my brother and my dad. So, to work on that job was lovely.


Emily:

So, which was your favourite Bond? Mine has to be Pierce Brosnan.


Vicky Voller:

I have to say, Daniel Craig, don't I?


Emily:

You've worked on modern and period dramas, and you've worked on a range of different projects. How do you find inspiration and plan for the projects that you are working on?


Vicky Voller:

I think it's very much a team amalgamation of each department coming together. You start off, and you normally have a meeting with the director, and he'll tell you how he feels about the job and how he feels he'd like it to look. And then each department comes together, and then, of course, you have the set designer, and then they'll probably bring the colours and the tone of how the director or the writer or the showrunner or producers would like it to look. And you come up with your own ideas as well. I always like to do a mood board because I find that when I'm talking about makeup to someone who doesn't do makeup, sometimes it's difficult for them to visualize it.


So I always think a mood board looks great because they can just point at it and go. I like these colours; I like this look; I like the shape of the hair. I don't like that, and I wouldn't want that. Then, you can slowly but surely get an idea of how everyone would like it to look. And then, for me, it's very much about costumes. So you need to get on with your costume department, and the costume designer will sit down, and they'll say, this is what I'd like to do. Obviously, the costume, hair, and makeup got to work together. So if somebody's meant to have street cred, if the costume has got street cred, then the hair and makeup have to as well.


So we kind of discuss the look, and we'll then have fittings where an artist or an actor or actress will have a costume fitting and a makeup fitting. And more often than not,

they'll come to you in their costume, and then you'll do their hair and makeup and maybe a couple of styles. Then they'll go back to costume, and we'll get a look with both of them together, and then that will go forward to directors and producers to see which they prefer or what they like or what they don't like. So it's very much a coming together of all departments to bring something to the screen that we're all happy with.


Emily:

It's that teamwork again and that communication. When you say a mood board, do you still work with the actual board and sort of stick things on, or have you gone digital?


Vicky Voller:

It's a bit of both, to be honest with you. I'm meant to be paperless, and we often now aren't sent scripts, aren't sent call sheets, and they all come through on your email, and then you read them off there, and we try not to print anything. But sometimes, when you're right at the very beginning, I think a piece of paper is a good visual; nowadays, we try and be as paperless as possible, but if I'm working with somebody who is very happy to have a mood board that's all been digitally done I'll send it through like that for them, but I'm a bit old -fashioned I still quite like a bit of paper if I can.


Emily:

I like the tactileness of using a board as well, as I like all the different colours and being able to feel things.


Vicky Voller:

I do, and I like to write my notes on it. I know you can do that on your iPad now, but I like to highlight things. I think it's just because we're visual people. So I quite like to colour everything in. I quite like to draw things, and yeah, I'm still not letting go of those final pieces of paper.


Working with Prosthetics


Emily:

I fully appreciate that I'm very much the same. And when you work with prosthetics as well, I mean, you do a range of things, don't you? I've seen that you've done everything from the wounds, which look amazing, to the pregnancy bumps. Are there any favourites within that you enjoy?


Vicky Voller:

I've made a good living out of pregnant stomachs, I have to say. It's such a visual thing, and that's why I specialise in medical prosthetics and worked in Holby City for 11 years. I actually set it up and set up the prosthetic department. And I like prosthetics to look real. I like the viewer to look at it and believe that that person's pregnant, that somebody's cutting an umbilical cord, and that somebody's stitching a wound that's bleeding. As soon as we move into monsters and things, creatures that aren't real, it's not my thing. I think I just like the magic of pretending that that's what you're really seeing when you're not.


Advice and Wisdom from Experience


Emily:

So, when you look back over your career, did anybody give you a piece of advice that's stuck with you throughout?


Vicky Voller:

I think when I first started working on Holby, we used to have medical advisors, and I can remember this one day when we were in the theatre. We were operating on a heart, and the line was hysterical because the line when you saw the prosthetic was 'he's back', so they were operating on this man, and his heart stopped beating and the spurting blood all over the place. And then they go, he's back. And then you cut to the heart, and it's not beating. And then it goes, boom, boom, boom, boom. And it was right in the early days of Holby City when I was really struggling with everything. I'd done lots of facial prosthetics. When I started Holby, suddenly, I was doing whole bodies, and it was a massive challenge for me.


We did the rehearsal, and the actor who was playing the surgeon cut through the heart and through the little air bladders that I had at the back that made it go, vuvum, vuvum, and gave you the visual. And so we went for a take, and they went, and 'he's back'. And you look down at the heart, and nothing happens.


I can remember running out of the room really upset and standing in the corridor crying, and the cardiothoracic advisor, Sham, came up to me and said, what's the matter with you? And I said I was really upset. And he went, you do know you're not really saving lives, don't you? I save lives. After that, I realized that whatever happens, You just have to be calm. You just have to let it go. You have to be flexible at all times, and you have to stay calm. And all the worrying in the world the night before or on the day, you're going to work, you'll film it, and you'll come home. And he's right: You're not saving lives. You are entertaining people.


Emily:

So, basically, accept that anything can happen on set. It's nice that that person came out and said that to you and gave you those words of wisdom that have been carried through your career.


So, talking about wisdom, you worked for 13 years in Holby City, didn't you? And then you've had a long career afterwards. When you kind of look back upon your career, is there any advice that you can give to people just starting out in hair and makeup that could help them with their careers?


Advice for Starting a Career in Hair and Makeup


Vicky Voller:

If you go into working in hair and makeup in the film industry, and even more so if you specialise in prosthetics, I think you have to be hungry for it and really, really want to do it. Last week, I was working on a job, and I had to be in for 4.20 am in the morning. So I got up at three and left at 3.30 am. I worked until we wrapped up and finished at quarter to six. I finished work at quarter to six, just in time to sit for an hour in the rush hour traffic, because that was just starting, to get home at six.


So I left the house for 14 and a half hours, and I think you have to be dedicated to doing that. And I have to say that that was a really long day for me. I loved every minute of it. It was great. It was great to be back on that job, and it was great to see everybody and do the fantastic work that we were doing. You know, I feel that I'm very privileged to get paid to do what I do.


You can't just think, oh, I might want to do that. I think you have to be hungry for it. You've got to juggle relationships and family, and at the same time, you've got to go into work and be the best that you can. And I'm very strict with myself as well when I work. I make sure that I have a good diet, have lots of protein, sleep well, and drink lots of fluids. And I think that if you have any doubt in your mind that it might not be the career for you, maybe it's not. And it's tough as well. There's a lot of makeup artists out there. So it is competitive.


Getting Work Experience and Learning from Vicky


Emily:

Do you have any advice about how someone could approach getting some work experience and see if the career is for them?


Vicky Voller:

There are people who do take on work experience, and I get quite a few CVs from people who are quite happy to come and work for free. We have to be very careful in the industry not to exploit people. So where I teach, when I've worked on jobs, and I have been able to take people on work experience, I've taken the people that I've taught, they're already committed, which means that they've made a financial commitment. And I think it's, I think it is very, very hard to get onto a film set. You know, as soon as you walk onto a film set, you have to be insured. To be insured, more often than not, you need to have a contract, which means that you have to be working.


There are many clips on YouTube and footage behind the scenes, and maybe that would be a way forward to have a look and see. Then, the other thing is to do what everybody does in the industry, and that is just to pester people. If you know somebody, or you have a contact, or you think there's any way in, a bit like the vision mixer that took me up to BBC.


Emily:

One last quick question: you also teach, don't you? How can people actually come and learn from you?


Vicky Voller:

I actually only work at one academy now, which is called Delamar, And the reason why I really like teaching there is that the students are all interviewed before they have a chance to join and obviously pay for it, but they're also interviewed to make sure that they're the right people. You know they're not you're not just taken on because you pay your money and also every single tutor that works at the academy, and this isn't just at this academy; it's at other academies as well, but if you are looking at learning you need to make sure that everyone that teaches where you're looking at actually works in the industry.


That way, you're really up to date with what's happening. When you go out there, you haven't wasted your money on buying an obsolete kit or things that people aren't using. Like any industry, different techniques evolve, and things change. So it's important. Also, the people who are teaching you may actually be your future employers.


I've taught people, and then I've gone, oh gosh, they're good. When I needed a trainee, I asked them to come and work with me. So that's kind of important for them to realise that if they do join and start learning at Make Up Academy early, I'm not only a teacher. Don't treat me like a teacher when you are at school.


I'm a lecturer, and I'm probably your future employer. So, it's important for them to shift their thinking if they want to pursue a career and learn at an academy. And also, you know, I might teach somebody. Last week, I was teaching full caps, so I taught the class how to put a football cap on and then some advanced casualties. But on my next job, if I've got a load of wigs and I need somebody that's really good at wigs, I may ask the academy if they could tell me who they've got that's really good at wigs because I know all the tutors there. So that would probably be where I would go if I were looking for trainees.


Emily:

Again, there's this team working, but there's also that visibility and networking. That's interesting. We've covered so much information over the last 30 minutes, and I think our listeners are going to walk away with lots of insightful information. So thank you so much, Vicky.


Vicky Voller:

Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you, Emily.


Short Biography:

Vicky Voller began her career as a hairdresser in London before joining the BBC’s Hair, Make-Up, and Prosthetic Department, where she worked her way up to Designer. After 13 years of experience, she left the Beeb to pursue a freelance career.


Vicky then worked for 11 years on the medical drama Holby City since its inception, initially covering Hair, Make-Up and Prosthetics. However, as the programme grew, so did its appetite and need for more and better medical effects. So, by 2000, Vicky was put solely in charge of prosthetics and effects, creating for Holby, often from scratch, the necessarily realistic and sometimes spectacular medical simulation necessary for a successful hospital-based drama.


She has a vast wealth of knowledge about talking to Producers, Directors, and Costume Designers to put a look/character together. Vicky has provided high-quality Hair and Makeup looks for television and film projects, including 'No Time to Die' with Daniel Craig, 'Hijack' with Idris Elba, 'Man vs Bee' with Rowan Atkinson and the Games of Thrones spin-off 'House of the Dragon'.


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Want to know more about Vicky Voller?

You can find out more about Vicky on her website.


Or view Vicky's film credits on IMDB.



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