Mongolian makeup artist hopes to resurrect ‘forgotten’ cinema art


The Mongolian film industry heavily favors the comedy genre, but local film directors are trying to diversify into horror and other genres. As everyone knows, most horror films require special effects and makeup to be appealing to viewers. There are very few people capable of convincingly transforming a young actor into an elderly person, give them a fake scar, and make it look as if they don’t have a hand or finger. Hoze’s Makeup Art Studio’s director and makeup artist G.Khos-Erdene is one of the few people striving to radically change the makeup and special effects scene in Mongolia. 

G.Khos-Erdene was in charge of make-up for Mongolian films “Khuukheldei” (Doll), “Oroolon”, “Shuugian Tarigch” (Troublemaker), and “Atgand Uldsen Erdene” (The Gem Left in My Palm). He also teaches makeup at Citi Institute in Ulaanbaatar.

What was your most recent project?

I took part in “Khavtsal”, a fantasy film which completely transforms actors’ faces. The film has paid a lot of attention to makeup. The film’s premier will be held soon. It’s the second Mongolian film which uses special effects and artificial fiber make-up, a silicon-like material that sticks to the skin. Masks are made specifically for an individual. It will not fit or suit anyone else. Masks must fit a person’s facial feature perfectly or it will not portray good facial movements.

G.Khos-Erdene doing special makeup effect
G.Khos-Erdene doing special makeup effect

We import materials for artificial fiber make-up from the USA. Every little detail must be perfected since faces are magnified on big screens in cinemas. Face makeup essentially is 70 to 80 percent of the process required for creating a completely new character and bringing them to life.

Is the Mongolian film industry able to produce films with high-level special effects makeup?

This field isn’t well developed here. There are women who were called the pioneers of “golden age of face make-up”. They went to Russian schools and made everything from scratch. Now, technology has advanced far and so has the quality of materials. It could be said that although the film industry has developed, face makeup has been abandoned. Face makeup is a key part of a film. Without face makeup, a film will remain merely as the typical melodramatic romance film. Right now, there are very few people willing to challenge the horror film genre.

You don’t have to study in western countries like the USA to become a professional makeup artist. In my case, I completed an accelerated training program in Germany. I develop my skills by watching videos and reading books. It’s very difficult to work in Hollywood.

There are more opportunities to participate  in Chinese or Indian films. I receive offers quite often but I hope to develop this field in Mongolia. Since new films are released practically every day, I think and hope that we could make many films with special effects.

Currently, Mongolia isn’t showing films suitable for children. Children are only able to watch foreign animations with subtitles. Instead, if Mongolian characters are brought to life with masks and makeup, this will contribute a great deal in rejuvenating this field in Mongolia.

Special makeup effect by G.Khos-Erdene
Special makeup effect by G.Khos-Erdene

How many schools train professional makeup artists in Mongolia?

There are three types of makeup techniques for television and films: basic beauty and fashion makeup, theatrical makeup, and special makeup effects. Everyday bridal and evening makeup, also known as beauty and fashion makeup are well-developed here in Mongolia. There are institutes that give basic makeup courses. However, more advanced courses on theatrical makeup is poor.

Professional special effects makeup artists are rare. Do the special effects and makeup in Mongolian films look unrealistic because it’s not made by professionals?

It’s better to learn makeup overseas but the tuition is high. In Mongolian currency, it costs around 30 million to 40 million MNT. I  work with Oyunsuvd, who graduated in the USA. Makeup by experienced professionals looks completely different. It’s much better and more realistic. It’s necessary to prepare makeup for angry, sick, rich, poor, young and old people in advance by reading the script. When making a fake bruise, you have to analyze the anatomy of the human body and evaluate which vein popped and is causing the bruise, if it’s a new or old wound, if it will heal the next day, if it’ll leave a scar, and other factors. All of this will help make the film more realistic and convincing. A wound might look like a part of a body covered in blood but the makeup for it is completely different. Special effects makeup is necessary for making a person’s leg or hand look as if it’s been cut off. Not a single film shows a headless person. I really want to do this kind of film.

What’s the hardest special effects makeup? 

Chopped finger effect by G.Khos-Erdene
Chopped finger effect by G.Khos-Erdene
Wounded hand made by special maekup effect
Wounded hand made by special maekup effect








Wounds, scars, bruises, surgical scars, and burns are all based on real things so you have to study and observe every detail to get it right. I study my own and others’ wounds and observe wrinkles and aging process of my grandparents. Mongolians rush film productions. Preparation is the most crucial part and just making a mask requires a lot of time.

You took care of makeup for the Mongolian version of “Your Face Sounds Familiar” TV show all by yourself. How would you assess your work there?

I took on a big challenge and boldly did the makeup but I lacked experience. There were pros and cons. Every production section has a team but I worked alone.

Overall, my preparation wasn’t that good due to lack of time. I tried to transform contestants into particular celebrities using wigs, fake beards and facial hair, and masks. I aimed to make it look at least 70 to 80 percent similar to the celebrity. Even with a wig, you have to style it well to transform an Asian person into a European person. You have to take an alginate mold of a face from each person’s face and sculpt a mask over it. Afterwards, take another mold, and this time, sculpt it using the actual material. I made a small mistake on the selection of materials in the last show. Starting from the tip of a nose, everything must be accurate.

In the last two episodes of “Your Face Sounds Familiar”, two Russian artists did the makeup. What did you learn from them? Were you able to fix your mistakes?

We invited professionals who worked on this type of shows. It was a great experience for improving my skills. The Russian makeup artists said that they did the same mistakes in the beginning and became more experienced after four to five trials. I will not repeat my mistake in the next show. They also commended the masks and molds but pointed out that masks become better and more realistic after at least two weeks.

Contestant Gan-Erdene always had a similar makeup but contestants Bayartsengel and Munkhsoyol’s makeup changed every time. Does makeup depend on a person’s physical and facial features? 

That’s what I meant by mistake. Firstly, materials are very important. Secondly, transforming a woman into a man is very challenging because women have smaller bodies and facial features, and the body ratios are entirely different. Makeup requires tons of hard work and talent. We don’t do makeup by simply standing behind the stage and painting a face over a person’s face. Preparation work and materials are very important. Our team made the beards and wigs used on the show ourselves.

Some say makeup is the soul of films. As technology develops, aren’t production teams using computer generated effects more because it’s easier?

I’m sure Mongolian directors will make many wonderful films. The development of makeup will improve if it’s combined with computer generated special effects. No matter how realistic a mask looks, it needs extra touches in post-production. There’s a wrong understanding among the public that actors and directors made a film successful, but if it fails, they blame makeup artists. Makeup artists and actors have the same role.

Zombie makeup by G.Khos-Erdene
Zombie makeup by G.Khos-Erdene

How do you make a person look as if they don’t have a certain facial feature with makeup?

That is the hardest part of facial transformation. Because we can’t physically remove people’s facial features, we have no choice but to make an optical illusion with contouring. Adjusting camera angles and making good use of contouring techniques is the key to making it look as if someone doesn’t have a certain facial feature. I want to give life to Mongolian fairytale characters.

Does the Hoze’s Makeup Art Studio conduct training?

Yes, we do, but only for people who want training. We don’t really go around promoting it. I, myself, have a long way to go. Still, I have a couple of talented students with a bright future ahead.

How much do you get from doing makeup for films?

It depends on the script. Films with many special effects require tons of materials, which is quite expensive.

From where and how do you import materials required for makeup effects? 

You must have a license to import them. Not anyone can import it as it’s not commonly traded like bread. I get my supplies from a friend of mine living in the USA.

How do you envision the future of special effects makeup in Mongolia?

Special effects makeup will have to improve as the film industry develops. The most important part is to organize effective trainings and teaching programs, send aspiring makeup artists to study abroad, and have them return to develop this field in Mongolia. I’m sure that many more fantastic films will be produce and give opportunities to makeup artists for improving their skills.

Films featuring special effects are rarely made in Mongolia due to high costs. Even so, I hope more and more people become interested in special effects makeup and help develop this field.