Christien Tinsley - Monster Maker Interview with an Academy Award winner

Interview with Academy Award and Emmy Winning Special Makeup Effects Designer & FX Innovator. Inventor of the revolutionary Prosthetic Transfer.

Dec 10, 2013


Today's monster maker interview features Christien Tinsley, one of the leading Special Makeup Effects creators for film and television. Tinsley has been honored with an Academy Award® for Technical Achievement, and Academy Award® Nomination for Best Makeup: THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Three Emmy® Nominations (Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a series, Miniseries, Movie or a Special): NIP/TUCK, GLEE, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, an IFFA Award for Best Makeup as well as the Silver Lotus Award for Best Makeup: PAA. He also was awarded an Emmy® for his work on BEHIND THE CANDELABRA.  Christien owns and operates Tinsley Studio and Tinsley Transfers, Inc. while maintaining his working relationships as a makeup artist and character designer for a list of Hollywood’s best Directors, Actors, Producers and Studios.

CLICK on the video above to watch the FULL INTERVIEW.

Watch Christien's TUTORIAL on creating Prosthetic Transfers here HERE.


Tinsley was born and raised in Washington State and made the move to California at the age of 17 to pursue a career in makeup effects. Tinsley quickly garnered a reputation for inventiveness and raw talent and after a few short years he was provided the opportunity to work with his role model Rick Baker on Ron Howard’s HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. Tinsley’s next film was Michael Bay’s PEARL HARBOR where he was inspired to develop a temporary tattoo known as the Tinsley Transfer™, a timesaving alternative to specialty makeup application.

Pictured above: Inventor of the Tinsley Transfer™, Christien Tinsley.


Christien's calling as an effects artist came at a young age. In our interview, he recalls adventures in makeup effects from nearly defacing a friend in his first attempt at a plaster life-cast to mowing lawns in order to afford to buy dental alginate. An early association with Steve Johnson at his XFX Studio honed his craft and encouraged Christien's creative problem-solving approach to effects work. Though perhaps Christien's best known achievement, one for which he received a technical Academy Award, was the prosthetic transfer. "The first incarnation of the prosthetic transfer was very crude and what you see on camera is a little bit of movie magic," said Tinsley. "It’s painting, it’s blood, it’s good camera and a great DP shooting it. Just all the elements came together very well on that first project. Looking back at it now it has evolved into a much better and more scientific process."

Pictured above: The makeup challenge that inspired a revolution in the industry - THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. 


Over the years, Christien has developed the making of prosthetic transfers into an industry. As he puts it, "One of the ways we survive is we diversify what we do. There’s a lot of makeup artists who don’t limit themselves to just sculpting monsters and fake noses. They are working with the medical industry. They’re working with the aerospace industry. They’re dealing with theme parks...I create products for seasonal Halloween wear. You’ll find transfers and tattoos that you can dress-up and wear all year-round."

Pictured above: An offering from the commercial Tinsley Transfers' "GORYWOOD" line of consumer prosthetics for Halloween, "Stapled and Stiched."


Though digital effects have often eclipsed practical effects in popularity and usage in recent years, Christien notices that there is a swing and it's coming back. "The funny thing," Christien says,  "is that supposedly in a dying field, it’s probably the most popular it's ever been with TV shows, exploiting the idea of what we do. There seems to be this idea that you can grow up and be a makeup artist even though it’s limited now. We’re not building large dinosaurs that can walk around anymore. That is being left up to the digital people. We’re building characters. We’re building character makeups. We’re building props that can be married to a digital effect nowadays... We’re still around and we’re still providing it." Christien's work on AMERICAN HORROR STORY continues to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with makeup. 

Pictured above: Christien Tinsley surrounded by some of his creations for the television show, AMERICAN HORROR STORY.


But beyond the stories--and Christien shares some AMAZING stories--his purpose is always to inspire and challenge the budding artist. "What I hope everybody takes away from watching these videos," says Christien, "what the Stan Winston School is showing everybody... whether you’re considered a professional makeup artist or you’re still striving to be that, is the idea that you have to think outside that box. You have to take what history is giving us in our field; you have to learn from that. You have to add to that, and you have to be a participant in it. Being a participant isn’t just walking through the steps that someone’s taught you. It’s taking those steps and it’s taking that information that’s being provided and then building on top of that. That’s the only way we’re going to grow."

Pictured above: Longtime collaborator and friend, actor Josh Brolin, wears a makeup designed and applied by Christien Tinsley for the film JONAH HEX.

For the EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW simply click the player at the top of the page.

For more about Christien Tinsley: CLICK HERE.

Learn "How to Make Prosthetic Transfers" with Christien Tinsley, HERE.