Kato DeStefan is a fantastic makeup artist. He does incredible special effects makeup, prosthetics and sculptures that you will have seen in the more than 20 years he's worked in Hollywood. He has created parts of the special effects for huge blockbusters like Star Trek, I Am Legend, Batman Returns, Robocop 3 and TRON Legacy to name just a few. He works as both a special effects and a straight makeup artist and has worked on a number of excellent shows like Californication, House, CSI:NY, Teenwolf and one of my favourite shows, Sons Of Anarchy. I spoke with Kato to hear about his career path through the special effects side of the makeup world, the industry and, like always, I get him to share some of his pro-tips.

Snapshot of a 23 year career

MANW: Hi Kato, how did you start your career and what was the progression it took?
KD: My interest in make-up started when I was a Monsterkid growing up on Long Island, New York. I was fascinated by The Planet of the Apes series of films, the Universal and Hammer Monster Films and Star Trek. I would read everything I could find on movie make-up, which lead me to Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. Famous Monsters was the only magazine at the time to talk about make-up artistry and through the magazine I discovered Dick Smith (look him up kids!!!) and made contact with him. 

When I was 19 I did a prosthetics course at the Actor's Make-up Studio, a school in New York. After I finished the course (it was only 2 months) I was invited to Dick's house and would go there on Saturdays whenever he wasn't away working on a set and he would show me various techniques, it was an amazing experience! I worked on some indie stuff in New York and with Dick's encouragement I reached out to a few artists and I got the best responses from Steve Johnson and Howard Berger. Both of them told me that I needed to live in Los Angeles, so I moved there when I was 23. Steve Johnson was the first to hire me at XFX, his special effects company, and that lead to me meeting some amazing artists and gave me great opportunities.

I got into the business to be an on set make-up artist so I stopped doing the lab work at XFX and focused on becoming a member of Local 706 (US makeup union). Once I became a member a whole new world of opportunity opened for me and I love every minute of it! Let me add that I wouldn't be here without the support of some amazing friends- Michelle Garbin, Bill Corso, Joel Harlow, Mike Smithson, Dave Dupuis, Chris Nelson, Eryn & Mike Mekash and of course Tracey Anderson.

MANW: You mainly do special effects make-up as well as straight makeup for TV dramas and films, were you ever interested in the fashion or editorial route?
KD: I never really considered going the fashion/editorial route, I'm a film and TV geek through and through. 

MANW: Do you have a preference of straight or effects makeup? 
KD: I like bouncing between them. When I daycheck (like dailies for TV) on different shows I'll be doing prosthetics on one show, straight make-up on another and get to make an actor tattooed, beaten and bloody on the third show. It mixes things up and keeps it fresh. I like it that way!

MANW: It's very difficult to move between TV and Film, do you think that barrier exists less as a special effects specialist?
KD: When work is busy I move between the two easily. Doing prosthetic make-up doesn't make it easier because you can get pigeonholed, it's much easier to find work if you are well rounded and can do everything from beauty to prosthetics.

MANW: What is the process of creating a characters look and how much say do you have in the designs? 
KD: It all starts with reading the script and taking notes, then I usually present ideas to the Director (and sometimes the actor) and from there we collaborate on the designs. I designed the make-up for a Discovery Channel Special "Track Me If You Can" and the only notes production gave me was that the main character needed a full head of hair and facial hair but I was able to have free reign on "the look".

MANW: Has the industry changed for special effects makeup since CGI and how has the making of SFX changed over the years when products were so limited to what's available now?
KD: CGI has changed a lot for us. There seems to be less and less of the big creature films and therefore less work for us. On the brighter side it has really made us step up to doing better quality work. In the past we were using opaque materials to create facial appliances and painting them to give the appearance of translucency- now we have translucent materials such as silicone and pros-aide transfers which make our painting much easier.

MANW: How much do logisitcal issues or product limitations come into play with character designs and how do you keep continuity on characters with heavy/intricate effects?
KD: It is really the budget of the project that I feel affects the character design. You can't design a multi piece silicone make-up on a very low make-up budget. We have the world at our fingertips as far as products go but some of the products are very expensive and out of reach to some lower budget films. As for keeping continuity, all we can do is stay on top of it by taking continuity photographs.

MANW: You worked on huge blockbuster films like Star Trek, Tron Legacy and Batman Returns and brilliant shows such as Sons of Anarchy and Californication, can you tell us about some of the stand out moments of your career?
KD: I was a daychecker on Californication and one of the actors asked me what would be my 'Dream Show' to work on and I would have to say that it is Sons Of Anarchy. Tracey Anderson (SOA MU Dept. Head) has treated me so well and given me the chance to work on some fun make-ups. Tracy, Michelle Garbin and Sabine Roller-Taylor have really made me feel like I'm part of the family even though I just daycheck on the show. Tron Legacy would have to be a HUGE moment for me because I met my wonderful wife Patricia on that show!

MANW: You've been in the industry a long time, how do you think it has differed and what advice would you give to new artists starting out?
KD: When I started in this business we knew who the artists that preceded us were and respected them. The newer artists don't know who Dick Smith, Jack Pierce or John Chambers are and couldn't care. We had to hunt for information on make-up, now it is at your fingertips.. you can learn from the Stan Winston school by streaming lessons online! I would have loved that when I was younger!!!

My advice to them would be don't come into this profession thinking that you'll get rich, do it because you love it and be the best make-up artist you can be! You don't know it all, keep learning and know the history of your profession and the great artists who paved the way for you.

MANW: All artists have 'the wish list'; a face, show or film they would have loved to have worked on. One of mine is Sons Of Anarchy, the makeup is excellent. Are there any faces, shows or films you would love to work on?
KD: My dream job is getting to work as a small part of Tracey Anderson's crew on Sons Of Anarchy! I was thrilled when she told me that I would be doing Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman's make-up for the Season 6 Promo Shoot. Aside from that I would be thrilled to work on a new Star Trek TV Series (if they do one) or to apply James Bond's make-up for a 007 film!

MANW: On to the good stuff, what are your tricks for flawless looking skin?
KD: Wash your face well, wear sunscreen when you go outside, drink lots of water and a good primer.

MANW: What are your top 5 holy grail kit products?
KD: My Holy Grail Products for straight make-up and FX would be: Satin Cleanser by Vivid Skin Care, Urban Decay's Naked Palettes, Urban Decay's Naked Skin Foundations, London Brush Company Brush Cleaner, Telesis 7 Silicone Adhesive, Telesis Top Guard, Skin Illustrator Palettes, Skin Illustrator Glazing Gels and Glazing Sprays and since I do a lot of character make-up I always have a bunch of tattoos from Tinsley Transfers in my kit (simply THE BEST Tattoos!!)

MANW: What's your best make-up artist tip to give women?
KD: Keep your look simple & clean, you shouldn't look overly made up.

MANW: Finally, false eyelashes - the longer the better or enough already they look ridiculous?
KD: I grew up on Long Island in the 70's & 80's so I kinda like ladies with big hair and big lashes! Go for it!

You can find out more about Kato and his work on his website or you can chat to him on Twitter.

If you liked this interview and would like to read other leading industry makeup artists stories have a look at the rest of the 'Meet The Artist' series here.


  1. Madleina von Reding6 October 2013 at 18:42

    Thank you for this great interview! It made myTravelling-time shorter:-) Greets from Switzerland

  2. Indeed, even in the city, simply stop an individual wearing an extraordinary tattoo and ask him/her who inked them. Striptease


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