IMATS LA: I’m not makeup–er, making this up…

A few years ago back in 2014, my wife introduced me to a convention I’d never heard of, let alone attended; it was IMATS (International Makeup Artists Trade Show), Los Angeles (though it was actually held in Pasadena).   It was pretty much as advertised; cosmetics, beauty/glam makeups, special effects makeups, etc.   A place where makeup artists, fans and vendors meet, mingle, sell their wares and show their talents.   My wife and our friend attend primarily to check out new cosmetics that they can’t usually get anywhere else.

I go primarily for… what else?  The special effects makeup stuff.   Why?  Because I’m a lifelong movie geek who grew up with “Famous Monsters of Filmland” “Fangoria” and “Starlog” magazines lying all over my bedroom and later on in my apartment and house.   When I buy a new DVD or blu ray, the first things I like to play are the behind-the-scenes bonus features.   Can’t get enough of those.


So while my wife and our friend shop in the IMATS dealer hall, I usually make an immediate beeline for the museum section.    The museum has all kinds of amazing bits; makeups, mementos, as well as life-sized mannequins/recreations from rising stars and legends alike.  I’ve seen pieces used by the late Dick Smith (“The Exorcist,” “Amadeus”) Rick Baker (“American Werewolf in London”, “Star Wars”) and many others.   I’ve seen silicone pieces and recreations (contemporary and classic) from “American Horror Story,” Jack Pierce’s Universal Horror monsters (Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolfman, etc),  “Scream Queens” and others.   It’s like seeing all the things I remember so fondly after a childhood spent (or wasted?) reading Forry Ackerman’s “Famous Monsters of Filmland.”   The level of artistry on display is simply staggering.  Some of the pieces are so lifelike it’s almost like poring over a crime scene or a childhood nightmare rather than a museum.    I look forward to the museum section every year at IMATS.


^ Recreation of Lon Chaney Jr.’s classic Wolfman by artist Mike Hill, and below are recreations as well as actual pieces from “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” (Spock’s ears and Leonard Nimoy’s life mask) and an emaciated body mannequin from FX’s “Scream Queens.”


Beyond the confines of the museum, there is a colorful menagerie of living characters walking around the convention as well.  There are models made to look like living statuary, Monet-inspired body makeups, fairies, elves, demons, cyborgs, witches and all manner of ghouls/zombies; as well as some amazingly fierce drag queens.   There are living artworks I’ve seen at IMATS that nearly defy description.   It’s a carnival of models as walking canvases and clay, all turned into three dimensional art forms.  Think “Pageant of the Masters” live art show in Laguna Hills but without the backgrounds.   For sheer people-watching enjoyment, this is THE place.


^ Some of the amazing creations you see at IMATS

^ From SyFy’s “Face Off” competition series; (l) season 9 winner Nora Hewitt, and season 8 winner Darla Edin, with her mutant beekeeper creation.

Seeing the creations is great fun, but it’s also nice to meet the artists behind the work as well.   Most are very humble, some have many years in the business, some are surprisingly young.   All are talented.    I’ve met contestants (and a few winners) from SyFy channel’s series, “Face Off” as well as longtime industry veterans & legends such as Ve Neill (“Ed Wood” “Galaxy Quest” “Hunger Games” “Beetlejuice”), Steve Johnson (“Bicentennial Man” “The Abyss” “Big Trouble in Little China” “War of the Worlds”), and Michael Westmore (Oscar winner for 1976’s “Rocky,” 1985’s “Mask” and a multiple Emmy winner for four of the Star Trek TV series that ran from 1987-2005).

^(clockwise from top left): Steven Johnson and myself, Ve Neill (sweet lady), and Michael Westmore and I at my first IMATS back in 2014.

At my first IMATS in 2014, I had a ten or so minute conversation with Westmore about his work on Star Trek.  During the talk, I kept thinking, “This is crazy!”   This guy is a makeup legend from a long dynasty of makeup artists dating back to the silent era (!), and here he was casually chatting with me; telling me about some of the tricks used for the makeups of characters such as the Klingon Worf and the Ferengi Quark.  I was a bit geeked out (as evidenced from my constipated expression in the above photo).   And best of all, this wasn’t a photo op or an autograph session; it was just an artist talking to a fan.   I’ll never forget how gracious he was with his time and attention.   I’m glad I had presence of mind to get a photo of us together, otherwise I might not have believed it really happened.

Also met Oscar winner Ve Neill at my 2nd IMATS in 2015, and she was as earthy and kind as I expected; easy to see why she is a favorite judge on SyFy’s “Face Off.”   This year, I met Steve Johnson and bought an autographed copy of his new book, “Rubberheads: Sex, Drugs and Special FX.”   Imagine Robert Downey Jr’s “Tony Stark” from the Iron Man movies as a makeup artist and that’s pretty much Johnson in a nutshell.  He was great fun, and the “Rubberheads” panel promoting his same-titled book was both hilarious and engrossing.

^ (clockwise from top left) The “Rubberheads” panel, including Steve Johnson, Oscar-winner Joel Harlow, Constantine Sekeris, William Bryan, Norman Cabrera and others.  Michael Westmore takes time during his Star Trek 50th anniversary panel in 2016 to talk about his son, Michael Jr, who continues the Westmore Makeup dynasty.  And the Star Trek Beyond panel where Joel Harlow, along with Don Lanning, Norman Cabrera, Steve Buscano, Richie Alonzo, Felix Fox, Michael Fields and Ashley Edner talked about the characters created for the movie.

Speaking of panels… yes, that is another thing I love about IMATS; the panel discussions.  There are small stages throughout the convention areas with chairs where you can listen to helpful everyday makeup techniques, application techniques, etc.   And then there are are the panels I gravitate toward; the special effects makeup panels.   At IMATS, I’ve seen panels on “American Horror Show” (a show I need to watch someday; my sister and my friends have told me so for years), “Star Trek” (the movies and various TV series), and many horror movie veterans.   You learn about technique, hear celebrity anecdotes, and a lot of creative insider gossip about the industry itself.   This year’s highlight panels were the “Rubberheads” panel with Steve Johnson promoting his same-titled book and a panel on “Star Trek Beyond”; the latest in the long-running space saga which also featured some of the most complex and amazing makeups of the entire franchise’s run.  The Star Trek panel also showed the Academy Awards video that was submitted to Academy voting members for Best Makeup Oscar consideration. I took a few videos of that video, and the panel itself here (from my Youtube channel): Star Trek Beyond panel videos

The Star Trek Beyond panel is the one I waited much of the day for, and it did not disappoint.   My wife and friend were both a bit tired by then (lotsa walking), but they were willing to stay a bit longer than we normally do, since the panel was scheduled near the end of the day.  I was grateful to both of them for sticking it out with me.

Here are links to my photo albums of past IMATS:

IMATS 2017 Flickr photo album

IMATS 2016 Flickr album

IMATS 2015 Flickr album

IMATS 2014 Flickr album

It’s also a bit ironic that I started attending these because I thought it’d be nice to do something more or less ‘for my wife.’  And just as she got me into “Project Runway” and so many other things outside of my old self’s previous (limited) comfort zone (such as cosplaying), I wound up truly loving the IMATS convention very much.   It’s now a ‘staple’ of our convention-going, along with WonderCon and Comic Con.

Once again, I thank my geeky (and deeply patient) wife for broadening my horizons.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. ewpfaffly says:

    Most excellent 😀 I love face-off on TV.

  2. Sim says:

    Really amazing! Guess this convention is a kind of “secret tip” and not too many fans of genre fiction show up there, between all the people interested in make up for different reasons?

    It also crossed my mind how curious I am for the new Star Trek show’s make up design. Will they give Star Trek a new look? We’ll learn in May!

    And naw, your childhood was most definitely not wasted. What matters in life is that by the end of it, you can honestly say “it has been fun”. 😉

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