Celebrity Makeup Artist Ve Neill Talks 'Hunger Games' Beauty Inspiration

We got the chance to pick Ve Neill's brain about what it's like to create iconic movie makeup looks, work with Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Banks, and more.


Who: Ve Neill

Where: The Hunger Games exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California

Hosted By: MAC Cosmetics

By Day: Makeup mastermind behind Edward Scissorhands, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hunger Games, and more

By Night: Punk rock costumer turned Academy Award-winning makeup artist

What inspires you most when creating the amazing movie makeup looks that you design?

I think the best way to describe that is, inspiration comes from the stories that you read. You have to get inspired from the script; you have to develop your character that’s in the script. And in The Hunger Games, for instance, it was fun to do –– because they were not terribly descriptive, but they were descriptive enough that you could embellish upon them and make these really gorgeous, collaborative looks.

via Vanity Fair
via Vanity Fair

So how did you like working with Jennifer Lawrence?

She’s fantastic. I’ve loved watching her grow up. We’re still friends, in fact I was [just] in New York... and she came and visited me in my hotel room to say hi; she was doing a movie up in Canada. Josh calls me every once in awhile –– he lives up the hill from me and says “Ve, come on over!” I text Liam every once in awhile, like, “What’s up, are you in Australia?”

We’ve all stayed friends and it’s really cool.

Favorite beauty moment you created in The Hunger Games?

I really had so much fun doing Elizabeth [Banks], but I think my favorite look on her is the look when they go to the party, and she’s in that Alexander McQueen, that powder-blue dress and she’s got the lavender wig on… I just love that look. I think she just looks like a little, I don’t know, party angel.

I loved the butterfly look [too], that was really fun to do. I got all those little butterflies and started gluing them all over [her]. It was so sweet. And a really simple makeup, but it really worked so well.

Celebrity Makeup Artist Ve Neill Talks 'Hunger Games' Beauty Inspiration
Celebrity Makeup Artist Ve Neill Talks 'Hunger Games' Beauty Inspiration

Absolutely, because the look was so intricate –– that makes sense.

You really have to start with the costuming. You can’t just design a makeup and hope it goes with what they’re wearing; you have to get the profile, you have to get the silhouette of the character. Get the dress on her, get the hair, and then the makeup has to complement both of those looks.

You have to build the world that these people live in before you actually get to come on the set and be with them. [And The Hunger Games was] so all encompassing –– we have everything from high fashion beauty makeups all the way to prosthetics, injury makeups. It is a makeup artist’s dream to do these movies. [It’s] everything we’ve ever been taught.

Put all of those elements together and you create your character. Everybody has a little bit of input [to] create something really unique and different and fantastic. [Because when] you take the creativity away from the artist, you’re just like, cutting off their hands.

Courtesy of Lionsgate 
Courtesy of Lionsgate  

In film, you’re not the only one working on this person. You can’t do a socialite and make her look like a punk rocker, you know. [So] my inspiration comes from when you put all those things together in creating [the] character. In film it’s so much different than just say runway or red carpet or photography… you have to create the people who live in that world.

You find out what they’re wearing, how they’re gonna wear their hair… [then the makeup]. Makeup is the embellishment on the character.


Do you feel there’s a certain aspect of your personality that helped you get to where you are today?

I’ve never let anybody tell me no. I wouldn’t be where I am right now, because I was told no all the time when I was little; that I couldn’t be a makeup artist because I was a woman, and “you’re never gonna get in,” and I’m going, “I don’t believe it.” I just forged ahead and made it happen. I don’t like to wallow in anything, I don’t like to feel sorry for myself, I just pick myself up and brush [it] off and carry on. Pretend like nothing ever happened and get it going, you know. I think some people just have that kind of Energizer Bunny attitude. I might be one of them! [laughing]

I read that you said it was an all boys club when you first started out. Do you think that’s changed now?

When I was young, women were not makeup artists; it was a male dominated [world]. When I got into the union, I was probably one of the first five women to get in. When I got in, I was sort of an anomaly. [But] oh yeah, it’s changed now. I mean, I think it’s still an all boys club when it comes to having a studio that creates all these special effects [makeup looks].

I don’t know of any women that do it. Maybe… there might be a couple of newcomers that are doing it, but for the most part that is a male-dominated thing. I think probably because of the fact that you have to talk to studio heads, and they still don’t respect women. It’s very difficult to get anywhere as a woman when you own a company like that.

I do think hearing that makes what you do come across as even more inspiring, though. You didn’t let anyone tell you no, you just did what you wanted to do.

Ve curating a Capitol-inspired makeup look at the Hunger Games exhibit, using MAC Cosmetics.
Ve curating a Capitol-inspired makeup look at the Hunger Games exhibit, using MAC Cosmetics.

So with such a range of different styles on your resume, what was your all-time favorite makeup look you’ve ever designed in a film? I know that’s a tough question.

I don’t know if I have a favorite one, because they’re all really special to me, you know… they’re like my children. [And] they’re all cool in their own way. Every single one of them… They’re all gems.

I’d have to agree with you there!

I don’t think I could pick any one of them out.  

Ve speaking at the Hunger Games exhibit and MAC makeup demonstration at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.
Ve speaking at the Hunger Games exhibit and MAC makeup demonstration at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.


You’ve done movie magic makeup and special effects looks for all kinds of different genres of movies. Do you have a favorite kind of makeup –– do you like designing creatures, or…?

I like doing fantasy stuff –– Effie kind of stuff. All the stuff from Pirates [of the Caribbean]. I like bringing characters to life. Monsters are fun, I do them too; but it’s not really my jam. I like fantasy and entertainment, and mystery, and fun.

A little intrigue.

Yeah, a little intrigue.


At Livingly, we strive to “live life beautifully.” What does living beautifully mean to you?

Oh, that’s a nice question, isn’t it? I just think living beautifully is probably living your life so that you don’t focus on... the sad, the bad parts of life. Just trying to be positive and energetic and forthcoming and helpful and loving to everybody that you come across, and try to do your best to make everybody feel a little bit better about themselves... I guess just helping everybody. I sound like Miss America, for God’s sake. [laughing] Because, you know, there’s so much misery in the world, [but] it’s so easy to be pleasant to somebody... I’m a cornball, sorry. Be positive. That’s what living beautifully is; being positive.

If you’re interested in learning more about movie makeup and getting Ve’s firsthand expertise on becoming a makeup artist for film and television, visit her website to find out more about the master class she’s offering on June 18th and 19th in Los Angeles.