When it comes to award shows, the world’s most glamorous celebrities choose the world’s best makeup artists to turn what might be a merely mortal face into a masterpiece. These face-painting Da Vincis bring considerable pedigrees of their own when it comes to red-carpet glamour.

In fact, the original movie star makeup artist not only got an Oscar of his own, he became a household name. Before Max Factor Sr., actors wore theatrical grease paint — a cinematic planet of Marcel Marceaus. But grease paint wasn’t flattering on camera, so Factor invented pancake, lip gloss and waterproof makeup. Many of his clients, who included Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford, starred in ad campaigns for his makeup lines. In a few years, Max Factor’s inventions “made over” all of Hollywood — and the entire beauty world.

Today’s street makeup may have on-camera glamour in its DNA, but that doesn’t mean just anyone can use it to make you look fantastic on the carpet and on camera.

“There’s a huge distinction between runway (and movie and editorial makeup) and the makeup needed to look good on the red carpet,” says multiple Emmy winner Michael Key, founder of Make-up Artist Magazine. “Hire someone with red-carpet experience.”

Jeanine Lobell, founder of Stila cosmetics, says flatly, “Red-carpet makeup is tough.”

Lobell, who has worked on Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, notes, “It has to look good in person, good at the podium, but mostly great on the red carpet because we’ll see those pictures for years to come!”

HDTV makes makeup even more challenging. “HD is one of the reasons why we command such high rates,” says celebrity artist Charlie Green. “Because we can subtly enhance the skin and features of a young girl, or take years off a more established actress … all with makeup. It takes precision.”

Besides all that, red carpet makeup is changing in general. “The ’90s were all about making people look like someone else: Let’s make Drew Barrymore look like Clara Bow,” says Paul Starr, former Estee Lauder creative who’s worked with Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Garner. “Now it’s not about wearing a mask, it’s about looking much more approachable. I find their inner beauty and bring it out.”

To get skill and insight, you’ll have to get a top makeup artist. Top L.A. agencies include Cloutier, Magnet and the Wall Group. But be forewarned: The competition for these artists is fierce. Book early. Way early.

“I’ve gotten calls the day after the Oscars for next year’s Oscars,” says Starr.

Cloutier agent Madeline Leonard says, “Bookings are also made when it’s confirmed that an actress is either presenting or nominated.”

Her client, artist Francesca Tolot, did all of Beyonce’s Oscar looks earlier this year, when she sang a “Dreamgirls” song.

“You can book a first hold without being charged and if someone else wants to book the artist for that same date, you have first right of refusal,” says Leonard. “At that point, you either pay to guarantee the spot or forfeit the hold.” Publicist, agents and managers handle most of it.

Green, whose former clients include Hilary Swank, Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, warns too that the Oscars aren’t just a one-day event anymore. “Some A-listers share a publicist who dedicates my time to more than one of their clients for the several days of parties, lunches and public events.”

No amount of planning can prevent last-minute pleas from the desperate, says Green.

“(Conflict) happens all the time.” says Green. “Requests for a hugely prestigious cover shoot or a last minute phone call from a beautiful young actress flung into the spotlight, i.e. a new boyfriend, pregnancy or scandal (real or not!). It’s a jungle out there!”

But all the artists Variety spoke with are committed to the first-come, first-served rule. “You have to honor the hold,” says Starr. “It’s my honor that’s given me longevity in this business.”

Pati Dubroff, Dior Intl. celebrity artist who’s made up Naomi Watts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly and Renee Zellweger among others, adds, “There’s the possibility of working with more than one actress, but it’s a delicate juggling act.” If actresses are good friends, one sometimes asks the other to share her makeup artist for an event.

Lobell adds, though, “If you’re doing two people, it’s often about who gets the better timeslot. It’s always better to get the second slot.”

Simple supply and demand dictates that these artists charge high fees. Lobell gets paid $4,000-$5,000 for Oscar makeup; Green, $3,000- $6,000; Starr, $2,000-$6,000. Dubroff gets paid in the thousands as well.

“A-list celebrities need someone they’re familiar and comfortable with who’s discreet and totally reliable,” says Green. “Not everyone has all these characteristics.”

But it’s a worthwhile investment for the stars who hire them, because the stakes for events like the Oscars can be enormous. No one wants to be talked about for looking bad on the carpet.

The top artists put that fear far from their clients’ minds. “We see our clients evolve like butterflies as we work on them,” says Green, “from sitting barefaced with wet hair in a towel to leaving the door in a cloud of couture and diamonds. Moments later, our creation is gracefully walking the red carpet. It’s a real adrenaline rush! I love my job.”