Face Off 3.1: Expanding the Face of the Universe

Face Off had its third season premiere last night. SyFy's original reality show is all about creating and executing Hollywood makeup effects on very tight deadlines. Judged by working industry professionals (a rarity for this genre of competition), Face Off is marked by its quality of challenges and professionalism above all else. Even if the contestants start fighting, they're judged on the quality of their work and how well they would function on an actual set. Each episode is broken into two challenges. The Foundation Challenge is a quick two or three hour challenge where the contestants demonstrate technical skills for a guest judge. These have included designing facial hair, creating realistic blood for a crime scene, and executing character defining tattoos.

The Spotlight Challenge is where the movie magic happens. The contestants get 2-3 days to create full bodied characters based on a theme. Sometimes, it's body painting to incorporate into an existing photograph. Other times, it's the creation of an original character to center a movie or TV scene around. And, in the most challenging weeks, it's a functionality challenge, where an original makeup has to survive huge dance routines or total immersion in water.

This season, 12 contestants are vying for the Face Off prize, which includes a new car, lecturing at a top industry makeup school in NYC and Paris, and $100,000. For the first time ever, all of the contestants have extensive prosthetic makeup experience. Previous seasons have seen a number of body painters or beauty makeup specialists compete and, for the most part, fail miserably in what is ostensibly a fabrication contest. Now, there are no excuses.

The Foundation Challenge was a bit of a let down this time. It was a repeat of the season 1 "create a character in two hours using a makeup kit and something from your surroundings" challenge and the results weren't as interesting. The production staff did not provide enough interesting materials to get most people thinking beyond plant aliens/tissue paper monsters. Me? I would have gone for a superhero concept using one of the floating beach balls to create a mask, but that's just me.

The winner of the Foundation Challenge was Eric and he did a lovely paint job to incorporate a distinctive plant into what he called a witch design. Guest judge Sean Astin said it looked like an alien. I'm siding with Sean Astin. Not a witch.

Eric Foundation Challenge

The Spotlight Challenge is where Face Off proved how far they've come. The contestants were randomly split up into pairs to design an original alien for the Star Wars Cantina scene. The prize? Having that alien included in an upcoming episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That's a big prize. Forget what you think about the animated series. Two of these artists are going from reality show contestants to Lucasfilm Animation designers in a three day challenge.

The concept behind the challenge allows for so many directions. Do you try to create something brand new that has never been seen before in Star Wars? Do you riff on existing species to build off the rich backstories of the universe? Or do you fall somewhere in between, crafting a new species but placing them in a familiar context with colors or costuming? All three approaches were used this week and, for the most part, the contestants were successful.

The top 2 looks, decided by the judges, came from Sarah/Laura and Rod/Roy. Sarah/Laura are both self-proclaimed geeks and immediately were drawn to Yoda's home planet. They decided to create an amphibian-like bounty hunter in the color family of Ventress. The hook was the need for moisture. This character has to wear a cloak to keep its skin moist and travel with a mask and air tank to survive on the harsh desert of Tatooine.


Rod/Roy went in the something new direction. Their monstrous little creature is fat, disgusting, and unappealing. The quality of fabrication on the articulated suit carrying the squat beast is stunning. Their "backstory" covered for a lack of backstory, claiming no one knows where this creature comes but he spends all of his time at the Mos Eisley Cantina. This look won the challenge and Rod was named the winner for doing the facial prosthetic and paint job on the creature within the costume.


The bottom 2 looks were defined by poor finishing. Both C.C./Derek and Tommy/Joe came up with great concepts for alien species. They just did terrible paint jobs.

C.C./Derek went with a musician at the Cantina. Their concept and sculpt were excellent. Things fell apart with the paint job. Aiming for a bronze-orange, the pair couldn't get the color right and wound up with the burn color in a bad Halloween makeup kit. The hair work came loose as well, turning the tight dreads into a bushy mess in the back.


Tommy/Joe could have won this challenge if they worked together. They didn't. They fought the whole time. Joe took control and criticized everything Tommy did. Tommy didn't stand up for himself except for when he would snap and get passive aggressive. The concept--multiple-eyed alien warrior--would have been great with a complete costume and solid painting. Neither was accomplished. The painting, in particular, looked like a bad finger painting experiment by a pre-schooler. For continuity's sake, I'd like to point out that this is the second time aiming for "turtle" in a paint job has resulted in a look hated by the judges with prosthetics literally falling apart on the model.


Ultimately, the judges didn't have to send anyone home. Joe, presumably blindsided by Tommy's really bad attempt to save himself from the judges, walked off the set in a rage and was disqualified. I began to suspect he quit when there were no talking head interviews with his side of the conflict. Everything was Tommy and that usually means someone isn't around anymore to record the interviews.

Now that Joe is gone, the studio might be quieter. He was so loud and abrasive that some great moments of trying to pull everyone up went by in a blink. Rod helped the Alana/Nicole team set up their molds for casting when they were overwhelmed by an overly ambitious project. Derek helped his twin brother Eric pull apart a mold that wasn't cooperating when Eric started to panic. Everyone (but Joe) had nice things to say about Rod/Roy's creation and Alana even tried to diffuse the tension between Joe/Tommy by saying "life's too short" when they started fighting over something really stupid.

It appears, once again, the contestants respect each other and want to win for having the best work. They don't want to survive because someone didn't finish. They want to survive because the judges preferred their performance to someone else. Where's the thrill of victory when you win because someone else fails miserably?

I'll be tuning in this season and recapping in this simpler format. I have more to say about the overall design and backstory than I do about the design process anyway. Unless there's something super cool--like Beki's latex cape on the concrete floor last season--I'll be focusing on the finished work and challenge prompts.

All photos in the post (except the Foundation Challenge) come from SyFy's Face Off galleries. You should go browse through them.

Thoughts on Face Off? Love to hear them. It's such a great show and it deserves more attention than it gets. Sound off with your opinions below. Love to hear from you.

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