Season 2 of SyFy's excellent effects makeup reality series Face Off is here. Much like the climb in quality on shows like Project Runway and Top Chef, Face Off has grown tremendously from its first season with little alteration to the formula. The key to a talent-based reality show is high quality talent. The worst artist on Face Off Season 2 would have made it further than most of the talent pool in the first season. Why? They know what to expect with the time constraints, they have more experience in the industry, and they know what the judges prioritize. A few of the contestants seem to have been headhunted to represent this or that field (a pair of well-known body painters only just transition to prosethics, especially) for diversity, but even they have skills in their specialty.
Fourteen makeup artists arrive at the Universal Studios backlot for their first Foundation Challenge. These challenges give the winning artist an advantage in the Spotlight Challenge that determines who is eliminated from the competition. This week, the artists have two and a half hours to design a full body character using at least one element from three different trailers. These trailers have specialty makeup, props, and costuming.
There only seems to be one person struggling and that's Brea. She grabs some heavy denim pants and jackets to rip the zippers from for her makeup design. Unfortunately, the zippers are too heavy to be blended properly and she winds up with a messy skin-exposing design that lands her in the bottom.
More successful is Jerry, who creates a fantasy elf priestess character in shades of purple and white. He even built a prop and tailored the ready-made costume to fit the character. Judge Ve Neill sees him as the obvious choice for the first foundation winner and he earns immunity for the Spotlight Challenge.
My favorite makeup design here is Athena's human/leopard hybrid. She uses a very basic prosthetic, some torn up pants, a killer wig, and a flawless body paint design to bring her character to life. Unfortunately for her, this is a Hollywood makeup competition, not a body-painting competition. That means the judges criticize her for visual brushstrokes (a texture effect in body painting) that won't read realistic on film.
The next day, the contestants are brought to Grauman's Chinese Theater to receive their Spotlight Challenge. They will be divided along gender lines to re-imagine the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The teams will be judged on the cohesiveness of their designs as well as originality and execution. That means even if the best makeup job is on the losing team, those artists will not win the Spotlight Challenge. It's all or nothing as it should be this early in a reality show.
The woman gel together immediately with good direction and a unified concept. They will do the characters in a "tribal post-apocalyptic," which makes sense as soon as you see the finished makeup. They split up the work in a logical way and are already sculpting their prosthetics while the men fight over a concept.
The men are a terrible team. They decide to design by committee, which never works. They get so far behind the women's team that judge Glen Hetrick shows up to critique the workroom progress before they even know who is doing what with the makeup.
Beki demonstrates a technique I had never seen before for costume design. She wants her Wicked Witch of the West to have a very thin black cape. So, she paints a thin layer of latex right onto the floor and peels it off as soon as it dries. Instant durable super-thin fabric.
On the day of judging, the men have to cut corners on every step of their designs while the women stick to their original plans and finish all of the fussy last-minute details.
The Scarecrow from the women's team is disturbing in the best way possible. The face is a rotting pumpkin with steel holding its working eye together. The crows that tormented the Scarecrow have been absorbed into his body.
The Tin Woodsman is a busted steampunk vision of brutality. It just looks fake. At least the concept of having to harvest human hearts for power is a good one.
The Cowardly Lion features great hair and tribal body painting, but there is no cohesion between the face and the body. You can tell Sue, the sculptor of the facial appliance, spent all of her time on her prosthetic, leaving Athena to do everything else. Athena also seems to have done all the body painting for the other designs, as the tribal patterns on their Tin Woodsman and Wicked Witch of the West are identical.
The Wicked Witch of the West is ready to go on film after three days of work. She has these metallic elements melting into her body, including a crown and necklace. The light up broom/gazing ball and metallic finger armor sell the concept.
The men's Scarecrow really does look like a Halloween mask. To be specific, it's practically a Pumpkinhead mask with some extra pulp in the front.
The Tin Woodsman makes no sense. Nix, the other body painter, didn't even shave the hair off his model's arms before painting him metallic. The chest piece looks like a baseball catcher's pads were painted a solid flesh color.
The Cowardly Lion on the men's team is the best makeup of the challenge. They have imagined the poor beast as a starving creature in Oz. She's too cowardly to fight for her meals, so bones are close to ripping through the skin. She's turned gray from sickness. It's a haunting character I won't soon forget.
The Wicked Witch of the west is terribly old-fashioned. The paint job is blocky. Ve Neill says it looks like he did it with makeup pencils, which is a perfect description. Imagine using a stick of lip liner or eye liner around your mouth and in your wrinkles. Do you think that looks good and realistic?
The women win the challenge and the judges award Brea for doing the facial prosthetics on the Wicked Witch of the West. Greg goes home on the men's team for doing the catcher's pads he called a chest appliance on the Tin Woodsman. I agree with all the judges decisions this episode except for the criticism of Athena's bodypainting in the Foundation Challenge. The right people won and lost and Face Off seems to be on the brink of breaking in mainstream entertainment culture.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.