When Darla Edin was crowned champion of Syfy’s makeup competition show “Face Off” for her finale presentation — a fantasy spin on the four elements: fire, water, wind and earth — she covered her face and burst into tears; a reaction that audiences have witnessed since the genre was invented. But “Face Off,” now entering its ninth season, isn’t the ruthless, back-stabbing reality competition show viewers have come to expect. It pulls back the curtain on a rarely celebrated Hollywood occupation — that of incredible creating special effects with makeup — and is, in many ways, a show about unsung heroes and true artistry like that displayed by 28-year-old Edin.
As Dwight D. Smith, one of the show’s executive producers says, “The artists that we have on the show are all about the art and the passion and creativity first before they are about wanting to be on television.”
Showrunner Derek Atherton says when they created the show, they wanted to be able to show off the industry without getting too caught up in the complicated details of special effects makeup. “These guys are part artist and part mad scientist,” he says. “And there’s so much chemistry and math, and all of this stuff that they have to learn. It’s really a crazy field with so much information that you have to understand.”
And his concerns are valid: The process of creating the creatures on the show is complex. Will they use PolyFoam, gelatin or silicon for construction? There are also different types of paint. Many times they use a water-based pancake, but there are also air brush techniques to consider, among others. It also helps to know how to use Photoshop and ZBrush. (What is ZBrush? Exactly.)
The magic of the show comes in the payoff, the final creations from each artist.
Another industry expert, Oscar award-winning makeup artist Ve Neill, is one of the show’s three judges. She explains that each judge critiques the artists’ work from a slightly different angle. For example, while Glenn Hetrick might zero in on the technical mastery of the tools, Neville Page might focus on the design.
And Neill mostly follows her gut reaction to the overall artistry. In the end, Neill says they’re looking for beautiful, camera-ready makeup that executes the challenge, which is something that is required on an actual production set.
“We’re the eyes of the director,” Neill says. “We fulfill their vision. So if we aren’t listening, and we don’t fulfill what they ask us to do, then we have failed and they’ll say no go back and do it better.”
The artists leave the histrionics at the door. “We don’t have the house drama,” says the show’s host, McKenzie Westmore, who has makeup in her blood as the daughter of award-winning makeup artist Michael Westmore and one of the legendary family of makeup artists. “We don’t show the negative side, we want to focus on the artistry.”