Television’s best, and certainly most creative, reality competition show, Face Off, begins its 9th season tonight at 9/8c on SyFy. The critics agree, as the show recently beat out much more well known shows, like The Voice, The Amazing Race and Dancing With the Stars (ughh!), to win the Critics Choice Award. It was much deserved, and, hopefully will bring more attention and viewers to the show where special make-up effects artists vie against each other, creating a variety of creatures each week, from aliens and monsters to whimsical storybook characters.
What makes Face Off so special and distinguishes it from so many other reality shows that pit contestants against each other? Well, here, while the contestants vary in age and experience, all are immensely talented and creative people. They come into the competition with a resume of work, but are looking to expand upon it, with perhaps the hope of getting noticed, which could lead to higher profile work. And while they do receive some guidance from experienced effects artists, including the judges, they are pretty much left on their own to create amazing creatures from scratch, the results of which are often incredibly intricate and utterly amazing. And as one might expect when you’re dealing with molds and paints and time limits, setbacks do occur. When they do, it’s fascinating to see the artists’ ingenuity come into play in finding solutions to the problems at hand.
One particular aspect of the show that sets it apart from others of its kind, is that while contestants on other shows often bicker and treat each other negatively, on Face Off, even though they are directly in competition with one another, they support and help each other. If someone is having trouble opening one of their molds (a common issue week to week-can’t they use Pam or something?), others will come to their aid, despite being pressed for time themselves. Perhaps this camaraderie on such a competitive show exists because these are true artists who respect the craft, and thus, each others’ work. Whatever the reason, it is certainly refreshing to see. Also, while other shows spend much of the time at the house or island or wherever dealing with everyone’s either mundane or contentious interactions, on Face Off, the bulk of the show takes place in the warehouse with the artists actually working on their creations. There is no time for drama.
Steering everyone in the right direction is host McKenzie Westmore of the pioneering special effects make-up family, from her great-grandfather, George, to her father, Michael, of Star Trek fame. Michael, a 9-time Emmy winner, and Academy Award winner for Mask, serves as mentor to the contestants, coming in during the early stages to offer advice and suggestions. His daughter, McKenzie, makes for a perfect host, is clearly knowledgeable of the craft and is enthusiastic and upbeat throughout. She’s also quite eye-catching to boot.
Another important factor in making Face Off the standout show it is are the judges. Glenn Hetrick, owner of the Emmy-winning Optic Nerve Studios, has worked on everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files and Babylon 5. He has a very uniquely eloquent mastery of the English language and uses it to great effect in describing the contestants’ work. Ve Neill is a 3-time Academy Award winning artist whose talents can be seen in Beetlejuice and Mrs. Doubtfire up to the current Hunger Games films. She is brightly spirited but isn’t afraid to let those know when their work isn’t up to par. Lastly, Neville Page is a concept designer whose work can be seen in such visually striking films as Watchmen, Avatar and Prometheus. He too, has an interesting way with words, and hearing him and Glenn together can be quite entertaining.
Usually, a fourth guest judge will be on hand to critique the contestants’ work. These can range from directors like Paul W.S. Anderson and Kevin Smith, producers Gale Anne Hurd and Brian Grazer to special effects artists Greg Nicotero and Rick Baker and actors as well. They offer interesting perspectives as they are uniquely qualified based on whichever part of the film industry they are most associated with.
This season, the contestants, as they do every season, come from all over the U.S., and range in age from 20 to 43. While it might seem a bit unfair to have younger, less-experienced artists face off against those with a much longer resume, quite often the relative novices prove themselves to be more than worthy competitors. What they may lack in work experience, they make up for in imagination and spirit. Of special interest to the Gore 4 this season is Meg Wilbur, 24, from Ewing, NJ. She is a fabricator and special effects makeup artist with a background in illustration and photography. And as she revealed in the season premiere, Meg is also a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, who “showed cancer” who is tougher. She now leaves a side of her head shaved as a reminder of the battle she fought. There are also artists from New York, California, Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming, all with their own individual stories. Some are just getting their foot in the door, whereas others actually own their own effects companies. And while some may specialize in horror, others might lean more towards fantasy. It makes for a wide variety in styles and abilities.
The SyFy Network truly has something special here. We hope it goes on for a long, long time. The Gore 4 would also like to wish all the contestants good luck on the show and in all your future endeavors. We can’t wait to see what incredible, inventive creations you have in store for us this season and beyond.
Here, you can check out a preview, and learn more about the show and this season’s contestants: