TV Review: “Face Off” – Character Design for Dummies

Written by Jessica Koroll February 04, 2013

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With its fourth season well under way, “Face Off” has comfortably found its niche as Syfy’s answer to the endless stream of competition shows already plaguing television today. Against some of TV’s more seasoned reality veterans, such as “Project Runway” and “America’s Next Top Model,” the lack of creativity evident in “Face Off’s” episodic formula would generally make it an easy pass as it essentially gives us what we have all seen before. Yet, with a combination of unique challenges that suit the target audience and an ability to attract some incredibly talented artists, “Face Off” provides a fascinating look into the prosthetic movie make-up industry.

The Concept

From pirates, to superheroes, to goblin kings, each week provides a new challenge for the contestants to develop and execute over the course of three days. We follow the artists as they sketch out their designs, produce back stories for their characters, mold the faces, and prepare the models for the judges. It’s all very straightforward and not unlike anything that has been seen before. In fact, it’s so grounded in its own formula that I could probably describe, verbatim, how and why molding is done simply from the fact that they feel the need to explain this step in the middle of every episode. Despite its lacklustre structure, the nature of the challenges allow more than enough room for each episode to engage the viewer and draw them into the work being done. Most recently, in the first episode of season four, we got to watch as each team of two were given a geographical location on which to base their goblin king. The resulting creatures involved bark like skin and grassy beards as well as a creation that realistically emulated the grooves in the side of a mountain. I find myself being repeatedly blown away by the designs that are churned out by the end of each episode. The things that these people can do with some paint and fabric is ridiculous and easily makes the series’ shortfalls forgivable.

Face Off - Season 4

The People

And really, that’s what primarily sets “Face Off” apart from others in its genre: the artists. Amongst the freshly out of school individuals and those with decades of experience in creature design, there’s a sense of professionalism that has been noticeably lacking from my reality TV watching experience. Although the show does try, really hard sometimes, to create drama and active competition, each contestant seems more than willing to offer their expertise and network with one another rather than back stab in order to win the coveted prize. We often see the contestants discussing recent mistakes, sharing advice, and going so far as to drop their own projects to physically help out the other contestants when they run into trouble. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see this. Even though I have my favourites, I always want the ones who are eliminated to continue with their career and succeed.

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As for the judges, we have academy award winning make-up artist, Ve Neill (“Beetlejuice,” “Ed Wood”),  make-up artist, Glenn Hetrick (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Babylon 5”), and creature designer, Neville Page (“Star Trek,” “Avatar”). Thankfully, each judge actually manages to offer some interesting insights into the nature of character design. There’s not a single quip or comment given for the mere sake of stirring controversy among fans. These are people who clearly know what they are talking about.

Your enjoyment of this show will hinge entirely on your level of interest in this sort of thing. If you’re kinda “meh” about the inner workings of movie development and fantasy design, it would be best to steer clear. However, if that sounds more like your taste, definitely give it a go. I mean, yeah, it’s a reality show. There’s nothing ground breaking going on. But it’s a really cool reality show.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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About Jessica Koroll

An English student with a taste for the surreal and love for all things science fiction, her thoughts generally linger on Star Trek, lit theory, and recent tv episodes. I'm also @korolline_

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