To me, Face Off is a golden opportunity to get free makeup effects instruction. You’re hearing the actual vocabulary, you’re watching the actual techniques, and you’re getting a first hand look at what pros are expected to be able to produce.
What more could you ask for?
How about a synopsis of what you need to know. Here are my top ten lessons I learned from Face Off.
Lesson #1 – Texture is a key element.
The judges talked about ”texture” on more than several occasions. The contestants used a wide array of items to add texture from bright green paper napkins to detailed paint jobs to intricate sculpting. As long as some sort of texture is perceived you’re golden. But only if it looks organic.
One of my favorite artists and teachers, Stuart Bray, offers some invaluable tips on creating texture. Check out his video here.
Want to learn more about adding texture with an airbrush? The Airbrush Tutor has a great video teaching you a bare basic skill on getting great texture.
Lesson #2 – Paint jobs can kill.
One of the most important things I learned about paint jobs is that it has to look like it’s of nature. Pay close attention to your color choices as it relates to the overall look. Bolder colors can be more difficult to come across as organic, but with practice and skill you can make almost any color look realistic.
Another important tip I learned was how much a bad paint job can kill texture. Stuart Bray (don’t you just love his generosity!?) gives a sweet tutorial on how to paint appliances. Make-Up Designory offers a video tutorial on painting a latex prosthetic.
Lesson #3 – Know your materials.
Face Off is not the only scenario that will introduce time constraints. So the importance of knowing how to work a specific material is understated. There were artists who’s first attempt failed due to choosing the wrong material. Others had to choose another material due to time management issues. If you don’t know what’s what, you risk failure.
There’s silicone, alginate, liquid latex, foam latex, and so much more. Too much to write about here. You can read up on (and purchase) most of these materials at the FX Warehouse. It’s where I shop for stuff.
Lesson #4 – Create character concepts before the makeup.
The Face Off judges love when the makeup tells a story. They always ask about the character’s back story. Whenever the story lacks luster, so does the makeup. I’ve learned that every element of the makeup must be a part of the story and no detail can be without a purpose.
Planning the character includes considering costume design, hair styling, and even lighting. Here is a great resource with insight on how to create characters.
Lesson #5 – Makeup is expressionless.
Clowns are either happy or sad. Other makeups are meant to be angry or evil. But many are expected to change with the emotion of the actor.
Let’s use the character Scrooge from Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’ The character makes subtle changes in his personality throughout the story; he starts out as a mean old grump and ends up a warm-hearted gentlemen. And in the interim he is everything in-between.
The challenge for this type of makeup is allowing the actor to express these emotions through the makeup. In essence, the actor must still be able to act. Keep this in mind while designing your character.
Lesson #6 – Edges, edges, edges.
Perfect edges. Need I say more? If you’ve watched the show for 5 minutes I’m sure you’ve been introduced to the proverbial invisible edges. It’s obvious that this is the mark of a professional makeup effects artist. Having invisible edges is the cardinal rule in makeup effects.
Stuart Bray put it so funnily when he wrote, “Creating good edges is kind of like personal hygiene…if you do it properly it goes unnoticed. It’s only when you stop washing that it attracts any attention.” Read more of his tips on edges here.
Lesson #7 – Cowls are hard to do.
What the heck is a cowl? That’s what I said when I first heard them talking about making one on the show. I knew then that I had a LOT to learn. I didn’t even know a cowl was a part of a makeup, but as I watched more and more seasons I now know just how important the cowl is.
This is a subject I will need to do more research on, as there isn’t much out there in the way of the fundamentals of designing cowls. But, there were plenty of tutorials on making Batman cowls.
Lesson #8 – Create a focal point.
A focal point can be in the makeup or in the costume. Give the onlooker a reason to look at it. Make it an element that balances out the overall look. The focal point gives the makeup a foundation, and too many focal points makes it appear frazzled and unplanned.
Lesson #9 – Prop making is part of the art.
Who doesn’t love Roy Wooley? He’s the king of Face Off fabrication, and MAN has he taught me a lot. For one I learned that cardboard and foam make for great materials for making props. Another is that a prop is limited only by your imagination. Some of the most abstract or extraordinary things can be built with simple planning and design.
Lesson #10 – Develop your own style.
Many of the challenges on Face Off asked the artist to mimic a specific style. For example, the Tim Burton challenge asked the contestants to create a makeup that could easily be seen in a Tim Burton film. Tim Burton films have a general cohesiveness to all his looks in all his films.
Developing your own style takes practice and practice. And practice. There really is no secret. The more you create the more you develop your own style. Just be careful not to make all your looks look too much alike. You don’t want the same face on different bodies.
Bonus: Be able to think on your feet.
There is no way to predict the twists and turns involved in created spectacular makeup effects. You may not be on a televised competition, but there will be many things thrown your way in your own projects. It’s important to be able to work well with people and under pressure. Don’t let the stress take away from your art.