As a big fan of Michael Westmore, predominantly because of his alien designs for several Star Trek series and movies, I love the odd show or reference to creating professional aliens for TV and movies via make-up, latex or other prosthetic and mask work. I’d heard of the Syfy reality show Face Off, through its beautiful promos showing the host and others transformed into bird faces and other creatures, but for whatever reason missed the first season. Thanks to a holiday marathon last weekend I was able to get a bit caught up and now am looking forward to its second season beginning Wednesday, January 11, on Syfy.
As reality series go, I like to think I am a bit selective. I am easily annoyed and will stop watching any show that is about people in a confined space getting along or, more likely with reality series, not getting along. This is why my reality series watching has been limited to Iron Chef America (where the fight is not really personal as much as professional with no living situation squabbles). I also tried The Next Iron Chef and Top Chef for several episodes, but ultimately gave up when they turned into repetitive experiments in cramming people together who don’t really want to be there. I am sure I’ve sampled some other reality shows that I have repressed or just don’t remember. The worst of these was probably Worst Cooks in America, a pretty horrible and valueless show. So why try another reality show?
Face Off at one level is just another competition show where several contestants compete to outperform their peers. The difference here is the subject. Like cooking, there is skill and artistry required, and the ongoing battle between those with professional training and those who are self taught or are naturals. But the subject here is something cooler. Food is food. Monsters and aliens are… just really neat. In creating great alterations of people into something else, we don’t get a college course in the profession, but we can pick up some pointers. Like watching Bobby Flay and Mario Batali facing off against challengers and showing us how to improve our food preparation, and unlike the other reality shows out there, I want to know all I can about the craft of creature make-up from these amateurs and up and coming professionals and more importantly, from the guests who hail from Hollywood and actual film work, including Academy Award winning make-up pros. At least all I can glean from limited investment of my time–about an hour per week.
Face Off appears to leverage some notoriety first through the host, McKenzie Westmore, daughter of Michael Westmore. Admittedly my focus in watching a show like this isn’t the host (and shouldn’t be). She does have some film credits, to add to her family name as a bit of “street cred,” including some soap opera work and minor roles in Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek: Insurrection and Ms. Westmore claims she has a background studying theatrical make-up, beauty make-up and appliance work ”in school”. As a hook to entice viewers, the Westmore name got me to watch, and from there I found other reasons to keep watching.*
For sure there are reasons to be doing something else while the show is on, specifically the standard reality show garbage–in particular in the first season the producers felt the need to dwell on two contestants that had some inexplicable vendetta against each other. If you can cut through those parts (the DVR has a fast-forward, remember!) the good work done by the contestants was exciting to see, and I found myself several times surprised by the skill and resulting images created by the artists in the timeframes allotted. And in one battle, where contestants had to change actual couples who were engaged to be married from male to female and vice versa, the reality schtick was clever and entertaining, even if the art of the craft seemed to suffer a bit. The best challenge I viewed was the skin and ink contest where the best works had nude models blend into backgrounds in a stunning way.
The bigger draw in the show are the guests and other judges. These have included Academy Award winning makeup artist Ve Neill (Pirates of the Caribbean, Edward Scissorhands, Mrs. Doubtfire, Ed Wood, Beetlejuice), television makeup artist Glenn Hetrick (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the X-Files, Angel, Heroes, Babylon 5), and creature designer and director Patrick Tatopoulos (I Am Legend, Resident Evil: Extinction, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans). Guests have included Michael Westmore himself, Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th) and Greg Nicotero (Predator, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Army of Darkness, Unbreakable, Minority Report, Hulk, Sin City).
The drawback so far is the over-emphasis on monster make-up, as opposed to fantasy and sci-fi. It goes with the territory, however, that make-up artists spend a lot of time on horror flicks. Hopefully we’ll get to see more sci-fi work and challenges in season 2, and maybe more film creators from science fiction films and less from the standard horror genre.
*Editor’s Note: Original article updated. My initial review reflected my findings after looking for references to Ms. Westmore’s make-up background. I hoped to find some either on the show’s website or on Ms. Westmore’s website or on other Web sources but had no luck. Ms. Westmore tweeted today that she indeed studied appliance work in “school”, not just worked under her father. The show would do a great service to Ms. Westmore and the show by including some of her background relative to make-up work if so. Viewers want this detail, and it lends greater credibility to the show knowing she has this background. Here is what Ms. Westmore’s website states as her background and it tends to promote her role as host and actress vs. active involvement in the FX/make-up industry:
“Actress and host McKenzie Westmore is certainly no stranger to the film and television industry. A member of the legendary Westmore family, McKenzie started her career early, at the age of three, when she was cast in “Raging Bull”, as Robert De Niro’s daughter; and can be seen as the host of SyFy’s exciting new special effects and make-up competition series “Face Off.” Most widely recognized for her 10-year run as “Sheridan Crane” on NBC’s popular daytime drama “Passions”, Westmore’s additional television and film credits include “Weird Science”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Star Trek: Voyager”, “Dexter”, “Surviving Suburbia”, and the Star Trek feature film “Insurrection.” Westmore also played a recurring role on ABC’s hit daytime drama “All My Children.” In addition, she can be seen in the HBO webseries “Apocalypse Wow!” and in the independent feature film “Vile” scheduled for release in 2011. When she is not working in front of the camera, Westmore can be found working hard behind the scenes, writing and producing on several new projects currently in development. A health, beauty, fitness and nutrition enthusiast with a background in personal training and nutrition, Westmore is also developing a line of wellness products created to enhance the health, beauty and well-being of women everywhere. Westmore is so proud of her rich family heritage and was thrilled to celebrate in 2008 when the Westmore family received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in honor of their pioneering work in the world of film and television make-up and the combined family contributions to over 2,000 films and television series.”
The show’s website says even less about Ms. Westmore’s background. Again, I think she would be doing herself and her show a favor by including her other work relative to the make-up world in her bio.