With Face Off, Syfy has managed to take a ubiquitous TV format - the reality competition show - and put their spin on it in a search for the next great special effects artist.
If you have ever seen Project Runway, Top Chef or America's Next Top Model, the format of Face Off will be instantly recognizable. A dozen or so contestants, living together in a tricked-out apartment, compete in challenges, get critiqued, and get picked off one by one. Face Off has two challenges per episode: a quick challenge to win a perk, and then a multi-day SFX project based around a specific theme. Winner gets immunity, then gets to consult with the judges on who should be eliminated.
Successful reality competition shows rely on two major components: unique challenges and talented competitors. Face Off has both. The premiere episode asks competitors to create a human/animal hybrid, showcasing some brilliant artistry and craftsmanship. The FX artists creat a variety of really fascinating creatures, each with their own backstory, displaying an abundance of talent and skill among the competitors. Future episodes will require contestants to create their own horror villain, an original zombie, changing a bride into a groom and a groom into a bride, and new characters based on classic fairy tales.
The host, McKenzie Westmore, is a little underwhelming. A soap actress, Westmore’s claim to SFX fame is that her family pioneered makeup techniques in the early days of cinema, many of which are still in use today. She comes across as a generic host: pretty girl with a nice smile, whose connection to the industry is tenuous.
The judges panel is far more interesting: opinionated Ve Neill, a staple on Tim Burton’s films and the Pirates of the Caribbean series; loud-mouthed (in a good way) Glenn Hetrick, owner of Optic Nerve Studios and known for work on TV shows like Heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, X-Files, and Babylon 5; and reserved Patrick Tatopoulos, who has an impressive list of genre SFX credits: I Am Legend, The Messengers, Trick ‘r Treat, Blood Creek, Resident Evil: Extinction, Silent Hill, and Underworld: Evolution.
Face Off shows a lot of promise. The first episode - like many first-episodes of almost every genre - was a little stilted, as there were so many faces and concepts to introduce. None of the contestants really stand out, which is fine; I usually don’t make any connection to competitors until their numbers have been cut in half and I have fewer faces to match with the names. I am hoping that with the formalities out of the way, future episodes will be able to devote more time to the methods, techniques and details of the process. Suffice it to say, I will be back for future episodes.
Face Off premieres January 26th on Syfy channel.