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Face Off Gets Monstrously Cute

Monster High dolls turn into living, breathing people. Or monsters. Or something.

Getting The Challenge

Sometimes there's some question about what sort of challenge is coming. The designers will be standing around some scenic landmark, and then McKenzie explains that they're at a fire station, and fire stations have been in movies like Ghostbusters and the remake of Ghostbusters, so they'll be doing ghost characters. This time, however, everyone is gathered at the headquarters of Mattel, and they're standing on a giant Mattel logo.

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Syfy

So it will come as no surprise that this is a heavily product-placed challenge. They'll be working on one of Mattel's most popular franchises, which turns out to be Monster High. "Not Barbie?" Don't be silly. Barbie doesn't need some SyFy show. And, more relevantly for the show's needs, Barbie isn't a monster.

Monster High are these dolls that are, in my opinion, somewhere between Barbie and Bratz on the "How unsettlingly large is the head?" scale. The original premise was that they were the daughters of the classic Universal monsters, so there's a Dracula girl, a Frankenstein girl, and so forth. That wasn't enough for a whole product line, so there are others now. I'm not sure I believe the framing story that Mattel is considering a live-action Monster High movie, so they want to see what the designs would look like on people. For one thing, they just had an animated movie that came out two weeks ago. But their position at the intersection between "monster" and "cute" makes them a pretty reasonable challenge for this show. So I guess I'll allow it.

Design Phase

Mattel has a big Monster High display area, of course. And certain designers (with blue or purple hair) are big fans of the dolls, while others (who are dudes) don't really know much about them. Luckily, two of the brand's designers are there to give feedback. Allegedly, the brand's values are that they celebrate individuality and kindness. I'll give them individuality, but I've always felt that a certain amount of selfishness was an important element of being a monster.

Tyler and Emily got Draculaura, which is a very difficult name to type without feeling like you've gotten something wrong somewhere. She's a vampire, and the advice from the designers is that there should be a bunch of bat wings and webs involved. That's about how useful all the advice is. Cig and George don't know anything about the toy line, although they presumably have a pretty good bank of knowledge about the original monsters. So they may not know who Lagoona Blue is, but "sea monster girl" is something they can work with.

It is at this point that everyone faces the basic problem of how monster-y they should be making their designs. The dolls are basically 90% pretty girl, 10% monster. But that doesn't seem monster-y enough to get across the idea that a model is supposed to be a Yeti, and also there's not enough latex involved. So Logan and Adam are trying to decide if they should put a "simian nose" on "Abbey Bominable" because that's what yetis look like.

Meanwhile, Cig and George are planning to push their sea monster girl to make her more monsterish than the doll. The designers think it could be okay if it looks good, but not okay if it looks bad.

Sculpting Day 1

"Sculpting" isn't necessarily the right word, because for once everyone isn't doing full-face appliances. They're doing smaller bits, like bandages that will be part of Cleo de Nile's skin. (That's the mummy girl. Maybe you figured that out.) And Venus McFlytrap will have vines on her arms and legs. This sort of appliance only needs to be sculpted on one side, not both, so it seems like everyone's getting pretty far ahead of the game. Ben and Evan have Skelita Calaveras, who's a Dia de los Muertos skeleton, and she's going to have bones embossed on her skin.

George and Cig are still doing a big face piece. Where everyone else is doing "pretty lady with some monster features," they're aiming for "sea monster who's a pretty lady," so she'll have gills and a fish-face. But they think that if they give her big enough lips, she'll still have feminine features. They know it's a big swing, but it gives them a chance to coin the word "overgill," which is goofy enough to delight them.

Mentor Session

Michael Westmore is a special effects legend with a great deal of excellent advice about makeup. Having said that, I'm not sure he'd be the first person I'd call to make a Monster High movie. So his advice is limited to practical things like "Make sure your edges are blended" and "It's hard to do a cute high school girl with a gorilla nose."

Day 2

At this point, Cig and George are definitely outliers, since they're approaching this like a regular challenge, while everyone else is staying closer to the dolls. But even Cig and George know that a lot is going to hang on their beauty makeup, because the target audience for a theoretical Monster High movie is going care a lot about the makeup. So they apply makeup to each other, just to test their shading ability.

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Syfy

They play it for laughs, but it's honestly not that bad a notion to test ideas before you put them in front of a judge. They agree that George is better at it. I'm not sure George is entirely fair when he says that Cig made him look like a "clown hooker," but I guess I don't know what one of those actually looks like. I've led a very sheltered life.

The best part is that Rachel and Gage have fabricated Venus McFlytrap's pet, and it is ADORABLE.

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Syfy

I like him very much!

Application Day

Usually, by this point in the episode, we've got a pretty good idea where everyone's at. But we don't have a lot of fully sculpted faces to work with, so the final makeup and painting is counting for more than usual. So in addition to the usual fun of watching models look professional while being mobbed by makeup artists...

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Syfy

...we also see Keaghlan and Melissa grapple with the face they sculpted for their mummy girl. It's terrible.

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Syfy

Luckily, it turns out that a mummy is not technically a monster. It's just a person. So they decide to peel off the latex, presumably wash off the glue, and just do beauty makeup, hoping that the work they did on the bandages will be enough. I think there's a tendency to worry more about whether you did "enough work" instead of worrying about the quality of the final result, and I'm always happy to see someone managing to discard work in service of a better look. I'm also happy to see everyone doing beauty makeup, because that seems like an essential part of the job of special effects makeup. I'm pretty sure that, in the real world, there are experts in makeup application who don't do any sculpting at all, you know?

Reveal Stage

The regular judges are not here. And everyone is perplexed and sad, because we miss them very much. Instead, there's a focus group of eight "Monster High superfans." Normally this would seem like a gimmick, but since the framing device for this challenge was that Mattel needed to see if Monster High concepts would work in real life, a focus group actually makes sense. Later on, McKenzie's going to be asking questions like "If you saw this as a character, would that draw you in to the movie?," and that's something a real focus group would get asked. And these people seem like legitimate superfans, so the whole thing comes off as genuine. Mostly. It's still a TV show. Anyway, there's no elimination this week, remember? They're just handing out immunity to one team, so why not mix it up a bit?

Rachel and Gage did Venus McFlytrap, whose concept is pretty clear. And they did not do a good job, in my opinion.

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Syfy

If you're going to go with a pink-and-green scheme, you need to do some fancy shading. And if you're going to do these teeth, you need to throw them away and start over. At least her little plant friend is still cute.

Cig and George's version of Lagoona Blue is much more monster-ish than everyone else's looks. But I think they pulled it off, because this is clearly a pretty young girl sea monster.

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Syfy

This was Cig's first attempt at styling a wig, and it came out well. It's even got a little surfer in it! I don't know where else to put this observation, but this seems like a challenge where hair styling is extra-relevant, especially for the superfans of this doll line, you know? I also like that she has a clamshell compact that's an actual clam, which is a straightforward visual gag executed very well.

Niko and Cat did Clawdeen Wolf, whose name I do not care for. You already have "Wolf" in there; do you really need the extra exertion to work in "Claw"?

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Syfy

She seems fine. I think they should have done more prominent ears. I also think the face is kind of lumpy.

From a distance, I love Logan and Adam's Abbey Bominable.

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Syfy

She seems fun, she has a woolly mammoth purse, and she gets extra product-placement points for the Barbie snowboard. (The invisible ski over to the side is just a green-screen problem.) But up close, that simian nose is just weird and distracting.

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Syfy

It makes me wonder how much of what I liked about the wide shot was the pose, and how much of that was that Megan is the best model.

Ben and Evan had Skelita Calaveras, and they kind of skimped on the face, in my opinion.

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Syfy

After watching a few seasons of Skin Wars, I know how elaborate it's possible to get with Day of the Dead makeup. So instead, look at the cool embossed bones in the throat, which really get across the skeleton concept while staying more cute than gross.

Keaghlan and Melissa were correct to remove Cleo de Nile's face. (I mean, the latex face. There's still a face on the model, which is good if she wants to keep working.)

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Syfy

Their cool thing is also on the arm and leg applications, where it looks like bandages are part of her skin.

Tyler and Emily did Draculaura, who has a cheerful smile she can't turn off because of where the fangs are.

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Syfy

It kind of works for me, although it also reminds me of Cat on Red Dwarf. I expected fancier hair out of Emily, but I guess she decided not to overshadow the rest of the makeup.

Judging

Look, we're all sad that the real judges aren't here. And how are they going to judge two challenges' worth of work without seeing this week? Having said that, the focus group seems really interested in the results. And for once, the contestants get to listen in on the phase where the "judges" get up close to the makeup, although they have to do it from another room. The guy with the mohawk gets a "Sister...sit down" when his critiques get a little too cutting, but mostly the contestants seem to enjoy it.

Since the focus group isn't here to be too mean to people, we only cut to the top teams: Emily/Tyler, Evan/Ben, and Cig/George. And for the rest of the episode, it's mostly just fans praising the designers. So there's a lot of "I love her face!" and "You made a skeleton look...gorgeous!"

The phase where the judges normally just tell each other the things they already said twice has been replaced with something that looks like an actual focus group. It's still not that interesting, because we already know what the fans like about the makeup. The actual decision will be made by the VP of Mattel, who seems particularly interested in how the fans feel about Lagoona Blue looking more monstery than the doll. The fans like it, because for a live-action movie, they'd expect things to be pushed a bit.

And the winning team is Cig and George! They're going to get a big pile of Monster High dolls, which both of them claim they're going to play with. I believe George.

Verdict

Okay, it's a solid hour of product placement. But it's relevant product placement, so I'm okay with it. And my girlfriend likes the Monster High aesthetic a lot, so I was prepped for some of the decisions that had to be made. Although I did have to look up the spelling of every one of these dolls every time I had to type one.

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