Face Off Makes A Trout Mask Replica For The Abstract Aliens Challenge In Its Premiere
An all-star season kicks off with teams of two making weird fish creatures.
Hey! Face Off is back for more latex monster faces! And I'm delighted, because I really enjoy this show. This season is an All-Stars season, which in theory means it's full of faces we recognize. (Personally, I recognized three or four of them, and I've seen every episode.) Also, it's a team season, so everyone's working in pairs and will be eliminated in pairs. I have concerns about teams, but the world of special effects makeup is a fundamentally team-based enterprise. You're always with a team. And to keep people from going home for one bad day, they're only going to have eliminations every other week. So a team will win immunity on Week 1, then a team will be eliminated on Week 2 based on performance over the two weeks.
Got that? It will all make sense. Probably. Before we get into the episode itself, here's who we have:
Cig Neutron and George Troester, both of whom are from Season 7, and both of whom I recognize. They claim to be lovable goofballs, which is usually a bad sign. But I actually do remember both of them, and they do behave in a fairly goofy manner. Cig is the one with the silly hats, and George is the one who likes to goof around with props. Here, look at these guys:
Niko Gonzalez and Cat Paschen are both from Season 6, and they're boyfriend and girlfriend. So unlike certain other team-based all-star seasons (specifically the first RuPaul's Drag Race all-star season) these teams have been put together ahead of time and no one's complaining that they got saddled with a bad teammate. These two already work together and claim that they make a good team.
Logan Long and Adam Milicevic are from Season 8 and I don't remember either of them. Sorry, guys! I do like that when one of them says he's the perfect teammate, the other one immediately says that he'd prefer Rick Baker, and nobody feels the need to explain who that is. Any show that will namedrop Rick Baker is okay by me.
Gage Hubbard is from Season 1 (and is the only one from before Season 6), and he's teamed with Rachel Wagner from Season 7. They've worked together on a Fallout Boy video and a commercial.
Tyler Green and Emily Serpico are from Seasons 6 and 8, respectively. They've never worked together, and it seems like we might have run out of people with a reason to be teamed together. Tyler's got a special wristband-toolbelt thing that holds paintbrushes, and I think he's mostly here to show that off. I think Emily is the one who was really good with wigs in her season.
Ben Plowman and Evan Hedges are from Season 9. I recognize Ben. I don't remember much about him, though. I have a vague feeling that he might be the guy who had a lot of problems with time management, but that doesn't really narrow things down much.
Stella Sensel and Jasmine Ringo are from Seasons 7 and 9. They might have been paired up because they're both blonde women.
Keaghlan Ashley and Melissa Ebbe are from Seasons 7 and 10. They were definitely paired up because they're both blue-haired women. At the moment. That's a lot of people from Season 7, and except for Cig and George, they've all been split up.
Got all that? Too bad! Show's starting! Here's what you need to watch and what you can skip.
Getting The Challenge
For the first episode, a lot of the running time is spent on people introducing themselves to the audience. But that's spread out through the first few segments, and all the relevant information has been summarized in a helpful and entertaining form right up there. So all that's left of the actual "challenge" section is having all the contestants facing a helipad and then acting surprised when McKenzie Westmore shows up in a helicopter.
The challenge is to create "undersea creatures," and they'll be employing green-screen technology to mask out parts of their models. For some teams, that means the models will be turned into puppeteers, while other teams are mostly just masking out their models' legs to make it look like their torsos are hovering. Various teams get assigned crabs and squids and so forth.
My rule of thumb for the design phase is that it's only worth watching if it's being done in some picturesque place. This time, the teams are just sitting around on the grass, discussing their ideas and making sketches.
But you know what? Maybe I've been too harsh on this section. Since we have teams, there's more talking than usual, and the give-and-take is part of the creative process that's worth watching. So why not, right? It's fun to see Ben and Evan plan their Japanese Spider Crab with large legs out to the sides while Keaghlan and Melissa consider how to use the green screen to create a floating head, and to know that one of these teams will do well and one will do poorly. But which?
Sculpting Day 1
Everyone is a little freaked out about returning to the lab, which is essentially unchanged. Except for Gage, I think, since he hasn't been here since Season 1. And also there isn't usually a green screen set up so people can test out their stuff. George, of course, immediately starts doing a weather report, because he is a lovable goofball. Just ask him.
After the goofing around is (mostly) over, everyone gets to work. Cig and George are adapting the Roughneck Batfish, which has a great name. They're starting with the fish's snooty expression and their plan is to mask off their model's legs and create two fake spindly legs to the sides. George is on leg detail, and he immediately plays with them. I like high spirits, but either the editors are using literally every second of him screwing around or he needs to focus. He also allows Cat to take a picture of his belly for Niko to sculpt from, so he's clearly a good guy.
There's not a lot of inherent drama in watching people start to sculpt faces, which means it's helpful for the viewer when something catastrophic happens. So our thanks must go out to Ben and Evan, who allow their mannequin to tip over, squashing the enormous clay chest piece they were working on.
I think Michael Westmore is great. I would happily watch an hour of just him studying people's work and recommending changes. Unfortunately, this episode does not have that much time allotted to him, so all we see is a quick montage of suggestions, but not the context. Hide that mouth! Make that other mouth bigger! Don't put a bunch of high-fashion makeup on a face you don't want people looking at! Don't just have a bunch of tentacles hanging down!
Incidentally, about those tentacles. After watching this show carefully, as well as Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge and Heroes Of Cosplay, I have come to the conclusion that tentacles are a trap. Everyone wants to have some cool tentacles, but they're a lot easier to sketch than to put on a human person. They're always too big to support their own weight or too lame to register as tentacles. Doctor Octopus is just a pipe dream.
Sculpting Day 2
This is the best part of the show. Sculpting has progressed enough that you can tell what people are working on, and people are moving on to fabricating cool props. When people explain that they're doing an elongated head with giant sensory orbs, there's an actual head to look at.
There is, of course, some molding drama: this time it's Niko with the requisite trouble opening his mold. Eventually, five people are helping him and Cat is suggesting that they just give up. But after a commercial break, everything is fine. Whew! That was close!
Ben and Evan are worried at this point, because most of their creature is going to be represented by some enormous legs they don't have yet. So they'll have to do fabrication on Application Day, which is usually a sign that you're way behind. Maybe I was right about Ben and time management. But I refuse to look it up!
The best part of this segment is right at the beginning, when the models rush in. It's not all hugs and reunions, but there's enough of that to make it feel like everyone's happy to see each other And this is where you see the final details that make the creations look awesome, like Gage and Rachel adding the green bits that will make their shrimp skeleton be transparent.
It's also when you can see just how much trouble Ben and Evan are in, because they've got these giant legs that are covered in aluminum foil, then latex, and then they're getting painted. And it's a lot of work that reminds me of nothing so much as an elementary school papier-mâché project. And you know I'm serious about that because I went to the trouble of getting all the right accents in there.
Then there's Last Looks, where it's too late to do anything but try to finish what you've been working on for two days. Cig and George seem to kind of enjoy the process of identifying problems (their head doesn't fit neatly into the body) and solving them with whatever's at hand (they fill the holes with plastic wrap and paint it).
The Final Results
Emily and Tyler's creation does not thrill me.
It's got no nose (which, of course, raises the question: how does it smell?) and the arms look weird without looking realistic.
Ben and Evan have failed. Clearly.
Their look is mostly legs, and the legs are entirely awful.
Keaghlan and Melissa appear to have gotten Megan, my favorite model. She's the one who absolutely never stops moving, because she's always trying to sell the creature, which in this case is a lot of different entities.
It's hard to see, though, because they've chosen a busy background that really makes it hard to make out the details.
Cig and George are, in my opinion, the only ones who made an actual character. I can tell what this creature would act like, which is an improvement over just having something that looks cool.
...And also, this looks cool. It's basically the same gag as Ben and Evan, but the legs are a much better size in relation to the body.
Stella and Jasmine made an octopus that I do not like at all.
The body looks like a plastic garbage bag (even more so than a real octopus does), and the tentacles don't convince me at all. Even worse, the tentacles are supposed to be operated by the model with a green hand, but the hand keeps creeping in front of things that are supposed to be seen.
Rachel and Gage had my second-favorite model, and they took the name "skeleton shrimp" kind of literally.
I don't think shrimp have internal skeletons, do they? I'm pretty sure they're crustaceans, but I refuse to look it up. Anyway, they deployed their green pain strategically to make their look transparent, and it looks great.
Logan and Adam made a hovering thing with a chicken face and four arms.
Niko and Cat's take on an octopus is better.
It replaces the tentacles with a latex skirt, which moves in a way that feels much more like a cephalopod.
Knowing that every other episode will be non-elimination makes the judging feel a little pointless. The best part, as usual, is the close-up part, where the contestants can't hear the judges say things like "He looks like a Mexican wrestler" and "The shapes are just heavy-handed and clumsy." Glenn Hetrick usually nerds out about accurate anatomy, but this time out he seems to care more about paint application. This is also a good time to notice which models just stand there, and which are trying every second to put the concept over.
In the more public judging, Ben/Evan and Stella/Jasmine are in the bottom, and Ve says that Ben and Evan's big dumb legs look like "totem poles that were painted by a bunch of three-year-olds." That's a little harsh, but it's also pretty much accurate. The top looks are Rachel/Gage and Keaghlan/Melissa.
After going over everything in public, the judges have their private round, in which they say the same things to each other. The winning team is Keaghlan and Melissa, which means they'll have immunity next week. And nobody's going home. So it all ends kind of limply.
The teams were given enough time that it felt like they all presented basically what they were trying to do. Take out the introductions of all these people and the anticlimactic judging, and you're left with a solidly entertaining episode of television.