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Life and Arts

Facing the competition

Two Burbank special effects makeup artists survived an intense first elimination episode Wednesday night in Syfy’s new reality competition series “Face Off.”

The show’s debut pitted 12 up-and-coming artists in challenges that tested their edgy creative skills, including turning a live model into a hybrid of a half-human/half-animal. Judging were renowned sci-fi makeup artists three-time Academy Award winner Ve Neill (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), Glenn Hetrick (“Buffy”), and creature/designer director Patrick Tatopoulos (“Solomon Kane”).

It was a constant race against time, and judges were tough to please, but the experience was true to life, according to local contestants and professional makeup artists Frank Ippolito, 32, and Megan Areford, 24. “It was intense, but a lot of fun as well,” Areford said.

And not much different than the real world, said Ippolito, who has spent the last 15 years in the business. He built prosthetics and applied makeup on actors in the second and third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and now is doing special effects for horror film shorts produced by Danny DeVito. “He likes a lot of blood in his films,” Ippolito said.


“I’m working on a scene where they rip off somebody’s face.” Ippolito wanted to do the television competition, he said, for fun because he’s already established in the business. And stress is just a part of the business. “It’s a do-or-die job,” he said.

“If the actors and crew are on set and the special effects aren’t done, it costs the production a lot of money. ‘Face Off’ producers aren’t putting us in a position that’s not true to life in the entertainment business.”

Having worked on big films and with big talent, he’s now a freelancer and works when he wants to. He finds the horror industry is the easiest for him and where the money is, but prefers doing comedies. “I’ve fallen in with people who like to build monsters,” he said.

“They don’t rely on computer graphics for monsters and special effects in their films.” Areford is also a freelancer who has worked on “Tron Legacy” and “Iron Man 2.” Her goal is to head a large special effects crew. “I know that will take a few years,” she said.


“Now I’m learning from talented makeup artists who have been in the business 15 to 20 years. It’s an exciting field. You find out something new every day.”

In the first episode, the contestants had to dress a model as a half-man, half-animal. Areford and her teammate chose an ostrich. But when a competing team took all the feathers provided for the challenge, she and her teammate only had a few boas and one long feather to work with. “With that little amount, that inspired me to make this lavish costume that represented an ostrich through human wardrobe,” she said.

Both local contestants agree vying for the $100,000 prize is worth all the abuse the judges are giving them. “I think it’s a nice little carrot they dangle in front of you,” Ippolito said.

But yes, “it’s awkward to be put in the hyper-real situations they are putting us in. I was excited and anxious all at the same time.” It’s not so much about the prize, Areford said, but the opportunity to receive honest criticism from other contestants and the judges.

“If anything, this show is more of a condensed version of reality,” she said, adding that in the real world it would take a year to hear how well she had done a film project. “I never thought I would learn so much in so little time. I’ve learned to take something simple and make it pop.” The contestants have also been ambitious in their vision and how they brought it to life, said Dwight D. Smith, executive producer.

“The judges were blown away by what they were able to do,” he said. “And they know all too well the difficulty in trying to pull off such elaborate designs in such a quick time. The competition is pretty much a pressure cooker all the time.”