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“Face Off” Shows Us The Real Difference Between Special Effects and Beauty Makeup

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We don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with Face Off (the obsession runs deep), but this is the most kick-ass, rigorous season we've seen. Episodes past, the artists behind the magic have cast, sculpted, painted, and pretty much fabricated amazing character makeups from scratch. This week, we were a little surprised to see them sweat in the foundation challenge—beauty makeup.

“Every time I do beauty makeup, it ends up looking like a cheap hooker,” commented Face Off contestant Roy Wooley when he first heard about the task at hand. What seemed relatively simple—design a face makeup in two hours to complement an avant-garde outfit—proved to be the biggest challenge for this cast.

For people who construct complex, otherworldly, and often-times gruesome characters, “pretty” can be an intimidating concept. Ve Neill once said a makeup artist “damn better know how to do it all,” but both disciplines demand a unique approach that's hard to shift between.

“Special effects makeup is pretty much shop work,” says Make Up For Ever head makeup artist Lijha Stewart, who was on hand to judge the challenge with host McKenzie Westmore. “It’s mixing, baking, and working with heavy machinery. You get dirty—there’s nothing glamorous.” Editorial or runway makeup is just as difficult, but emphasizes sculpting facial features with contouring and color-play, not prosthetics. Effects artists tend to focus on the details—clean edges, veins, wrinkles, and anything that adds a subtle element of character, while a runway look is all about the bigger picture. According to Lijha, that concept alone turned out to be the greatest challenge. “The artists who focused on such small details lost the bigger quality,” she said while examining the final looks. “The whole point of the challenge was to realize that makeup artists have to meld the world of special effects and beauty together.”

Roy ended up taking home first prize for his design—maybe it pays to evolve and adapt as an artist after all. For beauty specialists, that means opening your world to prosthetics and paint; for effects artists, it means embracing bronzer and a smoky eye with relentless abandon.

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