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14 Secrets To Winning "Face Off"

Now entering its eighth season, Syfy's special effects makeup reality competition challenges artists to spawn stunning, sometimes horrifying, creatures. During BuzzFeed News' set visit, judges Ve Neill, Glenn Hetrick, and Neville Page explained what it takes to win.

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1. Start with a strong concept and design.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

Because of the pace of the Face Off competition, Neville Page believes contestants often feel like they don't have enough time to do a substantial design, but he told BuzzFeed News that planning is essential to the finished product. "I'm gonna gravitate toward design more than anything else," he said during an August set visit to the show's studios in Sylmar, California. "It actually creates a stronger foundation that the rest of the stuff you're going to add artistically can hang on to, versus a very, very tenuous concept that literally unravels as they get close to the presentation."

2. Pay close attention to the challenge.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

The judges have something specific in mind for each weekly challenge. While creativity is important, Ve Neill advised contestants to be aware of what's being asked of them. "Our decisions are based on many things. Sometimes it comes down to, 'OK, we like both of these makeups, but which one really fulfilled the challenge?'" she said. When it's between two equally good creations, Neill explained, "We have to go with the makeup that actually fulfilled the challenge because the other people strayed a little bit."

3. If your makeup looks good, you can get away with anatomical issues.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

Neill is less of a stickler about this than Page. "I don't need a reason for it to look good," she said. "If it looks good to me, then it looks good. It doesn't have to make sense. It doesn't have to be like, 'Well, he'd never be able to eat like that.' I say, 'Well, maybe he doesn't eat the way we eat, so he doesn't need a mouth.' Who cares?"

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4. Take risks.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

Because Page puts a lot of emphasis on the creativity of the original concept and design, he's somewhat less bothered by mistakes in execution. "I want to work with an artist that is gonna be that bold," Page said. "But with Glenn and Ve, they might be thinking, How close is this to being a usable thing right now? So I applaud the adventuresome approach that some contestants have."

5. Use colors that make sense.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

Neill has developed a reputation for being against blue paint jobs. But the truth is more complicated than that. "I like blue makeups," she insisted. "I've actually commented on many beautiful blue makeups!" What matters is that your color choices match the design and the challenge, i.e. if there's a reason for your creature to be blue, paint it blue.

6. Be adaptable.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

Contestants on Face Off almost always run into difficulties during application, which forces them to find new techniques to get the job done. "They learn how to think out of the box," Neill said. "They figure out ways to do things that are quicker, like, where can you cut a corner? OK, instead of using six colors, I'm gonna use three. They just learn how to do things hopefully with more time efficiency. They don't waste a lot of time doing things that aren't necessary."

7. Be ready for your close-up.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

After the judges get an overall read of the makeups from a distance, they move in closer to examine the details. There are always going to be imperfections, but that's the point: Creating a makeup that looks good in a long shot is only part of the challenge. "The one thing you can guarantee yourself is if a director tells you there won't be a close-up, there's background only, absolutely the day it gets on set, it's going right in front of the camera as close as you can get," Glenn Hetrick said. "So everything has to be built on that dual perspective where you make it look cool from far away and it has a good read and a vibe, but expect it to be in close-up."

8. A good paint job can fix a lot.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

When it comes to pet peeves, Hetrick cannot abide a bad paint job. That's because he knows from personal experience just how far a good paint job can get you. "What you can do with sculpting and color and applying the makeup perfectly is pretty profound. You can make a massive difference to something that's not designed or sculpted very well," he said. "I tend to lean more towards that because as a makeup artist, those finishing abilities, that ability to take something that's less than ideal — whether you did it or someone else did it — and make it look awesome on a person, those things are so essentially important."

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9. The judges' harsh criticism is designed to give artists a taste of the real world.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

As tough as the judges can be on Face Off, the real-life employers artists will encounter professionally are far worse. "When we press their buttons and try to see how they react under pressure and to criticism, that's not because I get off on it," Hetrick said. "I want to see how they handle that pressure. To think that once you've made it as a makeup artist and you're gonna go work on huge films, you're gonna get into a trailer and people are gonna slap you on the back every day and tell you how great your work is, is delusional. It gets worse the higher up you go."

10. Remember that you're being judged relative to what everyone else has done.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

If the challenge seems ridiculously hard, that's by intention. As a result, some weeks, everyone's work will be a little less impressive, and in that case, everyone will be judged accordingly. "We're judging them on how well everyone else did in a given week," Hetrick explained. "It would be unfair with just two days of prep to say, 'Let’s compare this to something we do at my shop, or other things that have been in films.' It’s always relative to how successful other people have been in the challenge with the same parameters of the concept. You look at them, and it’s usually pretty obvious which three are in the top and which three are in the bottom."

11. Keep in mind that your makeup is almost never going to be camera-ready.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

Sorry, but with only two days of prep, it's just not going to happen. "If somebody said to me, 'Full-on creature, camera-ready — you've got two and a half days,' I’d say, 'You're mad. There's no way,'" Page said. "But it does happen. It's pretty rare."

12. The judges don't know your entire process, so don't tell them.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

There are going to be bumps in the road, as well as happy accidents, but the judges don't need to know the details of how you got where you did. In fact, for the most part, they don't care. You could actually turn off a judge by revealing a piece that you had planned that ended up not working. "We as judges don't know what's going on, because we're not supposed to," Page said. "In a lot of ways, I prefer to not know as much as possible."

13. Be prepared to defend and explain your work.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

While you don't need to go into every step that led you to your finished makeup, you should be able to defend your work. "When I get up close, I'll start needling them onstage to see what their thought process was and see how defensible the ideas were, because that's what you need to do in a trailer," Hetrick said. "You're gonna constantly be under that pressure and be second-guessed all the time."

14. And please, watch Face Off.

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

No, really. There's no denying that the show is educational, particularly to those who already have an interest in special effects makeup. "The show and the [haunted house] industry has birthed and pro-generated this massive super-sharing of knowledge of how to do things quick and easy, but also make it look incredible," Hetrick said.

"I think we're finally actually getting to a point where we're creating our own future contestants. There are people in this season that are coming on saying, 'I had an interest in it, but from Season 1 on, I got so obsessed with it and I've learned so much that it jettisoned my trajectory into wanting to do it.' So now, for the first time, we're having people audition that really started indulging their passion for makeup effects because of the show."

Face Off Season 8 premieres on Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

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