When I asked the publicist for Syfy's Face Off if one of the show's artists would turn me into a monster, I was almost certain the response would be no. Imagine my surprise when I was told they'd be more than happy to show me what goes into being a special effects makeup model. And then imagine my horror when I learned my call time would be 7 a.m.
I arrived at the Face Off studios one early Thursday morning in late August, barely awake but excited about my imminent transformation. Cig Neutron — one of my favorite contestants on the show's current seventh season, thanks to his awesomely unique hats and killer work — had promised to turn me into a hobo demon clown. To be clear, I had no idea what a hobo demon clown was or would look like, but it sounded terrifying, and it combined a bunch of elements we were both excited about. Having watched Face Off since the show premiered on Syfy in 2011, I knew how much work went into successful makeup. That's why I made sure to grab a bite beforehand. And to pee first.
Before we got started, I was given a cream that I was told would help the prosthetics come off more easily after we were finished. Honestly, I was a little bummed out that we were already talking about taking the makeup off. At the same time, I was excited to learn I would not be losing any precious skin in the process.
(Note the bags under my eyes. Again: It was 7 a.m.)
Next up came the bald cap, otherwise known as my worst nightmare. Just kidding, it was fine. But it was a little harrowing seeing my hair disappear so suddenly. On the other hand, this might be the best possible way for handling my Jewfro.
Cig kept asking if it was too tight, but it really wasn't. This process was already way more painless than I'd anticipated. I mean, there was some discomfort when he drew over my ears in markers so he could cut out the right sections of the bald cap. And by "discomfort," I mean it tickled a little. (I liked it.)
And on came the prosthetics! The first piece Cig applied actually fit my face pretty perfectly. It was nice to finally have validation that my face shape is ideal. I really expected this all to feel more cumbersome than it did. The prosthetic was surprisingly light, like, I could totally see myself wearing it every day just for kicks, provided I could find a way to feel less self-conscious about the giant nose and forehead wrinkles. (The prominent brow makes me look distinguished, I think.)
I was relieved that I could see perfectly out of the prosthetic. Well, OK, let me clarify that: I had a clear line of vision, but unfortunately I'd been forced to take off my glasses before we started, so while I theoretically could see everything, it was all kind of a blur. But hey, that's what photo documentation is for.
The glue Cig used went on easily and was activated by him waving a hairdryer at it for several seconds. Again — and you'll notice this recurring theme — it wasn't the gooey nightmare substance I'd imagined. I'm not sure what I had in mind exactly, but at one point, I was pretty sure my face would be slathered with rubber cement. This stuff was a breeze.
OK, let's talk about that bottom prosthetic. Because it attached to my lower lip — giving me an adorable permanent pout — it was definitely a little harder to deal with. It mostly felt like I had a swollen lip, minus any of the pain that I'd associate with that.
I was impressed by how seamlessly the prosthetics blended in with my face, especially as Cig worked to clean up the edges by spreading on more all-purpose glue. Without the color difference, it would be hard to tell where my lip ended and the fake lip began. (I mean, it certainly didn't look natural, but a hobo demon clown's lip shouldn't. Also, I've definitely seen lips that big on cast members of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, so...)
Can you tell that I'm smiling? I loved my ears. Years of watching elves kick ass in fantasy films has yielded a strong association between pointed ears and being cool as hell in my mind. I was very excited to don these babies, which were actually the easiest prosthetics of all. I could hear perfectly, and I mostly forgot I was wearing them. I don't know how they do it. Actual elf magic, perhaps?
The only time I really started to panic during the application process was when I felt the first pangs of thirst. Could I sneak some water without ruining Cig's already impeccable work? I began to weigh my loyalty to the makeup against my increasingly uncomfortable dry mouth. As it turned out, I was easily able to drink with the help of a straw. A straw! These artists have a tool for everything.
Cig asked if I wanted horns, which aren't exactly an essential accessory for a hobo demon clown. But guess what? This hobo demon clown has horns, because I was already feeling comfortable in my prosthetics, and I liked the idea of having pointy things on my head that I could jab people with. (Note: You can't actually do this with fake horns.) I guess you could say I was feeling horny? You're welcome for that.
After applying the horns, Cig continued to smooth the edges of the prosthetics. This is a thing a lot of Face Off fans talk about, because bad edges are one of the easiest flaws to notice. Mentioning them makes you feel like a special effects makeup expert, even if you have no idea what you're talking about otherwise. I thought my edges were blending quite well, by which I mean, I asked Cig for his opinion because it was all a blur for glasses-less me.
I eventually went to a mirror for a closer look and was truly delighted by how effortlessly the prosthetics blended in with my natural, non-monstrous features. I mean, this could totally be my (weirdly colored) face, right?
I was dying to show off my makeup progress, but I couldn't post any photos to Twitter or Instagram because I wanted to keep it a surprise for this very post that you're reading now. I did, however, snap several selfies and send them to my editor so he could get an idea of what I'd gotten myself into. I don't think he really knew what to expect, so when he saw the first glimpse of my monster makeup, he responded with, "!!!!!" I took that to be a good sign.
I also used this brief break to check Twitter. But since I couldn't actually tweet about what I was doing, I felt resentful and closed the app. Hi, I'm Louis, and I'm addicted to sharing everything I do on social media.
I'd heard it wasn't easy being green, so I was a little dubious when Cig began applying the paint. But actually, getting painted was the easiest part. Cig covered my entire face faster than I could have imagined — I blinked and he was done! (To be fair, it was a very long blink. I kept my eyes closed while he went over my face with the brush.) Those of you who have picked up on my neuroses by now have probably guessed that I expected the paint to smell terrible. In fact, it was surprisingly pleasant. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily huff the stuff, but it's not the kind of paint that gets you high anyway.
And yes, because I'm a theater queen, the whole time I was having bright green paint applied to my face, I thought about being Elphaba in Wicked. For a brief, wonderful moment, I imagined the paint would suddenly give me Idina Menzel's vocal range and stage presence. I was ready to bust out "Defying Gravity," but we were listening to Top 40 at the time, and I didn't want to interrupt that "Rude" song with a showstopper.
Look how green I am! It's not really my favorite shade, but I knew Cig would be doing some detailing after the initial coat. Looking at it now, I realize I look less like Elphaba and more like Shrek, and I'm feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing. Let's move on before I inadvertently start humming something from Shrek the Musical. Shudder.
OK, so this is interesting. After I was all greened up, Cig took some different colors and started spraying them onto my face with his brush. He explained that real skin is actually a bunch of different colors, and this spattering of paint would ultimately make me look more realistic. You know, as realistic as a hobo demon clown can look. My eyes were still closed, of course, because, while the paint is harmless, it probably wouldn't feel great when sprayed directly into one's eyeballs.
See? All the paint spattering paid off. It actually looks like I have a very colorful five o'clock shadow here, but once Cig was finished, I did have a truly realistic complexion. For the area around my eyes, he had to get in there with a smaller brush. I didn't love this part — it was a lot of looking up and trying not to blink, kind of like getting eyeliner put on. I don't regularly wear eyeliner, in part because I'm not Pirates of the Caribbean-era Johnny Depp, but also because I really hate having anything that close to my eyes. Hello, that's why I wear glasses.
Cig repeatedly asked how I was doing, and I told him I was having a great time, which was true. It took me a while to realize that the reason he kept checking in is that I looked really pissed off. Once the prosthetics were painted, they became an indistinguishable part of my face, and it was impossible to tell what my expression was underneath them. We called this "resting monster bitch face." I promise you that despite what the photo suggests, I wasn't even pouting here!
THE THIRST. We were well into the third hour at this point, and I was in desperate need of sustenance. (Did I mention everyone else was eating pizza? Not that I begrudged them that. It just smelled really good.) Sparkling water was basically the best I could do in terms of nourishment, and I drank it with gusto as I awaited the next step in the makeup process: the wig.
Once my face was close to being finished, Cig applied the wig he'd carefully selected to complete my hobo demon clown look. I loved the wig — which Cig ended up styling to look more clownish — because it was sort of ratty and gross. And let's face it, I love all wigs. Alas, I wasn't able to keep it. Otherwise I could totally see myself rocking it again.
Also, check out that side-eye. Resting monster bitch face does not fuck around.
Can we talk about airbrushing? I love it. Like, I'm honestly a little embarrassed by how much I enjoyed the airbrushing, but it feels great! I know you can't tell looking at my face in the above photo, but what I was thinking was, Man, this tickles in the best way. I was doing everything in my power to stifle a giggle.
I shouldn't say this, but I'm going to say it anyway: When Cig was airbrushing my lips, it felt kind of like I was being kissed. Kissed by paint. Airbrushing is very intimate.
Now that I've made things awkward, I'll go ahead and point out how much more I was looking like a clown at this point. Cig used the airbrushing to give me rosy cheeks, a red nose, and also added some white paint — the color scheme of terrifying clowns everywhere. When we first started out, I couldn't imagine what a hobo demon clown would look like. Turns out, it looks like this, and I love it.
When I was in college, I took a class on marine mammals (biology requirement), and the professor explained that dolphins don't really smile. Their bone structure suggests a smile, and we project our own feelings onto them. So when we see what looks like a smile, it's just a dolphin being a dolphin. Realistically, dolphins fucking hate us. Anyway, I digress. This is just to say that I'm not rolling my eyes in this photo. I was looking up so Cig could finish up some of the details around the eye area. That, combined with the fact that I'm generally kind of surly and the prosthetics make me look extra grumpy, made you think I was rolling my eyes. Science!
Before Cig did my hair, I put on the clothes they'd picked out for me: a flannel that was falling apart, some tattered sweats, and yes, oversized clown shoes. It was a look.
For my hair, Cig decided to be adventurous and style it up. There was a lot of hairspray involved, and I can only assume that stuff was industrial strength, because the hair did not move. He also made sure my ears were poking out. Imagine having pointed ears that then got hidden by a wig. Unacceptable.
The last thing Cig applied was a thin layer of slime, which I'm pretty sure is the professional special effects makeup artist term. Actually, this stuff serves a purpose in addition to being sticky: It sets the makeup, holding it all in place, and gives the skin a realistic sheen. I felt like my character really came to life once the slime was spread all over. For the first time, I was able to look in the mirror (closely, remember, because no glasses) and think, Wow, this makeup is done. As someone who is often sweaty, a little artificial perspiration made all the difference.
But I wasn't 100% done. I'd almost forgotten about the monster teeth Cig had fitted me for at the very beginning. I popped these bad boys in, and, unlike everything else I had stuck to my face, they were legitimately uncomfortable. I didn't want to have them in for any longer than necessary.
So we didn't glue them in. I just bit down. And because the plastic around the teeth had been molded to my mouth specifically, they fit quite well. As long as I didn't try to talk (or sip sparkling water), they would basically stay put. And that would have to do for some final photos. (If you think this makes me a quitter, you're being overly judgmental and I hate you.)
The monster and his creation. In case I haven't made this clear, I adored working with Cig, who was creative and informative and very good at what he does. He also has a great sense of humor. In this photo, you can see one of his final finishing touches: A glob of (fake) mucus dripping from one nostril down my chin. I thoroughly appreciated this gross little detail. Now, I had been transformed into a hobo demon clown with allergies, which is so me.
Here I am, modeling my makeup from head to toe. Looking at the finished product, it's hard to imagine that's me under there. The whole experience was bizarre and surreal, but also even more fun than I'd anticipated. I never thought I could have such a good time getting things glued to my face. And I'll be honest: I really wanted to take those giant clown shoes home. They would make for delightful conversation starters.
I really had an amazing time at the Face Off studios, and that's saying something, given that I had to wake up at 6 a.m. to get there. My makeup transformation gave me a new appreciation for the models who spend hours getting done up every week, and also for the artists who work fast under an incredible amount of pressure. I mean, I'm still impressed by how much Cig got done in just three hours, and this time, he wasn't even facing elimination for his work.
But no one was more impressed than my mom, who sent me the following text after I revealed my hobo demon clown self in all his glory: "For the first time, you are yucky. Only word for it. Love you, even yucky." Thanks, Mom.