Among my favorite parts of New York Comic Con was getting to interview Rod Maxwell, special effects makeup artist and a (sadly, former) contestant on Syfy's competition show, Face Off. He's been working with the anti-smoking campaign The Truth to create the Flavor Monster, a freaky embodiment of how cigarette manufacturers target teenagers and young adults by adding appealing flavors to tobacco products. Maxwell's involvement isn't just artistic, it's personal. But we also talk about his awesome makeup skills and his time on the show. For instance: Is everyone really that bad at managing their time? (By the way, in case you've been watching Face Off, his arm is doing great!)
What do you think is the most important element of special effects make up that a regular audience doesn't consider?
Oh, the amount of time and work that goes into creating this. We do it very fast on Face Off, and it's coined, at least to us, "Face Off style." But to really do it with precision and refinement, it does take a long time. It is not, "blink your eyes and the mold is made." Or you end up injuring yourself.
So what was, in your career, not just on Face Off, but what was your most challenging makeup?
For me I think my film The Wishing Well, where I played 26 different characters in it. Transforming my face into 26 different people, where there was no similarity, that was the biggest challenge. And I got to play every different character — different ethnicities, different ages, different sexes, all of that. So that was my biggest challenge, because I like variation.
Where can people get that movie? Is it available?
If you've got an iPad, you can go to TheWishingWellMovie.com and you can download it on your iPad. It's the Wishing Well Popup Movie and Game. If there were more letters I could have put a couple more in there, but that's the iPad one, so you can watch the movie. There's a game in it, and you will pop up behind the scenes.
What else have you worked on that we might recognize?
Well it's funny that I worked on Face Off, because [Face Off judge] Pat Tatopolous, we worked on Godzilla. We weren't in the same department, but that was probably the thing that ties Face Off together with me. I've worked on Godzilla with Patrick. Small world.
What kind of movies have influenced you the most in your design?
I would say originally The List of Adrian Messenger. I think it was made before I was born. That's a spy thriller where all these movie stars are disguised, you don't know it's them and at the end of the movie… spoiler alert, it's very old. They say the movie's over, but the mystery isn't. Then all the characters you've seen throughout the movie, they take off their faces and it's Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas, it's just all these people. I think Kirk Douglas is the star.
So would you say horror, or monsters in general?
I would say it's a little bit of everything, I think any face transformation. I used to love Twilight Zone and Outer Limits where people would have different faces or rip their faces off. There was one… I would love to find out what it was. There was someone who was a disguise person, and at the end of it, in court, I think they give him an injection, and they show that his face is pliable and they squish his face on, I believe. It's a childhood memory, and I would just love to know what that was. [Ed. note: I'm almost positive it's The Outer Limits, "The Hundred Days of the Dragon".]
A couple of questions about Face Off. It seems like everyone on Face Off really struggles with time. Is that editing? Or is everyone really bad with time management?
It's not a matter of being bad with time management, it's actually having so limited an amount of time to do what typically takes weeks to do. Literally, you get the assignment in the morning and by the end of the next day, your molds are made. It would typically take weeks to really do something right with care. You always see me running on Face Off — that's because I didn't want to wait until the last minute. So, no, it's not editing. If anything, I don't think it's ever possible to show how hard my castmates are working.
Do you think that it's really unrealistic to make people like yourself compete in a show like that, with those time limits and constraints? Or do you think it's a good challenge?
Oh, I think it's a great challenge, because, first of all, I can go back and look at all the things I created, and I wouldn't think that that was possible if it wasn't for being a part of that competition. I typically wouldn't have taken a break, or thought, "You know what? I'll put this off until tomorrow," because I wouldn't push myself to the limit of possibly injuring myself. In this case, you go, "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity." It's an awesome challenge. These are things I never would have come up with on my own. So, no, it was great experience across the board.
Obviously I can't ask you who the winner is, because…
I don't know!
You don't know if they're going to reveal it live! So, you went home on the Kid's Monster Challenge.
I think you had a lot of fun with it, and you stuck to your guns.
Yes, I did.
Also, it wasn't bad. Every once in awhile, it's not even a bad makeup that sends someone home.
No. I'm very glad that I didn't go home on something that I felt like I screwed up on. I really did what I wanted to do, and I felt like I really honored [my artist] Sophia's vision. And then if the judges really had critiques for it, that's fine.
They were so mixed on that challenge.
They really were. When we were there, they took a long time to deliberate. We were waiting for a very unusually long time.
It was a very fun challenge to watch.
Thank you. It was a fun thing to do, and Sophia cracked me up!
Finally, tell us about your involvement and your work with the Flavor Monsters and The Truth.
Well, Syfy and Truth, I'm not sure how the inner workings went, but it was just a really nice coincidence. When I started The Wishing Well with all those characters, Carol Meikle, who's a friend of mine, who's an old-timer working in [the industry], she taught me how to do some of the wig stuff. She had emphysema at the time, and she really supported The Wishing Well. She never got to see the end of The Wishing Well because she died of emphysema. We tried to get her a lung transplant, it was really horrible. But then for The Wishing Well, she sparked the interest of the producers of Face Off, so Wishing Well got me on Face Off, and Face Off got me involved in Truth. Really, it honors Carol, so her passing gets to be brought up in a constructive way that smoking can lead to emphysema, and it's such a horrible experience.
Despite ending on a sad note, it was fascinating to watch Rod work on his live Flavor Monster makeup and listen to him talk shop. For more information about Rod's movie, The Wishing Well, visit the official site and download the iPad app. For more on the Flavor Monsters, which also features an interactive game, visit The Truth. And I also recommend checking out Syfy's Face Off, one of the better competition shows on right now because, well, you really can't get away with sucking on that show. New episode tonight at 9:00 PM EST, and Gale Anne Hurd (producer of The Walking Dead) is a guest judge.
Thanks for your time, Rod!