Ogres, cosplay, and Catherine Hardwicke! The season 5 premiere of Syfy’s Face Off was chock full of theatrics, including the moment when the eight new contestants learned they’d be going head to head with eight veteran contestants from previous seasons. Jaws dropped.
The first Foundation Challenge called for the competitors to create elaborate makeups for a costume ball, setting the stage for a little reality TV crossover moment. Cast members from the new Syfy series Heroes of Cosplay — which debuted immediately following Face Off — dropped in to provide the makeup artists with a little inspiration. Also making an appearance was Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, who stepped in to serve as a guest judge. Bryan “Tate” Steinsiek, from season one, won the challenge and was granted immunity.
Then it was on to the Spotlight Challenge, where the sixteen contestants were split into two teams: veterans versus rookies. Each group was tasked with creating five innovative fantasy characters. Academy Award-winning makeup artist Bill Corso (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Amazing Spiderman) was on hand to provide some mentoring. The veterans won the, uh, face off — with Miranda Jory (season 2) and her pretty pixie singled out as exceptional — which meant that the newbies were on the chopping block. The first contestant to go home was 33 year-old Steve Tolin.
EW spoke with Tolin about his reaction to this season’s big twist, what went wrong in his first and final Face Off challenges, and what he’s been working on since filming wrapped.
Entertainment Weekly: What was the experience of competing on Face Off like?
Steve Tolin: It’s a roller coaster. You have certain preconceived ideas of what it’s going to be like and some of that kind of matches, but it’s an experience unlike any I’ve had. It’s something you can only prepare for so much.
Were you disappointed to be eliminated so early on in the competition?
I wasn’t happy about it, but at the same time there were a lot of things going on outside of Face Off that really benefited from my leaving early. I think there are probably greater forces at work.
What was it like to compete against contestants from previous seasons and what was your reaction when you found out they were coming back?
I was a little disappointed that I was suddenly playing a supporting role rather than a lead role on the television show, but from a competition standpoint we’re all just artists doing our art. So they’re no different than any other contestants in that sense. The greatest shock for me was to find out that suddenly I was not a contestant on season 5. I was going to be playing a newbie in the “return of the veterans” season. [At the time] it seemed like that was how it was going to play out, and that certainly seems to be the way it’s playing out [now]. There was no two hour newcomer special, you know what I mean?
How did the other newcomers seem to feel about it?
It was mutual reaction mostly in regards to how it was going to affect their chances of winning. Some people felt like it was unfair. Some people felt similar to me in the sense that… We’re all just artists in the competition.
Had you watched previous seasons of the show and did you recognize any of the contestants that were brought back?
Oh yeah! I knew every single one of them. I’ve seen every episode of Face Off previous to being cast on the show. Once I was cast on the show, I went back and, with video on demand, watched every episode two, three, four times.
Was there anyone in particular you were most intimidated to compete against in the veterans vs. rookies challenge?
All of them as a group. The most surreal thing about that for me was that it seemed impossible to not feel like I was watching them on TV. I was standing there talking to them and we’re all loving on each other, but it still felt like there was a screen between us.
Is there anything you’d do different if you had to do the challenge over?
I would have paid more attention to the eye edges. That’s my biggest regret. I think that the other notes and criticisms that I received were all subjective. They were opinions. I think that, from a technical standpoint, we could all agree that the eye edges needed more work, but no… I made the best decisions in the situation that I was in. I have a feeling that I would probably make the same mistakes and the same correct choices.
What was it like working alongside Eddie Holecko in the Spotlight Challenge? And which newbie do you think has the best chance of winning?
It was awesome [working with Eddie]! Eddie and I worked together really well. He’s a talented artist and he’s got a great career ahead of him. I would keep an eye on all of them. Rick [Prince] and I really connected. He’s a cool dude. Laney [Parkhurst] has got a unique way of seeing things. She’s a good artist. I mean, they’re all great artists. Part of my strategy was to maintain a certain degree of tunnel vision, so in terms of their work, the only person I really feel like I got to experience their work was Eddie because he was my partner. He’s awesome.
What was it like having both director Catherine Hardwicke and makeup artist Bill Corso on-set?
They were both cool to have around. Bill Corso was especially cool to have around. I think he gave some really great advice that I’ll take much further than the competition. Specifically, there was something that he said that didn’t air, but it was a piece of advice that he gave all of us that I think rings true for everybody that I’ve never been able to put into words. It was cool to have somebody phrase it this way. He talked about reverse engineering your timeline and starting with sending out time parameters with your last objective and working backwards, so that when you run out of time it’s because you didn’t allow enough time on the front end rather than ending up at the back end with no time. You don’t want to end up with pieces not painted.
What about Catherine Hardwicke?
She had some really good notes. It was interesting to see the way she interpreted everyone’s work. I can’t say it was a starstruck moment because I was mostly focused on my work while I was there. But it was cool. It was interesting to hear what she had to say about everyone’s make-up.
Were there any memorable moments that happened when the cameras weren’t rolling?
Bobbing around in the hot tub and grilling around the grill with my fellow contestants. All the real bonding moments were my favorite. I really connected with my fellow contestants. The times when the cameras weren’t rolling were the most fulfilling for me from a human connection standpoint.
Did you bond with the newcomers more so than the veterans?
Even the veterans too. On one hand, even though they were definitely in a position of advantage, they recognized that and they really were trying to guide us. They were trying to give us advice with things that normally we would just have to figure out on our own. We had tour guides that no other season had. I don’t begrudge any of them for wanting to be in the competition. They handled it with grace. They definitely did everything they could to extend a welcome. I don’t think any previous season has been welcomed into the Face Off family before the season was finished. We were made to feel a part of something larger than just our season right out of the gate.
Do you think you’ll keep in touch with anyone?
Face Off is definitely a part of who I am as an artist and that group is suddenly part of my family. I’ll keep in touch with them as much as I do any of my colleagues.
What are you working on now that filming has wrapped?
It’s that old adage: multiple projects in various stages of development. I’m in pre-production on a couple of movies. I’m working on make-up for a demon, possession film. I have a movie that I produced myself called It Came From Yesterday. It was picked up recently by Panorama Entertainment, so we are trying to market that movie. They have a plan in the works. There’s no [release] date yet, but we have a website ItCameFromYesterday.com. It’s an action/adventure, creature comedy. It’s a period piece that takes place in the ’50s. The movie is based on those old science fiction pictures, but with a more contemporary twist in the production design and the creatures. We shot the whole thing on green screen and I built every single digital environment in-house. It came to fruition with my production partner Jeff Waltrowski. We had worked on a movie very early on in my career that had a similar theme. He wrote, directed, and starred in it, so we maintained a relationship. Movie producing is really where I see myself in the future. I have much more of a big picture concept of how complex work environments function. I have a hard time staying interested in the minutia of a project, but when I’m working on broad strokes and the overall of concepts, that’s when I really shine the most. I have a website people can visit [to keep up with what I’m working on] at TolinFX.com. One other thing I’ve been working on, for what it’s worth, is for years I’ve been creating non-explosive bullet hits for live theatre performances, specifically for a show called the Lieutenant of Inishmore. It calls for a lot of movie-style special effects to happen live on stage in front of an audience. So I developed these bullet hit rigs that I’ve now started to offer for sale as a rental at BulletHitRigs.com.
When you first started doing special effects make-up, did you know that producing was your ultimate goal?
I definitely didn’t know this was the path I was headed in. When I was a kid, I became interested in the field [of makeup] and started dabbling with it. Then I went to school at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in their industrial design program. They had a focus on special effects. Then I started on movies in a fairly small role. I’d have one character that I was doing makeup on, then it slowly grew into being a coordinator on those films where I was dealing with a team of artists. It led to me doing production design. I would manage all of the set designers, all of the props, the costumes, the hair, and the special effects makeup, and the wardrobe all under one creative umbrella. It was all one broad stroke that was being made. The next step from there really is producing.