Chatting with 'Face Off' Finalist Laura Tyler

An In-Depth Q&A with Season 3 Finalist Laura Tyler

'Face Off' Season 3 finalist Laura Tyler, alongside her two creature creations (Earth Witch and Earth Demon) for the season's final challenge ("Immortal Enemies," Episode 311). Photo by: Nicole Wilder/Syfy

Season 3 of the Syfy competitive reality show "Face Off" proved to be one of its strongest to date, with an array of appealing, talented competitors who consistently showed imagination and skill when bringing their special effects makeup creations to life. With Season 4 starting in just a few weeks, each season of the show has spotlighted superb craftsmanship and imagination from its competitors, and Season 4 already looks smashing just from the previews.

The three talented finalists to make it to the end of Season 3 included Laura Tyler, Derek Garcia, and Nicole Chilelli. While Chilelli ended up being awarded the season title by audiences with her beautiful 'Water' witch and demon creations for the final "Immortal Enemies" challenge, Garcia and Tyler both produced typically beautiful work as well, and I was able to interview both recently about their Season 3 experiences via e-mail.

Laura Tyler Interview

"Face Off" viewers will remember Laura Tyler for her analytical and often thoughtful approach to makeup special effects. She then brought her creations to life with consistently exceptional sculpting skills. Laura was often the worrier or planner of the group, bringing a sense of maturity and professional poise to her work (even while the final frantic seconds ticked down before each challenge deadline), yet she was also able to use her skills to overcome obstacles on the fly, as well.

Angela Mitchell: Laura, throughout the season, the judges consistently praised your meticulous technique. Where did you get your training and when did you know you wanted to work in makeup effects?

Laura Tyler: I learned on my own, and on the job, for the most part. My first job was as an airbrush tattoo artist at a local Orlando theme park, Universal Studios.

I was still in school, Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando (which is right across the street from Universal), and at the time I needed the job. I didn't know what I wanted to be at that point career-wise -- only that I liked art and wanted to be an artist. It wasn't until a visiting FX makeup artist came to our classroom that a light bulb kinda clicked. I thought, "This job has everything, and there's so much to learn!"

I think what attracted me to FX makeup the most, was that no matter how hard you try, you can never stop learning about new techniques and materials. Here was something that was extremely multifaceted, and at the time, that was exactly what I was looking for. Something that I could never get bored with... and I get bored pretty easily. This field is ever-changing, and there was always something new to learn. I would never get bored!

I set out that same year (2001), and got my first makeup job at Universal's 'Halloween Horror Nights,' and continued as a seasonal makeup artist there for six more years (while getting my AA in Arts at Valencia) until finally getting the opportunity to go to Hong Kong (for Ocean Park's Halloween Bash with AEO Studios) and then to work 'Grinchmas' for Christmas.

This was where the majority of my experience comes from - that, and of course, learning on my own between these Holiday seasons.

I bought tons of books, and asked for lots of makeup supplies for Birthdays and Christmas -- and I've been actively experimenting with them ever since I was 18. I'm 28 now -- so I've had 10 years of experience so far-- but to me that isn't even close to enough.

Angela Mitchell: It's amazing when you find your lifelong passion like that. With all that preparation, what was it like to take part in "Face Off" on Season 3?

Laura Tyler: I went, not for the money, but for the challenge -- and I got it. The challenge part, I mean! With only an average of 19 hours to make a full FX makeup from design to stage -- it's tremendously difficult -- even for someone with 30 years of experience.

The cameras in front of you were always a bit odd. I'm so used to being behind the scenes, that when put in front of a camera, it was hard to know how to react. I tried to forget the cameras were there.

Angela Mitchell: Laura, I loved your "Weeper" character design for the "Dishonorable Proportions" challenge and the clever fact that it actually wept blood. (How cool was that?) So which challenge for the season was your favorite?

Laura Tyler: Well, I'll have to say that I liked the Star Wars challenge the best. You always get better work when you're passionate about something, and I can't think of any genre that I couldn't be more at ease with.

Angela Mitchell: Star Wars is iconic, and that was a pretty incredible creative challenge. Everyone's excitement the moment it was announced was just instantly palpable.

Laura Tyler: Sarah and I really knocked that one out of the park, I felt.

Angela Mitchell: I agree! I loved that challenge too, and so many of the Cantina designs were so much fun.

What was the hardest technical aspect of the "Monster Twist" challenge? I thought your one-eyed monster was so vibrant and fun (especially loved the batwing ears).

Laura Tyler: The hardest technical challenge of the monster twist, for me, was the hands and feet. They don't show most of this in the show -- there is just not enough time to go into every story, but when I'm saying 'it worked,' in that episode, I'm not just saying it because the latex cured, it's because I figured out how to slosh a soft AB foam layer on the inside of that latex layer to get them done in one-fourth of the time.

Before I had used the AB foam, I had spent about five hours trying to slosh just latex and cotton (like the dragon hooves) and it was taking too long. I was ready to give up and just paint my actors' own hands and feet green, but in the last hour, I tried the AB foam.

I only had minutes to run them the last day. Then, one of the feet I had to de-mold on application day. It was an extremely stressful challenge in the fact that I had never spent so much time on costume pieces.

But, I promised Sophie alot, and luckily I was able to do it all for her.

Angela Mitchell: What was it like to actually get to create your own "Seuss" character?

Laura Tyler: I wanted to make sure that -- whatever I created -- wasn't a Who or Grinch-like character. I really wanted to create something that was just like the picture in the book -- but still something you could put on film. All in all, I was very happy with the way it came out, and I had fun making him look cute instead of scary.

Angela Mitchell: What was the "Grimm" 'Scene of the Crime' challenge like? Your venomous creature was amazing. I loved the fanged mandibles.

Laura Tyler: I had a lot of challenges to overcome in this episode besides being homesick. The original drawing, which I think you can see briefly in the episode on my desk (maybe if you pause it) was way different in the face than in the final makeup.

Along the way, I discovered that the mandibles weren't going to stay on the face -- not as big as they were drawn, anyway. On application day, I had to make them much smaller in order for them to stay glued-on.

But, I was happy with the final outcome. I loved this episode, in the way that they really challenged the artists to design something based on the evidence. I think it's fair to say that at this point, I won't suddenly change my career choice and become a detective! So to get that opportunity to create in this way, was super fun.

Angela Mitchell: For "Immortal Enemies," what was it like working with a team, and how did you feel to see your characters in action live onstage?

Laura Tyler: Tommy and Rod worked tirelessly to help me, and for that I can never thank them enough. My 'team' was dedicated and driven, and most importantly, 100% behind all of my decisions and I couldn't have asked for more.

In the end, I loved both characters. The demon was gross and no one wanted to look at him, and the witch was beautiful and you couldn't take your eyes off her. This was exactly what I was going for, and we accomplished that. Working with a team does take a lot of patience, but in the end, the payoff was well worth it. To see the characters fighting, like in an episode of "Buffy" or something, was awesome!

Angela Mitchell: I loved that too, and the fight was really dynamic and beautifully choreographed, too. It really showed off each creation with a star moment. And your description of the demon is really interesting, because that was kind of my initial criticism of him -- I felt like he and the witch didn't seem to be from the same world. Yet the more I thought of the challenge title and the theme of "Immortal Enemies," the more I began to like the idea of a yin-yang approach, instead, and that was what I now feel you accomplished.

Meanwhile, "Face Off" -- which always has a great judging panel -- also always seems to bring in great guest judges, and you guys had some truly amazing celebrity guests this season. Which of the judging sessions was most helpful or interesting for you?

Laura Tyler: If I could only pick one guest walkthrough, I'd have to say I liked Barney Burman the most.

At that point in the "Grimm" challenge, I had already sculpted and molded everything, so I couldn't redesign it... but, for him to help me with the application and paint was really needed, and by affirming/suggesting a bold paint job -- helped get me the win.

As far as celebrity judges were concerned, I would have to say that Paul W.S. Anderson was quite flattering for his comments on my Mad Hatter zombie. Anderson knows what it takes to make a great zombie, so for him to say such nice things about a character I created, which at that point I thought I was going to get kicked off for -- was a wonderful feeling.

Angela Mitchell: Speaking of character creations -- I loved your birch-inspired Earth Witch. The paint job on her was just incredible, and I loved the repeated motif of the green gem in her forehead, neck, and on her staff. What was the best and worst thing about that final challenge?

Laura Tyler: The best thing and worst thing about the final challenge was that it was the last. I was both relieved and sad that it was over.

The whole experience of "Face Off" is so tiring, yet so rewarding. Now that I've had some time off to recoup -- and sleep! -- I would do it all over again with an even greater sense of purpose and inspiration. I was very happy with my witch, and instantly knew what I wanted to do when told about the challenge. I'd like to do the makeup for that character again one day, maybe when I have more time to make her bigger and bolder. She was definitely one of my favorite creations, and one of my favorite models. By the way, the girl playing her was named, Tamiko, and I couldn't have asked for a more talented professional.

Angela Mitchell: Tamiko did a beautiful job -- in fact, the models for "Face Off" often demonstrate real patience, skill and grace during the competition. Everyone I interviewed about Season 2 -- Rayce, R.J., and Ian -- said the same thing about the importance of the models you work with on the show, and about their role in the challenges.

Also, I'd be curious to hear -- which work among your competitors was your favorite for the season, or that you felt was underrated at the time?

Laura Tyler: Roy's 'Watchman' in the 'Dishonored' challenge, I would have to say, was a character I feel which was underrated. He made a large moveable metal hand for crying out loud! On that challenge, we both thought each other's creation was going to win... and then we were both safe.

You can never tell what the judges are going to like one week to the next. And sometimes we spend so much time looking at everyone's work, a pretty biased opinion can begin to develop. But that's why we have judges. Since the judges haven't stared at our makeups for hours like we have, they get to come in fresh and just state what they think. It's very needed and a pretty important job these judges have.

Angela Mitchell: Is there anything we didn't see, as viewers, that had an impact on you during the show?

Laura Tyler: Like on any show, there are a whole bunch of talented production workers that you never get to see. They work tirelessly to make sure what you see on the show every week is fun, informative, and on time. So I'd like to say 'thank you' to all the people behind the scenes -- because without them, there would be no show at all.

Angela Mitchell: That's lovely, and it's going to be right here where they can see it, too. Meanwhile, what's next for you in your work or projects? What's most exciting about the future after "Face Off" for you?

Laura Tyler: Recently, a commercial that I helped do the makeup for just came out in Norway... and then got banned because it was too gory.

Angela Mitchell: Oh no! But... in a way, that's really high praise for the makeup!

Laura Tyler: (laughs) It was for a sports company called XXL and it was shot in Miami in October. Lee Grimes was the Lead makeup artist for that one. (Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpf0VjPE-Ig).

Also, right now I have a independent film I'll be working on in January, which I can't talk about. (Yet.) I also plan to go to IMATS for the first time this January, for a demo and a few panels.

Angela Mitchell: Those events are amazing - not just for the insights into the newest and coolest stuff, but for the connections you can make. They're phenomenal for networking.

Laura Tyler: And I've been taking some time to work on some display pieces for my own personal website, at creature-works.com. Like this goblin (pictured).

Angela Mitchell: Thanks for sharing that -- it's beautiful, and it really spotlights the sculpting talent you showed all the way through Season 3.

Laura Tyler: But beyond that, overall, my goal is to just work in more film down the East coast. If anyone would like to contact me, they're welcome to go to my website, or find me on Facebook.

Angela Mitchell: Thanks so much for talking about your experiences, Laura. You did some gorgeous, truly unforgettable work, and I'll look forward to seeing the great things you accomplish in the future!

"Face Off" airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on Syfy. For more information on "Face Off," check out the links below, or learn more about Season 4's upcoming cast here.