Ahead of tonight's Season 7 premiere on Syfy, we spoke to "Face Off" contestant David "DOC" O'Connell about what it takes to get through the casting process for this competitive reality show and what kind of makeup design is the most challenging. O'Connell is presently working as a seasonal lead prosthetic makeup artist for Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 24 — which, coincidentally, has a "Face Off" theme this year. But for today, he's just gearing up for his television debut.
What made you want to try out for "Face Off"?
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It wasn't my idea to audition. When the first season of the show was casting, my boss and mentor Michael Burnett told me I should just give it a shot. At the time I was still relatively new to special effects makeup, so I thought I had no chance. I went anyway and managed to get a call back but nothing further. I watched the first season and felt that I would be overwhelmed if I had made it, so I didn't try for the second season. When the second season debuted, I found out one of close friends [Nick "Nix" Herrara] had made it on to the cast — and that's when I realized that it was a realistic goal. I feel had he not been on the show, I probably wouldn't have had the courage to try again.
How much did you audition in total before this season?
Season 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. I was selected in the group of Top 20 for Season 4-6 but kept falling short of making the final cut to 14. I do believe I currently hold the record for most attempts before making it on to the final cast.
The face- and body-painting world seems pretty intimate, did you know anyone from this season or previous seasons?
Yes: While the industry is pretty vast, everyone tends to know everyone. I've worked alongside most of the people from Orlando, including Nix Herrera (Season 2), Eric and Derek Garcia (Season 3) and Season 5 winner Laura Tyler. I’ve been acquaintances with a lot of contestants from L.A.
From previous seasons, what was your favorite challenge?
That's a tough one, because there are so many! It may be kind of cliche, but it would have to be the original zombie challenge from Season 1. Conor McCullogh’s work was fantastic, and who wouldn't want to put together a zombie makeup in front of guest judge Greg Nicotero (makeup supervisor/producer of “The Walking Dead”)?
If you could design a challenge, what would it be?
If I were able to design a challenge, it would probably be to put a makeup onscreen, whether it be characters or creatures. Besides the final challenges, most makeups are only judged at the reveal stage. I think it'd be pretty cool to design, create and shoot a makeup in three days. I don't think there's a better way to get a real grasp of a makeup than seeing it onscreen.
What appeals to you about this form of artistic expression?
It's fun! While I may complain here and there about how long a sculpture takes or how challenging mold making can be, there is nothing about doing makeup that's boring. You create something that starts from nothing every time you pick up a brush.
You presently work at Universal Orlando, which seems to be a rite of passage for many people in your field. Why is that? And what do you do there now?
You know, I'm not sure, Universal seems to be the gathering place for many talented artists. They host two of the most spectacular makeup events that I know of — it may be that reputation that people want to be a part of. It's where I got my start and likewise for so many other talented artists. Currently I'm a seasonal lead prosthetic makeup artist, but as of now I'm working on the preproduction of Halloween Horror Nights (sculpting, molding, casting).
Do you have any pet projects you're working on at the moment?
There are a few things I'm working on. I've got a few latex Halloween masks that will be for sale soon, and the other is a side business, "Chop Shop," where I've teamed up with designer Adam Milicevic. We produce masks and props for haunts and films.
What would you like to do as a dream job?
I'd love to work at one of the bigger FX shops, preferably in the mold department. Since the show I've spent a lot of time specifically working on that skill set. While challenging, I find mold making to be very rewarding. The better the molds, the better the final result.
If you could go back in time and work on any film, what would it be and why?
Ugh, such a hard choice! There are so many films I would love to have worked on. If I had to be forced to pick just one it would it would probably be John Carpenter's "The Thing" under Rob Bottin. It's one of my favorite movies and is chock-full of makeup effects.
What's the difference between working on people for theme park shows and for film and TV?
The main difference is time. I've worked on films where I've had weeks to prepare and hours to apply makeup, whereas in the theme parks it's more like days and minutes. For example, the Grinch makeup for the film [starring Jim Carrey] was applied in roughly four hours. In the parks, we are tasked to recreate the look in about an hour [for the seasonal Whoville].
What comes next for you?
Currently it's Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 24, which will be featuring some great makeups from previous seasons of “Face Off.” We've been at it for a few months already, and it feels like Halloween is right around the corner. This should take me about halfway through November, and then the sky is the limit!