Depending on the movie lover, and quite possibly the movie, we tend to focus on specific aspects of a film as we watch. Some focus on the acting, others could notice the subtleties in the background, or maybe scrutinize the director's creative decisions. But one critical element that can tie all of these things together is the special effects makeup. Whether it is something small like cuts and bruises or an entire creature with scales and armor, every detail can tell a story in itself. Syfy's award winning competition series Face Off has brought new fans and inspired many artists into the world of special effects makeup since its first season in 2011. Since then, the show has grown with tougher competition season after season, with its tenth set to premiere in January of 2016.
At the New York/New Jersey Walker Stalker Con in early December, Face Off alum Tate Steinsiek was one of the guests. His unique style and abundance of creativity propelled him to the finals not once but twice on the show! Not only did Tate make an appearance at the con, but he also held a demonstration where he showed an audience some of the process and intricacies that go into making a high quality movie makeup. Being a big fan of Face Off, it was absolutely incredible to be able to sit down and talk with one of my favorite artists from the show and he had plenty to share!
Me - What were some of your inspirations and some things that inspired you to get into special effects makeup?
Tate - Well the first thing that I can remember was when I was about five years old my parents bought me a VHS copy of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Actually I think it was Beta, even before VHS. But there was a behind the scenes documentary after the video with Rick Baker [Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, An American Werewolf in London, Planet of the Apes] doing all of the make up. So literally since the age of five I've known this is what I'm going to do and it's just been a progression of me working towards that.
Speaking of your different works, what are some of your favorite kinds of makeups to do? Is it creatures? Zombies? Vampires? What are some things that you really love, that you'd consider your "bread and butter"?
I'm a werewolf guy. Always as a kid - I even have the tattoos to prove it (Laughs). I'm just a bit obsessed with werewolves. And I also think seeing Rick Baker in "Thriller" turned me onto "An American Werewolf in London" which Baker won the first Academy Award for make up with that film. So I gotta say zombies are cool, creatures are cool but I'm totally a werewolf dude.
That's so cool. So since you were on [Face Off], you were there for two seasons, did an absolutely amazing job. What were some of your best experiences from the show?
You know the coolest part of the show is, I think, walking away and being friends with a bunch of the cast. They are people who I never would have met otherwise. I still keep in touch with quite a few of the guys from the show, and the girls. Very cool people.
[Also], if you make it to the finale, generally you've done about 12 or 13 characters. In the real world, it would take me TEN YEARS to get 12 or 13 characters to that degree in my portfolio and I get to do it in three months. You know what I mean? So just the fact that I get to walk away with a completely reinvented portfolio, you know I would do "Face Off" a hundred times just for that. Even if there wasn't a prize or cameras following you around. Just to have somebody sponsoring my monsters is the best part.
You mentioned that you were still in touch with some of the people on the show. Have you been able to work with some of the people you were with on the show? And in what aspect? Was it just concept design? On a set of some sort?
I worked with Roy [Season 3 and 5] actually in Atlanta not too long ago. I've worked with Eric Zapata [Season 4 and 5] who I love, Eric is one of my good friends. And funny enough Laney [Season 5] and Eric Fox [Season 4] did special effects on my film that I directed. So, you know, it's like a big family. We all just kinda toss the ball back and forth and stay in contact.
You also mentioned you did so many different makeups, was that the hardest aspect of the show? To keep coming up with all these different ideas? Or was there another aspect that was even harder?
Ideas, concepts, that's never been a problem for me. You can hand me a bendy straw and I'll give you a back story on how it's an alien. So concepts have never been a problem for me. The hardest part of the show honestly is living in the house. The shop work is a breeze, that's your release. But living with a bunch of strangers, technically because you don't know them when you get there, is pretty difficult. You know you're locked in, no cell phone, no internet, no communication with the outside world, no loved ones. You're forced to interact with these strangers. For me, that was the hardest part.
Right! Because I also noticed that at the end of every season, if you make it to the finals, you're able to talk to your loved ones. Your parents, significant other, etc. So how uplifting was that to be able to do that not just once but twice because you were in the finals both times.
You know it's amazing! A lot of people think that those emotions are put on. They don't realize, at that point, you've been there for almost three months. You haven't talked to your wife, your husband, your parents, nobody! So it's a big deal when you get that little taste of reality. Because in that environment, nothing is real. It's all just a weird mess of experiences.
That's awesome! Do you actually still watch the show? Do you tune in every now and then?
When I can. I'm on the road a lot so I don't get to do a lot of television. But I keep up on it. I either go on the website and check out the pictures for the week or what's being done. I wish I could but I can't.
You mentioned earlier that "you would go back a hundred times." If you were asked to go back again as a contest or even as a coach — they had a season where coaches were involved, Laura [Season 3 and 5] came back — would you ever consider going back as something like that?
Yeah, I absolutely would. It's just such a special experience. It's not something that anybody gets to experience, and I got to experience it twice, you know? To get to experience it a third or fourth or a hundred times, I'd do it just because it's such an amazing opportunity. Not only do you get to meet these amazing people but it just does amazing things for your career.
And you get to inspire people. I'm a young artist. Usually you have to be a dead artist for people to know your work. And I get to look people in the eye that are like "I'm so inspired by your work" and it's an amazing feeling.
You mentioned that you're on the road a lot. What have you done since the show? You said that you directed your own film? What other work have you done and can you elaborate more on the film you directed?
I directed a film called 'Addiction: A 60's Love Story.' It stars Ian Harding from 'Pretty Little Liars,' he plays Ezra. Evanna Lynch from 'Harry Potter," she played Luna Lovegood. I've got Carol Kane from 'Gotham,' 'Taxi,' and 'Princess Bride.' Amazing cast! So that's taken up the past two and a half years of my life pretty much. An entire year for production, an entire year for post-production. It came out in theaters in November and now it's available all over the internet and video on-demand and things like that.
It was an interesting experience. Not a typical film that I would make. I was a director for hire. It's not my story, it's a true story of somebody else. So it was a bitter sweet experience. I had to abide to their rules for making my film. So there was some butting of heads but I think we came to a nice conclusion.
That being said, it took me out of the effects game for two years! So now I'm actually going into pre-production next month for a film with Rory Culkin [Signs, Mean Creek, Lymelife] and I'm excited to get back and start making monsters again.
I have several films coming up. I'm doing an entire new line for Spirit Masks. I'm doing a higher-end mask line for them. So I'm staying super busy.
You said that you are really good at coming up with concepts and things of that nature. Does that come from you, like "Hey! I wanna make a cool vampire make up!" or something like that? Or do you wait for someone to pitch you an idea then you run with it yourself?
I have so many notes and notebooks and pieces of paper all over my studio, I'll just jot down ideas. I'm constantly coming up with concepts which is one of the reasons I wanted to step into directing and not just special effects. I like to create things but I also like to envision them as well. I like not just the character but the world they live in, you know? So it was just a practical step for me to get into directing and story telling.
But yeah, concepts are just something that the guys on the show, a lot of them would always rag on me like, "Dude, you had these elaborate backstories, like where does this come from?!" And honestly the answer is I have no clue (laughs). It's just something that I was born with.
Like something that just clicks right off the bat?
Yeah, instantly! I don't even necessarily need the "design phase" [a phase on Face Off where contestants sketch out their concepts and designs]. I can go straight to the clay. I see the character in my head vividly but for the show they made you sit down and sketch. It was just part of the show.
When it came to the concepts and things like that, certain contestants had a certain vibe or specific aspects that seemed to resonate throughout all of their makeups. Yours seemed a lot more creative, like you can't compare one to the other because they are just so vastly different. Where do you think that comes from? Do you just take it challenge to challenge where you think "I want to make something completely different," or is just how you are that you always want to keep changing the game?
Well the short answer to that is: as an artist you have to populate your mind with reference. Like you have to constantly be taking visuals as an artist. You have to be researching animal life, sea life, anatomy, the living, the dead. You need to have this mental file folder that you can refer to in situations like Face Off where they literally put you into an environment void of influence. There's no reference, there's no books, there's nothing to call on. And that was the hardest part for some of the contestants is they don't walk around like me with a mental rolodex of weird shit, you know?
Since the age of four, I've been populating my mind with art work. Like Hieronymus Bosch was my favorite artist as a kid, The Garden of Earthly Delights and all this weird stuff. So that's the key, you just have to populate your mind with all these references.
Awesome. And my last question: What is some advice you would give to aspiring creators in the art world or even writers or anything like that? What would be some words of inspiration you would give to other people?
Words of inspiration... just stick to your passion. Because I'm the absolute example. I'm a redneck from Oklahoma. I grew up milking cows, you know what I mean? And now I'm working on films with movie stars. If you have a passion, stick to it, work hard, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it because I'm proof that you can.