A Tacoma native is poised to become the next reality TV star in a show where his task is to make people as scary as possible.
“The Swan” this is not.
Marcel Banks, a 2004 graduate of Tacoma’s Lincoln High School, will compete with 11 other special-effects makeup artists in the SyFy Network’s “Face Off,” premiering Wednesday night.
The contestants will turn people into man-beasts, zombies, horror villains, fairy tale creatures and aliens. One challenge will be to turn a bride into a groom and vice versa.
The show will highlight talents in prosthetics, 3-D design, sculpting, eye enhancers, casting and molding. Each week, one contestant will be eliminated by movie makeup judges, eventually leaving one winner who gets $100,000 and a year’s worth of makeup.
Banks, 24, has been obsessed with horror films since he saw 1954’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon” at Puyallup’s Liberty Theater when he was a boy. “It blew me away. I couldn’t believe that stuff looked that real.”
Combine that with a love of drawing, sculpting and other artistic pursuits, and his career path was set. His higher education, at the Art Institute of Seattle, lasted all of one day before he dropped out and used his tuition to pursue on-the-job training.
His first break was garnering the lead special-effects position in the low-budget flick “The Book of Zombie,” filmed in Puyallup, Auburn and Shoreline.
After that, he said, “It was a snowball effect. Through that, I met a lot of people.”
While he was working on an independent movie in New Mexico last year, he heard about “Face Off.”
There’s no way I’ll get in, he thought, but on a lark, he decided to try. “I jokingly made an audition tape in one day, and I sent it in thinking I would never hear back ... and they called me.”
He was flown to Los Angeles and tasked with designing and creating makeup in a two-hour period; he endured many interviews with producers.
During filming, Banks encouraged his fellow contestants to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I had a great time. I know not everyone did. But I did.”
The show was filmed in the fall. The winner has been chosen but Banks won’t reveal the outcome.
The first week’s challenge, airing Wednesday, was to create a man-animal hybrid while working with a team. Their inspiration: Three animals that were brought into their workspace: a beetle, an ostrich and an elephant.
Banks hopes “Face Off” will showcase practical special effects and real makeup in a CGI (computer-generated imagery) saturated movie and TV world. “It’s bringing back a lot of attention to a forgotten art,” he said.
Real special effects connect with the viewer and performer, he said. “It has more of an emotional response. The actor can respond to something practical.”
So far, Banks has worked only on independent films, but he hopes the exposure on “Face Off” will bring more work. He now shares a Tacoma house with two roommates, but he plans to move to LA. He doesn’t have his next project lined up, but he knows what he wants to do.
“I want to do a really cool monster movie,” he said. “Just something where you can build cool creatures through special effects.”
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 firstname.lastname@example.org
What: Reality competition series
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Syfy Network