RJ Haddy Talks Life After 'Face Off' (Part 1)

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RJ Haddy Talks Life After 'Face Off'

"Face Off" finalist RJ Haddy, side by side with his superb design for the "Tim Burton" challenge -- a demented concierge complete with "chest of drawers.". Courtesy of Syfy and NBCUniversal

Originally from Charleston, West Virginia, “Face Off” Season 2 runner-up RJ Haddy earned his spot on “Face Off” by winning the Syfy Viewers Choice Contest, which took place at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con. Haddy won his spot in a live competition against two other artists in a make-up challenge that showed off his talents in prosthetics, paint and airbrushing. Haddy won, claiming his spot in the “Face Off” lineup for season 2, and the 35 year-old high school media and special effects teacher quickly became a fan favorite with viewers.

Haddy made it all the way to the finale, ultimately achieving the runner-up position behind Season 2 winner Rayce Bird, and alongside fellow contestant and finalist Ian Cromer. I had the chance to catch up with Haddy recently, to ask about his time on “Face Off,” and he shared his thoughts about his experiences, as well as his plans for the future.

Angela Mitchell: RJ, was there a particular movie or TV character that was instrumental in making you want to create makeup and effects as a career?

RJ Haddy: Yes, there are two or three that stand out in my head... Puppetry-wise, I was mesmerized by Lyle Conway’s Audrey II puppet [for Little Shop of Horrors]. Makeup-wise, I remember the creatures of and the title character of Beetlejuice having always been a huge inspiration to me, but the biggest of them for me was Jack Nicholson's Joker makeup by Nick Dudman in Tim Burton's 1989 . I was literally obsessed with figuring that out. As a kid, I would watch that movie, and I thought they had pinched the sides of his mouth together and pulled them back into that grin.... I said before in a different interview that I’d wanted to do that character for Halloween, and it was a small obsession of mine until I finally discovered foam latex!

Angela Mitchell: Who was the most surprising boot, to you? For me, it was Brea. I thought the argument could have been made for Jerry or Athena going that round, instead.

RJ Haddy: We are all friends and family now. But it is a competition as well as a show. I know I started sizing up the competition from day one, wondering who would be left at the end. Jerry was a surprise to me, given his experience, and Beki was also a surprise. I disagreed with the judges that week. There was one infinitely worse that ended up staying, and that’s really what it boiled down to -- not whose was better, but more about who had a bad day or whose just wasn't on par with the rest.

Angela Mitchell: What was your favorite challenge? As I mentioned in my other “Face Off” interviews, I absolutely loved the Tim Burton Challenge, and thought the creations were fantastic for that one. And I loved your incredible concierge with that touch of whimsy ("chest of drawers!").

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Melted Makeups and Near-Misses

A closer look at RJ Haddy's ingenious design for the "Tim Burton" challenge, which helped to catapult him into the "Face Off" Season 2 finale. Courtesy of Syfy and NBCUniversal

RJ Haddy: Thank you! I would have to agree that was definitely my favorite challenge as well. Also, for as much trouble as I had coming up with a concept I was happy with, I really liked the Dinoplasty dinosaur challenge, and for the fun factor of the setup, the phobia villain challenge was awesome. Going to that haunted hospital was really inspiring for my mad doctor, Dr. Xyro -- that place really helped me create the necessary backstory for that guy.

Angela Mitchell: I loved the phobia challenge. Meanwhile, what was the most difficult challenge for you? I thought the Dinoplasty challenge was pretty tough (although the looks were all so fantastic in the end anyway), and loved your "Veloci-Rapper (velociraptor-rapper)" too.

RJ Haddy: Thanks, I was really happy with the way my Dinosaur challenge "Veloci-Rapper" came out -- it was a fun character that [my makeup model] Landon and I had fun with, and I knew he would enjoy that one!

But, the most difficult by far was the last one... I was baked by that time, just tired, worn out, and just honestly ready to get home to my own bed! I did give it my all though, and pulled out every trick from the book, I tried to incorporate as many different things as I could into that final design to showcase a wide variety of applications and abilities -- we did fabrication, costuming, props, silicone pieces, foam pieces, head pieces, body pieces. I really wanted to show the judges something I hadn't up to this point, especially Glenn, who was particularly over my corny sense of humor in the makeups...

So I wanted to do something serious for him, and really for all of them, to let them know I wasn't a one-trick pony. Like Ve said, the humor was awesome, but she wanted me to know that it wasn't always suitable for every makeup job. That said to me, “Show me something else…” So it was time to show them I could be versatile, and I felt we did that... We really went out of the way to complete a real story there with these characters.

Unfortunately, in the finale, the characters were denied any customized choreography, and placed on stage out of order.

Angela Mitchell: Really? That had to be stressful.

RJ Haddy: Yeah, the Phoenix was supposed to be in the middle as the centerpiece of a huge battle between the evil Alchemist/Necromancer and the good and matronly Earth Mother. The dance could have showcased that, but they never took any of that into consideration. I was very bummed about that. When they came out, they just stood there like "American Gothic" and didn't assume any character poses, not to mention the "Mother Earth" model was just very disgruntled in the first place having all that stuff put on her, so every time you look at her, she's scowling...

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Looking Back on the Finale

RJ Haddy with his three designs for the "Face Off" Season 2 finale. Comments Haddy, "The pieces with the flowing fabric, headdresses, and feathers looked amazing. I couldn't have been prouder of what we accomplished as a team.". Courtesy of Syfy and NBCUniversal

Angela Mitchell: Oh, no…

RJ Haddy: There was a language barrier, as she didn't speak much English... She just kept saying " How am I supposed to dance in this?" I guess after working with Landon as my makeup model most of the season, that I had become a little spoiled. It truly shows the difference in a makeup when it’s put on the right or wrong person.

I was so proud of those girls, though – man, they worked so hard for me, and knocked out some beautiful stuff. We were complete, we were stage-worthy, we were beautiful and colorful, and really reached outside of the box from the rest of the work I'd done that season -- and not to mention, on stage and in movement, the pieces with the flowing fabric, headdresses, and feathers looked amazing. Of the three, I feel like with all the smoke and atmosphere, ours was really seen well from stage. I couldn't have been prouder of what we accomplished as a team.

Angela Mitchell: For the animal challenge, if you could go back in time, would you pick a different animal?

RJ Haddy: I don't know honestly. Perhaps I would have, if I’d known we would do dinosaurs later, maybe... I really liked the coloring on the Panther Chameleon, so I don’t know… maybe if it was just straight "create an animal" makeup, I would have gone with the wolf. But it was such a bizarre idea for a challenge -- create an animal-plant hybrid… huh?

I think we did a great job (seeing how it’s the only spotlight challenge I won, I have to say that, right?). But seriously, I liked the idea of the Or-KILL-eon, as we called it, I loved how excited Vivica [Fox] got when she was talking about it -- man, I would love to see her in that thing! I know she would really work that. I loved how it pulled off looking like a plant and then turning into a lizard... But the judges said they were overall disappointed in that week – I’m not sure what they expected of us that challenge. The rhino, while yes an awe-inspiring creature, is definitely in no way shape or form in the traditional sense (in most people’s minds) aesthetically beautiful. Beautiful in its way, yes. But I just didn't think it would work.

Angela Mitchell: What was the most useful or interesting advice you got from the judges this season? I loved the judging this season, and Ve especially seems so approachable and supportive, especially -- all the more amazing given her multiple Oscar wins!

RJ Haddy: She is! Very... All the more amazing as well, when you consider she is such an inspiration to a lot of us. My marriage proposal was serious... I grew most through the finishing and painting of my pieces on the show. I would listen to Ve say, “Your paint job is a little flat...” and then try to punch it up each time I heard it for the next challenge.

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Favorite Makeup and Effects Techniques

The talented "Face Off" judging panel included Glenn Hetrick (Heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files), three-time Academy Award winner Ve Neill (Pirates of the Caribbean, Edward Scissorhands), and Patrick Tatopoulos (Underworld, Independence Day). Courtesy of Syfy and NBCUniversal

Angela Mitchell: RJ, you've all shown yourselves to be adept in techniques from sculpting, mold-making and prosthetics to design and application. Which are your favorites?

RJ Haddy: I like sculpting in WED clay -- I love fabricating, I like working with different materials... I like being able to turn garbage or something unassuming and utilitarian into something like an awesome chest of drawers. I enjoy foam latex the most though, because it’s most versatile and easy to obtain and work with. I like making puppets too.

Angela Mitchell: Puppetry? That’s great, it’s such an amazing fit for what you do.

RJ Haddy: I’m as much a performer myself as I am a creator, and I think that is why my heart strings get pulled to puppetry. Because not only is there the joy that comes from the physical creation, but you get to bring this puppet, this little guy, to life. It’s amazing how much personality a hand can put into an inanimate object.

Angela Mitchell: What challenge were you most proud of, and why?

RJ Haddy: The finale, as I mentioned earlier. On the Tim Burton thing... it was definitely the most fun and the most relaxed I had been on the show, but I honestly didn't think what I was doing at the time was all that impressive... Landon really sold it and put it over the top.

Angela Mitchell: Never underestimate the power of a great model!

RJ Haddy: Again... there’s that value of having the physicality and acting ability to pull off the characters. Not only did Glenn say he thought I had more time to think about this, but from an actor’s standpoint, you would think that Landon was aware weeks ahead of time in order to prepare his character. He was amazing! We don't create art that hangs on a wall or sits in a glass case. We create functional art, art that isn't complete until it’s worn and brought to life, and the overall effectiveness of that transformation is dependent on who's wearing it... Our job is only 50% of it -- the other fifty is theirs! It seems to be the one thing I did that stands out to the fans, and I am so appreciative they liked our collaboration so much!

Angela Mitchell: RJ, after earning your spot in the Syfy Viewers Choice Contest at the 2011 Comic Con in San Diego, what has the response from the fan community been like on your journey on "Face Off?" What has it been like to return to working in makeup and effects after a professional career as a high school teacher, and after the loss in your family? It's got to be really exciting and life-affirming to have come so far on the show.

RJ Haddy: As a teacher, I came back from Hollywood and my old principal was gracious enough to let me sort of mold this department into what it is today... and ten years later we have the Capital High School Department of Film, Television, and Multimedia Arts and Sciences department -- another spoke in the Fine Arts Magnet wheel that High School is for our community. I have been very proud of this accomplishment, and of all the kids I've had throughout the years.

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Second Chances

Of his time on "Face Off," finalist RJ Haddy comments that "It’s given me back that feeling of doing something good and inspiring for people that I thought I had lost.". Courtesy of Syfy and NBCUniversal

RJ Haddy: In recent years though, the kids have changed, rules regulations and red tape have gone off the deep end, and working in the public school system just isn't what it used to be. 'No Child Left Behind' has left more ruin then good in its wake, and our kids have changed because of it. I’m not going to turn this into a NEA union rally but its sad to see what’s become of education from the inside... and it’s not the teachers’ faults.

I know this finally because of “Face Off.” In recent years, I have noticed I can’t inspire my kids as much anymore; I can’t get them to adhere to deadlines, or turn things in. Kids generally just aren't performing as they used to. I’d ask myself, “What am I doing differently? Where am I failing? What have I done wrong?” If you get one or two really good kids a year, you’re lucky. But is this general malaise a cultural problem? I thought so.

Angela Mitchell: My father was a teacher, and a superb one – but I also know what a tough job it is. It does seem as if times have changed recently – it seems harder to motivate people.

RJ Haddy: Then came “Face Off” and “Face Off” fans... and all I have heard is how inspiring I am, and I have gotten all this thanks for all the hard work on the show, and it’s truly humbling beyond belief. All of this love that people are lavishing on me because of the work I did in the span of 10 episodes feels unwarranted but it does make me feel very validated and very special.

Angela Mitchell: That’s terrific to hear.

RJ Haddy: After all, how on earth can you be depressed or have a bad day when you know there are so many people out there that are in your corner and rooting for you, sending you good vibes and love from all over?

And I’m not talking about people I grew up with, I am not talking about family, friends, or co-workers, because they were always loving and supportive. I am talking about complete strangers. I am beyond blessed in so many ways, and am beyond appreciative. It’s given me back that feeling of doing something good and inspiring for people that I thought I had lost. Now, because of “Face Off” I have been given a great gift -- I have been allowed the ability to inspire people on a broader scale, to reach beyond the walls of one classroom. In 10 weeks’ time, I reached more people than I ever would have in an entire lifetime spent in one classroom. Which is why I would like to bring some seminars, lectures and workshops to anyone that would have me.