Alumna puts her best face forward

Melanie Licata (left) and Ana Cali sculpt their Watch Man for the “Child’s Play” challenge on Face Off.
Melanie Licata (left) and Anna Cali sculpt their Watch Man for the “Child’s Play” challenge on Face Off.

By Samantha Brandbergh

Intergalactic bounty hunters, disguises and alien parasites may seem out of the ordinary to most. But for Rider alumna Melanie Licata, ’11, this has been her everyday life since joining the cast of Syfy’s Face Off.

Face Off, which airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m., is a competition show where makeup and special effects artists compete against one another, tackling the challenges presented to them, such as creating makeup similar to that of science fiction or horror films.

Each week the contestants are given a challenge, such as creating a disguise for a government spy, to showcase their talents and techniques to a panel of judges.

The winner this season will receive a VIP trip from Kryolan Professional Makeup to one of its 85 international locations, a 2016 Fiat 500 and $100,000.

Since the show’s 10th season premiere on Jan. 13, Licata has successfully won multiple Spotlight Challenges, including “Lost Languages,” in which contestants created a character inspired by a “custom-made language.”

Licata, a Chinese and theater double major during her time at Rider, said the theater program helped her to embrace her love of makeup.

“I was able to make a lot of mistakes and experiment in a safe, supportive environment,” she said. “The theater department was very collaborative and that gave way for a lot of creative people to do what they are passionate about.”

One Rider production that stood out to Licata was Dr. Patrick Chmel’s Cabaret, in which she provided full body makeup for the Emcee.

“During this production, I felt like I really contributed to a complete character coming alive for an audience each night, and that rush made me feel like makeup could be a very rewarding career,” she said.

Chmel noted that Licata’s involvement with theater will be a strong factor for her in the competition.

“She was actively involved in pretty much all our shows in one way or another,” he said. “Melanie was — and I’m sure still is — a highly talented, smart and hugely energetic actor and she should do well on Face Off.”

As her education at Rider continued, her portfolio, which currently ranges from bridal makeup to theatrical horror, complete with her own handmade prosthetics, expanded to productions on and off campus.

“Faculty and student directors would reach out to me about whether or not I would be able to pull off certain effects for their shows or short films. It was a really exciting time,” she said. “I got my first paid makeup gig from my Rider faculty adviser doing makeup at a local high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast.”

After graduating, Licata received further training from Tom Savini’s Special Make up Effects program in 2015 and earned her esthetics license from Atelier Esthetique in New York City soon after.

Since joining the Face Off cast, Licata’s spontaneity has been at the forefront of her thought process.

“I say yes to everything and figure it out later,” she explained.

In order to land a spot on Face Off, Licata auditioned by submitting her work to producers. “They want to see not only your work, they want to see you doing it,” she said. “It’s an intense and exciting process.”

The grueling and fast-paced requirements of each challenge exhibited on Face Off allowed Licata’s day-to-day life to open to new adventures. The contestants were able to explore the “lab” and the materials they would use in the challenges.

“It was such a freeing experience to be able to create projects with almost limitless resources,” she said. “It was also really cool getting to come up with an idea, and then have it completed for judging two days later. I didn’t even know I was capable of doing something that quickly.”

Going from living in Jersey City, to working in California with fellow makeup artists on TV screens in millions of homes has proven to be a polarizing change for Licata.

“The most challenging part [of being on Face Off] is having to watch myself on TV each week,” she joked. “It’s fun, but it’s also very bizarre.”

No matter the outcome of Face Off, Licata is hopeful that she and her freelance business will continue to be successful.

“For now, I am just looking to pick up as many opportunities as I can, and continue to grow and learn as an artist,” she said.


Published in the 2/24/16 edition. 

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