Emily Serpico learned much of her craft as a high school student up to her elbows in several dozen plane crash victims – the crash was fake and her job was not to heal the “wounded” but to “inflict” them with concoctions of latex and gelatin. In between faux catastrophes, she busied herself giving rise to vampires and ghouls.
In short order, the teacher who had given Serpico a nudge in the direction of theatrical makeup at G-Star School of The Arts in Palm Springs was taking tips from her.
Now graduated, Serpico, 19, has taken another huge leap, landing on the eighth season of a Los Angeles-based special-effects makeup throw-down: the Syfy channel’s “Face Off.” The Wellington teen is the show’s youngest contestant yet.
“Not only is she extremely talented. She’s about as camera-ready as you can get. And personality? The girl can tear your heart out by frowning on camera. She’s going to develop a following that’s going to blow people away,” said George Colavecchio, G-Star’s so-called “Haunt Master,” in charge of directing a crew of high-schoolers in their annual haunted house fundraising endeavor.
The X-Scream haunted house is what drew Serpico to the school, she said.
A summer at the school’s camp before her freshman year had Serpico begging her mom to reject her acceptance to the highly lauded Dreyfoos School of the Arts in favor of the more rugged digs off Congress Avenue.
Serpico started with an eye toward working on sets, but when Colavecchio suggested she might give makeup a try, the daughter of a theater wig-mistress and a father whose profession is props embraced opportunity.
“My sophomore year (my work) was still jinky. My junior year I started to use materials that were more professional and got more professional results,” Serpico said. She mined YouTube videos and online articles to advance her skills.
“Emily did what hopefully all my students can do, and that is she passed me like I was standing still. So my job at that point became encouragement and not much more,” Colavecchio said, getting a tad choked up with every fond recollection.
“Face Off” is an elimination-style competition where contestants live together in a big house by night and by day try to outdo one another by creating movie-worthy aliens, animal-human hybrids, horror villains and more.
Judges include the Who’s Who of the movie makeup world including the talents behind “Avatar,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Hunger Games,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The X-Files.” This season, three previous winners come back and coach a team of five contestants each.
The winner captures a $100,000 prize, a new car and a big trip - and the competitors are no slouches.
Serpico had watched “Face Off,” and before she was old enough to get on the show, she auditioned anyway. The show’s screeners encouraged her to try again when she turned 18. That second audition was in January and the rest is history - she just can’t tell anyone how it unfolded.
She can say that she got to work with materials beyond what was ever stocked in the G-Star campus.
“When I walked into the lab for the first time, I just wanted to pass out. Even the first challenge, I learned so much. I was taking mental notes,” Serpico said.
And the competitors? “Some have won awards. It’s definitely intimidating.”
Among the bunch, a 32-year-old who interned at an Academy Award-winning character effects studio and worked on the set of “X-Men: First Class,” and a woman, 28, who won the first place in the International Makeup Artists Trade Show in 2012.
The days sometimes stretched for 12 hours and competition extends through 14 episodes, the first of which air at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
The show can open doors. But Serpico was most interested in getting home and locking down her degree in cosmetology first at Palm Beach State College and she’s working at LUSH Cosmetics in Wellington as well.
Serpico says she intends to continue working on her theatrical character skills. “But as a career path, I want to do wigs for kids with cancer and prosthetic limbs. I want to do personalized limbs, make them like pieces of art.”