Blood, guts and gory

Nicole Chilelli

Photo By william leung

Check out Nicole Chilelli’s work at For more information on Face Off, visit

Sacramento resident Nicole Chilelli has a thirst for blood—and making it gush from a fake wound in your neck. The 28-year-old special-effects makeup artist took a longtime love for Halloween and turned it into her life’s work, churning out busted lips, broken noses and bizarre creatures for photo and film. Next week, her passion is put to the test on the third season of the reality-show competition Face Off, which premieres Tuesday, August 21, at 9 p.m. on the Syfy channel.

Can you tell me anything about the show?

No. [The show’s producers are] really strict [about] what I can say and what I can’t.

OK, we don’t want you to get sued.

Yeah. For a lot (laughs).

How did you originally get involved in special-effects makeup?

I kinda got started with … my love for Halloween. … I’ve always had art in my life. … In school, it was like every art class I could take, I would take it, whether it was sculpting or jewelry making or theater. … But I never really knew how that was gonna be a job—like, what am I gonna be, like some painter, selling my art … for $20 a pop or something?

It’s not necessarily an easy living.

No … I decided that a good way to make it a career was to be a tattoo artist. So I started at a tattoo shop. But it just wasn’t a good fit. So I ended up just working at an art-supply store, and I was still really big into Halloween and always messing around with blood effects and trying to make stuff as scary as I possibly could. That was … my passion. …

One year, I bought this fake hand [at] a 24-hour Halloween store. … I had it hanging out from the back of my trunk, just to scare people for the whole month of October. I got all the paints and makeup stuff and started painting it to make it look gross and dead and just as scary as I could.

You made a mafia trunk?

(Laughs.) Yeah, just made it as bloody and gory as I could. I guess I was out there working on it for, I don’t know, like three hours or something like that, and my dad came outside, and he was like, “Dude, do you realize how long you’ve been out here? This is, like … you’re sick. Something’s wrong with you.”

Ha! That’s great.

So, he’s like, “Why don’t you do this for a living? Why don’t you do movie makeup?” I’d never even thought about that. That’s my two loves in one. … One day, my dad came home with a [community-college] pamphlet, and it had a Halloween “Blood, Guts, and Gore” class. … And the very first day in that class, I was like, that’s it. This is what I’m meant to do. … I felt, like, super excited and driven by that … so I went on to take a fantasy-makeup and professional-makeup class.

Is there work for you in Sacramento?

There is a film industry in Sacramento; there are photographers. … I get a lot of student filmmakers, and I’ve just started working with some bigger-named people in Sacramento. … A lot of people don’t think there’s much going on here, but Sacramento has a lot of artists.

I know some effects artists get tired of the gore. Are you the opposite?

I like doing all of it. … I really enjoy the fantasy and the creatures … but if you put a blood tube in my hand, and I have to make blood spurt out of somebody’s neck or something, I’ve got a grin on my face the whole time.

Do you have a particular blood recipe that you use?

It depends on what the project is, you know? If somebody’s going to be lying in a huge pool of blood, I’m going to make that. It’s not a big deal. But if it’s gonna be going into somebody’s mouth or something, I’d probably want to buy the mint-flavored one.

On Face Off, you work closely with industry names, like Ve Neill and Glenn Hetrick. What’s it like working such well-established makeup artists?

It’s probably the biggest awesome thing on the show, being able to have … people who have been in the industry, people who really know makeup—to have people of that level look at your work, and be like, “This is good,” or “This sucks,” or “This is what you need to work on.” Having their critique is a gift.

Even if they tell you it stinks?

You’re learning from the best. You know, sometimes it sucks to hear bad things from anybody. … But it’s always a learning process. … If everybody always tells you, “It’s beautiful, you did a great job,” you’re never going to learn anything. Those bad things anybody ever says are just going to make you a better artist. And it’s just as good and amazing when people love it—it feels wonderful.