Our blind date? It was monstrous! Bonkers new Netflix show Sexy Beasts combines The Masked Singer and Blind Date to see if singletons can focus on personality, not looks, writes BETH HALE
A wolf, a dinosaur, a troll and an owl walk into a bar. What do they ask for? Why, true love, of course!
No, it’s not a joke about cross-species relations, but the premise of an outlandish new dating show that merges the bonkers identity-concealing costumes of The Masked Singer with the old-school charm of Blind Date.
Putting a very literal spin on the old saying that love is blind, Sexy Beasts, which has just launched on Netflix, sees singletons don an ever more bizarre series of masks to see if they can find a love connection based on personality alone.
In an image-obsessed age, it’s certainly a novel idea. But would you date someone who looked like this? BETH HALE takes a peek behind the mask . . .
THE ULTIMATE BLIND DATE
Cilla Black used to deploy a screen to keep her amorous hopefuls hidden until the big reveal.
But on Blind Date it was only the contestants in the dark. On Sexy Beasts, the audience are left wondering, too.
In each episode, one man or woman is the ‘picker’ and there are three ‘hopefuls’ — none of whom know what the others look like.
With the skilful assistance of a British prosthetics and special effects studio, the daters are all kitted out in full costume. The menagerie includes a mandrill (a type of primate), panda, frog, dolphin, rooster, zombie and scarecrow (to name just a few).
The picker gets to speed-date three potential love matches, then quickly jettisons one. They then get to enjoy a slightly more leisurely second date with the remaining contenders before making a final decision.
Putting a very literal spin on the old saying that love is blind, Sexy Beasts, which has just launched on Netflix, sees singletons don an ever more bizarre series of masks to see if they can find a love connection based on personality alone
Then comes the big reveal of what all three hopefuls really look like — where the picker endeavours not to appear too gutted if they prefer the beauty who was eliminated before the beast they plumped for.
The series includes a line-up of British and American hopefuls, and is narrated by U.S. comedian and Catastrophe star Rob Delaney, who now lives in London.
It was all filmed in the UK, with the primary setting for the big reveal being Knebworth House. The Hertfordshire estate has also been the backdrop for films such as The King’s Speech, Nanny McPhee and St Trinian’s 2.
If the show looks familiar, it might be because you caught its first incarnation on BBC Three, back in 2014.
It quietly faded away after a single short series, but now Lion TV and the original creator and executive producer Simon Welton have brought it back in glossier Hollywood packaging for Netflix.
BUILDING THE BEASTS
The process of creating and overseeing the production of 48 masks fell to British special effects whizz Kristyan Mallett.
His KM Effects workshop in Watford, Hertfordshire, has been the source of costumes worn by Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio and Eddie Redmayne, with credits including The Mummy and Paddington 2.
Kristyan, who first fell in love with film and make-up effects while growing up in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, got his big break as an apprentice on the third film in the Harry Potter series.
But while special effects for a film such as Harry Potter might be months in the planning, for Sexy Beasts everything was designed, produced and fitted within a matter of weeks.
In each episode, one man or woman is the ‘picker’ and there are three ‘hopefuls’ — none of whom know what the others look like. Pictured: Lilly (dressed as a witch), a model from London, wants to be liked for being more than ‘a pretty face’. Kelechi (dressed as a rooster) is a Tennessee student worried about people staring at his bits
Texan student Dustin (seen here as a scarecrow) says his secret weapons are ‘my charm and my smile’
What’s more, because Kristyan and his team did not know which contestants would be dumped after the first date, sculptors had to create three identical prosthetics for each character, because each would only last one wear.
It meant making 144 individual pieces for 12 episodes, six of which are now available to view, with six more to come at a later date.
‘The sheer amount of prosthetics that weren’t used on that show — that were fully made — was heartbreaking,’ says Kristyan.
Nevertheless, he embraced the challenge of the project, which he says was ‘low budget’ but ‘fun’. So how did he do it?
STEP 1: Creating silly characters
The first stage involved coming up with a list of characters.
‘Simon, the producer, and I discussed what the characters were going to be,’ says Kristyan.
‘We put a list together of who we thought could be quite funny, things that could work, and then moved on to some concepts.
‘They had to be friendly and silly — we couldn’t have anything too gruesome or gory, and nothing offensive. We had to tweak a few things — if we had a zombie, it had to be a colourful zombie.
‘We had a Frankenstein we had to revisit to make it much more fun, too.’
The process of creating and overseeing the production of 48 masks fell to British special effects whizz Kristyan Mallett. Pictured: London model Emma (dress as a demon) and lab technician James (wearing a beaver outfit)
STEP 2: Designing in the dark
It’s not just love that is blind on this show. The design team had no idea who would end up wearing each costume — not even whether it would be a man or a woman.
‘Normally you would get six to eight weeks to sculpt a full prosthetic character for a film,’ explains Kristyan. ‘You know who you are going to be sticking it on. But in this particular instance, we had none of that. Is it going to be a large person, a small person?
‘We sculpted all the characters on generic heads in the workshop … if you sculpt on a small head you corner yourself when it comes to fitting.’
STEP 3: A whole lot of latex
Each costume, from furry panda to stone man, starts as a moulded foam latex creation.
A mix of chemicals — like a ‘frothy cake mix, but more liquid’ — is injected into a mould and baked for a few hours at 100C. The mould is then opened and the cooked foam latex piece is washed and dried in a laborious process that takes two days.
Three identical versions are made at the same time, then when they are all dry, they are placed on stands next to each other, ready for the next stage.
With the skilful assistance of a British prosthetics and special effects studio, the daters are all kitted out in full costume. Pictured: Tyler (in alien attire) is a model from Los Angeles who rates his personality as 9.99 out of ten
The moment of truth came when the contestants arrived for their dates — only then could the special effects team discover if their creations would actually fit. Pictured: Amber (here seen as a pixie), from North Carolina, is in the military and wants a man with ‘pizzazz’
STEP 4: Paint, fur and feathers
Next it’s on to the painters, fabricators and feather fixers in the 30-strong special effects team.
‘We had to sculpt 48 different characters. But what made it very difficult is that we had to make three of each,’ says Kristyan.
‘You get your three sets out, put them next to each other, and then decorate them all at the same time so they are identical.
‘It took about four-and-a-half weeks, I wouldn’t want to do it again. It was a real headache!’
Despite the speedy turnaround, no detail was overlooked. Every inch of skin had to be covered, and in some cases the costumes (the dolphin, for instance) are so complete that contestants don’t even get a glimpse of a lip or a row of pearly teeth.
As viewers will see, some makes are patently cuter than others — deer, for instance, would be far preferable to troll.
‘Some were better than others,’ admits the designer. ‘If you look at the tin man, we heavily invested a lot of time in that sculpt. Some of the designs were less intricate, so were made very quickly.’
The mouse was one of the quickest to make, requiring nothing much more than a layer of white flocking, while the beaver was a fur-intensive process. As for the owl, each feather had to go on one by one and be positioned identically in all three versions.
‘If you look at the tin man, we heavily invested a lot of time in that sculpt. Some of the designs were less intricate, so were made very quickly,’ says Kristyan. Pictured: Ethan (seen as Tin Man) is a Texan marine biologist who can hold his breath for four minutes
STEP 5: A scary pre-date fitting
The moment of truth came when the contestants arrived for their dates — only then could the special effects team discover if their creations would actually fit.
It took three hours for teams of two to fit each costume, and they had to do so three days running for the filming of each episode.
One issue they encountered was with the original Rhino, who couldn’t wear the costume because he had too much hair to fit underneath, even when they used a latex cap to hold down his locks.
‘There were instances where I would get a call at five o’clock in the morning saying, “This character doesn’t fit,” and I would have to drive another box of prosthetics or a few options to the site,’ recalls Kristyan.
STEP 6: Big reveal — and the binning!
‘When they go on a date, you really hope the prosthetic lasts,’ says Kristyan.
‘I think Simon, the producer, was eagerly wanting something to fall off on the power boat [date] down the Thames.’
Stripping away the mask involves using a mineral oil to remove the glue used in application.
The foam latex absorbs all the oil and swells up, so sadly there’s nowhere left for the used mask to go but in the bin — hence why a separate one was needed for each of the three days of filming.
What did the singletons make of it? ‘Dinosaur’ reveals all . . .
Bella, 22, a model and motivational speaker from London, was transformed into a dinosaur for her date with wolf Ibrahim, a dancer and graffiti artist also from London.
She says: ‘As a model, often people will want to date me because of how I look, so to go on a show where it is all about personality was really nice. It was kind of a test to see if I had a dateable personality.
‘I’ve never cared much about looks — I don’t have a physical type, and it’s always been about personality for me. I’m confident, so I like to date guys with a similar level of confidence.
‘Before the show I was in a long-term relationship which ended dramatically. Then I joined all of the dating apps, but quickly realised I didn’t like them.
‘I hit it off with someone before we met in person, then when we met for a walk in the park he told me he had been chosen by aliens on Earth and they wanted to procreate with him. After that I was like: “Right, I’m off!”
Bella, 22, a model and motivational speaker from London, said of her date: ‘I was trying to guess what he looked like under the mask a little, but I didn’t even have a picture in my mind of what he looked like, so when I saw him it was a complete surprise’
‘On the show, Ibrahim was lovely but not entirely my type personality-wise, because he was a bit shyer than me. He was very sweet though.
‘I was trying to guess what he looked like under the mask a little, but I didn’t even have a picture in my mind of what he looked like, so when I saw him it was a complete surprise.
‘I was more preoccupied with the fact that he didn’t know what I looked like (I couldn’t ever forget I was in the costume; it felt like wearing a helmet and was very sticky).
‘Under the mask I could pay attention to what we had in common and the way he behaved.
‘It was so interesting — he pointed out my energy. I do have a lot of energy, but no one has ever told me that before.
‘That said, it is hard to have chemistry with someone if you don’t know what they look like.
‘But it’s a good way to get to know someone and see past their appearance. I’ve been on dates where I spend the whole time thinking, “But you don’t look like your picture,” and I find myself overlooking what their personality is like.’
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