Giant Mask: Horror Head!

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Introduction: Giant Mask: Horror Head!

About: I Build Monsters.

This Instructable (which will begin by bordering dangerously on "slideshow" and for that, I apologize) is the focal point for my 2008 Halloween costume. A huge, papier-mache mask of gruesome proportions!

And don't forget to vote for Horror Head in the DIY Halloween contest!

Step 1: Can You Draw Me?

Unfortunately, I started this year's Halloween mask shortly before I started using the Instructables website, so I did not bother to take any pictures of the very early stages of construction. I had already done a fairly close coverage of this process on a previous mask project and since the principle is exactly the same, it didn't seem necessary.
In this case, rather than making a papier-mache shell over an inflated punch-ball balloon, I built the mask on a Diamond Comics corrugated cardboard shipping box - this takes far less time and works just as well, but it must be said that this method is slightly less cool.
Besides, even if I had taken detailed photographs, they can only help so much in terms of instruction. Essentially, this part of the process is sculpture, and you just have to make it up as you go along! I create shapes by wadding up newspapers and wrapping them with masking tape, then taping them to the box. It evolves organically over time, and I change it while I go, turning the head around to view it from various angles and just trying to make it look as cool as I can. The most important piece of advice, particularly if you're building on a box or balloon, is to do whatever you can to disguise the shape of your starting point. You don't want your mask to look like a box with a face, or a sphere with some pieces stuck on it... you want to incorporate that starting shape into the overall design and bury it beneath the face you're sculpting! On this mask, for example, I added the dome-shaped top and used another strip of cardboard to make a very angular, jutting chin, which helps to diminish the boxiness.

So, if you want to make an exact copy of my mask, then my first instruction is "MAKE A MASK OUT OF CARDBOARD, PAPER AND TAPE THAT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE THIS."
Otherwise, start by experimenting with a way of sculpting the mask that is comfortable to you. It took me a while to find a method that worked for me, and everybody's different. Just bear in mind that the more materials you use, the heavier your final mask will be... and even though it's just flour and newspaper, the papier-mache will add quite a bit of weight.

You can see from the pictures here that I did not really start taking photographs until just after I started to coat the mask with papier-mache. The nails sticking out of his head posed certain problems, to ensure that they would stiffen and set at the correct angle. I tied the nail from his right eyelid to the nail protruding at the back of his head to keep it propped up while the flour-paste dried.

Step 2: The Devil's in the Details

I had set myself a lot of challenges with this mask, which became all the more apparent as I worked through the all-important first complete layer of papier-mache. The nails sticking out of the face and head were a constant obstacle. The free-floating brackets that attached the mouth to the nails are not only a challenging shape, but they required very careful application to keep them from sticking to the nails or the face. Then there was that particularly problematic area where the left nostril was affixed to the lower eyelid using another ring... what was I thinking!?

Basically, all of these design decisions just required me to cut many long, thin strips of paper (about a quarter of an inch wide) and use them to spiral-wrap the rings, the nails, the nail heads, etc. Takes a long time, with frequent hand-washing as the paste built up on the ol' fingertips.

At this point, I did not attempt to coat the ring in his right ear, which was fashioned as a completely separate piece. I wanted to wait for the paper on the ear to be dry and solid before I tried any work on the ring.

Step 3: Look Sharp!

Once the complete mask had been given a full coat of papier-mache, it was time to throw certain areas into greater relief.

The first step was to cut up an entire issue of The Onion into tiny pieces, then throw them into a pot of rapidly boiling water. I allowed this to disintegrate in the pot for a while, and if my blender wasn't broken I would have also run it through the blender. But for my purposes, this was not strictly necessary.
A word of warning: depending on the newspapers you're using, you could end up with a horrible inky residue on your pot and/or blender! I'm probably not the only one out there who has a "gross pot" that I use for all my crafts and other potentially gross endeavors, but if you don't, GET ONE. Don't boil newspapers in your favorite stock pot!

Once the newspaper was suitably pulped, I wrang it out and dumped it into the bowl of flour-paste, adding some extra white glue to the mix.

Essentially, this creates a hand-moldable sculpting medium that I was able to use to fill in holes and uneven areas, as well as make sharper angles on the skin ridges and strengthen the base of the nails. It was a bit lumpier than would have been ideal, but since it was all going to be papered over anyway it didn't really matter.

Once another coat of paper-mache goes on, the whole head looks much, much better.

Step 4: True Grit

One last coat of papier-mache bears out my supposition that the paper-mulch step was a good idea. The skin-ridges look much nicer than they did before, and the shape of his ears and nostrils is much (if subtly) improved. Because it's made of newspaper, the detail can be difficult to see, but this mask is looking more and more like I had envisioned it.

After allowing it to dry for a few hours, it's time to sand it!
Some people are really picky about the grit, but I honestly just sanded it with whatever was convenient - in this case, a slightly-used, relatively fine piece of velcro-backed sandpaper intended to be stuck to an orbital sander (incidentally, the sandpaper had been around for a few years, since I originally bought it as a means to artificially age a long coat as part of a scarecrow costume).
I just sanded the whole face. Do you require special instructions on how that works? You just make it smooth, and then you stop, and blow off the dust, and then it looks all pretty.

Step 5: Primed... for EVIL!

This is so self-explanatory that I hesitate to even call it a step! But it's actually pretty important to me, as the guy making the mask, so just in case you decide to make on I felt like I ought to tell you why.

Since I'm sculpting with newspaper and coating with newspaper, I'm constantly looking at a mask whose surface is an irregular mess of various gray-tones, color ads and column inches. Applying the primer is the first time in the whole process that I get to really examine the shape of the mask without having to stretch my imagination. Here it is, visible, right in front of me! Luckily, I like the way it looks.

On a technical note, I use Killz brand primer, because it makes me feel like I am protecting my mask against the abuses of the environment... although I really have no idea if it's true or not. Honestly, I got into the habit many masks ago, when I needed primer so I stole a can of it from the restaurant where I was working at the time. It was Killz, and I just keep using it out of a sense of tradition or something.

Step 6: Planet of the Oops

How did I choose this glorious color, you must be wondering?

For whatever reason, I decided in advance that I wasn't going to actually envision and select a color for this mask. I was going to go to Home Depot's paint center, march up to the "Oops!" shelf, and paint this mask according to whatever improperly-mixed paint was available. There wasn't much.

I ended up buying a gallon of hideous, booger-colored paint for five dollars, and a quart of a pale flesh-tone for a buck. The color that I used for the skin is a mixture of the two colors in approximately equal proportions.

Here I have put two full coats of the skin-paint on his face and allowed them to dry. I've done an elaborate masking job afterwards, and begun the more tedious process of painting the nails and rings... all the bits that are meant to be "metal".

Step 7: Boogerlips and Eyeflaps

I separated a small amount of the skintone mixture and added more of the pale fleshtone, enough to increase the total quantity by about a third. This I used to highlight the raised areas on and around the nose, brows, ears, and eyelids.

The primary lip color is simply the undiluted booger-green paint that I mentioned earlier. I also used this to trace in a few lowlights around the eyelids and nostrils.

The shocking red of the inner eyelids was the resulting of underpainting with an old leftover quart of housepaint I had called "cherry cobbler", then overlaying that with a primary red and streaking it through with white. The veins on the eyeballs are the same color scheme, and the gums in his mouth are just three coats of cherry cobbler. Yummy.

Step 8: "Bring on the Meat," Said the Walleye!

On this pass, I concentrated primarily on the back of his head. I went over the exposed skull with various shades of white, umber, and ochre, to get a somewhat dirty bone effect. After that, I used the same cherry cobbler/primary red effect on the exposed "meat" areas, this time adding in some white and some black to create a layered look.

Also added a few highlights to the "metal" areas, which weren't really necessary but it was fun for me.

I then mixed the primary red with some of my clear varnish, which I used to drizzle blood out of his exposed wounds.

Now, a word about the eyes. My initial idea was that they would have a kind of wild, crazy, walleyed look to them. I wanted the eyes to express a kind of ecstatic quality, but an ecstasy wherein you would be unsure whether it was a result of an overabundance of agony or of pleasure. Am I overthinking this?

Anyway, I think it worked. But in the end, I wasn't that crazy about it so I decided to paint them out and redo the irises.

Step 9: Dirty, Dirty, Dirty!

Time to add a bit of skin tone to this mothah!

For this trick, I simply applied a thin layer of dark, booger-green paint to the face, using a sponge. I used a regular Scot dish sponge, the yellow kind with the green scrubby layer on the back.

Once the booger-paint dried to a tacky consistency, I wiped away the excess with the sponge, then scrubbed it off with scrubby side!
What this does is embed the dark paint in the lowest areas, while simultaneously smearing a tiny amount of that paint over the rest of the surface. This darkens the overall tone slightly, giving a more realistic unevenness to the complexion. I repeated the process several times in some areas, only once or twice in others.

Simultaneously (or more accurately, during the times that I was waiting for the other paint to dry) I was working on repainting the eyes. My second pass found a middle ground, slightly ecstatic but more focused. The walleye quality was less distracting.

Step 10: The Corpse Varnishes

And then, I went over the whole thing with an acrylic satin finish. Hurray!

Now, if anybody actually read this far, I have a couple of questions.


First: any costume ideas? Now that the mask is done, I have to figure out what to wear with it!

Second: help me name him! I just don't feel right calling him "Horror Head" all the time.

Step 11: Make the Rest of the Costume

Giant Monster Hands

Surely, no giant head would be truly complete without some sort of body for it to sit on, so I utilized the most convenient body I had laying aroung: my own.

The most striking accessory for this costume is the pair of Giant Monster Hands, which I have included as a separate Instructable. On the underneath, I'm wearing simple black coverall (the bizarre difficulty of acquiring such an unassuming garment is a tale all its own, but does not actually warrant an instructable!). But the coat, that's a different story.

I knew I needed a long black leather coat, but I didn't want the garment to be financially crippling. The first one I decided upon was a very large thrift score that cost fifty dollars, and that seemed like too much. Luckily, a second excursion led me to this little number: much smaller than I had envisioned, but delightfully old and cracked, with a really weird collar and a slightly unpleasant fleece lining.

The process was basically this: I stripped out the lining on the sleeves and used the extraneous leather to make large darts, which I hand-stitched into the sleeves so they would be wide enough to accomodate the monster hands.

Using the same canvas scraps and paint mixtures, I crafted a number "muscle bulges" which I stuffed with fiberfill and stitched into the coat, slicing open the leather to allow the muscles to poke through. These are particularly featured on the triceps, the shoulders, and also some pointy elbows.

The major feature of the coat is the hunchback, which is large and has several spinal protrusions, and the whole thing is bursting through the back of the coat between my shoulder blades.

There was this old black velvet jacket I had around (I think it was from my Charlie Chaplin costume of nine years ago) which became the sacrificial lamb. I used the velvet to line the big weird collar of the leather coat, then I stuffed it all with fiberfill. This made the collar stand up, obscuring the neckline of the mask as well as keeping the hunchback clearly exposed at all times. I used remaining velvet to make tattered cuffs for the sleeves and some more shredded tatters along the bottom of the coat. I have placed a pair of grommets through the lapel which can be used to keep the collar fixed forward, ensuring that the shape remains and also cushioning my delicate clavicles from the weight of the mask!

There is still a bit of work to do (can a great costume ever be truly complete?) but I'm really quite happy with how this is shaping up! I'll probably continue to fuss with it right up until the big day. And possibly beyond.

Step 12: Conquer the Night!

As it turned out, I did continue to fuss with the costume - adding the final piece, a protruding hairy monster belly. It's pretty gross, and truly ties to whole thing together.

Here you can see me hanging out with trick-or-treaters, posing with customers and, at one point, facing down the end of the sonic screwdriver with an angry Time Lord

Patrolling the sidewalk up and down the block in front of my store throughout the night, I found myself being photographed from dozens of passing cars, and being asked to pose with several wide-eyed children. Perhaps the saddest and most perfect proof of my triumph came in the form of a little girl who, upon entering the store with her parents, immediately burst into tears when she saw me and flatly refused to come any closer. Even when I removed my mask to explain that it was all just a costume, she remained steadfastly inconcolable. Ah, Halloween.

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    64 Comments

    Your design for this mask real well done. Myself mask maker and think your real good with show character mask.

     Oh no, the hands are made of canvas sheets.  I needed them to be able to move

    One other thing-- I had to do mache that would allow light to come through, so I found that good, thick paper towels worked well for that and didn't require as many coats.  The light came through great--just like a lamp!

    1 reply

     That sounds very interesting... never done anything like that before, but I'd love to give it a shot.

    Great instructable!  I just did a bunch of paper mache and really like your idea to puree the paper.  (I used The Onion as well.  Ha ha!)  I just want to add that Kilz has bleach in it which is great for preventing mold.  I read you can add it or paint to the mache mix which makes it more weather proof and sturdy, and also makes the mache less porous when it comes time to add your final color.  Also, adding salt to the mix keeps the mold out.  (I can't remember if you said you used salt...)  Anyhow, great mask.  I'm inspired!

    1 reply

     I've never added paint or Kilz directly to the mixture, but it's a terrific idea.  One of the reasons I love this medium so much is that it's so versatile!

    Stunned by your talent.  I have always been a fan of the oversize mask, haven't even considered to try until now.  I think some small scale paper mache projects would be great for my kids and get me back into the creative mode i have stored away for too long.  I'm going to go over you other postings before I ask any of the questions that are in my head.

    1 reply

     Thank you!  Check out the Montessaurus instructable... that has the best and most intricate description of my papier-mache process, and I designed it for kids.

    Jaques. Jaques seems to fit. I like the butcher/mortician idea, I assume this has already gone out for Halloween, how did that go?

    1 reply

    Amazingly successful! Unfortunately the weather was uncooperative (an unseasonable 70 degrees!) so I was quite overheated, but it looked amazing and I made a little girl weep from terror!

    Awesome job dude. I've always loved your work anyway so voting for you was a no brainer. SW

    1 reply

    Much obliged! This was a really fun costume, I'll definitely need to find an excuse to wear it again!

    I dont know if I did something wrong, but my paper mache mask was very stiff. It might have been my mixture. How exactly do you cut a hole in the paper mache? It was very hard to do and came out jagged. What tool do you use?

    4 replies

    Generally, a papier-mache mask will be very stiff, the variation in hardness will depend on how many coats of paper and paste you use. For me, the hardness is something I want, because I hope for my masks to be very durable.
    When I have to cut into them, I typically will use a very sharp X-acto blade. Those seem to work best. Any razor blade will work though, and they give you a lot more control than scissors do.
    These days I do a lot more planning ahead so there is less need for me to make cuts in the finished product, but I learned in the past that if you need to cut eye-holes, for example, you should do it at an earlier stage when the papier-mache coating is thinner and more flexible. Then you can use strips of paper that will be folded down through the openings and continued on the interior surface, which help to reinforce the overall structure.
    Can you give me a more detailed description of your project and the problems you faced with it? I'd be more than happy to help you out if I can.

    Ah, alright, thanks. I actually ditched the old one because it got lopsided wihle i was making it :p I think this one will work pretty well though. Great insturctable by the way. It really shows the possibilities of paper mache! Infact, I couldn't even tell your mask was made of paper mache.

    Yeah, the more I use it the more impressed I am with the versatility of the medium. My first mask looks like a chainsaw sculpture compared to this one!