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How to Make a Latex Mask:

As part of my graduate studies at UNC School of the Arts, I have to publicly publish part of my thesis. I chose to research mold making and casting for theatre, and one of the projects I did was create a latex mask. I came across an awesome reference image for the mask on the internet (unfortunately neglecting to note who created it… if you know who, please let me know so I can give them credit!).

Here is a basic how-to of my process:

Step 1. Sculpt your mask on a plaster positive, I choose to sculpt the head separate from the castle. I like using Monster Clay because it’s easier to recycle at the end of a project and you don’t have to keep it in a moist environment, but really any clay could be used.
Step 2. With a completed sculpt, turn the head on its side, supporting it with some upholstery foam so as not to damage anything.
Step 3. Build walls with water based clay around the sculpt, and added vertical walls to catch the plaster. (I used water based clay here so that I could easily clean the sculpt off later. It also made making perfectly angled walls easier. You can also use oil based clay. It’s just a matter of preference.) You want the walls to be perfect right angles so everything lines up nicely later on.
Step 4. When you finish the walls, mix up a batch of Ultracal 30, and pour a small bit over the sculpt, using a craft brush to apply a beauty coat. A beauty coat helps to eliminate air bubbles.  Pour more Ultracal, and wait for it to set up a bit, then build a nice even coat up over the whole piece.
Step 5. Once the Ultracal completely hardens, turn everything over and remov all of the clay, taking care to repair the areas of the sculpt that got damaged in the process.
Step 6. Add keys to the edges of the Ultracal using a chisel to chip away a ‘V’ shape every five inches or so, and then apply a generous amount of Vaseline® over the surface.
Step 7. Build vertical walls to contain the next batch of Ultracal, using the same process as the first side. This time wait 24 hours for it to fully cure, since the process of cracking the mold could literally break the mold if you try to open the mold too soon.
Step 8. After 24 hours, begin the arduous process of cracking the mold. I recommend having a helper hold the mold steady as you use a rubber mallet to wedge in popsicle sticks. I actually had to use a long, fine bladed knife to start a spot that was big enough to allow for the width of a popsicle stick. Don’t use a chisel for this.
Step 9. Once the mold is open, clean out all of the clay. Any residue from oil based clay can be cleaned out with Isopropyl Alcohol.
Step 10. With a clean mold, fit the two halves together and use strap clamps to hold them together. Put the mold into a box with some sort of cushion: packing peanuts, upholstery foam, etc.
Step 11.  Apply casting latex with small pieces of upholstery foam, switch out the foam often, so that the latex you have applied doesn't get pulled away from the mold with the cured latex on the foam.
Step 12. Use a hairdryer after each layer of latex is applied. Don’t apply a fresh layer until the previous has cured, otherwise you will have a weak, mushy mask.
Step 13. You want an even thickness of about an 1/8”. I used Casting Latex from theengineerguy.com, and used about 15-20 layers. I have also used Clear Latex, which is much thinner, and have had to thicken it with Cabosil so that it wouldn’t take forever.
Step 14. When you have achieved the proper thickness, apply baby powder to the latex; this prevents the mask from sticking to itself.
Step 15. Remove the strap clamps and carefully remove the mask.
Step 16. Apply baby powder to the exterior of the mask.
Step 17. You will have a thin line of latex where the seam of the mold was. Use a small, SHARP pair of scissors to trim this as close to the mask as possible.
Step 18. Tada! You have a latex mask! Next, you’ll want to paint it.
Step 19. Mix a small amount of acrylic paint with Pros-Aide (a super strong prosthetic adhesive)- this mixture is called Pax- and use a piece of upholstery foam to stipple over the whole mask. You can use a hairdryer to speed up dry time in between layers. For more detailed areas, I recommend using alcohol activated makeup.
Step 20. Seal your painted mask with baby powder. This will dull the colors a bit, but you can mist the mask with water to remove the excess powder. I have also used a clear acrylic spray to seal, but sometimes it will result in a cracked texture… which can be really cool if it’s the look you’re going for.

I cut out the eyes on my mask and used pieces of sunglass lens to cover the eye spaces as well as the third eye. I glued them on with CaboPatch- Cabosil mixed with Pros-Aide.  I built the castle by sculpting a tower and two wall pieces, molding them with Ultracal and casting them in cold foam. I connected the cast pieces with latex and painted them using the same technique as the mask. I glued the castle and walls with Pros-Aide, the center piece I glued with CaboPatch. I cut up the back of the mask to allow it to slip over a head, finishing the mask.
Nice write-up &amp; great info!<br><br>The sponge method works &quot;ok&quot; to apply the latex, but is very time intensive, and as you noted sometimes easily pulls the latex away from the stone mold during its application. Forced drying sometimes also can produce &quot;weak&quot; latex than can cause the mask to rip during demolding. There are 2 other methods that also work well, are usually preferred by mask makers, &amp; aren't quite as tricky.<br><br>1. The dwell method. This requires placing the open end of the mold upright &amp; filling the entire mold with latex. Afterwards you can either spend about 5 minutes gently tapping the outside of the mold with a rubber mallet or put the entire thing on something that vibrates (washing machine on spin cycle) to remove any air bubbles in the latex. After you remove the bubbles, you cover the open end if the mold tightly with plastic-wrap and walk away, letting the entire thing &quot;dwell&quot; for around 6 hours. After the time is up, gently pour the latex back out of the mold and back into its container (you can use it again). Prop the mold with the open end upright in a box or with support, and let the entire mold air dry uncovered overnight (minimum of 8 hours, but a couple hours longer can be better) in a well ventilated area with low humidity before demolding your mask.<br><br>Pros: It's about the easiest method with very little casting work or attention. It produces a uniformly thick mask that isn't flimsy and has cured before you remove it from the mold. Any light pooling of latex at the top of the mask lends additional support to mask structure, making it less squishy.<br><br>Cons: The mold + the latex is heavy. It usually requires 2 people to wrangle it. It requires a lot of latex for the dwelling process (not an issue if you're making multiple masks). It. takes longer than the sponge method.<br><br>2. The slush method. This requires filling the mold about 1/4 full of latex. After you have slowly poured the latex in, you gently &quot;slush&quot; it around to make shure all areas are evenly coated, then you pour the leftover latex back into its container. Afterwards you can either spend about 5 minutes gently tapping the mold with a rubber mallet or put the entire thing on something that vibrates (washing machine on spin cycle) to remove any air bubbles in the latex. After you remove the bubbles, you prop the open end of the mold upright in a box or with support, leaving the open end uncovered, and let the entire thing air dry for about 45 minutes. After the 45 minutes you check the latex to make sure it's just started drying (you want it tacky and not fully dry, otherwise your next coat won't always adhere well). You then repeat the slushing process twice more, although you don't have to remove bubbles after the first slush since they'll be inside the mask. After the last slush coat you prop the mold with the open end upright in a box or support, and let the entire mold air dry overnight (minimum of 8 hours, but a couple hours longer can be better) in a well ventilated area with low humidity before demolding your mask.<br><br>Pros: It produces a uniformly thick mask that isn't flimsy and has cured before you remove it from the mold. It's not as heavy to work with yourself as the dwell method. It requires less initial latex (Note that the amount of latex used in the mask will be about the same). If you feel the mask isn't thick enough (you can see by looking at the edge of the mask at the mold opening), you can perform an additional slush coat. Any light pooling of latex at the top of the mask lends additional support to mask structure, making it less squishy.<br><br>Cons: It requires more attention than the dwell method (but still less than the sponge). It has multiple steps and demands you devote time to the slushing schedule. Despite not being as heavy as the mold + latex when &quot;dwelling&quot;, it can still be a bit heavy if you have a large mold or aren't used to manipulating heavy objects, so you still may need a second person to assist you. It. takes longer than the sponge method.<br><br><br><br>As a side note, I've also seen people use a air-brush to gently apply an initial coat of latex in the mold before using either of the above methods. For this air-application to work, the latex has to have been thinned down with distilled water, and applied lightly in an even coat, under low-pressure so as not to disrupt it from its hold on the mold. Done properly &amp; evenly, this can yield a smoother exterior skin coat on the final mask, and eliminates the need for tapping to remove bubbles.<br><br>I hope these additional tips help any prospective mask makers out there! :)
<p>I would love to see more images of your process, and the finished piece. </p><p>Also, it kinda looks like the &quot;Cathedral Head&quot; from the second Hellboy movie - no idea whether the character has another name, but this is what I found on the web: <a href="http://makeupmag.com/uploads/images/Cathedral.jpg" rel="nofollow">http://makeupmag.com/uploads/images/Cathedral.jpg</a>. Coule be concept art for that character. </p>
<p>Thanks for sharing your thesis with us!</p><p>It would be really nice if you could describe what's going on in each photo, did you know you can break it down into discrete steps?</p><p>All in all, nice work! It's clear you put a huge amount of effort into it!</p>

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Bio: My name is Lauren. I earned an MFA from the Stage Properties program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston ... More »
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