Introduction: Predator Latex Mask and Bio-Helmet

About: I've been making movies as a hobby for nearly 8 years now, and I've always enjoyed the fantastical and imaginative. I occasionally take on the challenge of trying to construct some recreations.
So you want to be Predator for Halloween, for a movie, or just because. Great. Don't we all? Where to get a good mask? Mass-produced ones look like crap, custom-made ones cost a small fortune. Just make your own for cheap. Most latex masks are made by sculpting a mold, taking a cast of that mold (sometimes twice), filling that with latex, and pulling the mask out. There's a much easier and budget-friendly way to do it. It's not perfect, but you get a pretty cool end-product when you're done.

Step 1: Materials and Cost

To make a latex mask, the first thing you'll need, obviously, is liquid latex. There are two main places to find liquid latex (in large enough amounts to make a mask): theater/makeup supply stores or eBay. You might find "Mold Builder" latex at a craft store. This is NOT good for masks; apparently there are chemicals that would make it unhealthy as a mask. Make sure the latex you get is specifically for mask making. If you have a good theater/makeup store in your area, you can see what they have, but it would probably be only a small bottle. You can ask the store about ordering more latex in a larger amount. One gallon of latex is a standard size, and would be more than enough for one mask (you could probably make several masks with a gallon). If you're going to be ordering it anyway, you can get it from eBay. It'll run you upwards of $50 for a gallon, or less if you can find an auction. fun_fx and ecbarista are sellers who currently have latex in stock. Halloween-time is the best time to find latex for sale (for obvious reasons). There are other online stores that sell latex; find a reputable one and make an order (I recently bought some from here, great price and quick shipping). The main materials (and cost) you'll need are these:

Liquid Latex - $40-50
Air-Dry Clay - $5
Styrofoam Head, Wooden Dowel, PVC Couplers - $14

The air-dry clay would be found at a craft store like Michael's. The brand I usually see is Amaco. Since craft stores usually have a 40% off one item coupon all the time, you can use that and get a good 10 pound block of clay for about $5. There are other options for clay that will be discussed later. You'll want a Styrofoam head to sculpt off of. A makeup supply store should have them, or if there is a Savers store around, they usually have them. Or eBay is a good option too.

Depending on what you already have lying around the house, the above materials may be all that you need to buy. Still, these are some other materials/tools that I used in the course of making my mask:

Spray Paint
Acrylic Paint
Dremmel tool
Aluminum Foil
Hot Glue

Step 2: Sculpting the Mask

Start off with some good reference images of the Predator head. Find the Predator design you want to base yours off of (they vary from movie to movie), or make your own unique design. After you have your reference, take the Styrofoam head and sculpt the Predator head on top of it. It's best if you have a larger foam head; a lot of them are pretty small. My mask ended up pretty small because I started with a small foam head. You can build up on yours to make it bigger. Basically, just press on flat pancake-like pieces to cover the whole surface, and then build up on top of that. There's no specific way to do it, just mold the clay into the shape you want it, and build up the head sculpt.

This is a video showing a time-lapse of my sculpt. Note how it helps to use some aluminum foil to build up some areas, or to stab pencils into the head to support the mandibles.

The Hunter Takes Shape from Alex Walton on Vimeo.

A note about cheap air-dry clay: it's cheap. For the sake of budget, that's a good thing, but it does have its disadvantages. Namely that it dries quickly, and when it does dry, it shrinks. When it tries to shrink on something like a foam head, it starts to crack. The time window for making this is limited. When I made mine, I sculpted it in about an hour and a half, and started working with latex right after. You'd probably only have a small number of hours before the clay started to crack. There may be ways to avoid the time limits, such as using a non-shrinking (preferably non-air-dry clay) instead, or somehow sealing the sculpt with a clear sealing coat so that it is extra-sturdy. Some other hints people have given is that you can cover the sculpt with wet paper towels and a plastic bag to help preserve it, or have a spray bottle of water to keep it moist.

Step 3: Painting Latex

After the sculpt is done, we need to make a latex mask out of it. I first discovered from a few tutorials on YouTube that you could paint layers of liquid latex on top of a sculpt and peel it off to make a mask. Simple as that.

Coat the sculpt with Vaseline (makes it release easier). Then take a paintbrush and dip it in some liquid dish washing soap. This will keep the latex from sticking to the bristles. Dip the brush into the latex and paint it over the sculpt. Paint over the entire surface, and then let the layer dry. It only takes about half an hour or so for it to dry completely. After that, do another layer. Dry. Another layer. Repeat until you have about 10 or more layers to ensure that it's thick and strong. I heard this tip from a tutorial, and I don't know how effective it is, but if you take some wood glue and paint some of that on areas that you want to be stiff (like the mandibles or ridges on top), it helps those areas be more sturdy. After it's all dry, then simply peel it off of the sculpt. Latex can sometimes stick to itself, so rubbing a coating of baby powder on the mask is recommended before peeling it off. Also, if you can, try to add some baby powder onto the underside of the mask as you begin to pull it off.

Note: the main disadvantage to this method of making a latex mask is how it layers on top of details, i.e. if you have fine wrinkles on your sculpt, they'll just be smoothed out when the latex gets brushed on. And it's difficult to get a smooth texture(though they say if you use a sponge and stipple the latex on instead of painting, it works well). With painting the latex, you get a kind of bumpy, uneven texture, which ends up looking pretty good on something like Predator.

Step 4: Paint, Teeth and Quills

For painting latex, there are a few options. The important thing to know is that latex is stretchy and flexible, and it is ideal that any paint or color that is added is also flexible. I painted mine with spray paint. It works great for budget, and it already has an “air-brushed” quality to it, with faded edges that look nice. However, it begins crack pretty easily in some areas. Ideally, the best paint for something like this would be latex-based. The cheapest way to do this might be to take acrylic paint and mix it with some of your latex. If you have an air-brush, all the better. Something else that works well is cream makeup. I used it on the insides of the mandibles, and also to patch up other spots. It can also help to blend color from the mask to your skin, such as around the eyes. Other small details that help are veins in the mandible areas, and also the black dots, drawn on with a red pen and a permanent marker.

To make teeth, sculpt more of the air-dry clay into the right shape. Cut little holes with scissors in the mask where you want them to go, push them through the holes, and use some superglue to secure them in place.

For the quills, I took some toothpicks and spray-painted them black. I cut them to small lengths and pressed them through the underside of the mask so that they'd stick out the top. A little bit of superglue helps those stay as well.

Step 5: Dreadlocks

Dreadlocks are notorious for being the most difficult part of making a Predator costume. After many trials and failures, with much frustration, I eventually found a method that was somewhat simple and effective.

Start by mixing liquid latex with a bit of black acrylic paint to make black colored latex. Then pour this latex into a poster tube. Take a wooden dowel with a diameter of about 3/4" (or other sizes for dreads of different size) and round off/taper one end of it. Coat the dowel with some Vaseline and then dip it in the tube and pull it back out. Let it dry out for about an hour, then dip another layer, wait another hour, and then slide the dread off of the dowel.

With the help of a little rolled up aluminum foil, fill out the top of the dread to help it "bend" smoothly. Since it's not a solid floppy piece it needs help to keep a round shape. Then use hot glue to attach the base of the dread to the ridge of the mask. Cover it all up with some more black latex to help it blend in.

I made beads for my dreads out of PVC coupler pieces. I “etched” them a bit with a dremmel tool and then spray painted them gold. I had to use the dremmel tool to smooth out the inside of the couplers, which had a ridge inside. With that ridge sanded smooth, the couplers simply slid onto the dreads and stayed in place well.

Step 6: Bio-Helmet

The bio-helmet will also start with a sculpt on top of the foam head. After you've made the sculpt, cover it with a coat of Vaseline and then dip some plaster strips in water and lay them on top of the sculpt. Cover the whole area of the mask with 2 or 3 layers for strength. To smooth out the surface of the helmet, take some plaster of Paris and mix it with water to a milky consistency (maybe a bit thicker) and paint that on top. Joint compound would also work well for this. You can use sandpaper on it after it dries if you want it even smoother. After it has all dried, you can then take the clay off of the foam head and dig it out of the plaster cast. I made eye pieces with some wire mesh, but sunglasses of some sort would work as well. Spray paint it all silver (and some black) to finish it off.

For having it fit on top of the mask, if you're lucky like I was, you may be able to just fold the mandibles inside and put the helmet on top and it will stay in place just like it should. If not, then Velcro strips could come in handy. Or, you could somehow add some magnets onto the back of the helmet and inside the mask that line up to keep it in place (I also did that for mine).

If you want a laser light in your helmet, that's a bit more difficult. Unless you can find some portable light that would fit inside, you'll have to go to somewhere like Radio Shack and ask about wiring an LED light, which will require a battery pack, which may be able to fit inside the helmet.

Step 7: Final Thoughts and Advice

If anything, hopefully this Instructable shows how easy it can be to make a latex mask. The possibilities are limitless. The most important points to remember are these:
  • Get mask-making latex. If it's not for making masks, it's probably not safe for skin contact.
  • Cheap clay is good for a limited budget, but you have to work quickly with it before it dries and cracks your sculpt.
  • Dish washing soap will save you from having to use a new brush every time you paint a layer on.
  • Painting a latex mask is best with latex-based paint or cream makeup.
  • Dreads are difficult, but the dipping method I showed is probably the best way to do them on a budget.

Good luck to any and all who might attempt a similar project. Or, at the very least, I hope you enjoyed this look into my crazy project.

This is a video chronicling this process (though not as detailed) if you want to follow along:

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