Introduction: Robot Redneck Mask

About: I Build Monsters.

In retrospect, The Bionic Woman is probably one of the ingredients responsible for creating my obsession with masks in the first place, although it didn't occur to me for a surprising number of years. I was pretty obsessed with Jaime Sommers by the time I was six or so, and that never changed. I loved Lindsay Wagner and the little scar on her lip. I loved the super-speed being inexplicably represented with slow-motion photography. I loved the sound effects. I loved those episodes when Jaime's skin would get torn open and you could see the bionics inside.

But there was one thing that made the most indelible impression of all: fembots! Although they only appeared in five episodes, these evil, mostly-female robots were the stuff of a young boy's nightmares. Their most ghoulish trick was getting their faces knocked off in the middle of a fight. A human skin-face would fall away, revealing a shiny mess of electronics and – worst of all – their gross naked eyeballs! That image seared into my impressionable brain like nobody's business.

Of course, this was on network television in like 1977, so even as a child it was easy to see how the effect was achieved. The actress playing the fembot would change between cuts, wearing the creepy 'faceless' mask with a wig to hide the line, and the latex face being snatched away would only be on screen for a moment. The camera didn't care about the human face. That circuit-board with the shiny eyes, that was the money shot!

It might have been cheap, and simple, but it was effective.

Now, I've been making masks for a while now, and I've been carrying around my fear of fembots for forty years, so I guess it was inevitable that those interests would eventually collide. For a couple of years I wondered how I might do a take on the fembot design, but I faced a pretty big obstacle in the fact that I make masks out of paper mache! Also the fact that even the latex versions on television would leave the wearer completely blind, and I wanted to make a mask that could actually be worn.

I came up with a couple of potential solutions, which I might still pursue in the future, but the decision to move forward with this version came about almost by accident. I've been making masks for a show next year, following a brief that each of these masks is, in some way, inspired by where I live. That's a concept I've attempted to interpret in various unexpected ways, but trying to be unpredictable sometimes means that you end up missing the obvious.

I live in rural Eastern Oregon, and it's chock full of rednecks. Maybe that's a trite thing to mention, maybe it seems like an easy, cheap shot, but that's the way it is. Rednecks are a defining feature of this place, and it seemed like something I ought to acknowledge.

There is a notebook (a Doctor Who notebook with a cover that looks like the Tardis, if you must know) in which I sketch notions and plans for masks. At some point, at the bottom of a page, I had scratched a little drawing of a bearded face in a trucker hat. It wasn't intended to be a mask, or even a jumping-off point for a design; it was really just a note-to-self. It was a reminder that I ought to use redneckery as inspiration for a mask. That sketch was there for months, not really meaning much. Just being the idea of a redneck. Just sitting there at the bottom of the page.

Then, a couple of months back, I started making a sasquatch mask because I was really yearning for a project with a larger scale. A hundred years ago, the first masks I ever made were gigantic, and I had been feeling this wistful desire to revisit that experience. So I was working on this sasquatch mask and reminiscing about giant masks past, when I came across that little sketch of the redneck face at the bottom of the page in my sketchbook, and for the first time I didn't see it as just a face.

I saw it as a helmet.

If it was a helmet, like my olden-days masks, then I could use all those elements in the sketch: the full beard, the baseball cap, I would get to build an entire three-dimensional head. That sounded interesting. But then, what does it bring to the table as a design concept? It's a redneck, but that's not terribly insightful.

However, the thing that set this idea apart from my previous giant masks is that it was just a person. I had made a gaint monster clown, and a swamp creature, and a pumpkin-head, but the redneck was only a guy.

Suddenly I realized that building an oversized regular person afforded me a special opportunity. If I scaled up all the features on a fembot-style mask, I could solve the visibility problem by making the eyeballs so large that the pupils could be used for eye-holes. Then I'd get to have my fembot fun, and also make the redneck mask a lot more interesting.

And that was enough to get me started.

Step 1: Confederacy of Papercraft

Although I didn't make a thorough visual record, I can easily explain the choices I made when I designed it.

The mask would have a flat bottom, because it would be huge and heavy and a flat bottom makes it a lot easier to store.

The opening at the bottom had to be large enough to comfortably put my whole head inside.

The full size would be dictated by the needs of the design. It had to be a barrel shape with a flat panel over my face, which woud create certain proportions that were basically fixed. So the rest of the mask had to be built around those proportions.

The giant eyes needed to be placed in a spot where they lined up with my own eyes, and the dimensions of the flat panel were dictated by that placement.

The baseball cap had to be left open on the front, because I would need to be able to reach inside for paper mache and general manipulation, but the hat itself had to be built because the placement of the hat band would influence the shape of the hair.

My method here was pretty basic. I just built it out of cardboard and duct tape, trying out different things and reshaping it until I got what I was looking for. I didn't take any pictures until I was pretty far along in this initial process, but I think the method is pretty easy to extrapolate from what you can see. For larger areas like the barrel structure, I use thin strips of corrugated cardboard to build a sort of scaffold, which I then cover in masking tape. This is the surface that I coat with paper mache. It might not seem like using solid cardboard, instead of a lattice, would make the final product significantly heavier, but believe me when I tell you that with a mask this size you're going to want to keep out as much weight as possible.

Papering over the barrel shape gave me a solid surface to work on, so then I could build out the hair shapes using the same cardboard scaffolding method.

Once the skull and the dome of the hat were well formed, I tore out as much of the cardboard as I could. The paper mache was strong enough on its own now, so I just left the main struts in place (they would all be sealed within an interior layer of paper mache, eventually.)

Step 2: Beats All Ya Never Saw

I wasn't sure how best to create the eyeballs, so in typical fashion I just went with the easiest solution based on the tools I had on hand. Bill has a little silicone mixing bowl with a perfectly round bottom.

I made each eye by coating the inside of the bowl with flour paste, laying in paper strips, brushing on more flour paste, and so forth. After drying over night, they could be popped out of the bowl and trimmed.

Step 3: Making the Faaaaaace, the Only Way I Know How

Once the eyes were in place, I was able to start figuring out how to build a face. The face plate needed to reach the magnetic contact points, which would be just above the flat area on the top, and on the 'soul patch' section of the beard at the bottom.

I first freehanded a cardboard sculpture that included a jutting forehead, a nose, eye sockets, and a mustache. I covered that with paper mache and then strapped it onto the main head so that it would maintain its shape while it dried.

Once that piece was fairly solid, I refined the angles a bit, and added the upper and lower eyelids, and a lip below the mustache.

Step 4: Tip of the Hat

Next came my one major piece of corrective surgery. I'd built the hat parallel to the base, which is not really the way most guys where a trucker hat. And more importantly, if I built the brim at that angle, it would hang low over the removable face and inhibit its motion.

So before going any further, I took the Dremel and carved that hat to tilt upward, and papered over the wounds.

Step 5: Applied Robotics

The masks on the old Bionic Woman series appeared to use a hodgepodge of miscellaneous electronic components, glued in place to give the impression of actual robotics. I intended to do the same thing, but since my mask is significantly larger than a human head, I would need a hodgepodge of miscellaneous electronic components that were significantly larger than the real thing.

I started shaping a lot of bits and bobs out of paper clay. While those were drying, I finished papering the inside of the mask and sealed up the trucker hat.

Step 6: Covering the Bases

This was not the color scheme I meant to use, originally. Somehow it all changed while I was building the mask. This dude was a ginger! His hat was red! But by the time I got here, he was blonde and his hat was denim or something.

Step 7: Fussy Little Hussy

I agonized a bit about how to accomplish the details in the paint job. Partly because yellow/blonde is a difficult palette to work with, given its translucency. Partly because I couldn't find a pigment to darken the flesh color without turning it a weird, purplish grey. Partly because it was hard to know how far to carry the shading since it's not actually meant to look realistic. Since this is a robot, one has to assume that its color was achieved through artificial means anyway, right?

Step 8: Robo-Nudity

Time to attach the electronics!

Since the world is on lockdown, I just used the glue I had on hand, which was super. Just plain old Super Glue, and not even the gel type. The really runny kind.

I very carefully laid out a design that pleased me, and ever so gently applied the world's most caustic glue. I let that dry overnight, and then painted over the chemical burns with more of the green background paint. A liberal coating of Mod Podge helped to secure all the wee pieces.

Step 9: Mustache Rides

My robot redneck is wearing a trucker hat, and a trucker hat needs something on it. A slogan. A logo. Something. It was hard to commit to anything, though! Frank from 30 Rock has already exhausted every funny idea that hasn't previously appeared on a real trucker hat, so what was I supposed to do?

What I decided was that it doesn't matter that much. People see a logo on a hat and if they don't immediately recognize it, they just kind of ignore it. But if the hat was blank, that would call attention to itself. Basically, it wasn't important what was on the hat, just that something was on the hat.

So I designed a logo that, if you cared to think about it, would be a classic trucker-hat message. But if you didn't think about it, that would be okay too.

Step 10: Kill Jaime Sommers!

The most surprising thing about this mask is that it doesn't look nearly as crazy big as I expected. But it's still pretty amazing. It will look more amazing later, after my brother provides the real electronics which will add some blinking lights to the inside. Then I can kill Jaime Sommers in the dark!

Sculpting Challenge

First Prize in the
Sculpting Challenge