Introduction: Terrifying High-quality Masks (Plaster of Paris)

Joker Thug and Ogre masks! How to make high-quality Halloween masks!

   For the past 7 years,
DainiusGB and Aurimasmb have been making Halloween masks, using a process that ensures great results: terrifying, durable, and beautiful masks that can be used over and over again. Over the years, we have refined the pipeline for this process, and are sharing it with the world now, eagerly awaiting to see what the DIY community will do with it.

    This instructable will cover the technique of making masks using this method:  from plastilin to plaster, as well as explain some of the artistic thinking behind the process.  

    As well as providing a general approach for anyone wanting to do their own project using this method, we provide 2 examples (our own work of Halloween 2009) of masks made using this process, detailing the differences in approach that were taken.

The masks we created this year:
DainiusGB: The Joker Thug mask
Aurimasmb: The Ogre mask

So - get out your trusty vaseline, and get ready to create your own high-quality Halloween mask!

Step 1: Preparation

Before beginning the process, here's an overview of how this project will work:

Using a base mass for support, we created a mold from plastilin (a high-end modeling dough) for the shape of the mask. Next, we applied wet plaster of paris gauze/bandage in strips over the mold. Once dry, we removed this plaster shape, trimmed it, pierced eye, nose, and strap attachment holes, smoothed the surface and painted it. For some final touches, hair or other details are applied to the mask, as well as any padding for comfort. 

ere are some materials that you'll be needing:

Base mass - This could be anything from a head-shaped rock to a bowl - its purpose is to provide the basic shape on which to apply plastiline and mold the face of your mask. Instead of using wollops of plastiline to fill in empty skull space, use this to do the work for you. Fortunately for us this year, we had access to life-sized, perfectly proportionately correct models of the human heads, complete with nice stands to work on (a plaster head used for academic drawing). Previously I have used whatever I could find lying around the house - bowls, vases, even lobster buoys from the beach. The point is - it has to be about the size of your head. 

A plastic bag/wrap/sheet - This is very useful when dealing with getting your plastiline off your base mass and keeping your art teacher's plaster head clean. 

Tape - Use this to tape the plastic to your base mass.

2 or more kg of Plastiline - This is one of the most precious artistic materials in existence. It does not need to cure, is infinitely reusable, and actually becomes more malleable when being used because of heat generated by your hands.

Plaster of Paris bandages/gauze or (not recommended) newspapers and papier mache liquid (flour, water.) Plaster bandages can be found at the trusty art store.

Paints or markers for painting and detailing your mask. Its up to you how you want to paint or color your mask - we used acrylic paints.

A bowl of water To dip the plaster bandages into when plastering.


Some tools to work the Plastiline (my personal favorite is a butter knife, knicked from the kitchen)

Hair dryer - Used to help the wet plaster dry.  

Handtowel or cloth of some kind - Used to soak up excess moisture during plaster process. 

Clear laquer
- for making a shiny smooth effect on the mask. The unsmoothed plaster surface can be very rough and bumpy, making it difficult to paint well. Also, if you want a metallic effect, If you spray paint the smoothed mask silver or gold it can look almost like metal.

Hot glue gun - To attach softeners on the inside of the mask or for attaching the bicycle helmet strap.

Step 2: The Mold

 To prepare your mold, first take a look at your base mass, and try to figure out a way to affix it to a stable surface. It is very helpful to put together a stand or base to hold your mold, so that you can work with it without having to hold it at the same time. This is quite important, as you will tend to deform your plastilin mold if your are holding it while working on it, and its good to be able to look at its shape from a comfortable viewpoint while sculpting it. 

If you are using a plaster head, you'll probably already have a built-in stand, so no worries there.
If not, a plywood base screwed onto whatever you are working with works alright.

To prevent the plastilin sticking to the base mass (and to protect your vase or bowl from the oily residue of the plastilin if you so wish) cover the object with a plastic bag, taping it securely. If you are using an object with indentations or depressions, it is important to push the plastic into these cracks, so your plastilin, when applied, is resting on a hard surface.

Step 3: Sculpture - Building Your Face

 Now for the fun part - this is where the sculpture begins!

If there is anything we have learned in our years of halloween costume-making, it is that in a costume, the most scare-potential is in the face. The mask therefore is pivotal in making a terrifying costume. However, making a convincingly scary and realistic mask is easier said than done. Before sculpting, you should do some thinking about specifically what kind of face you would like to mold:

Using a Reference: For halloween costumes, many people like to create characters from movies, books, or videogames. In this instance, it is a good idea to find reference pictures, lots of them, of the face you are trying to recreate. Because you are sculpting a 3D object (faces are not flat!) it is good idea to find pictures of your subject from multiple angles if possible. In the making of the Joker Bank Robbery mask, DainiusGB took screenshots (Prt Sc key on your keyboard) during the film Dark Knight where the Joker appeared in his mask, and compiled them into a reference folder.

Original Idea: Sometimes, however, you would rather do an original design, based on something you find scary. When doing an original mask design, it is a good idea to sketch your idea out, to get a feel for the proportions and masses on the face that you will be molding. Try to draw your character's face from different angles, to help flesh out the 3D shape you will be working with.
In choosing your creative direction for a mask, the possibilities are endless. Anything from a pink fairy to a fireman can be made terrifying with good character design. The art of making your own character for a mask can be difficult, but very rewarding. To transform anything into a sinister, creepy, or grotesque character, one need simply follow these guidelines, as well as his/her creative direction:

1. Realism counts! - Try make your mask as realistic as possible first, then subtly start changing features, like adding a little bit too much mass to the nose, or making the face sag a little bit. Proportions are very important - try referencing anatomical drawings of the skull, or looking at simple drawing guides for the face and head for reference. It is more terrifying to see a distortion of real life than it is to see something unrecognizably bizarre.

2. Exaggerate! - In the features that you do decide to focus on, exaggerate! Make the eyes even angrier, or the mouth even more upturned in that evil grin. What's important to remember is that you should exaggerate only a few traits, otherwise your face starts to lose definition, focus, and realism.

3. Asymmetry - You no doubt have heard of the theory that more symmetrical faces are more attractive. Well, the inverse is true as well. Asymmetrical faces tend to be more unattractive, or, in our case - scarier. This doesn't mean that you should completely ravage the left half or your sculpture, or have one half smiling and the other frowning. Asymmetry can be introduced more subtly, with a scar or two, or barely misshapen features in places. This all of course depends on your creative direction.   

4. Eyes! - The most expressive part of the body is the face, and the most expressive part of the face is the eyes. The way you shape the eyes (actually, the muscles and fat around the eyes, including the brow, eye brow, eyelids, eyelashes(if u have them) upper cheeks, eye socket, etc.) determines the total scariness of your face. No matter how evil or sinister of a mouth, nose, ears, forehead or anything else looks, if your eyes are dead, your mask will look dead, and likewise so will your costume.

Now, when sculpting, and sculpting with plastilin specifically, there are some guidelines you should follow that will greatly improve your results in your final product - rules that I have learned the hard way over the years: 

1. Mass, mass, mass! -  When starting to put your face together, first grab healthy helpings of plastilin and start applying them to your base mass where the big shapes of the face will be. This means - nose, brow, chin, the jawbone, around the mouth. It is important at this stage that you put more mass on than you think you will need. You'll find that otherwise, you'll get a very flat face, that lacks fullness and realism. Put your hand on your own face right now and you'll start to realize how much depth there actually is to what most people tend to visualize as a flat plane.

2. Character- Even at an early stage, you should start pushing the shapes around on your face to where they are in your sketches or references. For ex: In the Joker Thug Mask the jowls, or fat on the jawbone, sag pronouncedly, so at this stage it is a good idea to add mass in this area. Though what you will have is a rough estimate of facial features, you should start seeing the character coming through. If you don't, it means you need to exaggerate your features more.

3. Refining - Once you have gotten all your major masses in the right place, its time to start refining them, and making them into the subtly expressive features of your face. How you decide to do your details is totally up to you - in the Ogre mask, Aurimasmb exaggerated the wrinkly folds of skin that form when a facial expression is made, and spent a long time refining the shape of these folds. It is important to note that in applying plaster to your mold, you will tend to lose some definition, so you should exaggerate features slightly, to compensate. 

Once you have refined and smoothed your final plastilin mold, you'll be getting wet and wild, with plaster of paris!

Step 4: Applying the Plaster

Once you have finished your plastilin mold, it's time to begin the plaster process.

What you will need:

Plaster bandages or (not recommended) Papier Mache + flour and water mix
A bowl with some water


Paint, dye, or food coloring of some sort
Vaseline or other release agent

The way that plaster bandages work is simple. After a quick dunk in water, the bandage, which is somewhat stiff when dry, becomes goopy and workable. When applied to a shape and allowed to dry, it hardens to a strong, inflexible shape - perfect for mask-making.

Before applying plaster, it can be a good idea to apply some kind of release agent - an oily or soapy substance that helps the mold separate from the plaster. We have found that vaseline seems to work fairly well, if not used overzealously. A thin layer, even if only in the tricky parts around the nose and eyes, can really help you later.

To apply the plaster bandages, cut pieces (squares work alright with plaster bandages, but not papier mache) about 2 inches (about 5 cm) wide. Wet them with water, just enough so that the strip comes entirely in contact with the water, and apply to the mold. Push the material as much as possible into the cracks. If you leave empty space in the indents of mask, you will lose definition with every layer, and your mask will lose much of its character.

While applying the strips, I've found its useful to have a handtowel handy, to soak up excess water, which slows down the drying process, and hardens into deformities where it collects. The towel also helps to compress the the strips against the plastiline.

In applying strips, it is important to remember that once hardened, the plaster will not bend or fold without being destroyed. This means that no part of your plaster form should extend in such a way as to not allow it to come off of the base mass when you pull the plastiline mold and plaster shape off. If you want your mask for example, to include the back of the head, you will have to cut your plaster shape off in two or more pieces, and reattach the pieces together with more plastering.

When making a mask with plaster, it is important to keep track of layers and even coverage over the entire surface of the mold. A method we have used before is coloring the water that the strips are dunked in differently for each round of application, making it clearly visible which parts of the mask have been covered by how many layers. The first can be non-colored, and progressive layers can be died other colors.

Because of the rigidity of plaster bandages, 2 layers are strong enough to hold shape. In both the Joker Thug Mask and the Ogre mask, 2 layers were applied on the mold, and a third was applied on the inside of the mask for strengthening. With the application of more layers, it is important to note that with each progressive layer, some of the detail of the mask's features is lost.

Between layer applications you can use a hair dryer to speed the drying process. Don't get carried away however - if you heat up your mold too much, the plastiline underneath the plaster starts to get very malleable, and you might deform your shape and come time to get the clay out of the plaster you are going to have some trouble. 

If you insist on using papier mache, you should know the major differences in working with the material:
    -You will need 5 layers at least to get a rigid mask approaching the same strength as a plaster one of 2.
    -You will need to wait longer between layers (a hour or more, depending on humidity and heat).
    -In shaping small details, paper is much less flexible than gauze strips, and therefore must be cut smaller(usually into thin strips) to match the form.
    -Papier mache is just not that durable - your hot moist breath will actually melt it if in prolonged contact.

So.... we recommend plaster of paris gauze.

Removing the Shape

Once your plaster shape has completely dried, you will remove the entire plaster and mold piece from the base mass. Most of the time (unless you have to cut your plaster away in two pieces), this should be quite simple. Cut the plastic bag or wrap from your base mass, and pull away.

Next, remove the plastilin from the inside of the plaster shape. If you used a release agent, this may be easier, but in any case, the plastilin should separate fairly easily. Cut it into pieces to speed the process.

Voila! You have the basic shape for your mask!

Step 5: Trimming, Strengthening, and Poking

Once your plaster shape is separated from your plastilin mold, you need to start refining it.

First, cut excess bits of plaster strips away to leave the final outline of your mask. Now you should strengthen the mask, by patching any weak areas (areas that need reinforcement are usually made visible by holding the mask up to a bright light) with more plaster strips on the inside of your mask. You should do another layer of plastering on the inside of the mask. Don't be afraid to liberally strengthen on the inside because it will not affect the shape and texture of the mask.

Once your mask is a little stronger go around all the edges and lay strips of plaster over the edges. Those are going to be the most vulnerable parts of your mask. Lay 2 or 3 layers of plaster along the inside edge of the mask. That is extremely important so that your mask does not warp and bend.

Next pierce holes where you deem appropriate for attachment of holding straps, to keep the mask on your face. DainiusGB in the Joker Thug mask used the tightening strap from a standard bicycle helmet for the strap on his mask which is very effective. Attach this by putting the strap around your head and seeing where you think would fit best, stick the mask onto your face, loosen the strap and hold it onto the mask, hot glue it into the correct place.

At this stage you should also cut eye holes for the mask. If your mask has eyes in about the right place, and the appropriate distance apart, cutting the eyeholes exactly the shape and size of the eyeballs should work well. You may want to plaster the edge of the eyes to make them rounder, more defined, and stronger.

Nose holes, and a slit for the mouth (if applicable) can also be used to allow some more air to enter for breathing. When running around terrifying children, good breathing holes are a blessing.

Now that you have the refined shape of your mask, you should look to dealing with its texture. You may have noticed rough patches around the areas where you have cut eye holes, or trimmed sections away, as well as the bumpy grid texture of the plaster bandage material all over. To prepare for painting, it is a good idea to smooth the surface down. You can sand it but that is a risky and tedious business because it can tear chunks out of your mask and leave a fuzz of remnants from the gauze that stick out. If you sand you must apply  some plaster of paris finisher to the surface of your mask, the stuff works quite well, and can be applied simply with fingers. If you want a smooth surface you would want to apply the finishing plaster anyway. For a simpler smoother you could use paint, but it wont fill up big cracks as well as the plaster stuff. Apply the smoother to the entire surface, focusing on places where there are torn gauze fibers, or bumpy parts of the plaster. 

Step 6: Painting and Detailing

How you paint and decorate your mask is dependent again on your creative direction.

When using a reference, pay attention to details such as:

Expressive details on the face (eyebrows, lips, color around eyes)
Color saturation (don't use bright candy colors when the design calls for dull tones)
Style (is the mask dirty or grimy, shiny and wet, bubbly or grotesque?)

We used acrylic paints, for their durability and water-resistant properties. A single coat is enough.

For the Ogre mask, Aurimasmb decided to go with a battered and beaten look, almost as if bone were showing through under a thin layer of skin. Paint was applied in deeper areas, while areas that were raised, and more exposed to contact were left unpainted, giving the appearance of cracked and peeling paint. The area around the eyes was painted a dull red, suggesting the anguished and sickly evil look of the face. The lips were painted purple to offset the green of the face, and add to the bizarre nature of the face.

With painting done, one can add other physical details onto the mask for further effect. For a mechanical design, one may choose to add bolts and washers, or bits of scap metal. Feathers, buttons, fake hair, fur, sticks, paper, string, plastic, are examples of the infinite number of things you can use to enhance your mask. My favorite tool for sticking these bits on is hot glue, which is great because it can stick well to non-flat objects.

Step 7: Painting and Detailing (The Joker Thug Mask)

Here are instructions for painting and detailing the Joker Thug mask.

You are going to need to mix up:

  1. Blood red

  2. Light blue

  3. Dark blue

  4. Some white for correcting mistakes and making blotch effects

  5. Black which I will talk about later.

When you paint you need to make sure that the plaster in your mask is absolutely dry. I used acrylic paint but tempera paint can be okay too. Usually on a mask you would want to put down a layer of white but my mask was already white because of the plaster finisher so i decided to skip that step.

Sketch out the features on your mask, use your reference pictures religiously before carefully sketching out the places you will need to paint. Keep in mind that you can see the dots on the cheeks from the front; this is a small mistake I made. Be very careful about the shape of the eyebrows because these define the facial expression; try to make them as symmetrical as possible.

Once you have the features sketched out you can begin to very carefully fill them in with color. Before we can have fun with haphazardly applied grunge effects we need to make sure that the original layer is accurate. In the take in mind that it is outlined in the darker blue that fades inward into the lighter blue.

Before the paint dries completely you need to take paper towel and scrape away at the painted parts, you need to do this subtly; try to make it look like the mask is very used and the paint has started being worn away. Keep looking at your reference pictures about where the paint has been worn away. The drier the paint, the harder it is to wear it away.

Now for the fun part: in the movie the mask is very grungy and its colors are rather dull. The white of the plaster is way too white, what you have to do is put a bit of black paint on your finger or at first a brush and mix it a lot with water. Now with your hands and finger rub this gray watery stuff all over your mask and make a patchy bas layer of gray. Its better if you do it with your hands so it is uneven and has a cool texture. Now you need to highlight with darker gray the indentations in the mask for example around the eyes and at the corners of the jowls. Reference is not really imperative here, you can be creative, for instance I liked the unsmoothed texture of my mask a lot so I made a rough patch that looked burnt and bloody.

Feel free to use more of your blood red for subtle blood effects. 

These techniques can also be applied to any other mask. 

Step 8: Final Touches

A few flecks of blood, a little scar here and there - a few examples of little things you can add to your final product to complete the image of your awesome Halloween mask. Feel free to attack your mask with sharp objects and things that will leave cool marks such as scissors, knives, pavement, etc. just be gentle - your sweat and labor have gone into that mask!

Something also recommended to improve comfort in your mask is hot gluing foam padding strips or felt to places inside the mask that come in contact with your face. This can really help when you are wearing the mask for extended periods of time. Always test the comfort of your mask - you do not want to realize there is an especially poky bit on your chin when you can no longer change it. 

Step 9: Costume (Joker Thug Mask)

Every great mask needs a great costume to go with it. And yes - it does go in that order!

For the joker thug mask you have a couple possibilities for the costume. You could wear a grey suit, or a more joker-like purple one. DainiusGB bought a purplish blue suit at a used clothes store (an excellent place to get materials for costumes.) Underneath that he wore a simple grey shirt but you could also get a striped one. Since he was using his costume for a haunted house he put a few blood stains on the suit to make it a little creepier. Try to make the suit as wrinkled  and less stiff as possible.

Step 10: Get Out and Scare!

Now that your mask is complete, its time to terrify young children! Hurray!

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