Sunday, October 14, 2012

Get ready for a surprise!

I started taking fabrication of Halloween costumes pretty seriously in 2007. That year, I made myself into Scarab, the assassin in David Mack's graphic novel Kabuki (unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the actual costume). The following year, I made myself into Bender, the robot from Futurama. The year after that I was Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000.  And in 2010, I dressed up as Ellen Ripley from Aliens (inside the famous power loader she operated to defeat the alien at the end of the film).

I saw my husband for the first time at a Halloween party he was throwing at his house in 2009.  Those who didn't know him personally knew him as the guy who owned an impressive collection of old arcade games.  For the party, he would turn them all on, leave the front door open, and his house would fill up with people in a matter of minutes. Two Halloween parties went by and we never actually spoke to one another.  I only remembered him as the video game wizard, and he knew me as the girl with the elaborate costumes.  Ironically, after the second party, we struck up a conversation at a local bar and finally we both had the realization and made the connection. The rest is history.

Last year, Jack (my husband) and I decided to dress up together for the big yearly Halloween party as characters from the original 1990 movie, Total Recall. There is a scene in the film where Arnold Schwarzenegger's character, Doug Quaid, disguises himself as a large, red haired woman wearing a yellow dress (played by actress Priscilla Allen) in an attempt to pass through Martian customs incognito. While running through standardized security questions, the officer asks her, "Have you brought any fruits or vegetables?". Obviously not having been programmed with a response to this question, the voice module inside of the mask malfunctions, replying with the answer to the previous question the officer had asked her, which was "two weeks". The large woman continues repeating the words, "two weeks" several more times as she is prompted to speak by the officer, and begins going wonky, twisting her lips around with her hands and jabbering uncontrollably. This draws the attention of just about everyone at the security checkpoint, and then something amazing happens.  The large woman steps back while repeating the phrase and jabbering, presses her ear like a switch, and her entire face splits open into several mechanical segments, one after the other, revealing Quaid underneath. My plan was to make a fully articulating replica mask, complete with the dress as my costume.

I started making sketches as early as March, began sculpting in April, and by late May I had a good likeness on my piece.  Back then I documented my progress on a public forum called Makeup FX.  For sculpting heads and busts, I use a dummy head I glued down to a lazy Susan.  If you are on a budget and don't already own  a rotating sculpting stand, a lazy Susan is definitely the way to go.  I also used Amaco Permoplast clay that I purchased from Columbus Clay Company in Ohio.  It's a pretty basic, very inexpensive, non-hardening and non-toxic modeling clay.  

Once I was satisfied with my work, I began the molding process. Typically the mold line on a piece like this would run along the sides of the head, starting at one shoulder, up the ear to the top of the head and down the other side.  However, because the mask was intended to open down the middle of the face (like it does in the movie), I placed the clay mold line running vertically down the middle of her nose.  Then I sculpted registration keys all along one side of the clay wall.

Here is another handy piece of information: if you are on a budget, you can make an inexpensive silicone mold by using 100% silicone caulk from your local hardware store.  It's almost just as effective as buying expensive mold making silicone products, but at a fraction of the cost.  A few things to keep in mind while using caulking products; first, you should be in a well ventilated room when applying the silicone. It releases acetic acid as its cures, and though it's non toxic, it can be irritating on the eyes and nose.  Another downside to using silicone sealant is that each layer can take several hours to cure. However, you can accelerate the cure time by spritzing each layer with some water.  Once a side of the mold is complete, I removed the clay wall and painted a mixture of petroleum jelly and mineral spirits to the silicone flashing.  This is to prevent the silicone from sticking to itself as I start working on the other side. For this particular project I used four sticks of caulk for each side, and the last layers I reinforced with cheese cloth to give the mold more strength.  Afterwards the silicone molds were complete, I backed them with a burlap reinforced hydrocal mother-shell. 

The next step in the process is to cast the piece.  For this particular project, knowing what material to cast the mold in was very tricky.  The mask needed to be made from a material that was lightweight, but hard enough to hold its shape when opening and closing.  A friend of mine offered to give me some of his Smooth-cast 300 resin he had left over from a previous project. The shelf life of this particular casting resin is drastically reduced after opening, and since it had been sitting in his house for several years we weren't sure how it would react.  We mixed the appropriate quantities and poured it into the mold, while manually rotating it as it hardened.  After about twenty minutes of cure time, we pulled out a pretty solid positive. However, this is when problems began.

After taking the piece home, I couldn't get any primer to stick to it.  I literally tried everything.  I read forums in which people discussed similar issues they had encountered, and followed the recommendations others had written in the comments. I tried using Plastikote and polycrylic, based on work experience and advice I read about in forums. I tried stripping the cast using different techniques, in hopes that paint would stick. I sanded the piece multiple times with varying grits, I soaked it in simple green, cleaned it with alcohol, acetone and dish soap.   I was practically throwing my money away buying every product I read about to make this work.  In a desperate attempt, I applied two part epoxy on a small area of the surface, just out of curiosity. Instead of hardening, the gooey mess just stared back at me, mocking me. Anything and everything I applied to the mask would either delaminate, wouldn't dry, or it slid off.  This is the price you pay for using old casting resin.

At this point I had no choice but to cast the mold out of something else.  It should have been clear from the beginning that the mask needed to be cast out of fiberglass.  Fiberglass is actually a very simple material to use, you can find it at almost any automotive store, and it typically comes with a set of instructions.  So that's what I did, and it worked like a charm. 

 After successfully priming it (I almost cried), I used a Dremel with a cutter wheel to cut the fiberglass mask into strips.  The face opened down the middle and each  bilateral segment separated horizontally,  starting at the top and working its way down.  Each segment on the face is secured on the back of the mask by a small hinge. To ensure the pieces lined up correctly after having been cut apart  I super glued magnets on the edges of each segment. 

The mask was painted using Liquitex "Basics" acrylic paints.  First I base coated it with a general skin tone I mixed to match my own.  The base color was gradually darkened or lightened using varying degrees of browns, reds and yellows for shadows and highlights.  The eyes were coated with two-park epoxy to give them a glossy feel.  Finally, the entire piece was finished with a coat of Polycrilic protective enamel. 

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