Friday, September 16, 2011

Star Trek Alien Masks

A few years ago I was a member of the Trekspace Star Trek fan page. When I eventually left, the blog posts about Trek props and masks I had made on that page disappeared. For a while now, people have been asking me to re-post the same info, so I'll be doing just that. Hopefully it'll be of interest to any wayward Trekkie dropping in here, or just to anyone curious about how to make your own latex mask pieces.

I'll start off with a bunch of molds I made for simple Trek alien masks. I make all my masks in either liquid latex or silicone. Latex is cheap and easy to handle. This means low costs and quick production time. Silicone is infinitely more flexible than latex and very skin-like. The problems with latex are that some people may be allergic to it and that the material isn’t quite as flexible as you’d want it to be. The problems with silicone are that it’s expensive, hard to paint and a bit of a hassle to cast. There are good uses for both, however. A simple false nose, ears or a forehead will work just as fine in latex. If you want a full face with great movability, say for a character like Odo, silicone is ideal.

But before getting started with any of these materials it’s all about getting a decent sculpture as the basis of your mask. The choice of clay and tools do the trick. I prefer the oil-based clay Chavant, but any oil- or wax-based clay that’s not too soft is good. I have a stack of tools that I use for different purposes. The ones I hold in my hands most of the time are loop tools. Often, they are a bit clumsy for really detailed work so I’ve made small loop tools by attaching steel wire to old brush handles using “Friendly Plastic” thermo plastic. But you can also use plumber’s epoxy.

I use a face plaster cast to put my mask sculpture on. You can make one yourself casting your own face or a friend’s face. I might go into techniques for doing that in another blog. I’m using a cast I made myself from a bought polyfoam bust, since these masks will all be generic. The plaster face is often referred to as a “positive” while your mask mold will be the “negative”. When casting with foam latex or silicone, the mask material will be put in between these two parts. The sculpting process in itself is about adding and taking away clay. If you want some really excellent advice on sculpting techniques I recommend that you check out any of Mark Alfrey’s instructional DVDs. From time to time, I put a tiny amount of Vaseline on my fingers and rub on the clay surface to smooth it out. I use a closely cropped brush to get at where my fingers can’t reach.

Here’s an important detail: If you leave your mask sculpture without any skin detail it’ll just look flat. Add some pores by laying a piece of soft plastic, a plastic bag for instance, over your sculpture and gently press with a pointed tool on the plastic. This will leave subtle little markings that’ll add plenty of life to the mask.

I’ve done a version of the Bajoran nose ridges here (the Bajorans are a very human-like race). I’ve made a clay wall around the sculpture marking where the so-called “cutting edge” will be. When making mask pieces in foam latex, the cutting edge will result in a very thin edge on the finished foam mask, making it easier to apply and cover. You really don’t need a cutting edge while casting latex, but I prefer to put one in anyway, since it shows me how far out I’ll be putting the latex in the finished mold. This will help making every casting virtually identical. I’m using a softer clay for the cutting edge. The one I’m using is also oil-based, but it’s more common to use a water-based clay. Klean Klay is very popular for this in the US, but I can’t get that in Sweden so I’m sticking to what I can find to do the trick.

I use a plaster called Ultracal 30, which is very durable. It will hold up to repeated castings much, much better than ordinary hobby plaster. I always brush on the first coat of plaster. Here I’m using a small brush to get into all the details. This will help eliminate air bubbles in the finished plaster cast. After this first layer I put on a big gob of plaster. Notice that I’ve built up a wall with the softer clay surrounding the sculpture to help keep the plaster in place while it sets.

After the plaster has set up it’s taken off the sculpture and any residual clay is cleaned off the cast. The best time to remove the plaster mold is when it’s hard, but still a bit warm. Then it’ll come off pretty easily.
This sculpture is based on the Andorian look from “Star Trek Enterprise”, which differs from the The Original Series look. They have a pair of antenna, which will be created separately and attached to the mask.

Another cutting edge put on using the softer clay.

As this is a bigger sculpture, I’m using a bigger brush to cover up more quickly. Again, after the first layer has set up I add a thick layer of plaster on top. Have a bowl with some water to wash your brush in directly after having applied the plaster. NEVER wash your brush in a sink. The plaster will clog up your pipes and wreck them. If you have a soft bowl, (sculpture houses sell rubber bowls) just use very little water and leave the bowl with the dirty water in it after you've cleaned your brush. After a few days the water will have evaporated and you can clean the dried up plaster out.
This is a Tellarite mask design, mostly based on how they look in the TOS episode “Journey to Babel”. I’ve added some other details based on their look in ST Enterprise, mixed with some of my
own ideas.

After adding the brushed-on plaster layer I can recommend that you put on a layer of soft burlap pieces dipped in plaster. This will act as reinforcement to the plaster mold and give it extra strength. This can be important when you pry your mold off your plaster face positive. If your mold isn’t thick enough or reinforced, it may crack. So add that extra layer of burlap just to be sure. When I have to dip into the Ultracal plaster with my fingers, I cover my hands with surgical latex gloves.

Here is a weekend’s worth of mask plaster molds. At the top left is also a Romulan forehead and below the Andorian cast are the tips of the antenna. When prying the mold loose from the plaster face positive I use a flat screwdriver. Using gentle force I get the mold loose in one place and then it’s usually enough to use my fingers to remove the whole mold. Having that extra cutting edge area outside of the sculpture means that I never get the screwdriver inside the actual sculpted area, damaging it.

Of course, I also had to make a Klingon head appliance. This one was created for a friend in the US. I tried to come up with a ridge design of my own, and I think I was partially successful. It's hard to come up with something for a Klingon that hasn't already been seen and done.

That’s all for now, children. Next time I'll show a couple of the masks applied to some willing victims.


Vincent T├ętreault said...

Looking very good Richard !

Rainbow Brite said...

This is most awesome to stumble onto your page, what a delight to learn this type of art! Thank you so much for sharing this. I'd love to know how "you" made the plaster cast, after seeing how you made this I trust you know the proper way and least messy technique :).