Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wrestling With the Gorn!

I knew the Gorn captain of TOS episode ”Arena” was a tough cookie, having withstood the considerable combat expertise of James T Kirk. I just didn’t exactly know how tough he was until I tried to make my own mask of him. The head of the lizard-like Gorn is a deceptively simple mask. He almost looks like a green, fanged Donald Duck variation. But as I started sculpting the head in clay I realized how difficult it was getting all the details right, and the Gorn head is full of subtle details. The truth is if you don’t understand that and manage to recreate all those details, the Gorn head will look suspiciously wrong in some hard-to-define way. Wah Chang, who created the Gorn head, as well as the salt vampire, the Balok effigy, the ape/pig creature from “The Cage”, the Romulan head gear and battle cruiser, the phaser, the tricorder and pretty-much-you-name-it on TOS, was an endlessly creative man. Besides coming up with great stuff on a very tight budget, he also had a true visionary eye for shapes that would stick in your mind. His Trek aliens and props you remember because of their perfect simplicity and originality. So, nailing down Wah Chang’s Gorn head was no easy task!

Wah Chang’s mask is actually not symmetrical; The right brow ridge is larger than the left, the nostrils aren’t exactly centered, etc. I decided to try and make my mask as symmetrical as I could. There’s very little information about how the Gorn mask worked. Apparently, there were two sets of see-through holes, one just below the frown in the eyebrows and two (pretty obvious) slits below the eyes. Both holes were sculpted into the mask as hollowed-out spaces.

It took a loooong time to get the mask sculpture finished. It kept growing until I ran out of my clay of choice, Chavant. I had to resort to another clay (the redder one) that was a bit too soft for the purpose, but it worked out fine in the end. In order to finish the mask on time for Wonder Con (where it would be displayed by Judith Daniels of I skipped adding the scales or warts in clay. More about that in a minute.

In order to avoid airbubbles I always brush on the first layer of plaster. I doesn't take care of the problem perfectly, but it certainly helps.

Several layers of plaster follows, including one with burlap dipped in plaster. This is done to add some reinforcement to the plaster mold.

I forgot to add that a dividing clay wall is built up around the mask sculpture. This is done so I can make a two-part plaster mold. When the front half is done I turn the sculpture on its nose and continue to cover the back with plaster. The exposed front half plaster seen here is coated with vaseline. The small round dips you can see in the plaster will be filled out when the back part is made, and will create interlocking keys for the two mold halves. Important stuff, if you want to keep your whole mold together!

When both mold halves are finished and the plaster has been allowed to cool, it's time to part the mold pieces and take out the clay. Screwdrivers are used the pry the mold halves apart. The burlap reinforcements now help keep the mold from cracking.

After having cleaned out the clay, the mold halves were put together and allowed to rest overnight. This is done so some of the moisture will evaporate from the plaster. The insides of the mold halves are then coated with liquid latex. The latex is sponged on in order to reduce airbubbles in cramped spaces. A few coats goes on, including cotton dipped in latex. This will help make big areas, like the nose and the back of the head, sturdy and make them hold their shape. Finally, the mold halves are put together and a few more latex coats are put over the seam between the halves.

After letting the latex set properly I could remove the casting the next morning. There was a bit of "flashing" in the latex casting where the mold halves created a seam. This is alomst unavoidable and the flashing is quite easily removed with a small pair of sharp scissors.

The seam is also covered with sponged-on liquid latex. Now comes the time for adding the bumpy scales. I simply dip a wooden sculpting tool in latex and leave a drop of it on the mask. Then another, and another. This may seem like a deadly dreary job, but it's actully taken care of pretty quickly. It took me about an hour to cover the mask this way. Had I sculpted every bump it would've taken days.

Here the mask has had its first coat of paint applied. I just mixed some latex with different tints and sponged it on. As this paint is latex-based it really bonds with the mask. It also becomes very sticky and can easily attach to itself, which is why I added a liberal coat of corn starch on each section I finished painting.

And here's the finished mask. The teeth were cast in latex from old plaster molds used for creating horns and claws for puppets. The eyes were a bit of a bother. I have no idea what the Gorn's eyes were made out of, and nobody else seems to know either. I settled on making them a sort of insect eyes, with hexagonal shapes covering the surface. The eye was sculpted by pressing an allen key into a clay sphere. Over that I created a silicone mold, in which I could cast hollow plastic eyes. The eyes were then painted with a tough metallic spray paint bought at an auto shop.

Now, I have a pretty big head (perhaps in more ways than one), but this mask was very roomy even for me. When I put it on I could look out through the holes below the eyes; That worked out fine. I had covered them from the inside with a black veily fabric and had no trouble moving around, though quick head moves made it more difficult to see where I was going.

I'm quite happy with my Gorn mask. For a first attempt it's pretty darn good. I may still take another stab at this character eventually. I want to get the eyes just right, for one thing.

So how did things go at Wondercon? Pretty good, actually, as Judith managed to sell the mask to none other than Bobby Clarke, who played the original Gorn! He'd been looking for a decent Gorn mask for sometime, but not really finding anything that met with his standards. He remarked that my mask seemed "small" and that the eyes of the original Gorn were made out of sequins. Other than that he was apparently happy enough with it to buy it.


Irish Samurai said...

Awesome work! One of my Favorite characters. If you decide to make more copies available please let me know. Thanks. Don

Just Me said...

I would hope you would make copies of this. I'd love to get one from you.
thanks. Lee