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Home > Services > Foam Latex Mask Making

Making a Foam Latex Prosthetic
Special effects makeup artists use a variety of techniques to achieve realism in the characters they help bring to life in the theatre and on film.  Prosthetic appliances are generally made of superior quality foam latex or specially formulated silicones that look and act very similar to real skin.  The prosthetics are applied to an actor to visually transform them into the character they are playing. 

Let’s get started.

Step I – Character Design
Rough pencil sketches or more elaborate renderings using tools such as software help put to paper what will be created.  Accompanying the drawings is a description that defines who the character is.  In many cases, if the character is important enough to the story, a maquette, or small sculpture of the entire character, is created before proceeding with more expensive and time-consuming steps such as costume and prop design, and appliance creation.

In this example, the character has a relatively simple costume – a black robe – so we will focus on the face.  Our alien has bulbous eyebrows and a nose without nostrils.

Step II – Creating a Life Cast
The next step requires the actor to have a life cast taken of their head.  This involves using alginate (not Plaster of Paris!!), a material that is also commonly used to make dental impressions.  A bald head cap made of rubber latex is applied to the actor’s head to cover their hair.  Vaseline is used to coat facial hair such as eyebrows and moustaches before application of the alginate.  Once the alginate has been applied to the actor’s head, quick-set bandages are used to build up a hard shell layer to support the alginate when it is removed, since the alginate remains soft and flexible.
Step III – Creating a Positive
The next step is to create a positive from the alginate mold by pouring Ultracal 30 (a gypsum product similar to Plaster of Paris) in the alginate mold.  Ultracal is much harder and more durable than other plasters, and picks up every detail in the mold.  The result is a life cast of the actor. 
Step IV – Sculpting the Prosthetic
The life cast of the actor is then used as a canvas to sculpt on.  Soft clay (in this example Super Sculpey™) is used to create our alien creature.  A good alternative which is becoming very popular in the special effects industry is called NSP Medium Sulphur-Free Plasteline Clay by Chavant.  I use the NSP Chavant clay regularly.  The clay can be reused, never drying out.

A wall of clay around the outside creates a cutting line for the edge of the foam latex.  The clay will be replaced by foam latex when the part is cast.
Step V – Making a Mold
An Utracal 30 mold is made from the soft clay sculpture as shown in the photo.  What looks like a positive casting or three-dimensional mold is actually a negative casting (the image plays a visual trick on our eyes and looks like it is coming out of the page while in fact it is going in to the page).
Step VI – Casting the Foam Latex Part
Finally, the mold is ready to be used to cast the foam latex part.  Casting the foam pieces is an involved process unto itself.  The best foam pieces are made from a “hot” cast foam system, which involves four components and a recipe.  In the special effects industry, this is called “running foam” which takes experience and trial and error to achieve successful results.  Our foam latex appliance shown here has been airbrushed and is ready for application on our actor.  The makeup application will take about 2 hours and involves the use of a special adhesive called Pros-Aide to attach the appliance to the actor’s face, and applying makeup to blend in the edges with the actor’s skin.

Our Completed Character
Alien Foam Latex Appliance