Foam Latex was the main material appliances and pretty much anything skin-like was made of for long time. It is only relatively recently that silicone has taken it’s place, and with good reason.
There are a lot of benefits to silicone as an appliance material, and because of these reasons it may be that if you’re new to makeup effects, you may not have yet laid hands on foam pieces..
It may be that you’ll never want or need to run foam latex yourself, but will apply a premade piece and we will look at that in another podcast, as this area deserves some thorough discussion. However, if you are keen to know more about foam latex then this podcast is for you. Check out some astoundingly good ready made pieces from Roland Blancaflor’s RBFX studio.
Anyhow, check out and download our latest podcast on this from soundcloud or iTunes:
My first ever job was as a foam runner, and I spent three months mixing and running foam latex in the ‘Animated Extras’ foam room in Shepperton Studios in the summer of 1994. It was a smelly and messy job, but it taught me a lot about materials, moulds and how it all fits into the pipeline.
I cut my teeth on making and applying the opaque material, and when we started using silicone instead for the majority of pieces, it was a revelation to start with a translucent material.
Painting foam latex requires a different approach, as the piece needs to be the correct colour but the real challenge is to create the appearance of translucency. Thomas Surprenant knows a thing or two about painting foam latex too – he has an excellent range of PAX paints for painting latex and foam latex pieces. Check them out here. We’ll delve more into this later!
To help you along with this, check out these free resources you can download:
In product news, it’s well worth checking out the new cap plastic beads from Neills Materials. Check them out here.
Essentially, cap plastic was always sold as a liquid and this made it a ‘hazardous’ item as far as air freight was concerned should the container leak. It was never an issue for us in the UK where we had things sent by road, but air freight made it a different issue.
However, by selling the raw plastic bead with no solvents, you can now more easily get the beads shipped to you are then melt them in acetone you obtain more locally to make up your own cap plastic.
Also check out the new adhesives, PRO-KEY acrylic adhesive and SIL-KEY silicone adhesive with thinners. I’ve used these myself and tried them out on a few makeups and can vouch for their quality!
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After you’ve taken a lifecast of a performer, you have a solid copy of their face.
This is presumably an accurate copy which has recorded the surface of their anatomy as true as is possible. Are we to then leap straight to the joyous distraction of making your modifications – making the nose bigger, changing the chin, adding a wound or a scar, or completely remodelling their face to change them entirely?
Woah! Hang on to those horses, sparky!
It is worth taking a moment to recall this original cast you took of the performer is a precious object – it is the only one you have and presumably it was gained at great cost. Drop it and we’ve had it!
Each lifecast is a performance of sorts, and to have successfully arranged the appointment, secured the performer for the date, taken reference images and then successfully gone through the entire process without any howling errors, you’ve spent time and money on materials, workshop space and staff, and for your troubles you now have a plaster head staring back at you.
The solid plaster head cast out from the alginate or silicone was ideally a soft one to allow for the shaving down of unwanted artefacts collected during the casting process (such as air bubbles in the eyebrows, shapes of wrapped hair under the bald cap or seam lines) all of which will need fixing carefully so that the head is as clean, smooth and perfect as budget allows.
At the time of lifecasting a head you are primarily concerned with the performers comfort, maintaining clear breathing and usually focussing on the face – the part where errors would be most noticeable. Wishing to do all this as swiftly as possible, you will inevitably collect some air bubbles or have a less than perfect area somewhere on the head.
With careful shaving with a succession of tools from coarse to fine, where once was bumpy back of head caused by bald cap wrinkles now sits a smoothed shape, accurate to the performers real dimensions – as measured by the tailors tape employed at the time of casting. To have the head sit square and level, you may need to chock up the shoulders and carefully replace areas with plaster or clay to extend right down to the flat and smooth board on which it sits.
So having achieved such success, you’re not going to unleash sculpting tools and possible damage on this unique and precious snowflake, are you? I mean…the sculpting tools you use will certainly score the surface permanently. The powdery finish of soft plaster may cause wax based plastiline clay to simply fall off. What if you drop this head, or need to sculpt three different noses on the same character?
Nope – just like an original negative from a roll of film, you don’t work directly on this precious master original. Now you have this perfect head shape, it is time to make a master mould (usually in silicone) to allow copies to be made.
Now we can produce multiple versions in a harder plaster for sculpts to be floated/separated off at a later date or make lightweight versions for attaching finished appliances to for painting or shipping (air freight is rather expensive, you know!). Three people can sculpt different appliances on the same nose simultaneously. A copy can be sent to the performer as a gift, and we could even test makeups by applying to a copy of the head without the cost of booking the performer to thrash out paint schemes and best approach.
Oh, the possibilities!
Master moulding is an often essential process, and one of those ‘hidden’ processes which doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Much of the actual work in making these things is not a spectator sport. It rarely tickles the fancy of the behind-the-scenes film crews who are looking for a visually striking event to shoot.
However, just like the unseen hand-washing of a surgeon, the laborious preflight checks of a commercial air-pilot or a scuba diver learning their depth charts…those seemingly boring and uninteresting-to-a-witness activities are the backbone of said endeavour.
It’s an expensive thing to request a performer return to your workshop because you’ve ballsed something up, so it’s generally considered good form to avoid doing so. To this end, here is a step by step look at the process of preparing to make a master mould.
Check your reference images.
The human face is anything but symmetrical, and this may be more apparent in some faces than others. It may be one eye is obviously higher than the other, or than they are set so one is slightly more forward. It is for these reasons that it’s a good idea to take reference images from front, three quarters and side a well as from the rear and above. You want to be sure that if one ear is an inch higher than the other on the cast, it may just be so in real life…
Shave down any air bubbles, bumps and seams carefully.
The trick is to shave down only the artefacts such as bubbles etc. without actually damaging the surrounding texture or form of the cast. Chipping the worst of the plaster excess carefully away and then using abrasive tools such as rifflers or files to smooth out the plaster is the best way. Even abrasive papers such as ‘wet or dry paper’ can be used to finish off tool marks (I like 80, 120 and 180 grit).
Very large areas to be removed may need to be chipped away using a hammer and chisel, again take great care to avoid damaging the forms you wish to retain.
Fill any unwanted dips, holes or recesses.
There may be some obvious small air bubbles in the plaster which need filling, and many others may only appear once the surface is shaved or sanded down lightly. If carving away thick chunks of plaster, such as when removing a bulge from a ponytail of hair under the baldcap, it is possible you can go through the thickness of a hollow plaster.
Should this happen, repairs can be made by first patching from inside with scrim (a wide weaved fabric, also known as ‘jute’ or ‘burlap’) and plaster, allowing it to set, blocking the hole and preventing the next mix from falling through. More plaster can then be mixed to fill this hole.
Whenever repairing plaster with more plaster, it is advisable to soak the plaster head in water for a few minutes first. Dried plaster is highly absorbent and will readily steal the moisture from the fresh plaster added to it. Wetting the plaster just beforehand will reduce this effect and make repairs easier to do.
For small holes, a watery mix of plaster can be wiped into the surface using a damp sponge and wiped over with a plastic kidney or scraper (sometimnes known as a ‘busk’). As the plaster begins to set, continue wiping it down with the plastic kidney or scraper, and you should end up with a smooth surface.
Don’t try to repair every single hole in a single batch if you are not experienced in repairing plaster – accept that you’ll need to do it in a few hits allowing each to set before adding another.
Prepare a board large enough.
The ‘footprint’ of the cast is the shape it occupies as the plaster sits on a bench. A large cast of a head and shoulders will have a big footprint, but the board it sits on needs to be at least approx. 50mm/2″ larger than cast to allow for the mould which will be built on top of all this. Think of it as choosing to wear stretch-pants at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Account now for the extra space you will need later!
The board must ideally be non-absorbent, either melamine faced furniture board or plywood which has been sealed and waxed to stop anything from sticking to it. Another tip is to fix a couple of wooden strips underneath the baseboard so when the whole mould is finished and much heavier, you can easily get your fingers underneath to lift it.
Level and square up the head and shoulders so they sit straight.
It is important to make sure the head and shoulders are sitting straight and level so the head appears natural. Usually a head and shoulders cast will extend further around the front and sides than the back, and the resulting cast will naturally sit at a peculiar angle. To counter this, the head can be held upright on blocks, wedged to sit at the corrected position which you would judge by sight.
Then, plaster and scrim can be used to fix the head in that position. By placing screws into the base board and the underside of the plaster cast with a short amount sticking out proud, you will have strong mechanical means of joining the two together. Once this initial plaster and scrim has set, the wooden blocks and wedges can be removed and the plaster can be dressed and smoothed out as before.
Have the plaster smoothed from the edge of the cast and straight down to the flat board. This will remove as many undercuts as possible and provide a smooth, easy-to-release-from surface.
Seal/release the surface.
The plaster, having been smoothed and repaired is now ready to mould. We certainly don’t want anything else sticking to it so the best thing to do is to apply a thin layer of release such as wax to help things. Being slightly absorbent, the plaster may simply soak up liquid wax release.
If this is the case, a thin sealer may be applied first, such as a layer of shellac varnish (aka ‘button polish’) or clear car lacquer spray. Then, once this has dried the release can be applied. The key word is to apply a THIN layer, so as to avoid filling in the details that the original cast has captured.
Okay, so now your plaster head is pitch-perfect and ready, you can make a mould of it, which will be the subject of the next blog post!
Whilst teaching a class recently, a student was hung up on getting the nose perfectly symmetrical.
I explained as I often do that the human face isn’t symmetrical, so going for complete mirror image reflection necessary.
That being said, asymmetry owing to sloppy work isn’t good either – the fact that there is little perfect symmetry in nature doesn’t let you off the hook!
It’s handy to keep a small mirror for the purpose of seeing how the reflection compares with reality. Holding the mirror in the centre and seeing how the reflected sides look, bobbing your head back and forth to compare with your sculpt can clue you into what needs correcting.
Now I remember seeing the left and right sides of a face reflected in a photograph to demonstrate the asymmetry in a normal face, and more importantly, how odd perfect symmetry actually looks. It seemed like a worthy point to revisit here.
Looking at the pictures below, you can see how the face appears normally, and then with the left side reflected, and the right side reflected. The moral of this story is try to keep forms balanced but don’t get hung up on perfect symmetry – unless of course your particular project requires it!
I helped sculpt a suit for a Marvel movie a couple of years ago, and one thing we had which helped was a builders laser line. Kind of like a spirit level, but instead of being a long piece of metal with a bubble in the centre, it throws out a straight level laser line which helps you keep some symmetry.
I remember at college sculpting a full size head and a full size figure from life and using a plumb line – basically a piece of string with a lead weight on the end to keep a straight line. That helps you keep on target with the centre line, and you can use callipers to measure and plot common points to sketch out boundaries like where the eye corners start and finish, where the mouth is in relation to the nose etc.
The UMAe stand for United Makeup Artists expo. It is a smaller UK trade show, but perfectly formed. I had a great time but it was exhausting. There were loads of demos going on all day, and this year I had my own stand, spoke to a lot of people, did a demo makeup and a presentation on the stage for blood rig effects.
I wanted to do a thing on blood rigs as I have done quite a few for shows over the years, but Non Disclosure Agreements mean I can’t show anything we did on most of them. I decided to do a demo of my own so I could show the process from start to finish without upsetting production.
Paul Ewen sporting my bleeding neck appliance
I had a couple of cool people helping me out too – Alice Pinney and Jess Heath who applied loads of pieces I made, so thanks for the help guys. You worked hard!
Also thanks to Leanne Hicks who helped me out loads as well as patiently modelling for my makeup demo, a creepy kind of stern looking businesswoman was the idea, but it kind of ended up looking like an evil politician. I called her Angular Merkel, but we settled on The Wicked Which of the Westminster.
Leanne Hicks wore a character makeup, which we ended up christening ‘The Wicked Witch of the Westminster’…
The show had a nice feel to it – you can actually go up to the people and speak to them. There isn’t a stadium sized crowd to navigate so it’s not a huge task to speak to the people you want to talk to.
Said hey to Richard Redlefsen, and I gave him a few sculpting tools I had made which was a nice touch – I made a bunch of tools for a makeup school called The Iver based at Pinewood for which I did a class at the week before. I knew he would be at the show so I made a few extra, and I got a kick out of giving them to him – nice guy and very talented makeup artist. He did a cool Phantom of the Opera makeup, and it was pretty damn cool.
Also Dan Gilbert was demoing for PPI, and I needed some PAX. He dashed up to his room to grab me some which he had, which I thought was rather dashing of him so thank you for that Dan. A true gent!
Whilst at UMAE last week, I got to speaking with a lot of people starting out who wanted me to take a look at their folios. I like to talk people through what I see, and I know that when I was starting out that I really appreciated good advice from people that took the time to look through my stuff.
Shows like this are good but they can be intense, with groups of people all descending at once when they notice a folio show. There were some good pieces and I will be straight with people regarding the work, and although there are many approaches to folio layout, there are a few solid consistent aspects to a folio that I think remain regardless.
1. Good clear and large images With digital cameras, there’s little excuse for blurry or badly exposed images. If images are taken on set where there is low level light, it’s fair enough that on occasion the pics would be less than perfect, but if you are responsible for building something, there is plenty of opportunity to take good clear images.
Opt for professional prints – online print developers like Snapfish and Photobox for example will send you great 10×8’s (A4 ish) sized photos. You may have a great printer but often this works out more expensive than buying prints, and they rarely weather well over time.
2. Not too many and not too long Viewer fatigue is not the intended result of an extensive folio, but I think it’s fair to say that after a while, your brain can’t take in new things with equal enthusiasm.
If you have extensively documented the manufacture process of something, you need to edit that down to a few choice images unless there is a specific reason to dwell on that aspect. It may be worth keeping your main ‘general’ folio streamlined with a few selected images from each project, and then keep to hand additional more in-depth folios which drill deeper into things should that be necessary.
3. Easy to handle If a folio keeps dropping leaves or sheets slide around or can’t fold over easy then it becomes a bit of a chore to handle. Make sure you handle a folio and turn the pages yourself before committing to buy. If it annoys you to handle, then chances are it will annoy others too.
It’s a tragedy for your good work to not be noticed as the viewer is tasked with wrangling the sleeves or relocating misaligned punched holes.
Makeup Schools – An Observation
There are some things I noticed about work I saw from makeup schools, and I think it needs bringing up. Essentially, I saw work from someone who had travelled to LA from the UK to attend a makeup school for some months.
There were pictures of work in there which seemed both extensive in size but poor in quality. Now I know students are by definition learning, and there is going to be mixed ability but there seems to be an irresponsible approach when allowing large scale sculpting to take place when there are some fundamental areas which need addressing.
Simply put, if you attend a makeup school with the intention of learning how to create makeup effects using prosthetics, I think you are being done a disservice if you can’t sculpt a face well. If the anatomy is wrong, then that needs fixing. I don’t think it’s good enough to be encouraged to create extensive gore or over the top creatures if in doing so you don’t display a mastery of basic form and anatomy.
If you can sculpt a face with a reasonable degree of accuracy and skill then It’s okay to move onto character and costume areas. However, if your sculpts clearly display that you don’t know your way around a face, then what the hell are you doing spending huge amounts of time sculpting costume or armour details?
Rendering anatomy is pretty much the most fundamental skill in sculpting, and I liken it to doing an impersonation of somebody. If you do a bad impression of someone for the entertainment of somebody else, and they haven’t actually seen that person before so can’t vouch for how accurate a representation it is, they may laugh and be entertained by it. But if someone who know that person well overheard it, they’d be thinking you did a crap impression, that you were way off the mark, and that you’ve seen it done better.
Sculpting anatomy is like that, it’s not a matter of opinion. It’s right or it’s wrong. There are naturally variations and style choices which people make to create character, but those are within believable tolerances. Just sculpting badly because you don’t know any better isn’t the same thing.
My guess is that this happens when the teachers don’t know how to teach you or how to keep you focussed on what matters. I’m not saying that sculpting hard edge model-making features and costume isn’t a skill – of course it is. But that’s not makeup school, and if you’re being encouraged or permitted to avoid grasping the nettle of creating anatomy then you’ve seriously got to question your schools motives. Do they want you to learn right or do they just want your money?
Makeup schools are a business so it’s only right they charge for their service, but I have heard and seen many examples of people who travelled far and spent a lot and when you see what they have taken away from it then you wonder if it is a fair exchange.
As with any business, there are some sharp practitioners and some outstanding examples. I think it would be a good idea to run this checklist over when considering a makeup school.
1. Check who the tutors are. 2. Look at previous students work. 3. Speak to previous students. 4. Is there a screening process or do they take anyone who can pay?
Insane Methods For Face Casts
We’ve all heard of the anecdotal face casts that went hideously wrong – the result of phenomenally terrible practice on the part of people doing it. Things like using bare plaster all over the face, bears and eyebrows becoming stuck or undercuts locking heads – it’s common sense mostly but that is not as common as you’d imagine.
Anyhow, check out these howlers, and if you know of any outrageous lfecasting videos which are not here, please do get in touch and send us a link so we can share it! Let’s show everyone how NOT to do it!
Sometimes appliances can be simple individual appliances.
Sometimes they need to be a bit more complex.
Typically, a makeup is sculpted as one thing, so the complete look can be seen as a finished entity. That way you can be sure about proportions – do the ears look right with the nose? Is the chin too long? Are the cheeks level? Should the forehead be less textured for the neck?
The potential variations and relationships of forms on a sculpt can be so numerous that it makes sense to sculpt the makeup as a single appliance. Once that has been approved and a final look agreed upon sculpturally, then the task becomes one of making the appliances in pieces of rubber which someone has to stick on to a face.
Sometimes it makes sense to keep the sculpt as a single piece, like a huge mask which can pull over the head or be applied carefully. This is great if you can do that as it cuts out a lot of mould making and time – it’s frankly cheaper and quicker.
However, a massive piece of soft silicone the size of a dinner plate may be difficult to handle. You’ve got to glue this on and get everything in the right place and get great edges after all…if you have a single piece of rubber weighing a kilo or more, that may be a tricky thing to handle. It all depends on your skill level, and how many times you plan on doing this. A one off pain-in-the-ass application maybe worth doing to avoid all the extra work of making multiple cores and moulds.
What if this thing needs applying twenty times though? Is it better to suffer and hope to get better with each application? Or maybe is it worth making it into a few pieces to make it easier to handle?
Smaller moulds are typically easier to get good edges with, as you have less mould to clamp or bolt together. If one of the pieces doesn’t work out gets messed up, then the others may still be OK, whereas if a large single piece goes wrong, then it may be that the whole thing has to be scrapped and rerun.
If it is something which would be phenomenally easier to apply if broken down into smaller pieces then I thought it would be a good idea to look at the thought process and techniques involved.
It would be picture-heavy I thought, so I’ve made the process into a free workbook to download. Click on the link here or the image below to access it. It will take you straight to the file, no messing:
This was a makeup I did for the UMAe, and I figured documenting the process would be useful to help demonstrate the process I took.
Please let me know what you think, and if you found it helpful then help ME out by sharing it, and mentioning the blog! It really helps me out, and I appreciate your time in even reading this far!
I used a combination of old cores, fibreglass and urethane resin for the moulds, and ran the appliances in Platsil Gel 10 with 180% deadener using Pro Plastic Plus cap plastic, which is an alcohol based cap plastic.
I sculpted using the J. Herbin grade 50 grey plastiline, and applied it using Snappy G silicone adhesive.
I’ll cover the makeup in detail and the casting process in a later post, but for now please check out the workbook if you are curious about making overlapping appliances from a single original sculpt.
It seems it would be handy to have some sensible steps to actually start making things. So check out the podcast on this very subject and also the lowdown on cap plastic.
After all, the longest of journeys start with a single step, so having some steps in mind will help you start if you are not sure where to begin making.
One thing to say is that you don’t have to go through all of the processes to begin with. Just sculpting is at least getting you involved in the act of making, without the added cost or time of making moulds, casts and applying. You can of course do those too if your means permit, but the point is that if you haven’t got all that, you can still start making things in some capacity.
We’d recommend making small things well, and then expand sophistication and scale once you gain confidence. Wounds and casualty effects are a good way to begin, because if you do make pieces to stick on, and things go a little wrong, you can smother a bit of blood or bruising over the offending edge or error. Then, as you get better, try to step away gradually from gore and try to hide your efforts less behind the red stuff.
Noses are great things to do, and if you can do a flawless nose which looks great, the scale up to noses and eyebags. Then cheeks, chin and a neck. If the nose isn’t right, then figure that first. Nobody worth their salt is impressed with huge full body appliances painted badly or with terrible edges if it doesn’t display a high level of skill. So get that skill by not spreading yourself too thin on big makeup jobs.
Todd’s nose appliance, showing clearly where the edges finish.
In the podcast I got a little mixed up with Moshers, so the Michael Mosher bald cap DVD we mentioned is here.
I recall seeing some lightweight face cores made from vacuform plastic from The Compleat Sculptor (their spelling!). I couldn’t see it on the site but maybe give them a call as they may know what they would be listed under or if they don’t not stock them now .
Know Your Mess From Your Mozart
As to getting better at sculpting, it makes sense to know what good sculpture is in terms of both creatures and effects as well as classical sculpture. After all, if you sincerely wanted to pursue anything to a decent level, you would likely have heroes and influences. If you want to be successful at something, it really helps to know what success looks like.
Looking at the work of the current masters of the trade is a great way to be inspired (and sometimes a little upset by how good the work can be) and then being able to place yourself more accurately on a continuum – where do you sit on the scale? It’s well worth checking these artists out if you haven’t yet seen any of their stuff. This is by no means a complete list – no doubt I will be blasted for the glaring omissions but it serves to start you off.
If you want to sculpt something and then see how it would look painted, you can lietrally paint your sculpt. If you simply apply either a cap plastic or latex barrier on the surface first, then whatever you paint on there will peel off easily enough.
To see a video of me doing just that, check out the video here. Zip to 11:00 mins in if you only want to see the painting part.
Cap plastic (not ‘cat plastic’ as some have misheard) is a flexible plastic usually supplied as a concentrated thick liquid, and thinned down with solvents for use either by conventional brushing or with an airbrush. Naturally, for airbrushing it needs to be thinned considerably to avoid blocking the fine nozzle. Clean the airbrush out after with the appropriate solvent.
Traditionally, bald cap plastic was acetone based and used to pretty much just make bald caps (although latex can also be used very successfully for bald caps), and the edges could be melted with acetone.
As silicone appliances began to use bald cap plastic as an encapsulant, so it was that more cap plastic was being used on the face instead of just as bald caps. The notion of a bald cap material which could be thinned with alcohol came about as a much less aggressive solvent to use on the skin.
Both work well for appliances, and like Canon/Nikon, Pepsi/Coke and McDonalds/Burger King, there are happy advocates for both. Typically the alcohol cap plastics happen to be a bit softer and more flexible currently, but some prefer the durability of using alcohol activated colours such as Skin Illustrator on a cap plastic which will only melt with acetone.
Cap plastic is applied to a mould and core surface before adding the silicone gel. The resulting appliance therefore comes out with a cap plastic surface which is better at bonding to adhesives and makeup whilst retaining the flexible, soft benefits of the translucent silicone gel inside it.
Todd mentioned those handy Preval sprayers he uses for cap plastic which are a great substitute for airbrushing, which requires an airbrush and an airs source like a compressor. Google it to find a nearby supplier – usually airgun and paint spray specialists will stock them.
If you want to see this being done, check this video I did of running some silicone appliances in open moulds which features cap plastic being brushed in and sprayed.
The Pro bond primer we mentioned is featured here in this video and is available from Todd’s site as well as many professional makeup supply stockists.
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It’s just me today as Todd is pretty sick with a bad cold, so get well soon Todd. Hope you get fixed up and back on track soon, fella!
We’ve got a great interview with someone who was the first person I ever got in touch with. Geoff Portass started Image Animation with business partner Bob Keen, and the company worked on some iconic genre movies and shows in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They also spawned the careers of some of the best known fx artists working today.
I still have my letters from 1990 when Geoff replied to my questions when I was 16! I sent foam samples of foam latex I had made at home and asked about the makeup they used and replied every time.
I also remember meeting Nick Dudman at my college in 1993, when I basically cornered him for half an hour and asked him all these questions that nobody else could answer – pre Goole etc.
(I then went on to work for Nick on a few Harry Potter and Mummy movies.)
Anyhow, I drove up to Geoff’s place and we chatted for a good few hours and I had to split this into two podcasts, as there was so much material and it seemed to fall into two logical topics – the film stuff and the teaching stuff. So, this is part 1 which looks at the film stuff and the next episode will be looking at the teaching stuff too.
I kept this cutting from a newspaper (well, ‘The Sun’) as there was precious little to see of makeup processes before the internet made getting information a breeze.
Lastly just to remind you that we’d love to hear from you. Feedback is always welcome and as we normally look at solutions to problems (hence the podcast being called Battles with bits of Rubber). Our email firstname.lastname@example.org
The podcast is available on iTunes, from Soundcloud and various other podcast directories. Please consider leaving a review or sharing this with people you think would dig it too if you enjoy this episode – it would really help us out!
Colour theory is a crucial part of makeup, especially if you are in the business of trying make a portion of the face out of rubber and make it look like it belongs there and is the same as the real skin which surrounds it.
This is especially true when mixing your skin tone into your appliance material in the case of silicone or gelatine appliances.
This post is going to give an overview of the article we wrote for Neill Gorton’s Prosthetics magazine #3.
The materials are different, but the principles of colour theory and how to create skin tones remain the same. This colour is IN the pieces rather than ON them.
We have gone on a fair bit in the past about the importance of colour and colour theory in posts about using photoshop to match skin tones, and 7 tips for painting skin tones. The reason…? Because it really matters and it’s actually rather simple.
and the video further down – there’s a loooooot here!
The latest episode of our podcast ‘Battles With Bits Of Rubber’ deals with this issue of colour theory! Check it out and subscribe on iTunes , Soundcloud your podcast app or directory of choice!
Base Skin Tone
It’s important to get the base tone of your appliances right, as you don’t want to make things harder for yourself later by creating an appliance which fights you all the way because of poor base tinting.
It’s very frustrating to have to use the makeup to ‘correct’ a badly or inappropriately coloured appliance when you can get the base tone to do most of the work for you.
What exactly do we mean by a ‘base’ tone? The base tone is also known as the foundation tone. It’s the main ingredient, the support layer so to speak, to which other things – in this case, colours – are added to make something: a believable skin colour.
Translucent materials like silicone and gelatine are coloured intrinsically – that is the colour is mixed into the material itself rather than applied onto the surface. We’ll do that later when we apply, but the ideal situation is to have as little to do in the makeup chair as possible.
There are a number of products you can use to actually pigment the silicone base you’re colouring – such as oil paints and artist’s acrylic paint (yup, Todd tried this and it works!!), but by far the most reliable are silicone pigments.
These highly concentrated colours are designed to mix well with both condensation and addition cure silicones, and don’t affect the chemistry of the silicone setting, which some oil paints and acrylics may, for example.
(You should always do some testing before mixing a large batch of silicone with an untried colouring method.)
Silicone pigments are usually available from wherever you buy your silicone, and the concentrated pigments are usually very good value for money as a little goes a long way. Canadian company FuseFX, developed by the late and highly regarded Guy Louis-XVI offers a wonderful assortment of silicone pigments and paints, as do Mouldlife in the UK, and Tom McLaughlin’s Silicone Art Materials in the US.
You can also use foundation makeup such as MAC, Makeup Forever or even L’Oreal for that matter, but honestly, these are likely to work out more to be expensive than the pure silicone pigments. The amount of marketing, packaging and regulatory hoops they have to jump through to be available on a store shelf makes it an expensive alternative.
Light is rather important!
Usually, it’s better to match the base to the palest areas of the skin you are trying to match. You can usually darken larger areas of a paler base with makeup during application more successfully and easily than highlighting larger areas of a base which is too dark.
The same mixed colour in three different lighting situations appears different – the final pic is in natural daylight.
We recommend you start by taking some clear pictures in good natural daylight of your model’s skin, if possible. That way you can analyse the colours and determine what colours you need to match when mixing. Ideally, you would mix with your model present so you can offer up and compare, but this obviously isn’t always going to be a possible or realistic option.
We also recommend that you mix using daylight as your light source if possible, preferably near a window or a lamp with daylight bulbs. Moving around and comparing the effect under different light sources will also help you find the right tone. This mix viewed in three different lights shows the effect of light sources on colour.
Start by adding a small amount at a time, and then mix carefully to ensure that it isn’t too much. If too much pigment is added, it will become overly opaque and you will lose the benefit of having a translucent material!
To check the opacity, use a pale mixing stick and place a black dot using a Sharpie pen near the end of the stick – this will then display quite readily how the opacity is changing as you add more pigment.
If the dot is really easy to see – add more pigment; the dot should just be visible through the pigmented silicone.
We both attribute Neill Gorton with sharing this invaluable tip! Thanks, Neill!
Colour Theory In Practice
With regards to mixing a base colour, you are going to be using colour theory essentially to ‘correct’ the pigments. Whatever you’ve got in that pot is unlikely to be the same shade as the skin you’re trying to match, so get incrementally closer a bit at a time. You’ll find the pigments you have will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so you will essentially be steering the colour gradually by eye.
Looking at your base and comparing it side-by-side to your model’s skin, ask yourself in very basic terms, ‘What is missing?’ Is it too pale, or too dark? Is it red enough? Yellow enough? Green enough? You basically will be using colour theory to adjust the base tone until it is as close as time allows.
A pin used to put the tiniest amount of blue into a mix without causing drastic errors!
If you need to add tiny bits of primary colours, it often helps to decant a small quantity of that colour onto a surface and use a thin tool such as a pin or toothpick to drop a small amount into the base, rather than drop it straight from the pigment container.
The smallest drip from a dispenser nozzle may still deliver way too much and ruin the whole mix.
Flocking is tiny fibres of nylon or rayon, available in different colours and lengths.
Alternatively use flocking instead – small amounts of blue and green are especially effective when added as flocking, as pigment strength may vary from batch to batch whereas flocking is easier to judge.
If you are not sure which way to go with a colour, and you find yourself confounded as to which direction to go, simply drop a small dollop of the base coloured silicone onto a clean white mixing palette and drop a tiny amount of each pigment at intervals around the outer edge.
Drag some of the base out to it and mix it lightly to see what effect each pigment has on the base as it currently stands.
This will show you, in a small and less upsetting way, what effect green, blue or yellow will have on your mixture.
It should help you decide which way to go, and you may be surprised at what colours actually help. A tiny drop of black for example helps mute the brightness without darkening the mix too much.
So, go slow and steady, refer to reference of the colour you want to arrive at and then get closer one step at a time!
So, want to watch me put all this into practice and actually mix some silicone into three different skin shades? Alrighty then….
And for all you podcast freaks (…like me… I am a podcast addict!):
Leave a comment below! We love questions and podcast subscribers too!
Loop tools are a delight to make and use, and some of the daintier ones are cared for like beloved pets. Sometimes though, either through careless stowing or lending to a clumsy colleague we end up with a broken loop which causes distress and sadness.
I know because its happened to me enough times so I thought I would share with you a way of successfully restoring a busted loop to it’s original glory, and reduce the likelihood of recurrence too.
One note: this repair depends on the loop breaking at the base where it joins the handle – if the loop breaks in the middle then I think replacing the actual loop itself is the best option, or making a new tool from scratch. If so inclined then check out my tutorials on making loops and wooden tools.
The hero who saves the day is epoxy putty – a two part putty mixed together in equal amounts and placed on the break. It sets up hard and will secure the loop end in place, supporting it well and reducing the chance of it breaking again.
Often it is just the amount of leverage placed on that tender stem which causes it to break, and soldering may cause the metal to weaken too. In any event, the first thing to do is clean the affected area with a wire brush or abrasive cloth.
Mix up a tiny amount of the putty – ensure you have equal amounts of the two components. You’ll need less than a pea-sized lump in total.
It’s well worth wearing disposable gloved when handling it as I have here, as you’ll want to avoid getting epoxy putty on the skin – check the packaging for safe use recommendations.
Sometimes the loop is happy to stay in place, but sometimes the spring in the loop causes the errant end to stand out and refuse to sit within the confines of the handle. Fear not, as such an inconvenience is not long to suffer.
If you have an errant end such as this, then you’ll need to do this in two hits. This first hit involves creating a small lip to hold the loop in place when it eventually sets. Then, when that is done you can hit it with round two.
It’s best to surround the handle near the loop with a small amount of he putty and massage it around to create a thin shroud. Water is a curiously sufficient solvent which allows you to smooth the finish with fingers alone. Use a small tool to pull and pick a small lip to later hold that prong in place.
Putties vary in setting times, and typically the slower they take to set the stronger they are, so weigh up your requirements. I would ideally leave this to harden up overnight.
Now that the putty has set rigid, the loose prong should be able to be directed to sit in the lip you made allowing you to add a second mix of putty carefully to surround and hold the prongs firmly up their base. The putty should chemically bond to itself and create a firm sleeve to hold the loop base.
I put the blob on one side and gently push it through, smoothing and massaging it around evenly with water and a small tool. You could sand this smoother later once it has set if you like, but I like to get the smooth finish now.
Put this to one side and allow it to set up again overnight before using. You broke this thing once already… For crying out loud, give the fella a chance.
All being well the putty is set rigid and will hold the loop in place handsomely.
I actually think it’s a worthwhile exercise to pre-empt the tragedy awaiting such delicate loop tools and do this on the thin stems before use to head that damage off at the pass.
Doing so should ensure years of break-free sculpting.
What does the targeting system of an acoustic torpedo have to with painting skin tones?
Quite a lot actually, and it’s rather straightforward when you see how. Each time you stick some rubber onto a face, there usually follows the task of making that piece of rubber look like it belongs to the rest of the face, to hide itself in plain sight. To accurately reproduce skin colours is a thankless task, as when done correctly it ceases to look like anything has been done.
I still get nervous EVERY time I have to do it because each time is a performance and nothing is guaranteed – there is scope for error.
However, despite that there are a few very simple principles you can cling to that remain regardless of your level of confidence. Lets look at them to help you create your own step-by-step method for making the fake match the face.
There’s three videos in this post so if you are having trouble making your appliances match the skin, then these could help you!
This was the presentation I did at the 2015 UMAExpo in London this April, so I have reworked it and added some extra things as I think it would be a helpful resource for fellow travellers on the skin-tone matching journey.
Assuming everything has gone as planned in the manufacture of the appliance, making a prosthetic blend seamlessly into surrounding skin isn’t always easy. Matching the colour involves recreating how the colour is distributed within the skin. It isn’t just one single flat colour.
There is variation in skin colouration from very obvious things like freckles, veins etc. to barely perceptible flecks. Outer forearms tend to catch more sunlight over time than the back, instep or upper arm for example so usually are darker or exhibit sun damage more readily for example.
Unless it is an intentional, heavily made up appliances with thick layers of foundation will look opaque and flat, and appear very ‘masky’ and fake. This is why paint primers for car body work are a flat, matt neutral colour like grey – it will show up the imperfections in a surface allowing you to identify and repair them before the final colour is applied.
With a pre made prosthetic, it is made as a single mass of material which is usually one colour – albeit a (hopefully) good match, but still a single tone over the entire area. The larger the appliance, the greater the area of real skin and variation you will have to recreate.
Typically, extensive prosthetics will be pre painted before application to speed things up in the makeup chair, but unless you know what colours to put where, it isn’t much use. Here are a few tips and tricks you can do to help oil the wheels of success and damp the flames of frustration.
When painting any appliances, it helps to consider the three main factors involved, and they all have a bearing on how the paint job will go. To make this sound more important, I have chosen to call them pillars.
1. Skin colour
For the sake of argument, we are trying to make the appliance look like it is the same colouring as the person’s real skin. If you want to smother someone in solid green, that’s going to be easier than recreating their natural skin tone.
2. Appliance base colour
This would ideally be a good colour that matches the person. This is not guaranteed. Sometimes you may have a piece which isn’t the right colour and you will have to correct it to make it match. This may be because the person who mixed up the silicone base made a mistake, or the performer has gotten a tan since the pieces were made. Damn you, lazy days on the beach!
The products you use and the manner in which you apply them is of course the critical step in you being able to bridge any gaps between the first two factors. I mean pillars.
Tip 1 – Be familiar with the face before you start slapping anything on it.
Get to learn what colours are in the face and where they are. It helps to start with a picture of the person beforehand. Have a good clear image of their face in good light and study what colours they have and where. Almost meditate to it, get really aware of their colouring.
It takes a while, kind of like being outside in bright sunlight and stepping through into a dark and gloomy room, your eyes need to physically adjust to permit the reduced amount of light in. So it is with colour – often when you start you just see ‘skin’. After a while you can start to see subtle variations on pigment, and then they gradually become more obvious.
If you are matching the skin tone of the person, at least to begin with, it helps to have a clear image of what you are about to cover up. If you can make the piece of rubber you stick on look like the skin underneath it, then any kind of character makeup you do over the top of this will be happening over a realistic looking face.
Tip 2 – If the colour is wrong, it probably only needs a touch of one of three colours to get better.
It essentially boils down to the three primary colours. It needs to be bluer, redder or yellower – or a combination of those colours.
Your average desktop printer can shoot out colour photos using just those colours and black. I’m not suggesting you go back to basic and only carry primary colours – we have makeup which is formulated to better approximate a variety of skin tones. But it helps you so much to focus of the rough direction it needs to go, and choose the appropriate colour accordingly.
This is when really analysing the persons skin colour in advance pays off. If you have figured they are ruddy, olive toned or tend to redden easily then you can quite confidently select the appropriate shade for around the nose, under eyes etc. and pack in those variations quicker.
Tip 3 – Use Photoshop to Reveal Where those colours are hiding.
There are a couple of tools in Photoshop which are great for simplifying to colours on a face, and allow you to focus your search if looking at a photograph of a face doesn’t seems to reveal much to you at first.
Posterize for posterity.
One is Posterize (Image>Adjustments>Posterize). If you are not familiar with the term, it basically means taking the millions of available colours in an image and reducing them into fewer groups so a simplified version of the image is created.
It was used for creating cheap posters, where the colour printing process was not especially sophisticated and so colour images would be rendered in three or four colours, like this:
How does this help? Well, in Photoshop, you can choose the level of simplification to recreate the image from level2 to level 255.
Doing so will reveal in a much simplified way where the significant dark and light areas are located – usually around the base of the nostrils, mouth corners, under eyes and above the lids etc. Not so much pushing boundaries as actually locating them.
Check out the video below to see posterize in action!
Tip 4 – The Channels Window
Aha! The Channels window (Window>Channels). An image on any screen – no matter how detailed or complex it may appear is basically made up of red, green and blue light and is therefore known therefore known as an ‘RGB’ mode image.
You can actually toggle off any of those individual colours in Photoshop which is a great way to reveal where abouts in the image they are.
Photoshop is able to be display images in a number of modes, so switch the mode to CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key black) by clicking on Image>Mode>CMYK. This is the mode which is used for images intended to be printed.
Looking at an image of a face, by dropping all but the red channel, you get a better idea of where the reds are situated. It basically gives you an exaggerated map of where those colours reside in that image. That can help you understand where the colours are distributed about the face. Use that information to inform where you will need to add more of those tones in your makeup.
Check out the video on the channels window below!
Tip 5 – Use Photoshop to put numbers on those colours.
I did a blog post on this a while ago, and it is still a handy trick to help quantify the rather abstract notion of colour. By using the colour-picker tool, you can choose an area or even an individual pixel and see what percentage of that colour is Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and black.
This is really handy for identifying amounts of red/yellow/blue in any given area. Often the numbers are surprising and it’s quite an education to see precisely what goes into making up a skin tone.
Check out this example of an image I took from a workshop I did recently. You can see the skin colour of the arm, and the appliance colour. It is clear there is a difference between the appliance and the skin, but specifically what is that difference and how do you make up the deficit of colour to correct it?
Using the colour picker tool, you can see quite clearly that the skin has a lot more cyan, magenta and yellow, as well as black to darken. By actually having numbers on there, you can locate roughly the amounts needed to add to get much closer to a match.
Check out the video below to see what I mean!
Tip 6 – Think like a torpedo.
Think like a what now? Well, a sea-launched torpedo has an interesting way of finding its target. It usually has a sonar system which ‘pings’ out a sound wave and listens to the returning echo to decide where the target is.
Given that boat, the submarine and the torpedo are constantly moving in water, it needs to constantly ping out a sound, listen to where the strongest echo is coming from and then change course accordingly, constantly modifying.
When it is first launches, it is far away and naturally the biggest changes in direction take place, and it steers left or right to align with the centre of the target as best it can.
As it gets closer, the adjustments of left to right become smaller and smaller until it finally is travelling straight and BOOM, it it’s the target.
That is kind of how I approach painting appliances. Once the piece is on and all gluing is finished, I start out with an honest judgement as to what is missing on the piece – what exactly does the skin have that the piece does not? It’s about spotting what’s missing first before adding. Is the skin darker? Redder? Yellower? Greener?
Usually start with red or pink. Absence of red is common with pieces because the blood under the skin is showing through in some places more than others. Sides of nose, cheeks, lips etc usually will have more red. It may be vague misting or it could be quite defined as with capillaries and veins etc. You usually need some red to make it look real.
Choose the right red, cooler or warmer. Warmer usually has more yellow in it, and for people with warmer skin tones then a warmer red is better.
For some people who are paler, pinky reds are better. I use the Rose Adjuster a lot for this in the standard Skin Illustrator palette.
Once you think there is enough red, you can go in with yellow, or a yellowy brown if you think it needs to be yellower and darker. The Cedar Brown is nice, and Midnight Brown is excellent at muting and darkening too.
Each of these colours is making a smaller and smaller amount of adjustment – the first choices as to whether it needs to be darker/redder etc. are bold and the most drastic. As each layer of colour is laid down, they become more subtle and less obvious. Each colour makes a tiny tweak and nudges the piece ever closer to correct. When the difference between the skin and the piece is not noticeable, then you’ve hit your target!
Tip 7 – Failure
Painting skin tones, especially on appliances that you have made yourself from start to finish means it can carry so much weight in your head. It feels like a lot is riding on it, you’ve invested so much time and along the way all the processes that could have gone wrong didn’t so the final piece feels like a precious and unique jewel.
That can make anything less than perfection feel like a crushing failure. If that is not you, then congratulations, you are a rare and lucky individual. If it is you, then you have to acknowledge that feeling of disappointment. Feel it, swim in it then step out and look afresh at it objectively. What, precisely, is wrong? Is it too dark/yellow/muddy/messy/pale/clean.
Identify the problem in a broad way, then tentatively nudge it towards what is missing. The issue is a colour issue, – not a ‘you’ issue. That way it isn’t failure any more.
As the late, great Zig Ziglar said ‘Remember that failure is an event, not a person’.
This last update on the UMAE makeup will take you through the casting of silicone appliances, and how the ear moulds were made.
Thanks to Julie-Ann Ryan for the application and hair skills and to Chris Lyons of Fangs FX for the teeth. Jonathan J. Joslin from Fangs FX also jumped in and helped with the makeup for the arms too after he fitted Emma for her teeth, so double duty!
Thanks especially of course to Emma-Louise Procter who sat through the whole thing, endured full head casts, teeth casts and gave up a day just so we could make her look fugly! I owe ya.