Dark Hour

Allen Hopps is the director of Dark Hour, a huge haunt attraction in Plano, Texas.

I wanted to take a tour and chat with Allen about what it takes to keep people scared and the business of running a haunt all year round. Podcast Time!!!

When people think about creating makeup effects, masks and prosthetics, its usually associated with film and TV shows. In the US, Halloween is pretty big and getting bigger every year.

The haunt industry is big business, and the work that goes into creating fresh scares show after show requires a coordinated effort utilising every trick in the book, from lo-tech jump scares from a well timed hidden performer to the latest sensor-tripped animatronics. This is all watched and monitored by an experienced crew and assisted by a system of hidden cameras, remotely tripped speakers, light effects, smoke and hydraulics.

Allen Hopps is an experienced and well respected director of Dark Hour, but he also regularly gets his hands dirty, making things for the show as well as running workshops where he will teach others the tricks to efficient working to deadlines and budgets.

I went for a tour of the huge show floor, and got to see behind the scenes where all the in-house stuff gets made – from sets, costumes, masks, prosthetics and props. The level of the thought and detail that goes into setting up a new show (there are several original new shows a year) is incredible. The team work year round updating and thinking up new ways to keep the screams coming. If you can make it to a show, I’d highly recommend it!

Allen Hopps at Dark Hour.

As the budgets and build times are often not anything like TV and film, a lot of creativity goes into making things from existing objects, repurposing and thinking way outside the box. The dollar store is a goldmine for creature making if you know what to look for.

A good eye for shapes and form can help create creatures from existing objects.

It was a real joy to talk with somebody who understands both the business of running a brick-and-mortar establishment which has to turn a profit to stay alive as well as how to make a mould that will do the job without breaking the bank.

All this and understanding the psychology  of what unsettles, and how to misdirect and create an atmosphere through the right combination of sight, sounds and smells. Yes, even smells. The simplest things can sometimes be the most effective, and this is often the case with many things.

There are a few absolute wisdom bombs in this podcast episode which many makers would do well to listen to.

  • If you’ve ever been guilty of having great ideas which seem to expand ever bigger, only to burst and fade away then this episode of the podcast is for you!
  • If you’ve been trapped in a cycle of indecision, dithering and not wanting to grasp the nettle of your creative masterpieces then this episode is for you.
  • If you think that movies are the ultimate end-game for creating creatures and masks and that if you can’t make that coveted position then what’s the point…? Then this episode is for you!


From thousands of doll moulds and doll parts (courtesy of diligent craigslist hunting) to stiltwalking, a child murdering character who makes his own choloroform, real tarantula skins on a pizza, mechanised werewolves, witches jumping down from the sky, rooms which shake, sparks, stairs which burst open and magic paint jobs which only work in the dark…..the toolbox of a haunt is a crazy mix and it has to be experienced to be believed.

Mazes and creating disorientation is a big part of managing the sense of unease, and making a safe environment which can allow the scares to take place is a big responsibility.

It really made an impression on me how much this first-hand experience with the event is so different from the experience of working in film and television.

Allen demonstrates the the oversized Krampus puppet


Horse skull mask made from sheet foam in a few hours.


The makeup room houses legions of horrors patiently awaiting performers.

Here’s that podcast again in Soundcloud if you prefer:

Till next time!

Stuart & Todd

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An image of a makeup I did recently had the rare honour of ‘going viral’ (sorta), and it led to an interesting series of developments.

This post is an attempt to process, quantify and clarify my findings.

I had an idea to do a steampunk-esque type of makeup as I had thus far never had the opportunity, and I had some notion of what I wanted to do. I liked the idea of a big jaw, a powerful looking character with a jaw which would serve as the central detail as well as provide some stark contrast.

I’ve seen a lot of steampunk-type makeups, and they largely consisted of gears serving no apparent purpose attached to the surface of the skin, coupled with playful use of scarves and big round tinted glasses. Asserting that the time period would allow for some extravagant war injuries, I decided the jaw could be a replacement, perhaps from a cannon blast or such.

Often, brass or iron effect pieces are used, and I decided that a suitable jaw replacement would be ceramic. Within the imagined storyline, as clay it would be easily shaped to the wearers defect, and as a makeup-design it’s bone-like colour would be appropriate enough yet have a stark contrast to the skin.

Not being a gifted artist when it comes to pencil renderings of imagined things, I sketched out a few scribbles until I found something which caught my eye.

This long faced fellow popped out of the page, and whispered something about viable believability, and that I should seriously consider him for the part.  Not having any other contenders, I heeded his virtual advice and began work on a clay sketch to see where it would go. Lets call him Max Mandible.

It looked for all the world like Paul Ewen (a regular associate, largely due to his full immersion and dedication to character) to me, so I set about prepping his headcast in the flat grey basetone which usually signals that creative battle is about to commence.

As is usual, the sculpt is to be finished as a design without care or heed to how it will be achieved. At this stage I want it to look right – the ‘how’ part we figure out afterwards. Once sculpted, the pieces are sliced at the appropriate points to make separation easier when this is floated off. In this case, the front of face and ears was a single piece, the jaw was another piece and the  forehead/back of head and neck was another.

For an in depth look at the ‘floating’ pieces and why separating out sculpts into smaller pieces may be necessary, check out this post with a downloadable workbook.

I wanted this to be lightweight and opted for foam latex, and once everything was finished onto their respective cores, the mould were made in fibreglass to allow swift baking and speeding up turnaround time.  For this, I turned to Rob Smith, blood and foam maestro of many years experience.

(Catch our 2-part podcast with Rob Smith if you haven’t already – part 1 here and part 2 here).

Rob quickly turned out a couple of beautiful sets of foams, light and soft yet strong (sounds like a toilet paper ad) which were easily seamed and painted. For this task, I had Jess Heath give me a hand. She basically seamed and painted the makeups at the trade shows that we applied them at (UMAE 2017 & London IMATS 2017). As you can see, foam doesn’t look like skin at all and needs to be painted correctly to supply the appearnace of translucency.

For hairpieces, Jutta Russell knotted me some lovely brows and a moustache in a very quick turnaround. Within a few days, they had spirited from her head block and into my hands via a swift postal service. I always enjoy the thrill of opening the cardboard box and peeling away the waxed paper veils to discover the magic inside. As per the Victorian ideal (and my own desire for waxed-curl perfection) the tonged and styled twirl remained handsomely in place, patiently awaiting a heroic top lip on which to take up residence.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a splendid top lip in possession of a ceramic jaw, must be in want of a moustache.

Prepping pieces at a show table with people watching and asking questions can be a stress, but I thought part of what I wanted to show was how this stuff gets done, as this is the kind of thing that is hidden from view usually. At UMAE, Jess trimmed, filled and painted everything right there on the Saturday.

As you can see, Jess was busy and helped me apply these pieces whilst I was off and about doing stage spots and jumping back in every now and then. We finished off the makeup at UMAE and it went down a storm.

The neck was always an issue for me, as I didn’t want skin visible. I reasoned a bellows of leather, sealed around under the jawline would supply a decent range of movement and allow a better segue between the makeup and costume.

I had artist and all-round talent Violet Casselden make me a custom faux-leather neck piece. Real leather was a bit too firm, and as comfort and movement mattered, we decided this was the best option, and being easier to stitch meant there was plenty of scope for details and seams without too much extra time and work involved.

Very happy with the result, but as is always the case when you apply, the first time shows you the issues and the second time around is better. So, we decided the crowd at IMATS London would like to meet Max too.  So it was on the PS Composites stand that Max was once again born.

As I usually take pictures of progress, I myself am never in the photos so I am indebted to those who kindly take pics and send them to me. I am particularly grateful to Mauro Zenoniani, Horacio Martinez, Markus Glazner and Jeff Daniels.

Image courtesy of Mauro Zenoniani

So, job done and fun had by all. As is my way, I regularly updated followers with progress shots, often zipping out 10 updates a day so as to keep interested parties abreast of developments in almost real time.

That way I am able to demonstrate how some things are quickly achieved and others are more involved.

It was a month or so after that I first was alerted to the image being is someone else’s Instagram feed. Another account had used it, not asked nor had they credited me. I’m not amazed or stunned – the internet does this I realise. Then I got notifications from others, and others still.

Once I had mentioned this on my own account, others started appearing and I stopped counting after 40.  There seemed little point, as clearly it was doing the rounds and at a rate that any formal complaints procedure was unlikely to outwit.

A selection of some of the posts from various accounts.
They got more likes for my image than I did.

As is the way, those that ‘repurpose’ the image for their own ends have themselves also had it swiped from them, so much so that nobody seems to know where it came from or that it was even remotely unkind to do so.

It even came to something when the original hulk, Lou Ferrigno posted it on his Facebook page.

Now. Its important for me to make something very clear.

I didn’t write this because I was angry, upset or felt cheated. Well, maybe a bit.  This all started weeks ago, and in all fairness I did feel those things. On some occasions, I was credited but more often than not I wasn’t (I suspect it is now so far removed from the source material, the scope of investigation to track down the original owner was far too involved for the casual poacher)

I am in fact writing this because I chanced upon a makeup design which seems to have grabbed imagination but it takes on a life of it’s own, beyond it’s intended purpose.  The vast majority of accounts that have used my images have exposed them to many more people than my account has. The output of these accounts is almost exclusively made up of stolen images from others.

You can see in the accounts that they often use the same images over and over, all presumably to swell follower numbers. The idea is simply to use striking images, regardless of their origin, in an attempt to grab attention and followers. Usually the accounts are selling either a social media marketing course (great indication of their methods if in order to do so they need to steal other peoples work) or to accumulate followers so as to be able to charge for shout-outs, or to simply sell the account fully furnished with many eyeballs attached.

‘Go Viral’ on Instagram, I’ll show you how I used other peoples images so you too can use other peoples images.

‘DM for shoutout rates’. That’s right. the only reason you are following me is so that I can charge you for shouting out to others like you who apparently want to be successful but bringing nothing whatsoever to the table.

One ‘user’ of my image claims to love my work and not sell anything.
This from a ‘Social Media Marketing Manager’
whose profile consists of a bandana-masked face.

They are not artists using these images and claiming as their own.  I’ve had a lot of support from friends who have been angry on my behalf assuming this was the case, but it isn’t.  That would be a precarious and risky business as the creative world is pretty small, and when someone is paying for your ability, that is a pretty silly way to get work you can’t do.

No, this is all ‘online marketing’.

The reason this is interesting – and the reason for this post – is that it’s a very clear that in a desperate attempt to get as many eyeballs and followers as possible that they will basically poach all their images without conscience.

There is usually a call to action or response in the post such as ‘Real or fake?’ or ‘Who can explain this?’. This then causes a slew of responses as the many followers are compelled to weigh in with their sharp observations such as:

Or this considered masterpiece:

I like to respond with my own attempt at recovering some value from the thousands of likes their posting of my work is getting:

This has led to some direct messages essentially defending the reuse of an image:

I admit, I could make my account private. However, I do want people to see my work so does that mean in my own way I am just hungry for eyeballs? Perhaps, but the images I post are my own work and not there to sell crappy gadgets or a dubious marketing course.

In a response to something mentioned on Facebook about watermarking images, my reply was this:

I do now watermark my images as you’ll see but it’s another step on what was a very fluid process. I often instagrammed live progress shots but now I need the interruption idea second app to watermark the image first.

I’d like it if Instagram supplied a watermark capability as a filter as they have a number which are useless. There are regramming apps which automatically include the original profile so credit can be traced back easily.

What I object to is someone being called on their bullshit and then adopting a defensive moral highground where ‘just because I could have asked for credit’ makes it ok in their head. Messaging me as if they are the injured party.

Like taking things from a shop with money in your pockets claiming it isn’t shoplifting ‘if only you’d asked me to pay.’

Their accounts all seen to be using the same images over and over and they are mostly selling ‘marketing’ courses (whilst displaying a pretty poor show of their methods in the process) or else I suspect swelling follower numbers to sell the account on to whoever is happy to pay them.

I appreciate that watermarking images is sensible and the responsibility of the account user. So I have adopted this to my time cost.

We lock our front doors because without that we’d freely have intruders no doubt. However if you break in and take something you’re still a thief and unlikely to be released without charge simply because the lock was easy to pick.

Point is they are twats and it’s my right to say so.”

So, what is the conclusion? Essentially that there are two strands to the equation.

One strand is there exist people who are capable, creative individuals seeking to matter, be heard and influence others with their output. In a world increasingly seeking to automate with cheaper, more reliable alternatives than trained people (understandable from an economics point of view) there is an excessive of unfulfilled creativity. As a result there are people who just want to make things – be responsible for something – and have that matter.

The other strand is a group aware of people who want to make money by selling, to not be directly responsible for anything original but to just reconfigure existing ideas and content and endlessly recycle them for profit.

I remember in City Slickers, that Billy Crystals’ character has a moment where he recognises his frustrations of his job selling air time for radio commercials. He recalls his father was an upholsterer and had something tangible at the end of his working day to look at as proof of his time spent.

I think that lack of proof of influence on things, where individual output is swallowed up in a big machine – certainly if you are a team member contributing to something larger then it’s hard to quantify your input despite the accumulation of effort as producing bigger results overall. I suspect the less hands-on you are with something, the greater the scope for dissatisfaction.

There are plenty of people just looking to ride someone else’s wave, and bring nothing to the party. I suspect that’s a pretty unfulfilled life however. I urge you all to keep creating and keep coming with the new. It matters. That is what I have learned.


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Easy Wrinkles

Back in 2013, I did a presentation I called ‘Alternative sculpting techniques‘, and it was a manifestation of frankly the weird way I often see things.

A cry for help, some might say.

In it, I had cracked plaster, allowed moisture to creep into coffee granules and letting a bitten apple go mouldy, all to create shapes and textures which could be harvested for use wholesale or modified as sculpts to be incorporated into appliances. Check out a video of that presentation here.

Easy wrinkling technique video:

For an episode of Waking The Dead, we had to create water immersion wrinkling on hands and feet on a corpse who had been found in a reservoir. This basically meant four appliances, one for each hand and one for each foot, each with man wrinkles all over the surface.

The hands here applied, distressed and Waldo created additional sloughing skin with thin layers of cap plastic.

Makeup head Viv Riley and prosthetics designer Waldo Mason designed the effects, and had an excellent reputation for the good work they did on this BBC forensic crime drama.

Hands and feet and areas which often get less attention and are underestimated in the planning phase or quoting, as they usually are not the focus, and so the true horror of the extensive amount of edges that ten fingers and toes can create may not visit upon you until you start sculpting and realise how much work can be involved.

A simple outline with a tape measure ensures print-outs can be scaled correctly.

This being the case, and there being little time to create the effect, we worked on a quick method which would speed up the whole process. Firstly, we didn’t have a lifecast of the hands and feet so I had the makeup artist trace around the outline of a hand and a foot onto a piece of paper. I then had them take a photo of that

Then I set about mixing up some old silicone that I had with some thixotropic to make it into a paste, catalysed slow to avoid rushing and carefully depositing it into the sections divided by the natural creases at joints and in the palm etc.

I placed a sheet of cling-film over the top and using a coarse sponge, brushes and some smooth sculpting tools, set about shaping and texturing the masses to cause wrinkling to happen. The membrane of plastic meant that the silicone didn’t stick to anything, so the working is clean.

Indentations and dragging caused wrinkles to naturally occur, and dragging the surface causes tension, enabling very realistic effects to happen quickly.   You get a feel for how firm or gentle to be, and you can endlessly rework it until you arrive at the shapes you want.

Cling Film skin creates very coarse linear wrinkles

Alternatively, you can use cap plastic. By painting or airbrushing some layers of thinned cap plastic onto a sheet of silicone (I used the back of a large flat mould), you can create a thin, flexible skin which behaves in a different way as the thinner membrane stretches more readily, creating more subtle effects.

Cap Plastic acts as a much more flexible membrane creating softer effects.


Cap Plastic membrane can be made as thin as you dare to go!

Once happy, you can leave the plastic in place and set the boards aside to let the silicone cure, and then you can either make a quick mould on this in silicone to make pieces (a bit rough but it will work) or, as we did, make a quick mould and then put molten plastiline into that to essentially make the rough sculpt.

Molten plastiline poured in and scraped, left to cool and chill will be easy enough to peel out and place back onto a board to be reworked, tweaked and finalised if any clean-up is required.

This can then have a cutting edge and border strip added before moulding, and there you will have a relatively easy and quickly made set of pieces that don’t look too deliberate or crafted. The trick with most FX work is to create something (usually over extensive time periods) that looks natural, like ‘it happened’ rather than it has ‘been created’.

Introducing elements of controlled randomness, such as manipulating a membrane on a soft paste allows you to cause wrinkles to happen rather than directly have to sculpt each and every one. You then have the option to capture those shapes and make moulds, and it is a technique I like to use.

Leave me a comment if you can use this, or if you have any projects where this technique may be useful!


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All About…Cap Plastic

Cap plastic is big.

…and it’s not just for bald caps.

Cap plastic is so called as it was originally pretty much used only for making bald caps, so those with hair could temporarily be without it.

Over the last ten years or so, it’s used much more widely as an encapsulant or barrier in a mould so that when silicone gel appliances are cast into it, they come out of the mould with that cap plastic as a surface. This allows glue and makeup to remain attached to it – after all, silicone is at its best a mould material because almost nothing sticks to it!

Check out our podcast all about it here:

A plastic head form used for making bald caps.

Cap plastic is essentially a soft plastic melted down into a solvent, usually acetone as it is easily available and evaporates quickly. This material would be painted onto a head form (such as a plastic ‘redhead’ from Kryolan) in several layers and when dry, the resulting skin is powdered, peeled off and used.

Edges could then be blended using more acetone as required and the result was a decent custom fitted cap which could be painted like skin to create the illusion of a bald head.  Well-known brands include Glatzan by Kryolan and Baldies by Mouldlife.

Over the years as silicone began using cap plastic as a barrier surface, it made sense to try and find a less aggressive solvent if one were to be using it on parts of the body other than the hairline – say around the nose or eyes when appliances have edges finish around there. These are sensitive areas and previously not regularly presented with solvents to melt off plastic edges.

This led to alcohol based plastics, such as Super Baldies (Mouldlife) and Pro Plastic Plus (PS Composites). Now cap plastic barriers could be melted with the far less volatile alcohol solvents. Some care must be taken when using alcohol activated makeup on alcohol activated cap plastic, but despite what may seem like an obvious problem it works well.

The trick is to not move the cap plastic which may have been temporarily reactivated by the alcohol. Flicking and dabbing with brushes reduces contact, and reactivated cap plastic will simply evaporate off the solvents but the plastic will remain in place – bit this is probably best for a dedicated blog post about painting on cap plastics.


Lets be clear – you should not apply this stuff directly to skin. It should always be applied to a surface and allowed to completely dry before being used as a dry film!

Cap plastic typically comes in a thick concentrated liquid form, and ideally is thinned for use with the appropriate solvent (acetone or 99% alcohol accordingly) and can be painted on with a conventional brush or airbrushed.  Because Cap plastic is sold usually as a liquid – and the solvents are flammable – shipping overseas is especially tricky as it would be classed as hazardous for transportation purposes.

This can be an issue if you are having to get your cap plastic shipped overseas from its country of origin. For this reason, Neills Materials stock the plastic in its raw bead form, and this makes shipping it much easier.

You simply add your own locally sourced acetone and reconstitute the material yourself. The beads even come in the correct bottle size for the amount supplied so you won’t need to find a suitable container!

When using cap plastic, always ensure you have the relevant health and safety information, data sheets and make sure you understand it before using. Ensure you have sufficient ventilation/extraction/respirator to work safely.

Thinning & application

Cap plastic is usually a honey like consistency and too thick for most practical purposes. If applying by brush, it can be thinned (this is my way anyhow) about 2parts solvent to 1 part cap plastic. This gives a more fluid mixture to brush into a mould surface, and allow each layer to dry fully before applying another. The only issue with brushing in using a conventional brush is that it naturally deposits a thicker amount of liquid than an airbrush would. This is especially true in deep recesses. You may easily cause pools of cap plastic mixture which will take longer to evaporate.

BALDFX from Motion Picture FX.

This may be an issue for hard mould surfaces (plaster, stone, resin for example) as this increased evaporation time – even a few seconds longer – may cause the solvents present to etch into the mould surface.

This means upon removal of the appliance later you may find the cap plastic sticks partially (or totally) to the mould rather than you silicone gel.

I see many cries of ‘cap plastic stuck to moulds’ in forums and facebook groups and almost every time it is the result of a combination of brushed-in cap plastic and rigid mould material. Silicone moulds do not tend to have cap plastic stick so readily to them, but still be careful and try to avoid ‘pooling’ too much cap plastic.

How heavy handed you are is a factor in final thickness. Someone who dips a brush once and tries to spread that load all over a mould surface will deplete the brush quickly and lay little cap plastic. Another person may dip the brush and wipe one stroke before re-dipping, wiping back and forth progressively and thus using far more cap plastic. Both believe they have applied a single layer but to different effect.


If applying using an airbrush, you will need to thin it with more solvent for it to actually get through the nozzle – usually around 4 to 6 parts solvent to 1 part plastic. There are many variables that affect exact amounts, and there isn’t one definitive way of doing it. I personally prefer about 7 parts solvent to 1 part cap plastic and about three to four layers.

See cap plastic being sprayed into moulds in these videos: flat moulds sprayed and brushed here, and also fibreglass moulds being sprayed here – skip to 12:40 to get to the cap plastic stuff.

However, your needle size, spraying pressure, distance from the mould surface and how slowly progress across the mould surface will all have an effect on the final cap plastic thickness.  Spray beyond the edge of the mould so you can be sure the thickness is consistent everywhere and you can check at intervals around the edge with a pin. Obviously check on the flashing, outside of the actual appliance itself – you don’t want to damage this precious membrane!  Lift the cap plastic with a pin and check for holes. As soon as you have several areas checked and noted as ok, then stop spraying!

The idea is to have as thin a workable surface as possible. As soon as you have that, leave it for an hour before filling with silicone. Cap plastic toughens with age, and if you lift the cap plastic as soon a s it is sprayed, it may feel very soft. If you mistake this for being too thin, then you may add many more layers and the following day you will come back to a piece with edges as tough as wellington boots. Check for holes. As soon as you have a surface without a web of holes, stop spraying and leave it to mature.

Accept you will likely need to run a few appliances before you get your thickness perfect. Keep track of your solvent ratios, mark the bottles and ensure the solvent can’t evaporate when you are not using the cap plastic! Keep note of your layers, and compressor pressure etc. You will get a feel for how you work, and then you adjust accordingly.

I personally would rather apply more thin layers and be confident that I have not missed anywhere than try to do it all in fewer passes only to find a section was missed, and only is this revealed after the piece is demoulded (taken out) and the process must then be repeated.


One phenomena you need to be aware of when applying by brush is how, as a liquid, the cap plastic will settle into thicker pools in the recesses and therefore is thinnest on the high points (see illustration).

This means these high areas will have almost no cap plastic and consequently, the finished appliance may have holes at these points or tear more easily. Bear this in mind and perhaps apply another couple of layers carefully just on these areas to help reduce any issues.

Conversely, when airbrushing (see illustration below), you tend to get an even finish as it evaporates almost instantly, allowing regular even thickness over an undulating surface, high points and all.

Sometimes you will accumulate ‘cobwebs’ of cap plastic.  This can be caused by too high a pressure or insufficient amounts of solvent. You may find warmer temperatures increase the likelihood of this. Tapping them away with a solution of your thinned cap plastic should melt them away, although minor cobwebs are not an issue for the appliance.

Cobwebs can be melted away using a solution of cap plastic. This will replace any bare spots left by melting away.

Getting used to the material is key. If in doubt, do some tests runs and get familiar with YOUR kit, how heavy handed YOU are and how YOUR compressor/brush/nerves handle it. That way, by paying close attention to the results, you can more sensibly amend your approach to correct the issues in a logical manner. Trust us – we know exactly how it feels!

‘Til next time. As ever, comments below or on our facebook page are always gratefully received! If we helped you with something, we love to know. If there is something you’d like to know that wasn’t mentioned, again…let us know!

– Stuart & Todd

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Sometimes you break stuff.
Knowing how to fix it is handy!


I was an utter arse recently when I tried to save a few minutes work by just using plaster when casting out a head.

Normally, it wouldn’t be an issue as good plaster is strong, and I have almost never had a cast break through neglecting to reinforce it, especially as this was just a master to clean up and remould. It was never intended for punishment.

Well, I trimmed the shoulders off and got impatient, and after cutting part way through the shoulder, decided to whack the crap out of it with a mallet in the hope such percussive persuasion would cause said section to leap helpfully off the remaining cast without whine or worry.

This did not happen.

Instead, the hollow shoulders suddenly broke and the head tipped back, broken clean through across a fold in the neck where presumably the plaster was thinnest.

I fortunately caught the head before gravity played its full measure of trickery, but even so, it meant my beautiful lifecast was now in three pieces instead of the convenient single article. Utter fuck.

Still, what’s learned is profit. Here is what I did to repair it, and rather jolly it was too.

Step 1: Get Over It
Invent your swearwords, mourn the loss of the imagined perfection and soothe the strain with a cup of tea/beer/shot of single/malt/all of these. Point is, if you’re still fuming, you aren’t likely to improve the situation with uninformed haste. Doing the first thing you think of very quickly and whilst swearing isn’t likely to help you, so make your peace with it.

Step 2: Check The Fit
The pieces were quite complete and readily fitted back together. Check the joining faces are clear of debris or loose crap.

Step 3: Stick It Back Together
I used PVA glue (the cheap white water based glue used in sealing brickwork for plastering) to glue the shoulder pieces back together. I left this for an hour or so and then I used plaster bandage to reinforce the plaster from inside the shoulders.

You could use superglue, that would work fine too but I had the other head to work on so I wasn’t in a hurry. The trick with repairs like this is to accept the time penalty, and not to hasten things too much or else incur further error and damage.  I leave the glued parts alone for an hour and then carefully back it up with some plaster bandage to add some mechanical strength.

Plaster bandage is used to carefully supply support whilst the glue dries.

Popping the head upside down into an empty plastic paint kettle (a bucket filled with sand or gravel is an excellent device for holding peculiar objects at convenient angles – see this video & post on supporting a tongue mould I did a while back) I apply glue to the broken edge of the neck.

Apply a generous amount, and seat the shoulders in place, ensuring that it sits at an angle at which it can remain – don’t need the shoulders falling off when your back is turned.

With sufficient glue applied, you will no doubt get excess squidging out as the plaster faces meet. If so, wipe this clean with a damp cloth or tissue (I keep a pack of cheap wet wipes on hand by the bench) before it dries as this will be a pain to do so later.

Ensure to wipe clean any beads of excess glue which creeps out of the join before it hardens.

Step 4: Reinforce the Billy-O Out Of It
Whilst the head is still inverted,  some scrim fabric and a runny mix of plaster is used to reinforce the inside. The runnier plaster is so that it grabs a hold of the existing plaster better. Were I to add a thicker mix of plaster then it will have its reduced water content sucked out by the drier and absorbent making it a weaker join.

After an hour or so,  the whole thing is sound and secure. It doesn’t look especially pretty but now nothing will drift or loosen. I can now mount this to a board and make good.

Once the head is leveled and attached to the board with screws,  a batch of plaster is worked into the open shoulder ends and any cracks, bubbles or deficiencies which need filling or leveling out.

I like to scrape it back just as it sets to smooth it and rinse water as it hardens to achieve an alabaster smooth finish.  By using a weaker plaster to fill the remaining holes and cracks, I am less likely to inadvertently damage the cast head itself with the scraping and smoothing tools.

The finished repair, ready to master mould.

For a more extensive example of fixing plaster, check out these three previous blog posts covering the fixing of a new face and how to mount the shoulders to a baseboard for secure fixture:

Right, I’m off back to the workshop to finish these moulds!



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All Aboard The Freit Train part 2

In part 2 of our discussion, Rob Freitas talks about the value of knowing about the unknowns.

He sheds some light on the importance of knowing to look at what was before and honours great artists like Gil Liberto (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0508847/) who does incredible work for the likes of at Joel Harlow (Star Trek, anyone?).

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When going to trade shows and being asked to speak, Rob likes to share what he has known but he is there to be fed knowledge as well as to feed others. He doesn’t want to be the subject – rather he cares about the craft and wants you to care too. Thinking about provenance and what went before is a humbling way of uncovering the history of your subject matter, and is utterly fascinating.

When you think about the makeups from the original Wizard Of Oz from 1939, the list of makeup crew reads like a who’s who of the makeup industry – Jack Dawn, Max Factor, Cecil Holland, Robert Schiffer, William Tuttle, Charles Schram

Two more names that pop up are the perhaps little know Josef Norin (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0635364/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr33) and his son Gustaf (‘Gus’) Norin (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0635362/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr32) who were Swiss artists who brought their talents over from a background in sculpting and moulding small moulds for jewellery. Gustaf was father of John and Robert Norin, both makeup artists with an impressive line-up of screen credits.

Another aspect we touch on is how many of us working can count on the lack of distractions we had from the internet.

Whilst it is fair to say that the internet brings untold knowledge to our fingertips, it also means we need to learn how to focus and channel what is important, rather than allow meaningless information to steal our time away.

Social media makes people aware of what others may think of them or their beliefs…this wasn’t something we grew up with in the pre-internet age. It is certainly shaping how people learn, and it’s important to identify what really matters so one can harness that information and power into a tangible benefit rather than an endless distraction.

Rob mentions a number of artists work, and links are provided below:

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Stuart & Todd

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All Aboard The Freit Train part 1

Rob Freitas is one of the best-known mould makers in the industry and has a phenomenal reputation.

Not only is he incredibly skilled at making moulds but he has a passion for the provenance of the techniques which he uses and cares deeply to help interested parties understand so they can be better too.

He also will redirect much of the attention he gets to his predecessors and those peers whom he feels deserve more attention. It’s a very generous attitude which I believe is born out of an unabashed passion for the subject and a desire to fan those flames in others.  It comes from a very pure place and it’s not often you meet someone with that much knowledge, skill and wisdom and who also is phenomenally approachable and easy to talk to. He’ll no doubt blush to read these words.

We hooked up at a pub near the Millennium FX in Aylesbury where he was teaching a class that week, and a few of us slunk off to the lobby of Rob’s hotel to talk bronze age axe heads, seamlines and technology.

Rob, me, Ivan Bellew and Nat Reynolds. Good times!

The audio is clear, but there is some background noise owing to the nature of a public space. It was around 10pm when we started and we kept at it until around 0130…that’s how interesting it was. Just a magical few hours and I’m really pleased we could synch schedules to be able to sit down and talk.

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In this first of two parts, we talk about

  • Learning lessons through failure.
  • The importance of looking at the past and knowing on whose shoulders we stand.
  • Shortened timescales and managing expectations of people who seek to learn and gain skill (it is my belief the relatively short duration of courses as compared with time-served apprenticeships)  can rob people of valuable lessons acquired through error and repetition).
  • Caring about the right things in order to be better.

Axe Heads and Allies

The reason I brought that axe head was to show Rob the seams in it – evidence of moulds which have been used to make essential life sustaining tools and weapons. Moulds have been aroud for so long, and it gave me a bit of  thrill to be able to have a modern day master mould maker touch a casting from an ancient mould and admire their handiwork 2500 years on.

(Incidentally, this estimation is based on a bit of research I did into bronze age artefacts. This particular head is a palstave, check out http://www.antiques-info.co.uk/new/pdf/July02/1.pdf).

The palstave head in question.

See – a seamline!

Ancient toolmarks presumably from attempts at sharpening.

This old artefact has seams, and we still face this issue in moulds today. A lot of what we do and the work involved is in overcoming the seams or minimising their impact or appearance.

In the effects world where cosmetic perfection matters, making a good mould with a great seam is important and has a dollar value later down the line! It is also one of those crafts which isn’t seen in the final images of the makeup on set, and as a result doesn’t always get the love it deserves. A great sculpt, application, design or paint job can be appreciated in person on set but the mould is nowhere to be seen.

It’s funny that even with the advent of 3D printing, stuff still often gets finished up and moulded traditionally to produce casts as it often is still the best way to make things. Mould making is such a key skill, and the abilities of those that do it well really deserve some attention.

As with learning and getting competent with practical skills, the path to success can be hampered by a desire or pressure to run when walking hasn’t been perfected.  I believe the way forward is to do something small, do it well and then scale up gradually.


We mention a couple of videos that are on YouTube which show skills at work – hand making globes from 1955 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RWcWSN4HhI) and a Disney video explaining the different types of rivet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDbTUt3OG9s).

This was something Disney did to help the war effort, when training many civilians to make military equipment like aircraft required detailed explanations of manufacturing processes such as these. How better to explain these intricate and involved processes than with an animation, condensing time and showing materials in cross section.

Look out for part 2 coming very soon, and subscribe to use on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeart Radio and Google Play Music to name but a few!




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IMATS LA Makeup Demo #2

The second makeup demo was a triumph of old and new.

Latex and silicone working in perfect harmony, with a budget to make the tightest of workshop strategies proud! 

I used an existing lifecast mould I had taken previously – so admittedly that was a bonus but aside from that, this was s pretty low budget affair with high impact. This free workbook details everything for you – get it here.

Latex is often overlooked as people perceive it as this lethal material which has epidemic proportions of allergy.

Whilst it is true that latex allergies exist, it’s also true to say that most people don’t, and those that do usually know about it. That said, it is sensible to check and do a patch test to make certain if in doubt.

Overall time spent was about 6 hours sculpting, two hours moulding, 1 hour casting and two hours painting- that is spread out over a few days as there is drying/cleanup time involved too but the point is in terms of overall labour input, it was pretty economical.

Consider the first couple of hours I was pushing clay around trying to find the damn sculpt within the clay whilst pushing away demons of self-doubt and the realisation that maybe I can’t sculpt any more. I hope that’s reassuring to anybody else who has those psychological imps that know you so well as to point out your flaws and point at them with

Anyhow, the process from start to finish is covered in this free workbook to download.  Just click here to go straight to it No funny passwords or access required – just a solid PDF which I urge you to share and absorb if you or someone you know would find it useful.

Right, I’m off to the workshop. I have a couple of sculpts waiting for me and I can hear their whispering from here. Brand new tube of plastiline to break in too…..does it get any better?




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IMATS LA Makeup Demo #1


Trade shows like IMATS are a wonderful opportunity for artists to have some fun creating things that they might not otherwise get to do.

For some people, it’s to show off a skill or technique or new material. For others, it’s a chance to take chances, experiment and play with some ideas. To indulge in a little playing, pushing some envelopes or exploring with methods which a show schedule just wouldn’t allow.

This was my plan with this makeup. I wanted to do some makeups which were effective, relatively straightforward to replicate and understand, and that would be pretty inexpensive to make without requiring tons of expensive materials or materials.

This makeup was made using gelatine from Titanic FX in Belfast, on whose stand I was demonstrating at the show on Saturday. I have taught a few workshops over there in Belfast, and really enjoy it at their studio.  Check them out and the workshops and kit they have to offer at titanicfxstore.co.uk/.

As is my way, I like to drill deep into the techniques behind how something is done. If you have been following me on Instagram then you may have seen me putting up live progress reports when I made this a couple of weeks back.

If that had piqued your interest, or if you didn’t see it but wished now that you had, then this workbook may be of interest to you.

Just click on the image or here to download your free workbook. Literally free. No sign in or passwords – just detailed explanations of my process.

  • Have a read, and pass it onto a friend if you have a prosthetic buddy or colleague.
  • Let  me know what you think – I worked hard on it but there is sure to be some errors and ommissions, so if you see something or want to know more, then please let me know!
  • Comment below or drop me an email stuartbray@yahoo.com

Till next time –


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IMATS LA 2017 was a blast!

I landed last night and wanted to get this down whilst it was still fresh.  IMATS was a great time – I lost count of the amount things I saw which almost had my eyes popping out of my head.

Check out the new podcast episode!

I went to the first ever IMATS in 1997 at the Beverly Garland Hotel, mainly as I wanted to meet the mighty Dick Smith and hopefully see my other makeup heroes.  Here I am attending an LA IMATS on the 20th anniversary as a speaker. Pretty special for me.

This is a review of my IMATS, my perspective. I know there was much there that I didn’t get to see as it is a huge show in a huge venue. I was doing demos and talking to lots of people, so every attendee’s story is going to be different. That’s the beauty of these events – lots of people seeing the same thing but all seeing something different. Also this post is not a ‘making-of’ for the makeups….that’s the next one! I’m on it.

Todd and myself on stage at IMATS.

Of particular note was all the things Lost Boys related, and it was a real joy to get up close and examine the moulds and pieces at length. I’ve been a fan of that movie since I saw it as a teenager and knew every scene inside out.

To be able to linger and look was quite a privilege. Talking at length about it with Greg Cannom personally was also an hour of my life that I’ll never forget! 

There was a display in the makeup museum featuring original moulds, prosthetic pieces, dentures and lenses as well as the 30th anniversary (yes – The Lost Boys is 30 years old!) panel talk featuring cast members and makeup artists Greg Cannom, Ve Neil and Steve LaPorte.

An unexpected treat was that the panel kicked off with a live performance of the movies’ theme ‘Cry Little Sister‘ by Gerard McMahon.  Massive nerdgasm!



A foam appliance from the original mould. You can see the makeup has a large single forehead appliance wth two smaller separate cheek appliances.

The plaster mould which clearly shows the staining from multiple foam runs.

There was even several sets of contact lenses there to see. They were very effective and added a huge amount to the character. Lenses have always fascinated me, as they are not something I personally have anything to do with outside of the occasional daily disposable.

What I like about the opportunity to study at length something which seems familiar (but actually isn’t when you study it) is that you can abstract it and see the item as series of shapes and colours. You can identify it as an object made up of a series of choices and that then makes it something obtainable, something which you too can make if you cared to take the time to do so. That is true magic right there!

The vampire dentures were also a joy to study, as I tried from a VHS freeze-frame to copy these when I started out playing with makeup. Indeed- I owe a lot of my enthusiasm for makeup to this film and the effects in it. To be able to look at the real things and understand what I was seeing felt a little like the closing of a loop. Pretty special.

The panel was good fun. Moderated by Paul Davis who is writing a book about the movie (he also did one on An American Werewold in London and a documentary about Fright Night….I recommend all of these by the way!) we heard from the makeup team as well as a few cast members about their recollections of that time in Santa Carla, the murder capital of the world.

Also was the pro night on Friday which kicked off with the launch of Steve Johnsons first volume of RUBBERHEAD: Sex, Drugs and Special FX.  Michael Key interviewed Steve Johnson and Sandy Collora, and they chatted about the collaboration which brought this incredible work onto the bookshelf and its long journey.

As is usual at these shows, a great many live makeup demonstrations took place, and none are more involced than those done by Thomas Surprenant who has made quite a reputation for massive, full body makeup demonstrations.  Always a tour de force, it was a joy to watch the guy work hard and he even allowed me to lend a hand for a time.

A sweeping panorama of the stage and seating area taken from the ‘Battle of the Brushes’ stage – this was on Friday during setup. The calm before the storm!

As to my involvement, I had my talk on stage which I shared with Todd Debreceni where we discussed some of the important aspects to learning the craft. As usual, my angle is one of ground up, no fluff or sales pitch but an honest discussion about the nettles one must grasp if you are to make real progress and get better.

The content itself will be another blog post and a podcast, as we agreed the material was so dense that it needs its own post where we can drill deep and get right into it.

Podcast Merch T-Shirts! Check it out!

I spent Saturday with Titanic FX, where I did a demo of a worm infested makeup (more on that next time as I have documented the making of it from start to finish) and on Sunday I applied my ‘bug-eyed Hypno Todd’ to my podcasting buddy Todd Debreceni on the London Brush Company stand. More on this next time!

Please drop comments down below or write to us at stuartandtodd@gmail.com. Let’s hear your thoughts!

Till next time –


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