The Dick Smith Basic 3D Make-Up Course is a distance learning course that I found out about from his website and was instantly obsessed with. You send off a disclaimer and submission form and in return receive the course material with absolutely every bit of knowledge written by the legend himself, that you’d ever need to create a make-up of your own choice. The course covers the 5 following basic technical and artistic stages to create such a make-up;
Making a life mask of the actor
Sculpting the “character” face on the life mask (the appliances).
Making molds of these clay appliances.
Filling the molds with flexible appliance material.
Gluing on the final appliances and applying makeup to them
So armed with the relevant information and loads of other various books I set about the first stage which was to make a life mask. The make-up theme I decided on in the end was a kind of Mr Hyde character but with a lot of aging involved. Dick suggests you should choose a fairly young person for the model if possible because you have a fresher canvass to work on without the natural ageing characteristics that could affect your choice of design. I decided the best person for my make-up model was my brother, Sam, who’s in his early thirties. He was keen on the idea but a little reluctant at the same time because of the time involved, understandably. He said he’d do it though eventually so that was enough for me..
The materials required for this stage are all listed in great detail along with loads of information about where to find this stuff. A lot of the sites are american and I did have a bit of a dilemma sometimes trying to work out if the UK equivalent would be the same or work as well. Managed to get a lot of the materials from the suggested british sites though and eBay was really useful too.
I arranged the day for the face casting well in advance so that my brother had no excuse that it had been sprung upon him. I explained the whole process to him, in advance because it can actually be quite claustrophobic as the materials set so it’s important that the model is aware of that and also that the cast can be taken off at any time if it becomes too much. I had lists of all the necessary equipment to check off to make sure I didn’t forget anything and then set everything out carefully before I started anything else so it was all to hand. Dick suggested you weigh out all the ingredients and pre cut the plaster bandages etc to minimise the amount of time for the model.
I covered Sam with plastic sheeting to protect his clothing because it gets really messy and then began the first stage which is to fit the bald cap. My brother’s hair is quite long so I wetted it and combed it all back from his face. I then used an eyeliner pencil to trace his hairline so it’s still visible through the cap. The cap is then fitted and the pencil line traced through and is cut to fit round the sideburns and ears and then stuck down with spirit gum.
Next, the alginate needs to be applied but it’s important to block the eyebrows and any facial hair (if the model is reluctant to shave it) to prevent the alginate sticking. I used vaseline which was fine for the eyebrows but was disasterous for his beard as you’ll see later. I later was told it’s much better to use facial putty to prevent this…
The alginate itself is a powder that is mixed with water and depending on the type sets in various times to form a rubbery substance that picks up every line and contour of the object that it’s being used to cast. I had already weighed the necessary amount previously and had a little extra set aside in case I needed to quickly mix another batch. Once the water is added and the powder is all combined you beat it rapidly for a minute or so to get a good consistency, then it’s ready to apply. I started at the top of Sam’s face and worked my way down making sure all the features were covered properly, paying particular attention to his eye sockets and nose and mouth. The nose is the tricky part for the model as it’s slightly worrying as the paste has to go round the nostrils and you have to constantly communicate to reassure the model and check they can breathe properly. I had to work quite quickly because the alginate only takes a matter of minutes to set.
Once the alginate sets the next stage is to apply pre-measured plaster bandages over the top of it for support. The bandages were dipped in a bowl of water and the excess squeezed out before being smoothed out and applied to Sam’s face. I started with the forehead piece then the piece over the eyes and main part of the face. The next piece goes beneath the nose over the top lip and chin, then a piece over the neck and finally under the jaw. A thin piece goes down the nose to strengthen it a little too all the time taking great care not to cover the nostrils. Again constant communication is vital because as the plaster starts to set it constricts and heats up which can be very disconcerting…
Once the plaster has set the cast can be removed. I asked Sam to lean forward and wriggle his face within the cast to loosen it a little. I then could start to lift it gently away from his face from the top, being careful not to damage the alginate. This is the point where we realised that the vaseline hadn’t worked and the alginate had stuck quite effectively to Sam’s beard … He wasn’t happy at all not surprisingly as it really pulled and we actually had to cut one bit which he claims has never been the same since. Bit of a disaster but we managed to get it off eventually …
Once the cast was removed I needed to repair certain bits (still attached to Sam’s beard), with some water based clay and then it was ready to fill with a really hard plaster to create the finished positive cast. I used Ultracal 30 and mixed it following the instuctions which suggest you start with the water and then gradually add the plaster until all the water is absorbed and the surface takes on the appearance of cracked mud. Then used fingers to mix the plaster getting rid of and lumps and introducing as little air as possible. When it’s smooth and completely mixed the plaster is poured into the mold. A little at first is swilled around the cast to ensure all the features are included with fewest air bubbles again and then the rest is slowly poured in and left to set.
Once the positive had set it could be removed from the negative or mother mold as it’s called. Had to be careful to try not to damage the alginate too much as the molds were separated in case I needed to do another cast but once I’d prised the edges apart it came away quite cleanly and I was left with the finished face cast.
Was really happy with the final result as this was my first attempt at anything like this and I had to adapt and make things up a lot as I went along. The most complicated parts of the process were still to do though …