LARP Hobby Craft: Making Latex Masks – Part 1

One of the things I do is help out with a little LARP that runs in Georgia and North Carolina called Dust to Dust. The game has been running a full year now, to mostly positive review, all things considered, and one of the points where we receive a lot of love is our masks for NPC (non-player character) use. These range from wolf masks to troll faces to various lizards to men made out of wicker. All of the masks are created by the staff of the game through mold creation. Now, we aren’t experts, and we are lucky enough that one of our players went to school and learned these techniques and was then kind enough to show us. Several people have asked about how we do it, so I decided since I had a free Saturday to document the process from end to end. In fact, the test mold is drying right now, and then I will document part two, which will be the cleaning, pulling and clearing of the mold itself. I will pour the latex tonight and have the painting of the mask done tomorrow for general view.

To start off here are the supplies that I use in the prototype creation process:

I bought these at a local craft store and it runs me roughly $22 for the lot. $20 of that is the Crayola Model Magic. Crayola Model Magic is AWESOME for this process for two reasons, it’s easily shaped and it’s reusable if you just add water. The masks are cheapo plastic masks. I decided that I was going to get crazy with the crafting and try and make a rocky mineral looking mask using the normal face mask. The plague doctor mask will turn into a metal bird of some sort, but I haven’t started it yet. Will these be used in DtD? Fuck if I know, but this seemed pretty fun to make. In order to make the mineral looking effect I want, I decided I would take self-adhesive foam scraps that were otherwise not that useful to me, but I save for various odds and ends projects. The self-adhesive part of this makes it a god send for mask making, as I will explain a bit later.

I took these scraps and cut them into strips and geometric shapes in order to attempt to create an organic crystal cleavage pattern on the mask itself. I cut the mask into a stranger base shape just to give it kind of a weird look. In my mind’s eye, I imagine this kind of mask going over someone who has paint covering the rest of the face to form a different stone pattern. Now, the self-adhesive foam means I could lay it directly on the mask itself. One thing that is important in the mold making process is that when you get ready to make the mold, there are no overhang areas for the compound to seep into. This can lock the prototype mask into place, or it can cause you to break your mold when you try and clean it. I got really fancy with this mask on the whole, so we will see if I did a good job with that, but here’s what the mask ended up looking like once I put the foam on it and cut it up.

As you can see, there is a lot of depth to the mask and a lot of fiddly bits. Now, the good thing about this is that any mold imperfections will add to the detail and rocky/mineral look of the mask, so I consider that a boon. So, now the the base mask is made, it’s time to fill the mask. This is where the Model Magic comes in. As I mentioned before, you don’t want to have any place where the compound will get under the mask itself. I use the Model Magic to fill the inside of the mask and to give the mask a little of sturdiness as well. You want to make sure you fill the mask in such a way as to preserve your design or just plan on cutting it down if that’s your preference. Either way is fine. You want to ensure you get the eyes and the nose holes , otherwise you end up with the compounding getting under your mold.

The back is obviously not pretty, but it won’t matter, because it will be smashed down anyway. As you can see from the first picture, there is a bit of overhang between the mask and the model foam, but that’s corrected by the time I am ready to pour the mold. Now that I have the prototype made, I move on to the mold creation. The tools you need for this process are pretty simple. The big one is a big ol’ bucket of Ultra Cal 30, which is gypsum concrete. This is what your actual cast will be made from. It picks up detail amazingly and lasts around 50-100 pulls depending on thickness and so forth once it’s done, and how it’s made. You will want three cheap plastic paint buckets, paint stirrers and brushes that you will throw away after use. The brushes used for baseboard painting, for example, work great. You only have roughly 30 minutes from the start of the gypsum process, so try and get everything ready before hand so you aren’t rushing around like a crazy person and panicking. The next needed item is soft clay, the kind that stays wet and comes in giant blocks. It should be extremely soft to the touch. What you will be doing with it is forming a barrier for the gypsum to sit in during the process. It’s a retainer wall to keep the mold shape and to allow the cast to be build up in layers. You will also want a rubber kidney for smoothing out the layers.

That last picture should give a good example of what I was discussing above. As you can sort of see there, I built up the mask and ensured there was no overhang any longer. At this point you are ready for the gypsum. Again, you have roughly thirty minutes to do all the work in this section. You will be pouring and using three different thicknesses of gypsum for this. The first layer is the splat layer, which means you are trying to get the gypsum on the mask in a randomized, organic sort of way in order to catch the details of the prototype without creating air bubbles or inconsistencies. This layer is pretty thick, all things considered. When you have the gypsum in a bucket, you will slowly add water and stir with your paint stirring stick. The visual effect should be akin to almost a dry lake bed in appearance, and then you will add just a bit more water, creating a mixable, splatterable concoction.

That’s how the first bucket should look. One important part here is to create WAY more than you think you need. You can’t go back from here and you don’t want to scramble to try and make more mid splattering. Here’s what the splattering will look like in progress.

From that point you will make two further buckets, with each of the buckets being in decreasing thickness. The middle layer is often mixed with straw or newspaper in order to provide extra support, but it’s not a necessity. The final layer is the thinnest and should have the consistency of thin pancake batter. You will want to use your rubber kidney to smooth out the top, because the concrete will be incredibly sharp when it dries. When I finished all three layers, but hadn’t yet smoothed with the kidney, this is what my cast looked like:

So, at this point your cast will be made and drying. You have some time to kill so do something fun, like write a blog post about making a mask mold!

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