The Story of the Dragon – Casts and Moulds and Paint
This is a multi-part series about how we created this look from start to finish. I am going to put a huge disclaimer here, both my partner and I were not special effects makeup artists at the time that we started this look and as such, the techniques you see here may not be the best way of doing what we needed to do. We did take some risks but that was after rounds of researching and taking precautions especially when it came to working with our model.
This particular part of the story has one technique that is really disagreeable and rather controversial. Don’t worry, we aren’t like slaughtering anything or opening a portal to a whole new world.
We wanted to have our pieces fit our model perfectly, especially the crest that she would have on her forehead. This called for a face cast. Now, before we continue, the technique I’m going to be documenting here isn’t the way things are done in a production setting. In fact, this was a calculated risk we took and was not done without testing and research. Using plaster bandages is not the industry norm, it’s actually a huge no-go. I’m not going to advocate using this technique – the sole purpose of this is to document what we did for the creation of this look. If I could change anything, it would be to swap out plaster bandages for alginate but we don’t have access to it here locally. [I have since found a website that will ship it to us but at the time, we were tight on time and knowledge.]
Why not just use plaster bandages?
Plaster is labelled as a hazardous material but widely considered a safe material for routine use (when used responsibly, as with everything). The thing about plaster is that it heats up when it sets. Also, it sets rigid.
It also has been banned from schools as well due to incidents involving using plaster.
Plaster can reach 60 degrees centigrade while it is setting.
This is really serious.
What led to us deciding to use plaster bandages was the droves of content (on YouTube and some websites) that said using plaster bandages was fine. None of these websites stated the risk involved in using it for live casting or even how plaster actually works.
This is why broad research and a basic knowledge base is important – googling “plaster bandages face cast” only shows you the whole bunch of content telling you how to use it, and nothing else.
Worryingly, I was pretty much convinced plaster bandages were fine because I found a website about an in-class activity for young kids that used plaster bandages to make masks.
So here’s the low down about the whole plaster bandages thing:
- FOR THE LOVE OF GREEN LEAVES DON’T DO IT. Use alginate.
I know you are going to read this and say “but you did it!” Yes, we did use plaster bandages. This was after I tested the bandages on myself and found that the ones we bought did not heat up at all. I was comfortable throughout my own testing of the bandages. I will not tell you what brand or where I got mine from because well, don’t do it.
Just don’t ever use plaster anything for live casting.
When working on a model I always remind myself of the oath of “Do No Harm”, especially when you can help it. As much as possible, never risk anything when it comes to your model. They are putting their trust in you, and as a makeup artist, I think that is my responsibility that I make sure whoever is in my chair is safe and comfortable.
While you could argue that if the plaster bandages don’t heat up and you can take precautions that it makes it safe to use, the truth is – never leave anything to chance as much as possible.
While I am someone who is really quite groovy about finding all sorts of different ways to do things, I will not be the one who is going to tell you something potentially dangerous is fine to do. Ultimately, if you decide to live cast yourself with plaster bandages – that is your choice to do so.
However, if you are going to be working on someone else, just never break someone’s trust they put in you for handling their body and skin.
I’ll admit, I’m actually personally freaked out because I actually tested it on myself. I could have really burned myself.
When it came time to cast our model, Rea, we tested out a patch on her face first. We also applied a layer of Vaseline on her face as a barrier between her skin and the plaster bandages. Having a communication method is also very important and we had one that is really simple to understand. We also never left her side while waiting for the bandages to set.
We then removed the cast and poured plaster of paris into the mould. We also created a shoulder cast this way.
Now all the casts were done, it was time to get sculpting. We split the look into two parts – face and body. My partner was in charge of the face and I was in charge of the body!
We used modelling clay to sculpt all our pieces. The crest was sculpted onto the face cast, while the fins were drafted out on tracing paper, and concepts for the scales on her neck, shoulders, and arms were sculpted onto the shoulder cast.
Yet another digression, our course did not teach anything beyond basic special effects makeup. (We learnt how to create bruises, cuts, and aging. Nothing about making prosthetics.) Yet another thing that I would have changed is to actually go to the library and find books on special effects instead of googling everything. This is a discussion for another day and one that is really complicated and difficult so this will be the last time I will mention it in this entry!
(As a personal note, I’m usually pretty good about going to libraries to get reference books but I don’t know why I didn’t this time.)
As this was our first time making any kind of prosthetic, I tested out a couple of scales just to see how detail would be transferred from sculpt to mould and finally to the end product. I would say that we were really thrilled with the results of our labour. It was time to start making all the pieces of the multiple runs we were going to do of this look. It was a pretty crazy week of just making prosthetics for 2 weeks non-stop just to complete all the pieces we needed. There was ultimately changes made to the scales on her body because I made a huge mistake of not taking body movement into account. Individual scales would not stick onto her skin due to the movement of skin as she moved. I also would ultimately gain the realisation that scales were skin for reptiles after visiting a leather exhibition where I could touch and feel crocodile skin.
So now we had all our prosthetic pieces, the only thing left was to paint them. Honestly, this is going to be really anti-climatic. Painting is really all about what you see and achieving what you see in your mind’s eye. I have no real wisdom or advice when it comes to painting because I do all my painting by eye. (Quite obviously, along with my hands, how else could I do it?)
Painting latex pieces, I’ll be honest, is a pain. While I do enjoy using makeup to colour and paint, latex is just a devil to me at times. You can’t paint onto latex directly with makeup. Either you have to use Rubber Mask Grease paint (RMG for short) or seal it with castor oil or use PAX paint.
That was my reaction when I first started researching on how to paint latex appliances. Out of all the ways to paint latex appliances, I prefer to prime my pieces with three layers of PAX paint.
What is PAX paint?
PAX paint is a 1-to-1 mixture of Pros-Aide and Liquitex Acrylic paint. Any kind of acrylic paint would do really. PAX paint was created by Oscar-winning Makeup Artist Dick Smith, who is also heralded as the “Godfather of Makeup”. He was the pioneer of prosthetic makeup, now known as special makeup effects. He also was one of the first to combine both makeup and on-set practical effects. In need of a makeup that had strong lasting power, he created what is known as PAX paint. PAX comes from the ingredients that made it: Pros-Aide + Liquitex. What it creates is a paint that adheres to itself and lasts a long time.
Pros-Aide gives acrylic paint a lot of flexibility, allowing the piece to move without the paint cracking and peeling off. However, it also has to be powdered heavily or the paint will cause pieces to stick to themselves. There is a no-tack version of Pros-Aide which can be used to created non-tacky PAX paint. However, some artists opt just to use PAX paint as a base coat and use other paints or makeup on top of it.
Do not use PAX paint directly on skin, unless the pigment in the acrylic paint is certified safe to use on skin. (Remember the whole “Do No Harm” talk.)
After applying three layers of PAX paint, I painted the piece with Kryolan Supracolour without powdering. I generally paint in three stages: Priming, Base Colours, and Detail work. The photo above is the piece after painting in all the colours and shadows I wanted with Supracolour. I generally do not worry too much if I make mistakes here because when I go in to paint in detail work, I clean up any mistakes I may have made. I also don’t put in the highlights until the very end because I want them to be vibrant, painting the highlights early might give them the chance to dull away.
I do all my detail work with powder makeup, mostly because it’s the medium I’m most comfortable with and has the finishes I like the most. I try not to set my Supracolour with powder because it can interfere with the colour if you use too much of it. After all the finishing touches are done, I spray it with the Kryolan Setting Spray so that the makeup does not transfer. After painting five sets of prosthetics for this look, I find that this is the way I like to do it the most.
Sealing with castor oil is quite okay but I don’t like how finicky it can be. It cannot be too much or too little and it has to be powdered before you can begin painting. I feel there is a little too much room for error when it comes to painting a whole latex appliance. However, on latex that is applied to the skin? That’s when I love using castor oil.
That’s all I really have to say about painting really, it’s really anti-climatic. Just use your eyes, go broad and go bold with your colours! There’s always a chance to dull down or darken colours but it is much harder to correct a colour that is too dark. The trouble with dark colours is the need to ensure definition of detail and structure. Most of the time, it is easy to muddle up and make your final result just a murky silhouette instead of a piece that has interesting details and structures.
Now that all our pieces are ready for use, I know the most natural thing to talk about next is application – however, I’ll admit that is a topic I will not touch. Not at least until I have more years of experience and better understanding of techniques. Maybe in a few years, a journal entry will pop up about how to apply and blend prosthetic appliances into skin but it isn’t the time yet.
[Click on the images for the links, links will open in a new tab. None of these links are affiliate links.]