There are many ways to make masks, depending on how much time you have, how much space to work in and what the mask will be used for. I learned from Mike Compton, a master prop maker who has worked in film, TV and theatre for nigh on 20 years. He made Timmy Mallet’s mallet and those giant cotton bud thingys on Gladiators, he and his wife designed and made Natalie Portman’s dress in Star Wars.
For all masks, a judicious layer of Vaseline on the dummy is essential to ensure the mask can come off!
Renaflex is a thermo plastic, a fabric covered in plastic. It is quite durable but doesn’t pick up detail well. 1. Soak renlafex in boiling water and stretch over mould 2. Keep re-soaking and stretching until desired shape is achieved 3. Trim edges 4. Paint with white acrylic
Felt soaked in PVA and stretched over a mould picks up detail much better and is more comfortable for the wearer, but is less durable, you can paint a layer of plaster mixed with white acrylic over the top to strengthen it a little.
Clay, Plaster and papier mache. Step one is to sculpt your mask onto the dummy in clay. When you are happy with the shape, cover the clay in plaster, then a layer of scrim to hold it together, then another layer of plaster, allow to dry over night. In the morning, gently prize the mask off the dummy and scoop out the clay from the inside of the plaster. Apply a layer of sealant inside the plaster, this will prevent the papier mache from sticking. Then apply four layers of papier mache into the mould, allow to dry completely (24 hours or so). Gently remove from mould and paint.
Latex masks can be made quite simply by painting layers of liquid latex onto a dummy, being careful to use minimum brush strokes as this results in a bitty finish. You may also wish to wear a mask as the latex fumes are pretty heavy on the ammonia. Allow to dry and then remove, applying talc as you go to stop it sticking to itself.
I've got lots of ideas for what I want to make next - my plaster mould mask needs painting, and as you can reuse it several times, I thought I could make the three witches from Macbeth. I also plan to go into the many wig shops in Peckham and Finsbury Park in such of an old manequin head, so I can make another felt mask at home.