Mindscanner Issue #78
Summer 2010

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Kids, Don't Try This At Home
by Krikor

This is the story of how I made my first prosthetic forehead.  I hope it will illustrate what NOT to do to construct your own set of ridges.
I started my first Trek costume, a 'Worf' in the fall of 1992.  By mid-October I had the yellow uniform tunic done,and wore it to Con*Cept (a local convention).  I saw a bunch of KAG Klingons there, but I was reluctant to join their numbers until I had ridges of my own.  So I resolved that in the two weeks between Con*Cept and Halloween, I would complete my Worf costume by finishing the baldric and the headpiece.  The baldric is a story for another time, but here is how my headpiece construction went.
First off, I should mention that I was just finishing a Theatre degree at the time and had access to the University library, which contained a number of very informative books on prosthetic makeup.  Having read them all thoroughly, I considered myself more than ready to try it myself.  It turns out I was very wrong.
LESSON 1: No amount of theoretical knowledge can make up for hands-on experience.
My first step was to take a cast of my face.  Since I did not yet know any other Klingons, I resolved to cast my own face while alone in my apartment (which in retrospect qualified as a Stupid Thing To Do).  I got my materials set up in front of the bathroom mirror, and started wrapping my face in plaster bandages, from the crown of my head down to my chin.  I did the eyes last.  I covered one eye, and making sure I knew exactly where the last few bandages were sitting on the counter, covered the other one.  Unfortunately I got some plaster in my eye and had a very uncomfortable few minutes while the plaster dried (as I did not want to rip the cast off prematurely and have to start all over again).  Fortunately, the cast came off okay and I was able to preceed.
LESSON 2: Don't try to do it all yourself.  Casting your own face is WAY more difficult than for someone else to cast it; casting a full-head, two-piece mold by yourself is flat out impossible.
Once I had my plaster-bandage negative, I greased it, mixed up some plaster of paris, and poured it in.  Once it was set, I carefully pulled off the bandages (fortunately in one piece; this becomes important later in the story).  Now that I had a cast of my face, I began sculpting the ridges on it with plasticine.  My first attempt turned out fairly well, except that the center ridge veered about an inch to one side as it went up the head.  After fixing the symmetry problem (which involved pretty much starting from scratch), I was satisfied with the sculpt and was ready to proceed to the next step.  I only realized much later that I had gotten the details of the ridges on Worf's nose wrong, as I was working from memory.
LESSON 3: Get the sculpting right before proceeding.  Make sure your left and right sides are symmetrical.  If you are copying an existing ridge pattern, use lots of research photos, from different angles.
With my ridges sculpted, I prepared for the negative casting.  I placed my cast face up on my kitchen table and sealed around the edges with plasticine (so the plaster wouldn't leak around under it).  I then made a wall of cardboard around my cast, stuck down to the table at the bottom with more plasticine.  I then mixed up a big batch of plaster of paris and poured it into the mold.  This is where I realized the flaw in my plan.  Unlike other casting materials (durabond for example), plaster of paris is very liquidy in its initial stage, almost like pancake batter.  It quickly started leaking out of the imperfect seals around the bottom edges of my wall.  Not only that, but the water content of the plaster rapidly affected the structural stability of the cardboard walls themselves.  I spent a frantic few minutes scooping the leaking plaster into a bowl and pouring it back into the mold, while simultaneously trying to plug up all of the leaks.  This continued until the plaster started to thicken.
LESSON 4: Know your materials and their properties.  If a reputable source suggests using a certain product, don't make substitutions unless you know what you are doing.
Once the plaster had set, I removed the remains of the wall around it and attempted to separate the negative from my positive sculpt.  This is when I realized that I had neglected to grease my positive before pouring in the plaster for the negative.  The negative wasn't stuck to the plasticine ridges, but it was permanently bonded to the plaster postive around the edges of the sculpting.  I ended up taking the only option available to me (short of starting from scratch): I carefully chipped the positive into pieces and removed it from inside the negative, peeling away the plasticine as I went.  This destroyed the positive, of course, but fortunately I was later able to pour a second positive from the original bandage cast (I told you this would be important).  This chipping away the positive also left my negative mold intact only just to the edges of the sculpt, rather than some distance away for leeway as recommended.  I also ended up with a slight "scar" on the crown of my new head, thanks to the screwdriver I was using to remove the pieces of positive.  This is where I was lucky that I was working with plaster of paris instead of a harder substance like durabond, because if I had been, chipping it out of the mold would have been much more difficult, maybe impossible.
LESSON 5: Make sure you haven't skipped any steps.  After each stage, carefully review to make sure you know what comes next.
With my negative mold salvaged, I cleaned it up as best I could and applied liquid latex to the inside of it.  After applying a few coats, I carefully peeled it out of the mold, colored it with makeup, and added eyebrows and a fringe of hair around the edge to comb into my own hair.  On Halloween night, I glued it on, and used the same makeup and fake hair to do my face and beard.  Although I was a lot paler than Worf, I got a lot of compliments on the quality of my costume and makeup that night.  If only they had known the trouble it had been.
LESSON 6: Sometimes, things work out okay despite all of the setbacks.
I still have that original mold I made almost eighteen years ago.  One of these days I might pour a new head from it and wear it again, for old times sake.  In the meantime, I recently found the very first photo of me as a Klingon; it accompanies this article.  Let me know what you think of my attempt.

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