Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making Faces

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop newspaper.

I recall being told as a child that if I kept making that face, my face would freeze that way. Well, I've now seen it happen.

In the current Tehachapi Community Theatre (TCT) production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, there was a need to have bust made of one of the cast, Monica Nadon as Domina. After a little research on the Internet, what can't you learn there (of course it's sometimes wrong), I found a method to do lifecasting. Which is making a mold from a living subject to turn into a sculpture.

The method I found involved using a substance called alginate to make a cast of someone's face (or other body parts). Now alginate is a weird material. It is derived from seaweed, so is a natural product. And it loves water (hydrophilic) and is able to absorb hundreds of times it weight in water. This makes it useful as a thickening agent.

And is used in making dental impressions. It gels up quickly so you don't have to leave your poor subject trapped in the stuff for more than a few minutes.
OK method found. I order the supplies. Next step was to find someone to do it. Well it turns out that TCT had someone with experience within the ranks. Doug Jockinsen (who directed It's a Wonderful Life, and is one of the Proteans in Forum) had done it in college. So we had a leader.

So one morning several people got together to give him support, and Monica some encouragement. (If you have claustrophobic tendencies, don't volunteer. Luckily Monica didn't.) So teams worked together to mix the alginate in batches, but it gelled so fast we could have almost just poured it on. Others prepped the plaster bandages which are used to give some structure to the alginate. Imagine trying to make a mold out of gelatin. 

And after about 20 minutes, with Monica suffering in silence, at a lot of jokes, we had a mold. This I took home and made two plaster casts. The plan was to make more, but well, when the plaster pushed through the nostrils of the alginate mold, it didn't survive the second de-molding. 

These plaster casts were then attached to Styrofoam wig heads and turned over to Dave Reed for artistic embellishments. Some bits of cloth, “jewelry” and some paint yielded some remarkable busts of Monica. One of the two got a little extra treatment to create a busted bust, since the script called for one to have been "damaged" when it was dropped.

So, when you head over (pun not intended, sort of) to see Forum at the BeeKay, and you should, since it is one of the best historical-comedy-musicals you're ever likely to see, keep an eye out for the busts. Just don't tell me if something goes wrong with them. I don't think I can take it.

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