labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
Cover.jpg


Mary McClung's new book, Foam Patterning and Construction Techniques, is a must-have for costume production artists with an interest in mascot making, theme park walkarounds, and other large-scale creature costumes.

McClung starts out with a section on types of foam, as well as tools, adhesives, and other media for use with foam in production. This section alone will be a godsend if you have some knowledge of working with foam but only know common vocabulary terms like "couch foam" as opposed to descriptors used by vendors like "urethane foam." She includes a thorough section on safety, both in terms of work practices and protective equipment to use when using the adhesives and paints which work on foam. I always love to see a new reference book in our field with current safety information--for too long our industry has gotten by without adequate education in this area, and many of the old "classic" reference texts are from a bygone age in which one might, say, shoot pictures of someone demonstrating a technique with a cigarette burning in an ashtray near an open container of solvent or similar.

She goes on to discuss concepts of design with respect to these kind of character costumes (or other foam-based elements of realizing shapes/structures), and techniques for patterning and construction with foam as a medium. She covers a wide range of techniques and media for "skinning" the forms, too--not only some great stuff on fur and fleece, but also latex/cheesecloth and other surfacing ideas. McClung even talks about elements of finishing like the painting of fur to create a more sophisticated look, which are hard to find documented at all.

The last section of the book documents the process from start to finish on six different foam-based projects, from cute cartoon character heads to sleek superhero armor. It's great to see an artist's procedure from start to finish on such drastically different designs, using the same basic range of techniques.

Full disclosure: this review is written in response to a digital review copy provided to me by the publisher, Focal Press, so that i might decide whether to adopt the book as a text for my graduate level maskmaking class. While i remain undecided as to whether i will adopt the book as a required text, i will definitely consider it a recommended book and I intend to obtain a physical copy for my studio's library of reference books. Unfortunately though, the e-reader i had to use to access the text didn't give me any concept of the size or quality of the photos in a print version of the book or how the text would be laid out, so i suppose i'll ahve to wait til i get my hands on a physical copy to form an opinion on those aspects of the book. The info contained within makes it well worth the purchase regardless, even if the whole thing were printed in Comic Sans.

I received the review copy toward the end of spring semester (when i was in the midst of teaching Masks & Armor, the course for which i would potentially use it) and one of my students elected to try one of the processes described in that final section of examples. The book was helpful, clear, and full of good suggestions for how to modify techniques or further explore media. In fact, i'd say the book would be a great reference not just for those of us working the business of costume production but also for those whose hobbies encompass cosplay and other types of character costuming for fun.

Two large foam thumbs up!
labricoleuse: (mee)
We're working on Sweeney Todd at PlayMakers right now, which is largely why i haven't posted anything in a while. Busy! But here's a quick look at just one of the many cool costume projects we've had in-house: the animal.masks for the masquerade scene.

Our costume designer, Bill Brewer, and our director, Jen Wineman, were really drawn to the mask designs of an artist named Steve Wintercroft. Wintercroft creates masks which look like the faceted shapes of 3D digital character designs before they have their "skins"--shapes reduced to planes. When i saw the images, i was so excited about the look of that scene and i couldn't wait to start work on them. For the scene, we would need a total of thirteen different masks, so my concern was how we could make this quantity of masks from something durable enough to survive a 25-show run, but which we could produce in under a month, alongside all the other craftwork i needed to stay on top of.

Wintercroft sells his designs as PDFs on Etsy, so Bill chose 13 masks he liked and we bought the patterns. Upon looking at the structures of the masks (which based on the instructions are intended to be printed on paper or cardstock and glued together for parties or children's play) and considering how we might adapt them to our needs, i came up with our process plan:



This spreadsheet was how we kept track of the project. With 12 different processes happening to 13 different masks, you have to devise good record-keeping strategies! (This pic was taken when we were close to being done, clearly.)
I printed the patterns off onto heavy cardstock, and then several undergraduates got trained on the industrial heat press, which they used in backing the cardstock with a heavy-weight fusible non-woven felt (think Pellon). Since each mask was between 10 and 20 pages worth of cardstock, this took a few hourrs. Then my assistant, first-year graduate student Erin Torkelson, began to cut these things out and assemble them.



Erin used Fabric-Tac in a curved-tip syringe to apply the glue to the tabs of each piece.


Clamps and clips secured each join while the adhesive cured.


Once the masks were in 3D form, we painted them with two coats of gesso and a sealer called Sculpt-or-Coat, inside and out, for stability. We also reinforced some of the joins around eyeholes and ears/mouths with papier-mache.


Several more in progress...


Then all the masks were painted with grey acrylic, except the Minotaur for the character of the Judge (top row right, hiding behind the Boar), which was painted deep red to match his costume.


Then, the masks were fit on the performers, interior padding constructed and added in, and now they're off to tech rehearsal to be waltzed in!

If you want to follow these kinds of projects in real-time, find me on Instagram or Twitter.
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
This past couple weeks, i've been working with the undergraduates of the Kenan Theatre Company to produce a bearskin cape costume for their upcoming play, Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls. When the costume designer, Ashley Owen, expressed a desire for the cape to feature a hood which incorporated a bear head mask structure (kind of like a bearskin rug), i thought this would be a great opportunity for us to partner with the Research Hub on campus and 3D print the base structure for this piece.

Traditionally, we might carve or sculpt the rigid foundation support for such a mask, but in this case we had limited time, money, and labor--i knew that if we could print the base structure, we would save an enormous amount of time in terms of available labor to work on the piece, and because our campus has a grant which underwrites the cost of the filament for 3D printed objects through the end of the semester (within reason), we could in theory get this done for only the cost of the fur.

So i took a look around Thingiverse for a shareware animal head file which could be modified for our bear and i found this great file for a puppet or fursuit head, in this case a fox/wolf shape but i thought we could make it work for our bear hood with some minimal tweaks in ear/nose shape and the fur skin patterning itself. I spoke with the librarians at the Research Hub, placed a request for a print of the file, and in a few days, i had our base structure!



The file prints in three pieces: the face, the back of the head, and the jaw. We didn't need a movable jaw so i only requested the cranium pieces, which here have been glued together with Super Glue along the radial seam. I love how the file already has openwork designed into the topography to minimize weight and to give anchor areas for stitching if need be.

Working with me on the project was undergraduate assistant Glennda Campbell. Glennda used a Valspar primer formulated specifically to adhere to plastic to prime the 3D printed mask base and then painted the whole thing with a brown enamel. Glennda also began to sculpt the nose and teeth from Wonderflex thermoplastic.

Meanwhile, i began working on the fur "skin," creating the ears from a layer of pink suede and the fur Ashley provided us, and patterning out the shapes for covering our "skull."

Here you can see the mask with one ear and some of the fur attached.

The finished mask sitting on a head form, after we stitched it into the hood of the cape.
(The cape's hood has some inset pieces of brown felt in a dagged shape, visible here.)

Side view, better illustration of the nose and teeth.

The show doesn't open until October 9th, but we had to have this finished last week so that they could work with the cape in rehearsal. All in all, this was a great opportunity to incorporate 3D printing into the production process to serve a costume need which would have been much more difficult to turn around in the time needed with more traditional mask-structural techniques.
labricoleuse: (CAD)
I've been doing some other 3D printing projects in tandem with the librarians at the Research Hub here on the UNC-CH campus, and today's entry is maybe my favorite of the results: a 3D printed mask!


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Back in 2012, then-grad-student Candy McClernan created this skull sculpture (left) to make a traditional leather mask (right).


She also did versions in Wonderflex (top) and papier mache (bottom). So when i embarked on this project, i thought it'd be cool to use the same sculpture for the 3D print experiment.

We worked with science librarians David Romito and Drew Robertson to 3D-scan the sculpture in the top photograph. The laser scanning process doesn't do well with reflective or shiny surfaces, and our sculpture had been painted with a glossy topcoat to more easily release the mache mask. Drew suggested that we paint it with a flat primer to help get a better capture.

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Here's the matrix sculpture on arotating stand being scanned against a white backdrop. Those red lines are the laser beams moving across the surface and registering data points of its topography. It rotates in full 360 degrees throughout the scan, which took around 15 minutes.

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Another perspective on the scanning processs.


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We didn't get a good coverage of data points from the flat grey sculpture. Sadface. So Candy took it back to the workshop and sprayed it flat black instead, for even better contrast.

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Black version being scanned. Looks pretty cool.

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Much better capture this time! Drew then cleaned up the scan for us in MeshMixer, to plug any wayward holes in the surface and fix any flaws in the scan. Then i went to NYC for a month, and when i returned, David informed me that there was a new printer in the lab:

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The Fusion3 fabricator! It's got a 12" x 12" x 12" print capacity, so the mask could print in one go.
With the smaller footprints of 3D-printers like Makerbots, i was going to have to cut it up into two or three pieces, then attach them all together. Which, fine, but fabricating in one piece is preferable!

David then took our scan with Drew's edits, hollowed it to a 2mm thickness, and fabricated it on the printer depicted above. The print, i'm told, took around 10 hours to produce.

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Mask printed in PLA plastic on the Fusion3, at a thickness of 2mm. You can see some of the topographical ridges created by the toolpath of the print head, which could be smoothed out with epoxy putty if desired before painting. Or, could be a feature.


This would still need some cleaning up, filing off some rough spots or lining with foam/felt, just like with any traditionally-produced mask, and clearly we'd have to determine eyehole placement and any other openings (mouth? nose?). For a first try though, i'm really pleased with the result! We could print another one just like it with a 10 hour turnaround, or we could adjust the file--cut the eyeholes digitally, say, or scale it down 10% if it's too large, etc.

It produces a mask that feels much sturdier than a vacuformed plastic mask (though i have not done stress-tests to see how much force would break it), and with a higher melting point than Wonderflex. It's not as lightweight as papier mache or Fosshape, but not as heavy as cast neoprene. It's not flexible at all.

Point being, this method doesn't work for every application, but if you need a rigid mask to be worn, say, in direct Florida sun for an hour long parade? This would be great! If you need a flexible mask that can bend in half and pop back into shape? This is not it.

Regardless, it's exciting to have one more option for maskmaking, with a solid idea of the turnaround time required to produce it.

labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
We had FOUR students present their final creative draping capstone projects recently, and i've got some fun photos to share. This project is the final one of their graduate career--it's got to be something with significant structural/material challenges, and they really run the gamut.

Read more... )


I've got two more projects from two more graduates to share in a second post yet to come. Congratulations, Adrienne and Candy!
labricoleuse: (Default)
Now that the theatre season and the academic year have ended, i've picked up a couple weeks of overhire work at the Carolina Ballet on their last production of their season, a double bill of Beauty and the Beast and Beethoven's 9th Symphony. I hadn't worked on ballet costumes since my stint at the Boston Ballet back in 1998, and it's been interesting to get back into that whole mindset and realm of costume concerns.

One of the primary crafts needs of a ballet company is coloration of footwear. Shoes are a concern in all types of dance performance, but the aesthetic tradition of ballet has a very specific set of variables to deal with. All the shoes must exactly match the dancers' tights, to help maintain the seamless visual line of the leg/foot in performance. Each dancer has a specific preference in footwear--style, material, brand--which must be tracked and adhered to across the spectrum of costume needs. Standard ballet slippers may be leather or various weaves and fiber contents of cloth, and then there are pointe shoes to consider. For a large professional dance company, shoe stock and their tracking and coloring alone can be a staff position in and of itself.

The Carolina Ballet is a sizable professional company, but their budgets and programming are not such that they can employ a full-time shoe specialist--they typically handle shoe needs in-house except on large new-build works like this Beethoven piece. So this is where i come in as an overhire craftsperson and dyer!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My students presented their complex mask projects today, and i just LOVE them all! Check these out!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (me)
I may have said it before: the vacuform is one of the main reasons i became a member at TechShop RDU.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My Masks & Armor students are really knocking it out of the park, in their first fullsized mask projects! They presented yesterday so i've got some photos to share and i'm super excited.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My class this semester is Masks and Armor, and i've been so busy with the shows in process at work that i have neglected to share some photos of their first project, maquettes, which they completed a couple weeks ago.

Maquettes are small 3D "sketches" of a mask. Often when a crafts artisan is working with a costume designer or other artist to create a mask, 2D renderings and research images are only so helpful. It can be a great aid in the process to do a maquette, usually in 1/4 or 1/3 or 1/2 scale, to clarify elements of the mask design before taking on a 3D sculpture at full scale.

My students--though they are typically all graduate students in costume production or very advanced undergraduates--often have a wide range of experience, from those who have made several masks to those who have never made one, from those who are confident sculptors to those who have never sculpted.

So, hence this first project. It allows them to get into a sculpting headspace and mess around with 3D production without too much investment or fear of the medium or the product. After all, sometimes I'll make 3-4 maquettes and throw them all away in the making of masks for the stage.

photos )
labricoleuse: (design)
The second part of the blocked hat multiples series is coming soon, but first, on to the next installment of my interview series, with Hallie Dufresne, who runs the crafts department of the Los Angeles Opera.

I worked for Hallie when I lived in LA (back in 2005-06), when i had the good fortune to be hired as a member of her crafts team for a several-opera stint which included a spectacular new design of Der Rosenkavalier by the artist Gottfried Helnwein. Opera gives you the opportunity to do some incredible craftwork, often on a fabulous scale so it will register in the large proscenium spaces in which opera plays, on performers moving around on usually quite epic-scale sets. Opera companies also often spare little expense when producing new work, not only because the expectation of quality is high from their patronage, but because it's a smart investment in the continuation of opera itself--because of the more limited "canon, many costume-building opera companies can loan a production's costumes as a package to other opera houses who subsequently present the work. The clothes and crafts need to be made to stand up to years and years of performances.

I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to work on Hallie's team. The LA Opera shop is a wonderful facility and the crafts we did while I was there were incredible. We have stayed in touch and I'm pleased she agreed to be interviewed for this series in the blog!

Here is our interview: Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
I finally have all the images for a post i've been itching to write for weeks: aborigine masks for Shipwrecked!

And, even though we begin teching the show tomorrow night, today is a holiday that we've all got off, i'm puttering around the house and have a spare moment to write it up. So without further ado, here's an overview of the process.

In the play, the main character Louis de Rougemont at one point meets an initially-hostile tribe of aborigines. Because all the actors play many roles, they needed to be able to "become" aborigines immediately by taking up some simple prop or costume cue and creating the rest of the character through physicality. We settled on a theatrical version of actual aborigine masks.

lots of photographs of how we made them )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
While in San Miguel last month, i had the brilliant opportunity to visit The Other Face of Mexico, a mask and folk art museum featuring over 500 masks on display, video of indigenous dances, and a gallery of over 200 masks for purchase.

The museum is run by Bill and Heidi LeVasseur of the Casa de la Cuesta bed and breakfast hacienda. (Coincidentally, Bill is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, too!) You have to contact them for an appointment to see the museum--it doesn't have standard hours. Admission is 50 pesos (under $5).

Bill has collected indigenous masks for 22 years, traveling to remote villages, recording video of the dances and talking with the mask artisans about their craft and culture. He's a fount of amazing info on indigenous Mexican cultures' maskmaking and performing, and clearly loves his subject. Here are some of my notes from the museum and Bill's talk about masking in Mexico:

Of 170 million Mexican citizens, 12 million of them cite their tribal affiliation as their nationality, rather than "Mexico."

No mask is considered authentic unless a dancer has worn it in performance; the masks are "baptized" by use, and an unworn mask is considered incomplete.

Dancers are always men, even if the mask is for a female character.

The masks' origins can be sourced by the woods used to carve them.

Some of the media used in various masks in the museum: Christmas bows and tinsel garland, boar tusks, donkey teeth, compact mirrors, coconut shells & gourds, various woods, mache, vintage top hats Padding is wads of paper or old socks/towels. Some are tied onto the face with long cords. Some have eyes that close when they move, like babydolls do.

Some masks are made in a smaller-than-face-sized scale, to make the performer seem larger in stature.

Inscriptions on the masks are often dedications to the lovers of the mask artisans.

The indigenous masked dances are for several different occasions: historical dances, performance of Christian stories, occupational dances, agricultural dances, entertainment.

Christ is never masked in religious dances.



We weren't allowed to take photos in the museum itself, but selections from the museum's collection will be featured in Deborah Bell's forthcoming book, Maskmakers and Their Craft: An Illustrated Worldwide Study (out Sept 3, 2010). We *were* allowed to take them in the gallery of masks for sale, so i have some images from that area, as well as photos of masks i purchased. The gallery was much more cluttered than the museum, so a lot of the pix are just stuffed with masks to look at!

masks galore! )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
If you follow the collective costume rendering blog A Sketch A Day, you've already seen my series of renderings of Commedia dell'Arte mask designs in oil pastel. (If not, you can see them all here, and read about the conception process and inspirations, if you wish.)

Essentially, one of my summer projects is the design and creation of a set of six stock-character Commedia masks, an endeavor in which i will be assisted by two of my graduate students with crafts emphasis in their field of study. I chronicled the sketching over in that blog for obvious topical reasons, and now that we're embarking on the sculpting process, i'm going to document that here on [livejournal.com profile] labricoleuse. Once the designs are confirmed, I'll sculpt them from polymer clay in 1/3-scale as maquettes; then my students and i will each take two maquettes and scale them up to full size matrix sculptures, which we'll use to create the masks themselves.

There are at present a collection of twelve sketches, which we will narrow to the final six. I thought it'd be fun to run a poll and see which six might be "audience favorites", so here we go!

The gist is, below you will find twelve images, each labeled with a number and name in a caption underneath. Beneath that is a tickybox poll, in which you may select your favorites. You can pick fewer than six if you like. Technically, you can choose as many as you like, but try to limit yourself to six or fewer, for the sake of the poll. I think that only LiveJournal accountholders can vote in their polls, so if you are a non-LJ reader and find you can't submit your choices through the poll code, I invite you to comment with the names/numbers of your favorites.

pictures and poll )
labricoleuse: (Default)
My masks and armor class has completed their second round of mask projects...a while ago, actually, but i've been too busy to get the photos up til now.

Four people chose to do cast neoprene masks, which involved the scaling and sculpting of a positive from a research image or design rendering, casting that in plaster to create a negative mold, then casting the mask itself in neoprene, painting it/padding it, and rigging it for wear. This is a great process to use if you need a lot of a single style, but is usually too time-consuming for many theatrical applications. (By time-consuming i mean, the amount of time required to for the plaster to completely dry with the negative mold, then the time for the neoprene to fully cure before painting.) Three of these masks were based on traditional African carved wooden mask designs, and one was a graphical rendering of a cartoonish style of owl.

One student chose to do the foam creature construction method that was taught by Holly Cole of Ohio University as part of last year's USITT Costume Symposium, to create a cartoon-inspired little-girly dragon character head.

The sixth student used the Varaform creature construction method taught by David Russell (also of Ohio U) at the Symposium, to create an Anubis mask.

check them out! )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
This semester, as i've mentioned, i'm teaching the graduate crafts seminar in masks and armor production. Our first project is to make a maquette, a small-scale version of what will eventually be a finished mask. Because in theatre, mask artisans often work with a costume designer from a rendering of a mask design (which may not include side/front/oblique views), a maquette is an invaluable tool in the transition from "page to stage." Refinements and alterations of scale and proportion can happen at 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 scale much faster than on full-size finished sculptures.

I have the students start with a research image or mask design rendering of their choosing and create a small maquette of polymer clay, to get into the mindset of sculpting and thinking about the 2D/3D translation. They paint the maquette in a less-detailed fashion than one might a full-size sculpture, with a mind to conveying color and motif information for a consultation with a (hypothetical) costume designer.

Here's their first round of projects!

three pix, six maquettes )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
First post of the decade!

This spring, the graduate course i teach will be Masks and Armor. Because of the way some course-offering rescheduling has shaken down, I haven't taught the course since 2007. The last time i taught it, I recall that the students struggled with a couple of the topics we covered--scaling up from a maquette to a full size matrix [1], and molding and casting in plaster. We talked about it and looked at static images, but at the time i thought it's be great to do a demonstration of either of these things, but that it wasn't really practical--the class period is only so long, and it doesn't help much to get started on something as a demo that's going to actually take you 10-20 hours to realize. And, i have mainstage responsibilities to keep up with as well; it'd be one thing if i were making masks for the show i'll be working on (and thus have a built-in reason to do the sculpture outside of the course demo), but i'm not.

At the time, i thought, "Next time i scale up a mask from a maquette, or cast in plaster, i should make a video to show them the stages." In all my copious free time, of course. So needless to say, that didn't happen. And then, some time ago, i heard about some existing videos which, though not specifically tailored to the purposes of theatre, might be some good resources: John Brown's character sculpture training DVD series, and the Monster Movie Masks series by Omar Sfreddo and Anthony Giordano.

So, who are these guys?

John Brown has worked as a character sculptor for the toy and animatronics industries, and as a creature concept artist in Hollywood for such films as Mars Attacks!, Jumanji, and Monkeybone. He has released a series of DVDs through the Gnomon Workshop on various aspects of the character-creation scuplture process--everything from making armatures to maquettes to full-sized characters.

Omar Sfreddo has done creature effects for films such as Spiderman 2 and The Chronicles of Riddick, while Anthony Giordano has worked as a prop fabricator for Saturday Night Live. They've put together a three-disc series on sculpting, molding/casting, and finishing/painting monster movie masks of the 'giant rubber villain' variety.

The creature-creation demands of film are different than mask-making for theatre (for example, the high degree of close-up realism film commands is not applicable to theatre, while the allowance for speech acoustics and actor vision that theatrical masks require is not applicable to film), but there's enough of a basic crossover that i thought, it's worth checking them out.

The problem is, well, i'm successful at what i do, but i don't just light my fireplace with burning $100 bills because money means nothing to me anymore; educational DVDs are costly and i don't want to drop a few hundred dollars on DVDs sight-unseen, when they might be poor references or not useful with respect to my field.

That's where SmartFlix.com comes in! They're a mail-order DVD rental service, kind of on the same level as Netflix, except all their DVDs are instructional topics in a wide range of fields, everything from blacksmithing to working with fiberglass to firearms training to sewing techniques. From SmartFlix, i was able to rent the DVDs i was interested in for a fraction of the purchase price. It turned out to be a great bargain (3 DVDs for a week's rental came to $26, as opposed to a purchase cost of over $100), and completely convenient; like Netflix, they come with their own postage-paid return packaging so all you do is drop them back in the mail when you are done watching them.

So, on to my reviews of the DVDs themselves!

First up, the Sfreddo/Giordano DVD, Monster Movie Masks: Molding and Casting Latex Masks.

Okay, so clearly these men are good at what they do, given their resumes. And, my expectations of educational DVDs are much lower in terms of things like whether there's segue music, quick cuts between multiple camera angles, artistically designed credits and other text elements, and how many takes are possible. Plain fonts, stretches of silence, and occasional imperfect action segments ("Whoops, dropped my brush...as i was saying, apply the solvent here...") are to be expected.

This DVD though, it embarrassed me to watch it, the production quality was so slipshod and the presenters so unprepared and nervous. It's clear that both men are extremely uncomfortable in front of a camera, and they give the impression of having never taught any kind of workshop before. There were several spliced sections of text (such as tools/equip lists, supplies needed, etc) that were full of blatant spelling errors--at one point, even Omar Sfreddo's name is misspelled. Overall the actual editing is truly poor, as well, cutting the men off mid-sentence at illogical points in the presentation and struggling with volume issues. I'd crank up the volume to hear the sotto voce narration, only to have some dorktastic segue music blow me out of the chair. There's stuff on YouTube that people have made on their laptops that's better quality than this.

There were a couple of bits of good advice (for example, their "standard" of sculpting at 120% scale for "one size fits all" applications, or the use of a custom-made skin texture stamp created by taking a latex surface mold of an orange), but i felt they went too fast for the utter beginner and too slowly for someone with some experience in maskmaking already. I think these DVDs would have benefited from Sfreddo and Giordano hosting several real-time workshops with actual students, to iron out their own confidence issues and to preempt a lot of the problems with timing. Real students would make them stop and clarify, or they'd realize when they were spending too much time on something, and that would have ultimately improved the video itself. But, all that's moot, because the videos exist, and i am glad i didn't pay $60+ for them.



John Brown has an 8-part set of videos out, but many of them deal with full-body sculpture of characters, either for animatronics, CGI 3D surface mapping, or prosthetic production. I chose to check out just Volume 3: Sculpting the Detailed Head, which covers scaling up a creature head to full-head size from a 1/3 scale maquette.

Brown is a better teacher than Sfreddo and Giordano--he exhibits a bit more confidence in front of the camera (though his frosted Hollywood rocker hairdo made me laugh...er, admittedly only because it reminded me of a guy i used to date), and seems to have at least conducted a few workshops in real-time situations before making his DVD sets. He suffers from improvisational diction issues (lots of "you know, uh") and his propensity for prefacing teaching moments with the word "obviously" worked my nerves a bit. If it's obvious, why would anyone spend $50+ on a DVD about it? And if it's not obvious to the viewer, way to potentially alienate them.

He does show practically how to use a pair of calipers to scale up a sculpture from a 1/2, 1/3, or 1/4 scale maquette, which is exactly what i was hoping to find in a video of this sort. Because in this video he's working life-size, i think it IS probably quite useful as a teaching tool in a maskmaking context, because it does very clearly illustrate how to go from small to large; granted, in theatre you will probably not be making a full-head orc mask (which is what he's sculpting in the video), but you might, and the exact subject itself is not what's important to focus on here for my purposes, it's the technique.

The editing is a bit crummy at times (though compared to the prior DVD it's fabulous)--some sections feature repetitive narration, and some sections could probably have been shown at double-speed. At one point Brown has a coughing fit, which is humorous but really, they ought to have rerecorded that section of the voiceover. And, there's a point where he spends some time working with epoxy putty with his bare hands that made the OSHA dork in me cringe--the MSDS for it clearly advises nitrile gloves.

He has some great points on the importance of visual reference materials and is clearly coming from a classically-trained art background when he lists off his examples, of which some include Michaelangelo's David, the portrait photography of Yousuf Karsh, the figure drawings and facial expression studies of George Bridgman. He also suggests other resources such as image searches on Corbis and bodybuilding magazines (for weird veiny muscular necks/heads). He talks a bit about exaggeration of features for extreme character looks (his example is the huge brow muscles in the orc face he's making), and ways to manipulate composition of the face to convey emotions (i.e., V-brows denoting anger, while pitched-brows convey worry or sadness).

One great aspect of Brown's presentation is the coverage of his own particular techniques and custom-modifications of sculpting tools--he shows how he's made several specific tools by modifying store-bought loop tools and wire rakes, created custom ergonomic grips with duct tape and foam, and even done things like cutting up a dog-brush to create a great stippler. He shows several sculpting techniques specific to face-renderings in clay, and is GREAT about keeping you apprised of "real-time" passage ("I'm about 4 hours into this sculpture now..."), which i find invaluable. He also has some good tips on lighting your sculpting space for maximum visibility--he recommends an overhead lamp, fluorescent so it doesn't put out heat and soften your clay or make you hot while you work, and with variable intensities, as lower light helps bring out the visibility of the details once you get down to any fine sculpting work that you might need to do.

The DVD includes a "Lecture Notes" section (basically synopses of the segments and links to URLs mentioned) and a "Bonus" section (some 360 pans of sculptures accompanied by laughably new-age music), which were ok, but i'd have preferred some PDFs of equipment/media lists and some trailers for the other DVDs in the series. Regardless, this is the DVD i plan to make available to my class as a resource when we discuss the leap from maquette to full-scale mask, as its shortcomings are overlookable and the material presented is excellent.



[1] By "scaling up from a maquette to a full size matrix" i mean, initially it is a good idea to sculpt a mask on a smaller scale--1/2 scale, 1/3 scale, or 1/4 scale--when you are working out the actual translation of a mask design with your costume designer. S/he may only have rendered it in 2D without any oblique or side view, or the design might not be as intricately defined as the mask will need to be. I can work up a 1/3 scale maquette in an hour or less, and can go through as many iterations as i need to in order to settle on a given design; this is FAR more efficient than working 10-15 hours on a full-size sculpture, only to find out that the designer would prefer the nose larger, the ears in a different location, the eyes further apart, and the forehead way more bulbous. Or something. But, once you settle on a maquette, you then need to scale that up to a full size mask.
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
Okeedoke, i've finally gotten back to NC, leapt back into the swing of things at work, and uploaded my final round of photos from the symposium. These third day images have some puppet-construction coverage (both small-scale and large-scale), as well as pix of some of the participants' finished Varaform heads.


I apologize for the less-than-stellar quality of some of the lecture images--i was taking them largely without flash from the back of their blackbox theatre where the demos were held, so some aren't ideal but i think are still useful to see. And, most of the mid-workshop images are much better quality.


Read more... )

I have to say, one of the things i really appreciated about this symposium is their focus on safe work practices, as well as safe costume engineering practices. They had a spray booth for spraying, and a Barging station outdoors, where they still would not let anyone use it who had not brought a fit-tested respirator. They talked about cooling vests and locations of hidden vent holes for air circulation, building ice-pack pockets into the bodies at key locations, and were teaching a method that allowed for 360-degree vision for the wearer. Awesome!

Of course, this isn't the final post on the topic, as I'll be finishing up my rabbit and donkey (hopefully over the next two weeks) and posting about how that goes. And, my "official" article that i'm cowriting with Dixon Reynolds in Sightlines will have a lot more text, too, so that'll also be coming out in the fall issue.
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
I am so, so sad for the symposium to be over! I'm genuinely sad that i am going to be finishing up my projects at home and not going to have a chance to see everyone else finish up theirs in person! (Though, there is a Facebook group for us all to share photos on, so at least there is a way to see pix of how they all turned out.)

But, i'm ahead of myself, since i still haven't written about the second or third days yet, so first i better do that.

The general schedule of the symposium consisted of morning presentations and demos on various related topics (how to use different materials and when, engineering and patterning issues, techniques and cautions, etc), with hands-on labs in the afternoons and evenings. On the second day, the lectures discussed the construction of body forms for bighead/walkaround/mascot costumes, and interior mechanisms for smaller scale puppetry.

photos galore )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
Again with the LJ failure last night. I can't seem to upload any posts when i get home in the evenings here. So, again with the second attempt this evening:

Whew! I've just finished the second day of the symposium, but i really ought to finish posting about the first day, first.

The second workshop of the first day involved making donkey heads from sheet foam. Our first step was to make our donkeys in half-scale, using soft polyurethane foam (like couch foam, but in thin sheets). This allowed us to sculpturally customize our donkeys--some were goofy, some childlike, some creepy, etc., whatever the participant wanted to do. Some people even altered the donkey altogether into other animals.


Read more... )

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