London, September 2011

I was in London in September.

Usually there wouldn't be much to write about, since I spend most of my time walking around and shopping and not doing anything really interesting.

But there was a festival at the South Bank of the Thames (the annual Mayor's Thames Festival) and an artist from Peru (originally, though he's now located in the London area) named José Luis Herrera Gianino was doing face masks as part of his 'Life Like Project'.

So I jumped at the chance to have a plaster cast made of my face.

The initial process if fairly simple, though a bit gooey.

Some alginate (which is a substance that is also used for doing casts of body parts for special effects) is mixed with water. You just relax, try to make a reasonably happy (or at least expressive) face and the goo is smeared on your face (preferably leaving a couple of breathing holes around your nostrils).

It takes a bit to harden sufficiently to pull off, but the basic impression is taken within the first ten seconds, when the surface close to the skin settles. It's probably not advisable to move the face too much after that, but the basic imprint is there, so you don't have to hold the same facial expression for a couple of minutes.

Alginate on face

After the alginate gets a bit dryer, a layer of plaster is applied to hold the basic form and makes the alginate easier to handle and take off.

Alginate plus plaster layer

After less than five minutes, everything is sufficiently solid to handle and the alginate is pulled off, which now contains a three-dimensional negative of the face.

Negative face mask

Then the form is filled with plaster to get copy of the face.

From that point on, it usually takes about an hour to dry and 'post process', but since the festival was quite busy, there was a bit of a backlog of faces to make.

In the meantime I went to the 'Doctor Who Experience', basically a combination between a short scripted walk-through activity and an exhibition at the end.

The walk-through part was nice, but not as good as I had hoped for - trying to cover too many favourite monsters in too little time, diluting the effect, but the exhibition was neat.

For example, I never realised how silly the Tom Baker costume was (or that he had teddy bear heads as waistscoat buttons) or how unexpected sombre Christopher Eccleston's leather jacket was in comparison to the other Doctors (and how daring it must have been to try to re-establish Doctor Who with this),

Doctor Who Costumes Doctor Who Costume Doctor Who Costumes
Tom Baker Costume Companion Costumes

There were also examples of the variants of Daleks and Cybermen through the history of the show, so it was easy to pick personal 'favourite versions'.

Cyberman Cyberman Head Dalek

A side room also had the Face of Boe in a big jar,

The Face of Boe

And looking at a large body-less face reminded me to head back to the southbank and go looking for mine...

It was out of its mold and sitting on a shelf, but so far unprocessed.

Face on shelf

While the alginate is quite good at picking up details, there are a couple of artefacts introduced by the process. There are (obviously) irregularities around the nose, some odd smears around the eyelids, a 'fresh out of the shower' look to the eyebrows (since the alginate starts out mostly fluid) and other stuff.

Raw face

So there is a fair bit of work to be done to turn an accurate lifecast into a realistic looking face.

Artist working on the face

Finally, to get away of the neutral white 'mask' look, the face is colored with brownish wax, making it, while not realistic looking, a bit less ghostly and also allowing some highlights and emphasis on the facial features.

Coloring the face Coloring the face

And this is the final result:

Lifecast of face Lifecast of face Lifecast of face

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