Sample questions in other FX subjects.


Latex Ears
Skin Illustrator
The end of Makeup?
Molding with Silicone Caulk


Latex Ears

J. Lester: I’d like to make some prosthetic ears, using the techniques employed for the Hobbits in LOTR, which I understand are made of slip latex. I assume I sculpt the character ears over the actor's ear cast just like any other prosthetic….however, it seems that there would be a rather large undercut to deal with (the entire ear, basically) when trying to get the mold off of that.
What's the best way around that?

Tuatara: For LOTR, the ears were sculpted on a lifecast of each actor's ears. We then made a thin, silicone mold on each of the sculptures. These had two-part jackets (or mother molds). Once this silicone mold was removed we made silicone positives out of the silicone molds. Next we made one-piece plaster molds on the silicone positives. We carefully poured latex into these molds, keeping it just below the level we wanted it to be at. Using a small artist's brush we carefully brushed the latex up to create a thin blending edge. It blended just 1/4" around the actor's ear. After letting it sit (I can't remember how long it was) the latex was dumped out. The area where it was dumped from left a trail of latex, which we quickly wiped clean. Usually the deepest part of the ear canal was too thin as it was a high point in the plaster mold. We used a small amount of latex thickened with V-thix and added it to the thin area.
When the latex was cured it was powdered and removed. I then painted the ears with rubber cement paints, added gloss to the inner ear ridges and did a very light flocking on the outer edge of the ear. I then cut the tip of the inner ear off so the actors could hear.

Scoot: I'd think that one could use alginate as a cheap substitute for silicone in such a process? What separator did you use for the silicone on silicone mold?

Tuatara: As for using alginate.....I would tend to say no. Reason being if you use alginate and then pour silicone into that to get your molding positive the alginate will shrink will the silicone sets. If you do an alginate positive out of the alginate mold when you finally get to your plaster mold you'll have a tiny latex ear because of all the shrinkage. And if your mold craps out (as they do) you'll need the silicone positive to make a new one without going through the whole process again. And if the silicone positive rips or gets damaged (as they do) you'll need a silicone mold to make a new one, etc, etc.
What do I use for releasing silicone from silicone? There are two things I use. One is called MR-1500. It's basically a spray Vaseline, although they might not sell it in aerosol cans anymore. It works great. You can get it from Silpak. .
The other thing I use is my own mix of it. I use Vaseline thinned way, way down with hexane (yes, nasty chemicals again). Hexane is a degreaser so it works great on Vaseline. I make it thin enough that it's almost like water. Just pour this mix into the silicone mold and pour it back out. Let it dry for a couple of minutes and then you can pour your silicone.



Skin Illustrator
and other alcohol based palettes

Amauro: I just got back from the west coast of Canada, where I picked up a Skin Illustrator like product called "WM Creations Stacolor Palette" from Mathew Mungle's company. Its an alcohol activated makeup palette, and as I understand it should be very handy for coloring prosthetic pieces, either on its own, or in conjunction with PAX, RMGP, etc.
Has anyone used this product, or similar products? What was their experience with them? Any tips or tricks for application?
Lastly, I'm wondering about the drying factor for the wearer's skin...I mean, you use alcohol as the liquid medium, and alcohol is obviously very drying to skin. These products seem to be very popular, so I'm wondering how folks deal with the problem.

Slacker: These are great makeups. I didn't know Mungle put one out too.
It all started with Premiere Products. I just sold a bunch of them to Universal Studios here in Florida. Premiere also has a gelled 99% alcohol that works really well with all the palettes. You don't need much to activate it.
They all dry pretty quickly. And the nice thing about them is they stay on well and if any ever need to be retouched it's an easy fix. Kryolan just came out with some also.

FXMan: I agree with Slacker. They're easy to use, a little (really) goes a long way. The colors are replaceable, I think (from Premiere's line) individually. The gelled alcohol works well because it stays put. They're very good, heavily pigmented, work very well on a small brush to sort of stipple color on areas of the face and obviously the foam (if that's what you're using). Alcohol is drying to some people but you CAN use any BARRIER first which helps but overall alcohol isn't THAT bad - what little is used to activate the colors in the palette so that should not be a worry. Then if there is some drying (and something I always do anyway) is provide a small container of Aloe based Vaseline Intensive Care lotion. You CAN however, achieve the same thing with RMGP either with brushes or irregularly torn foam makeup application sponges. It's all about being a good colorist and blending colors well to make the skin look real.

Michael Davy: I also make an alcohol activated series of palettes called "DURACOLOR". I make a series of 4 and 8 color palettes as well as about 50 individual colors. You can also make a similar material yourself just using my "Silicolor" product mixed with any Rubber Mask Grease.
I came up with a gelled alcohol back in 1993 but I couldn't think of anything to do with it!

Allvisual: Gelled alcohol...I use it everyday (at work as a Tattoo artist)....Hand Sanitizer, active ingredient Ethyl Alcohol 60% ...available at just about every drugstore anywhere...I have been using it for activating the Mungle color for years, and for cleaning my airbrush and for prepping skin...and it works great and is very inexpensive!

Amauro: Hey Allvisual, great tip about hand sanitizer in place of isopropal alcohol gel...just one question...isn't the point of alcohol activation that the alcohol evaporates, leaving a nice semi permanent makeup? If memory serves, that hand application gel doesn't really evaporate as well, and I imagine it would leave kind of a slick, easy to rub off makeup

Allvisual: Actually the hand sanitizer is also refered to as... a water less hand washing system....yes, there is very slight residue left on the hands but I've found it to be pretty negligible when it comes to painting with it. I still mostly use the regular 99% for painting and the Gelled for cleaning it off and cleaning the airbrush...another hint is the use of FW acrylic inks 'instead' of the Stacolors.....I have the MSDS for the fw's and ...they are completely Safe, a helluva lot cheaper and easier to find. I've been using them for a couple years now...with NO ill effects and again the MSDS doesn't lie!...I have a feeling that most of the Alcohol based palettes are just a further refined version of the Acrylic inks....just a theory, don't quote me on it...

Grafix28: Yup, hiya Slacker I used these towards the end of 'Grinchmas' (for Universal) last December for the first time. I only wish I had started using them earlier. The Skin Illustrator palettes worked out great for me. I was nervous at first because it seemed to me that blending the colors would be difficult. After applying the prosthetic and blending the edges I went with a pink/fleshy Pax. Then I stippled the flesh tones from the skin illustrator palette but with a very broken texture and feathered the colors out at the edges. After that it took very VERY little makeup on the actor to get a good skin tone. Great stuff to work with.


The end of make-up effects?

Masko: I saw the trailer for “Polar Express”, a new Robert Zemekis movie starring Tom Hanks. I have been hearing rumors that this movie
will feature all CGI makeup as Tom Hanks is playing a multitude
of characters, including the little boy and the conductor you see in the trailer. I have also heard that it is so incredible that it will
spell the end of practical makeup effects. What do you think?

CesarTheCat: I don't think this film is intended to look like real actors, but like an animated film (like Final Fantasy), but your point is fair. I personally think that the end of makeup and rubber monsters is not as close as many others think.
I know the increase in computer technology might reach a stage in which all sfx could be done by computer, but to me it’s more likely that both fx techniques might join in a closer relationship. I'm pretty sure that many directors might still want to make films the old fashion way, (real actor and physical effects/makeup) just like they also might still want to shoot on 35mm instead of Digital Video.
It’s true that our chances of survival will thin, but traditional fx will not disappear from filmmaking, (well so I hope anyway).

Masko: Cesar, you are right, it is supposed to be set in a fantasy atmosphere. But these are bona fide cgi makeups,. they apparently had over 150 points on Tom Hanks’ face to do motion capture.
I think it is interesting that a "buzz" has been put out (I don't know if it's the studio or ILM) about how incredible these cgi makeups are, just like when Final Fantasy came out. Interesting to look at, but hardly a replacement for a human being.

Tron, Jurassic Park, Terminator part 2, Final Fantasy -The Spirits Within, The Hulk, ... With each of these films, there were many artists screaming, "Oh no! It's the end on make-up effects! We're all doomed to a computerized hell..." Guess what, we're all still here. The world didn't end, the sun still shines once in a while, and we're not all out of a job.
Computer effects are just yet another tool for COMPETENT film-makers to use to tell a story. Unfortunately, there are too many inferior film-makers using effects to compensate for bad story-telling. No matter how great the effects are, if the story sucks, the story still sucks. Period!
Rather than worrying whether or not computer effects will assimilate our work, we should be concentrating on how to improve the story-telling and then developing the best BLENDING of computer effects and physical effects to convey that intent.
Can computer effects do it all effectively? No. Can physical effects'? Again, no. But, a judicious use of all the various techniques can, is, and will be the real way of future film-making.
At present, there is a beginning of "the changing on the guard". Now is the time to "Lead, follow, or get out of the way". Which path will you take? Will you seize the day, or let the day seize you? The choice is yours

Masko: Hob, believe me, I'm not worried. I didn't throw the Skin Illustrator pallets out yet. I am usually the first one to poo-poo the notion that cgi is completely taking over practical fx. I am working on a film right now that has a HUGE amount of practical effects- and they are combining these effects with digital- so it will be a blend. This is the way I think it will be in the future- a company that can do all of the technology- practical and digital.
I just thought I'd throw out this example since I have heard so much silly "buzz" about it being the end of make-up. It is my suspicion that that buzz is created to sell tickets- the "carrot" at the end of the stick to draw people in to see the latest gimmick. As usual, FX Man seems to nail it- the art is the important part. Doesn't matter how it's made if the story is good.
P.S. Hey FX, about the hair- some guy who is working on the movie
told me they took forever trying to get the cgi hair just right (It's been done great in some movies) but it just didn't look good to them- so they took an amazing technological leap and glued a beard on instead.

Blank Reg: To me, some of the most convincing cgi exists in the movie Jurassic Park. The attention to movement, real world physics and knowledge of anatomy that came from a career of animating models BY HAND is obvious and thus surpasses most of the hot-shot computer graphics of today.
Scoot mentioned in another thread the almost inherent ego that permeates much of the world of cgi, well... once the hype of this new-fangled computer threat goes the way of the bladder effect... the cream will rise.

Mysteria FX: At the end of the day I thinks it’s always going to come down to money and the producers….a lot of CGI companies are gonna bluff their way into jobs they simply can’t deliver on as convincingly as make up effects but I still believe the best of make up has its place and the best of digital also has its place on the directors palette. As for The Polar Express, well its doesn’t replace any effects artists job, it does however, replace what would have traditionally been done by cell animators.

Amauro: It would be my bet that a lot of CGI sucks not just because of the technology, but because great art cannot be created by consensus in a meeting room by folks with 3 years of CG classroom education.
Compare this to makeup effects where single large and complex effects can be created by a small team of people, or in some cases even individually. Clearly a more unique and cohesive vision is going to come out of that process.
Anyway, I agree, if this is the best they got, bring it on...I sense not just a turning of tide in directors, but in the audience...they want RUBBER!

Scoot: I don't really understand why this is considered "Digital Makeup" and not, as Nate put it, motion capture-based CG animation. It looked like every aspect of this was animation. Wouldn't digital makeup be live action footage with digitally superimposed cg prosthetics?
One thing that we've always got to keep in mind is that there's a certain marketing aspect to all this tech buzz. i.e. "This film uses a super cool new computer technology never seen before!!!" blah blah. If it's the newest, latest thing, then it must be the best, right? Perhaps the practical fx industry needs to come up with something similar, a technology or technique that sounds all fancy and exciting (even if the results are lacking). Just the sort of thing that rags like "Entertainment Weekly" can drool over.
Side note: Why is it that everyone buys into this "computers will make actors obsolete" nonsense? One factor that's being forgotten here is that the animation is all actor based. And now you have a motion-capture actor, and a voice-over actor, and then there’s all the sculptors for creature characters as in the LOTR films. Plus, you have teams of technicians behind the animation. (By the way, notice how this is never referred to as CGA "computer generated animation", but that's precisely what it is.)
As the great Chuck D once said, "Don't Believe the Hype!"

FXman: Scoot, I like your take on the CGI issue as being the latest HYPE that filmdom uses to sell the public on the over-use of it in the current offerings. I can see it now....the HYPE for NEW technologies in special effects makeup. "NOT just your average actor in a rubber suit, not just foam latex and glue. This is the REAL makeup work in films, using totally new technologies in advanced prosthetic manufacture, application, and realism. SEE IT NOW!!! The wave of the future of special-effects makeup. Computers, eat your hard drives out! Hollywood makeup artists take back their turf. Computers relegated to corporate American banking and investment. The rubber skid marks of the new, high quality, special makeup effects work leaves computer generated effects in their acrid smelling burnt-rubber dust!! Don't wait to see it. It's BEYOND reality!!" People ARE suckers for hype donchaknow??

MonsterMedic: As good as CGI and computer artists are, there will always be a need for live actors. Not because the technology won't eventually become good enough, but because there is a human element that varies ever so slightly from performance to performance. There are small inflections and expressions that are not planned or rehearsed, but which are sometimes captured on film by pure luck. These subtle, almost imperceptible, variations are what make the actors human, and what makes the difference between a good performance and a great one.
As an example, one of the classic episodes of the series MASH was the farewell to Commander Henry Blake. There were good performances all around, but you could tell that there were some genuine emotions over the fact that one of their own was leaving the show. For the final scene, the director did not tell anyone what was going to happen, there was no rehearsal and no script. Everyone was working in the OR when the company clerk, Radar, came in with the message "Henry Blake's plane has been shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors." The camera slowly panned over the actors' faces. You could see genuine shock that the writers had killed such a beloved character. There was near total silence except for a few muffled gasps and sobs. Then there is the clank of a surgical instrument hitting the floor, breaking the eerie silence. The sound sends the actors back into motion as they resume their duties.
In a reunion show several years later, it was revealed that nobody knew what was coming during the filming of that scene, and that the metal instrument falling to the floor, at that moment, was completely by accident.
Yet, it is one of the most memorable scenes in television history, one that could never be duplicated, because it was unplanned and genuine. This scene, and many others throughout film history, could not have been done by CGI, because, by its very nature, CGI must be planned. There are no "once in a lifetime" performances captured on film.

Masko: It's interesting you bring up the cgi artists in the cubicle thing. When you are working in a situation where you can endlessly improve and change everything, you are bound to work things to death. That is what I think happens in a majority of cgi effects shots. Take PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN for example. Very cool skeletons BUT in the medium shots, you could see every nuance of every shred of skin. If it were real, half of it would be hidden by a shadow. I think this is where practical effects, PROPERLY LIT, can be more effective than cgi shots.
Scoot, I agree. I think to be properly classified as "cgi makeup" it should be in a real background and have to be placed over the actors’ face, as in the first MUMMY (giggle). I'm just reporting how it's being talked about from my end. Actually, it will be interesting to see how they promote the movie nationally - whether they do use the digital make-up angle.
Perhaps another perspective is that the whole cgi prosthetic rumor was created by a make-up artist. Imagine this movie in pre-production. Make-up is the first choice, then they realize that characters like the young Tom Hanks will have to be cgi. Since it's all a "dream" sequence, and it's supposed to have a watercolor feel, they decide to do all the characters in motion capture. The make-up artists who were called in on the job to bid on it in the beginning begin to tell others that "they didn't use me because they're doing cgi" and then that snowballs into what I heard, that "this is a movie with the first credible cgi make-ups." That seems like a possible scenario, too. But I talked to someone working on the film as well, and he acknowledged what I heard -that they consider it a "cgi make-up" and that it's the cat's meow.
Whatever the case, if the story is good, it will be a good movie. If not , who cares ?

Humanimal: I do feel that CGI will completely take over the SFX movie industry at least in 12 years, maybe, most likely, less. Now notice I said movie. I think the need for conventional SFX makeup artists will still be around for TV, Indies, Theatre, Plays, Concerts and low budget flicks.
For now I feel the movie industry will do what they did with Lord of The Rings, i.e., integrate both highly advanced computer created images and conventional, orthodox make-up FX, which, in my opinion, was the best way to go. I totally admire and applaud what WETA did.

Little Bit: A number of months ago, Rick Baker was discussing his excitement to work on the movie "Cursed" and how he wanted to top his “American Werewolf in London” FX. He said he had no qualms about using CG, and the attack plan was to use a hybrid of the two techniques. Smart move. Peter Jackson and crew do this throughout the LoTR trilogy.
When CG is bad or obvious, audiences won't hesitate to rip it apart. However, when it's good, most folks are blissfully unaware. Ultimately, it's an art form, just like makeup, and it will continue to improve, just like makeup.
Big money is always wont to jump on the latest technology, especially as was Hollywood in the 90's with CG. Ultimately, the honeymoon always ends, the warts start to show, and the best of past knowledge and technologies rises to the top. You end up with an exciting, non-purist approach - mix & match appropriately to get the job done. Stand on the shoulders of the giants before you.
Who knows. Maybe in 20 years, a majority of pro makeup work will be with actors for motion capture sessions. It's entirely possible, for certain genres at least. But the bottom line is that CG and makeup are different tools in the toolbox, and each will always have its strengths and differences.

J Hagen: I have just begun working at an FX studio about a month ago and have always been eager to get into the whole business. I have learned much over the years from reading about the biz, talking to people and of course being a big film and TV buff.
I believe that the business of special fx is an ever changing medium. I do not see prosthetic makeup as an art form that is going to go the way of the Dodo. Unfortunately, I see it becoming less and less common, but there are aspects of make up fx that are still very effective and still quite cost effective.
Movies have more money to throw around so as we all have become aware, and computer effects is the new sexy medium so it is beginning to over shadow the prosthetic medium. I think this is going to continue and improve for some time. Make up fx will shrink, but it will also become better I believe. It is too strong and too passionate of a field to just go away I think. I believe that there will always be stuff out there.
Ok I may seem a bit too positive for some of you. Well, you can't make computer Halloween masks can you? Or computer statues? And I think that if we as a group wished to go and study computer effects, we would be more successful at it than many because we know art plain and simple. We know how to make something look more believable than many. I went to an art school and I've gotta tell you. A lot of these computer "artists" rely waaaaay too much on their tools to do the art for them. And that's all a computer is. It's just another tool for us as artists to use and master and further our skills.
So bottom line is, don't fear the computer, use it and conquer it. Then show 'em how it's really done! Makeup fx might shrink and fall on the wayside, but it's not going to happen over night. So keep your sights focused on your own goals in life. And keep your options open. I for one have plans to do a number of other things other than just what I'm in now. Hell, I might even save up and learn how to use Maya and try that out for a while. Why? 'Cause it's just another tool. And I love to try out new tools to help me expand my art.



Using Silicone Caulk to Make Molds

Dr Smith: What I want to know is this: What is the best method for making silicone caulk mold? Can I use it straight out of the tube or should I thin it with something first? Should I make a thick silicone wall or a relatively thin wall with a plaster mother mold? How large a mold can be made using silicone caulk?
Basically what I'm looking for is a cheap, reliable method for molding small props.

Arturo: It is possible to make small molds from this kind of silicone, but of course they are lower quality. To cure large amounts of caulking it is useful to add glycerin to the caulking. The caulking cures by absorbing humidity from the air, and the glycerin helps it go faster.
You could make the mold by brushing the material and when you have applied all the caulking you could press it with a wet tissue paper, this way you can press out the air bubbles.
The other way is you could add 10-20% of silicone fluid to fill a mother mold (don’t forget the glycerin). Make tests with the amount of the glycerin, but I used a few drops per 15 grams of caulking. (This procedure I used to patch and seam silicone, not make the mold itself).

Special Effects Guy: I use silicone caulk for my temporary molds and it works very well. I add about one to two drops of simple acrylic paint to every squirt of Silicone Sealant. I use DAP Clear Silicone Sealant, actually. I've had problems with other brands taking forever to dry.

Chappie: I've just had a look at a mould of a head I did with silicone caulk a few weeks ago and it has shrunk away from its mother mould. It was OK right after I made it. If you are moulding a small item the shrinkage will be much less apparent but be sure to seal plastiline clay etc. well and release properly.

Riley: I learned a trick from a construction worker friend of mine on smoothing the caulking. He was doing tons of bathrooms and showed me how if you dip your finger in a Dixie cup of soapy water, you can run your finger over the caulking to smooth it into the cracks, folds, and seams. It won't stick to your finger.
This is how I make my texture stamps, too...and if I need a smooth finish on a sculpt, I turn the silicone stamp over, wet the clay, and run it over the area. It acts as a fine burnisher.

Makeup Dave: Silicone caulk will work for some molds and it is a good mold making trick to keep up your sleeve. I have made several and had great success.
But with the reasonably priced silicones available I just can’t see the need to use caulking when there are more suitable products.

Hammernuts: I have never had shrinkage problems with the caulk that I use. Sure it shrinks a little, but not as described here. I occasionally use it for skins of dummy heads and small molds. I use GE silicone 100% caulking. Stay clear of any product that has acrylic in it.

Makeup Guy: You can quick-cure silicone caulk molds by mixing in Circle K ultra fast catalyzer... it'll set up very quickly in almost any thickness with less shrinkage than just letting it evaporate dry.
I learned this on one of the latest films I worked on and it was a lifesaver for a quick mold for something the prop department couldn't build!

Twisted Visions: What in the heck is Circle K catalyzer?

Makeup Guy: It's the regular catalyst for silicone, but it makes it set ultra fast… it's a bit pricey, you can get it at FX Solutions and most other FX supply places. $13.50 per 8 oz. About $135/ gallon.