Lifecasting Basics

Thursday, 17 May 2012, 8:00 | Author : Kricket
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You’re in trouble if you succumb to the claustrophobia while encased in the material.  I had a hysteria attack with tears pooling in my eyes and then I freaked out even more because I kept wondering–where are the tears going to go?  ~Kricket

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Lifecasting is the process of molding your face (or other body part) in order to cast an exact replica.  It has many applications within the cosplay community.  If you cast your face you can experiment with building: a latex nose, chin, or ears; animegoa masks; furry heads; or specialized head accessories.  If you cast your body, you will have a mannequin specifically tailored to your measurements, on which you can build tight-fitting costumes or mold wonderflex into armor.  It is a useful technique for the advanced costumer who has the money and desire to learn about molding and casting while building upon their professional portfolio.  If you are still a novice at costume-making, don’t worry!  Beginners can often find products offered by the cosplay or theatrical community to meet their cosplay needs.

Choosing The Mold Material

The material you use for the mold will depend upon your budget and the desired mold properties.  While there are many mold-making websites out there, Smooth-on is well respected within the community.

   Alginate is the most economical material.  It sets in a matter of minutes into a rubbery material with just a little bit of stretch. The downside is that it is only good for one to two casting and can only accept certain casting materials such as plaster of paris.  Petroleum jelly is an acceptable release agent.
   Alja-Safe® is an alginate created by Smooth-On.  It claims to be a carcinogen-free improvement on the basic alginate but it still has the same downsides listed above.  What is interesting is that it claims that it “does not stick to anything” – probably referring to skin and facial hair – and can safely mold hair if used in conjunction with hair conditioner.
   Body Double® Silicone Rubber  is a long-term mold material produced by Smooth-On.  It sets in 5 minutes and demolds in 20 minutes.  Although it is quite expensive it can last for years, through multiple castings, and is quite stretchy.  Use with body-double release cream, gypsona plaster bandages, and a latex bald cap.

Step-by-step Lifecasting Instructions

For this tutorial, we decided to use Body Double for ease of removing the head.

What You Will Need:

  • Mold Material, Release Agent, Bald Cap, Ear Plugs
  • Plaster Bandages
  • Expendible Paint Brushes and Tongue Depressors
  • Mixing Containers
  • Bucket of Water
   Before casting, apply a release agent to any facial hair (eyebrows, eyelashes, beard).  You can protect your hair with a bald cap that completely conceals all hair.  The wig cap shown was not sufficient and as a result we had to cut off strands of hair that had been captured in the mold.  If casting over the ears, wear ear plugs.
   Mix a small amount of mold material as it can set within minutes.  Remember to have a supply of disposable brushes nearby as they will quickly become unusable as the material sets.
  Apply a thin base coat and watch for air bubbles.  It is best to start with the back of the head, leaving the eyes and nose for last.  Usually it is enough to make sure the nose passage is unobscured for breathing, but it is not uncommon to stick a straw in someone’s mouth to allow air circulation through the oral cavity.  If the material accidentally gets in your subject’s nose, have them exhale air forcefully to remove the material.
   Continue to apply a thicker coat (recommended 3/8″ thick).  It does not matter if the first coat has cured before you apply the second coat, since Body Double adheres well to itself.  Remember that your subject can still hear, so continue to talk to them and make sure you have some prearranged communication method.
   Once the Body Double has set, soak and apply the plaster bandages.  Cut thin strips for detailed areas such as the bridge of the nose.
   At this point, your subject should only have been in the mold for about an hour.  Once everything has cured, you can cut the plaster bandage from ear to ear.  The Body Double can be cut straight up the back of the neck, allowing enough of an opening to pull the flexible material over the crown of your head.

If you’ve made it this far you now have a mold of your head! The next step is to pour the cast into your mold, using the dried plaster bandages and a box full of packing peanuts for support.  Check with the manufacturer to determine which material would be best.

You can also find instructional videos at smooth-on.com.

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