Feb 22 2012

Plague Doctor Mask Tutorial

Posted by Chris

Plague Doctor Mask

One of our projects for 2011 was a custom Plague Doctor mask.  Because we have received so many questions about the construction of this mask, we have decided to release a tutorial that covers the basic steps for creating such a mask.

Pre-Construction: Prototype & Template

When starting a new mask, we first need to know the basic dimensions of the actor’s head. Normally, a life cast of the actor would be used during this process so the final product would be a perfect fit. In this case, we constructed a simple head form based on a series of measurements of the actor’s head.

On top of this head form, we constructed a paper prototype of the mask. During this process, the prototype is trimmed and shaped to give both the desired appearance and a snug fit to the head form.

 

Construction Phase 1: Cutting & Stitching the Material

Once the prototype is finished, it is flattened and cut into templates for the various sections of the mask.  The resulting template sections are traced onto the mask material and cut out.

While this mask is intended to look like aged leather, we constructed it out of a light-weight foam material that is both easy to work with and comfortable for the actor.  This foam material is readily available in 12″x18″ sheets in a variety of colors at most hobby and crafting stores.  The material is given the appearance of aged leather with washes of acrylic paint.

After the individual pieces for the mask base have been cut out, we stitched them together.  First, the pieces were temporarily glued together using hot glue.  Once the pieces were assembled, a soldering iron was used to punch holes along the seams for stitching.  This method melts and hardens the foam where each stitch will be placed.  The hardened material functions like a grommet to add strength/tear resistance, and adds to the aged look.

Next, a heavy gauge sewing needle was used to stitch up the seams with hemp twine.  Hemp was selected for its strength, natural appearance, and ability to easily take acrylic washes for aging.

 

Construction Phase 2: Attaching Forehead & Side Straps

Once the base of the mask was complete, we attached the forehead and side straps.  The forehead was temporarily glued in place, and then permanently attached to the base using the soldering iron and stitching technique.

Next, we attached straps to either side of the mask with brass rivets.  The rivet holes were punctured using the soldering iron to help reinforce these connection points.

 

Construction Phase 3: Constructing & Placing the Lenses

The lens bases were constructed from brass “finger pulls.” A “finger pull” is a shallow brass cup that is inserted into a door (typically closets) to aid in sliding them open and closed. The solid backing of the finger pulls was removed using a hand-held grinder, which leaves you with what is essentially an over sized brass grommet.

To create the flanges that surround each lens, we first placed the lenses on a sheet of the foam mask material. Next, we placed a large washer along the outside edge of each lens. The point of a pencil was then placed into the hole at the center of the washer, and rotated around the lens. This created a perfect circle that is just over half an inch larger than the brass lens. Each lens was then pressed firmly into the center of the circle, which marked the center region of the flange that needs to be removed.

Finally, the assembled lenses were offered up to the mask to determine spacing and position.

 

Construction Phase 4: Attaching the Lenses

Once the proper location for each lens was determined, the brass portion of each lens was firmly pressed into the mask base. This process leaves a clear outline of the center hole for each lens. The outline was then carefully cut out of the mask base. With the material removed, each lens and flange was able to sit flush against the mask base. We then used the same soldering iron and stitching technique to permanently attach the lenses.

 

Construction Phase 5: Attaching the Straps

For the final construction phase, we measured and attach the straps on the back of the mask. First, a long vertical strap was attached at the top of the head using the same rivet technique from before. The base of the vertical strap was then looped back on its self so the horizontal strap could pass through it. The horizontal strap was then threaded through the vertical strap, and riveted at either end to the side straps that were attached in phase 2. Normally we would use an adjustable buckle, but this mask was form fit to an actor, so adjustment was not required.

 

Finishing & Detailing

Before moving on to painting, we added a bit of final shape to the mask. The material was softened using a hot air gun, and then shaped to provide natural curves. The forehead was curved to match the shape of the actor’s head, the beak was curved to add a bit more of an overall hook shape, and the underside of the mask was given subtle wrinkles. Be extremely careful during this phase. If you get the foam too hot, it can melt. Apply short bursts of heat and repeat the process multiple times rather than attempting to get the shape during a single heating.

Once the final shape was set, it was time to paint and weather the mask to give the appearance of aged leather. A natural sponge was used to stipple on 5 or 6 layers of diluted acrylic paint. This process slowly built up a leather texture, using reds, dark browns, light browns, and yellows. Each layer was allowed proper time to dry before the next layer was applied, otherwise the layers would blend together.

The seams of the mask were then darkened where dirt and grime would normally settle around the stitching. The hemp twine was also darkened during this process, giving it a stained and aged appearance.

The exposed edges of the mask were hit with a light sandpaper to roughen them up and expose the light base color of the foam material. This mimics natural wear from abrasion along the edges of the mask.

A wire brush was also used to lightly scuff areas of the mask surface, roughening the texture and selectively exposing the base material.

Finally, 2 programmable RGB LEDs were attached to the inside of the mask using magnets. The magnets allow the lights, (a pulsating yellow-green color), to be rotated towards the actor’s face for a dramatic effect, or rotated away from the actor’s face to allow for better visibility and a more subtle effect.

 Finak Plague Doctor Mask


  • This mask was incredible.  Really cool build!

  • VexFX

    Thanks Andy!

  • justJimAZ

    Really a very nice build and tutorial.

  • Great tutorial, Chris.  And the mask looks fantastic!

  • Darkcarver@gmail.com

    I kinda want to make this: It’s awesome! Great tutorial.
    ~ Dark Carver

  • Guest

    Awesome stuff, holy eff. One week til my local ren faire and this is an excellent

  • Wow, this is an amazing alternative to the heavy mask I’m using now (paper mache and tons of plaster). Love it..

    • VexFX

      Thanks! This mask is extremely light weight, especially when not using the LEDs. The battery pack, while not heavy, does add a bit of weight.

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