I’ve always been a great admirer of Lon Chaney Sr. (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930) as not only a character actor but as a make-up genius. His inventive solutions are the stuff of legend. The resources for stage make-up were crude, uncomfortable, toxic and extremely difficult to obtain. Chaney’s focused devotion to bringing grotesque characters to life meant he had to invent his solutions, normally in an unorthodox fashion. His most memorable and certainly, one of my absolute favorite is his version of Erik as The Phantom of the Opera. For a beautiful bio and tribute to Lon Chaney, please visit this site at Magical Horror.
Enamored with that design, I set out to create my own version, the same way aspiring artists copy Renaissance masters to improve their own abilities. I watched The Phantom of the Opera repeatedly and studied every known image of his Phantom make-up, form by form, deciphering what was Chaney’s actual face from his prosthetic counterpart.
And then it hit me. Instead of creating a stylized, non-descript mask that concealed his hideous features like the one he wore to enchant Christine; I would base my mask on the brilliant Chaney “reveal” make-up design.
But my design will have backstory. It should show the wear and tear of a ceramic-like mask that has seen too many days in the dark recesses below the Paris Opera House. My Phantom mask will be reproduced as a lightweight, rigid, resin mask designed to fit every contour of my face, perfectly. It would be “comfortable” to wear and easy to put on or remove in an instant.
The first image shows the super early rough-in stage. At this point, I was laying down character lines, nothing more but carefully watching how the shadows wrap the forms similar to that in Chaney’s make-up. If you look closely, the forehead in the 1st image is low, in case the mask is worn with a top hat. As indicated in the subsequent shots, I quickly abandoned that idea and sculpted the classic, high arching forehead to be more inline to the original design. All of the textures are created by hand, using custom, hand-made sculpting tools. Working at night (of course!), the entire sculpting process took about 10 days or roughly 30 hours.
MOLDING & CASTING STAGE:
With the sculpture now complete, the next stage was to create the silicone negative. The first images shows the blue colored silicone “brush-up” over the finished sculpture. The brush up process took about 5 hrs to create, taking care to create an even thickness coat and allowed to cure overnight. The next morning, the cured silicone mold was removed and the first layer of resin was “slushed” into the mold, until a desired thickness (about 5 mm) of material was reached. The resin was allowed to cure for a few hours, getting stronger the longer it sat. With gentle prodding, the raw casting was removed from the mold and its edges cleaned up with a dremel and sandpaper. The eye holes and ribbon slots were also cut out and sanded to a smooth finish.
The mask was then coated with a light grey primer followed by numerous layers of bruised flesh tones using special model paints. That process was repeated until I was satisfied with the final coloration. The images show the process and the final version of the mask.