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I am trying to make middle school students into giants for a performance of The BFG, by Roald Dahl. I have created the head of a giant, using a punch balloon as the form with some smaller balloons and styrofoam attached. The idea is that it is not a mask, but a head that sits almost on top of the performer's head with the chin jutting out above his eyes and the back of the head wrapping down around his. I have done a layer of newspaper with glue and water, and a layer of brown school paper towels. I was going to use a third layer of brown grocery bags, and then a final fabric layer from some beige sheets. I am using sketches provided by the artist who did the costuming for Theatre Company Fiery Light in 2009. I am posting a link here, so you can see what they looked like in the production and how they sit up on the head. Her sketches were provided with the script, so I don't think I am infringing upon her design, and mine will look different anyways, but there was no information on the materials used to construct them, aside from the base being some kind of helmet. I don't think hers were papier mache, though. http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/BFG-rev
I need to pop the balloon at some point and cut into the bottom, but I am not sure what to do to make it something that will fit securely on someone's head. I read about someone using chicken wire to mold over their head and then lining it with felt. I thought I could do this or line it with / sew it to a baseball cap, and then papier mache the head to the chicken wire, maybe having surplus wire that wraps out around the opening in the base of papier mache head, if that makes sense. I also read a post about some horns being attached to a costume that were papier mached with fabric so that they could be sewn on. So maybe if the last layer if fabric, I could sew them to a baseball cap or some other hat. I am trying to do this now as a demo, but I would like to be able to use it because it takes so long to make. I haven't cast the play yet, so it would be great if the solution doesn't have to be sized to fit a specific person, but I know that may not be possible. So...I am looking for ideas on how to get the papier mache head to sit securely on someone's head, allowing for easy movement. It also needs to be lightweight and durable. I would appreciate any suggestions. I have lots of pictures of my process, if that will help with ideas. I am not sure how to post them to the site. Ultimately, I would love to have students create these (we have some outstanding art students), so I am trying to keep it simple, though I could have them do the artwork, and I could finish the fitting process. Thank you for your help!
Last edited by theatre_craft (2015-08-10 22:54:42)
I don't have any experience in this field so can only offer any idea off the top of my head (!?) I've brought your enquiry to the attention of someone who does work in the theatre/puppetry field in the hope that he might have some ideas.
Using paper towels and suchlike is good - flexibility with strength. Don't use any more paste than necessary and as little water as possible. I expect you know that wallpaper paste (or, better, methylated cellulose) with PVA is far preferable to flour starch.
Getting the head to fit is a problem. I would consider a thick layer of felt as a skull cap with a layer of Modroc over that, combined with paper to help joining up with the main structure.
What about a harness - strips of fabric coming from the mask to a harness that ties around the chest?
When I looked for photos of the heads up close, I found this: http://robyngoodfellow.deviantart.com/a … -272921112
From these, they are apparently tied on, and the back extends onto the wearer's neck, probably as a support/brace.
I think the best way to approach your heads would be as hats. Think of the bearskin caps of the British Army, those tall fuzzy things. Like your heads, the height is just for show. In other words, it's a cap with a big hat built onto it.
The following link describes the inside of the bearskin:
"The skin is from the pelt of the Canadian Black Bear over a cane frame little changed since first made in 1831. The liner is black leather."
The third photo down shows the arrangement. http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/cloth-hea … ap-531791/
As long as you've built the head so it's rigid and not flexible, you can probably do without the 'flexible cane'(likely peeled and split bamboo).
Notice in your photo link that the heads are set quite low on the wearer's head -- about to his eyebrows -- to give as much stability as possible.
It looks like a snug cap of a dense, tightly-woven fabric would do, shaped like a helmet -- without any excess. Stitch it to the head, and PM over the stitches. DO NOT USE ANY TYPE OF KNIT OR JERSEY!
Another method might be inserting a used bicycle helmet inside, and fastening/gluing it to the interior. Ideally, the head could have been built directly onto a bicycle helmet, but it's a bit too late for that.
For any similar future projects, begin your design with the support base, and built from there, rather than the other way around.
Good luck with your project!
I have built a few large full heads masks over the years. I have used a bicycle helmet when the size of the final mask was big enough to accommodate such a long helmet. Other helmets can do just as well, such as construction helmets, which sometimes have adjustable plastic inner fittings with padding.
The helmet is permanently attached to the structure of the mask, at least in two points, for stability, and added blocks of polyfoam between helmet and mask help stabilize it further.
I have also used a helmet I made of thermoplastic (Wonderflex, but other products work as well or better, such as Foss Shape), shaped over a form that was bigger than the average head, to allow for some padding inside that can be modified for a specific wearer. The padding is simply chunks of polyfoam, covered with thin Fun Foam (L200) where it will touch the wearer's head, as this second foam is sweat proof and easy to clean.
Yet another approach is to forgo the inner helmet altogether, and replace it with two-inch wide sections of polyfoam that surround the wearer's head and hold it by virtue of gravity and prevention of sideways motions.
No matter what system you choose, always make sure there will be no padding over the temple's areas, as that would cause headaches. In the case of a very large and heavier mask, is to create a Big Head mask, which seems to have its origins in several countries of Europe, where festival character's heads are built in one piece with the neck, worn upon the shoulders of the wearer. This way, there is no strain on the head. It does stop all neck movements, though, so that version is not always ideal for stage performance requiring a lot of graceful expression. Here is one of my Big Head Masks, resting on the shoulders:https://youtu.be/FdRWDnmAg00
As for building the mask itself, please avoid all heavy materials: plaster cloth, fabrics, wire mesh, etc). You don't want to damage your performers, should an unfortunate sudden movement occur! My experience has been that paper mache strips is the strongest approach while remaining more than reasonably lightweight. The method is easy, but takes a bit of knowledge and time. I can teach this method within three hours (online, via high definition webcam), should you need more than what I write below. My fee would be 75$(USD), and it would likely save you much grief and time. Further meetings can be arranged, for more support throughout the build. The process is as follows: The Positive Form, Reference Photos, Adjusting The Form for A Better Paper Process, Paper Strips, Freeing & Re-assembly, Trimming & Ventilation, Strengthening, Surface Refining, Detail Refining With Sculpture and Woodburning, Surface Finishing, Sealing, Painting, Varnishing.
A shape is created out of newspaper and tape, finished with a top coat made of clear packaging tape, which serves as a release. A faster shape method (although more expensive and VERY heavy while work is going on) can be a basic shape of the same newspaper and tape method, then covered ans actually modeled with much water based clay. This is then covered in plastic wrap (a very good release, no residues, near perfect inner finish).
Paper mache strips (thin kraft paper, boiled wheat paste) are applied in a criss cross, overlapping fashion, paying attention to detail. Sufficient layers are applied to ensure a strong base structure.
When dry, the paper shell is cut in half (or more parts) to free it from the form, and re-assembled immediately, to avoid warping while separated. This can prove difficult, but I have shortcuts. The seam is covered in a precise application of more paper strips.
All holes (eyes, nose, ears, others for ventilation) are cut off, and their cut edges are sealed again with paper strips, to prevent warping and moisture infiltration.
The neck opening is strengthened with wire and more paper strips.
The facial features are refined with a special paper mache method I call Paper Mache Bark, and further paper strips for smoothing. Celluclay may be used to patch some small surface imperfections.
Carving and Wood Burning Tools can be used to refine some wrinkles, skin folds or other fine details.
Sanding is easy once the paper mache hads dried fully.
Further smoothing can be achieved with a smoothing products. My favorite is a variation on Monster Mud that I call Monster Bone (replace latex paint with acrylic medium, it is much stronger and more flexible). 12 (or more) very thin coats or more are each applied and dried before the next. Failure to do it thinly will cause cracks. Once all layers are fully dry (I wait a few hours after the last is applied), a careful sanding and buffing will create a very smooth surface.
Sealing is achieved with a waterproof product (compatible with your paint of choice), on all surfaces of the mask, including inside. That must be done BEFORE the paint job, as a top varnish only procures a flimsy protection that starts to fail at the merest scratch.
Installation of helmet should follow the sealing step, and more sealing should be applied at the installation points, to prevent moisture from eroding said openings.
Painting can be achieved easily in a few steps: basecoat, details, highlights, antiquing, second highlighting, sharpening of some details.
Varnishing should be done carefully, to avoid the cheap glossy look that is so common nowadays, and so difficult to properly see under stage lights.
I hope this helps!
Show us work in progress photos and videos!
Mathieu, thank you for all of that useful information! You have always been an absolute font of PM information.
Wow. Thank you for all the suggestions and the pictures. Sue, the pictures you found from the BFG were better than the ones I had found and showed the design well. Based on all the comments, it sounds like I need to go with some kind of hat or helmet as the base with the back of the giant head wrapping down over the back of the performer's head for stability. I agree that it might have been better to start with the base and build up, but given that the punch balloon was a lightweight form that was the right size and shape, I didn’t know how to do that in reverse. I’ll take any ideas for how to build up a lightweight round form from a helmet for the next round.
At this point, because it only has few layers of papier mache and is still flexible, I thought I could cut into the bottom of the head and wrap it around a hat or helmet. Should I do this now and use the last layers to attach it, or do more layers now for more strength, stopping at the edges where it may need to be reshaped around a hat? I can also build it out more at the bottom to fit a particular hat. I have layers of newspaper and school paper towels on the form now. I plan to add a layer or two of brown paper bags / craft paper and some torn beige sheets as a final layer. I know I am probably using fewer layers than you all use for projects. I need to make 7 of these heads myself or have students do it, so I need to consider what is feasible with the time frame and the labor pool. Also, when I open it, should I try to remove as much of the form as possible? It's not stuff I can reuse for the most part, and it's light. You'll see in the pictures.
I am still working out what kind of hat to use and how to best attach it. If I go with the tight skull cap Sue mentioned, like the bearskin hats, then that would probably be a baseball hat or a “bucket" hat like people wear to fish, and I’m guessing I would do a last layer or two of cloth mache to the head so I could sew that to the cloth hat and papier mache over the stitches. The baseball hat would support the jaw of the giant head and possibly help with visibility so it doesn’t slide down over the eyes, and the bucket hat has the benefit of the flap that can be sewn all the way around.
The bike helmet also seems like a good option. Creaturiste, if I used the helmet, you mentioned that it should be securely attached at at least 2 points and then stabilized with polyfoam between the helmet and the structure. How do I attach it securely? With glue? What kind? Hot glue? Some additional structure? Or do I just continue the papier mache down directly onto the helmet? (I cannot use any kind of wheat-based paste as we have had issues with mice before, eating through some papier mache masks.) What size polyform do you recommend? I thought maybe 4 inch.
I have some pictures of my process that may help. The latter pictures involve a foam head (which is probably a little small) with various hats and the giant head to try to get an idea for what might best fit or support the giant head. The final picture has chicken wire over a baseball hat with a ribbon woven through to hang down on either sides and make a chin strap. I would sew the wire to the hat, trim down the wire to fit and get rid of any sharps and then papier mache over it in addition to sewing the cloth mache to the cap. There’s also a picture of a cowboy hat; it’s made from some kind of flexible mesh that can be shaped and looks to be papier mache receptive. I also found some buckram hat forms on the Theatre House website that might work because they come in so many shapes, and I think I could papier mache directly to the form. I will list that site below, too. The Military form and Picture/Can Can form on the next page from that link (Can Can may be better upside down) both have potential in different ways, but there are many to choose from. As I would prefer to order in bulk from there to avoid a shipping gouge, it may not be good option for just being able to try something. They also may be a little stiff to fit snugly. Sites are listed below.
Photos of my process:
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id= … sp=sharing
Theatre House Buckram Forms:
I think the pictures will make things more clear. Let me know if you have trouble viewing them. Thanks again for your help and expertise!
Last edited by theatre_craft (2015-08-20 01:58:08)
Another hat form could be those plastic construction safety helmets (like this: http://www.fullsource.com/pyramex-hp140 … aQodPZMI8Q). They are one-size-fits-all, with adjustable webbing inside, similar to the bearskin hats: http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-i … e47934104.
Wiring the head to the hat sounds like a good idea. I would drill (or melt with a hot nail) several holes around the helmet, wire the head to the helmet, then continue with the papier mache, for strength.
Don't use the wig stand as a sizing element -- they're too small.
Very good photos!
That's a great price on those hard hats. I may have something like that at school I could use to try with the wire. I will try SOMETHING soon and let you know how it works. Thank you!!