Sunday, December 20, 2015

Getting a Head Mold: An Actor's Crazy Experience

The completed molding of my head.
...I Felt like Han Solo
So, as I mentioned on Facebook some time ago, I finally hit a milestone in my entertainment career that I had been hoping for for some time- the lead role in a reinactment drama. While having a lead in a reinactment drama isn't exactly a big deal, (in Japan, they are dubbed over and half the time they just chose people purely on looks), it is something that has mysteriously eluded me for a decade now, so I was happy to finally just have it on my resume. Oddly enough however, as the character was obsessed with plastic surgery, this particular drama also meant hitting another milestone- doing a make-up intensive role.

 As an actor, you always hear about big actors going through the process of having extensive prostheics make and applied (Like Jim Carrey spending 6 hours a day getting it applied to his body for the Grinch movie), and I also felt as though having that experience was another milestone as well. In this case, as my character would be going through various stages of plastic surgery, it meant I would need various prosthetics bring applied and removed from my face.... And that first those prosthetics would have to be fabricated.

 In order to get that done, I was sent to a Zombie make-up specialty shop called Zombie Stock. While I thought they would just be taking molds of various parts of my face, upon arrival, the full scope of what they were about to do became apparent- they were going to make a mold of my entire head all at once... Meaning that they were going to encase my entire head in plaster. As someone who is fairly claustrophobic, the idea wasn't exactly appealing. Out of fear that I may be the first one, I asked the shop owner, "So... Do people ever freak out when they do this?" And he responded, "Oh yeah, all the time." That wasn't exactly encouraging.

In any event, I was bound and determined to maintain my professionalism, and show that I was a serious actor and keep my cool.


The process begins by their putting you in old clothes and covering you with clear plastic... Kinda like the wrap they put on you when you get a haircut, but more hardcore. From there one person sets about the process of making the material, which is kind of like pancake batter... Except it solidifies faster and into a rubbery kind of composition. While one person was doing that, the other person was preparing cotton for something. After the "batter" reaches a certain kind of consistency, (hard enough to pick up, but not solidified) the assistant grabbed massive glops of it and started piling it onto my neck before it began to solidify. While that was happening, the other person started stuffing the cotton into my ears- cueing me that my hearing would be the first sense to go.

 One of the things that you never really think about is the fact that 4 out of 5 of your sensory organs are exclusively on your head. (Skin being the fifth). What that meant was that by covering up my head they were basically putting me through complete sensory deprivation. The batter continued to be piled on. From my neck, it traveled up and over my ears. As I usually sleep with ear plugs (aside from the fact that the material was cold), thus far this experience wasn't so different. Until they started to cover my mouth. Then it started to get a bit intense. Particularly since while one person was working up from the mouth, the other person was coming down my forehead and making their way to my eyes. I felt the cold heavy "batter" weighing down on my forehead. Then I heard a barely audible, "Close your eyes" in Japanese. Then blackness. At that point, I just freaked out and grabbed the arm of the assistant (which I'm guessing she was used to)... She gently touched my hand I regained composure and they continued. One going down my face, the other going up. They placed drinking straws in my nostrils so I could breath, and then they started to cover my nose last. The smell was odd... But not bad. I could feel that the enclosure was becoming complete.

 Suddenly, I heard muffled dialog between then and it was all coming off. I don't know if it was because of some other issue or because of my sudden jerk, but they told me they needed to start over. At first I was really irritated, but at the same time I came to realize that this was a blessing. Now I knew what to expect, and could prepare myself mentally. They started over. No jerk this time, and no flinch. They completed the mold completely encircling my head.

Before we started, they told me that in order to make the mold correctly I would have to remain perfectly still for about 15-20 minutes. I came to realize that that's a very very long time when you have no sensory input. There were very faint sounds... But nothing discernible. To keep calm, I thought of classical music... And tried to find the same kind of peace and inner silence I learned during my taekwondo meditation training. No active thoughts... Just listening to whatever passed through my mind and body. As I couldn't do anything else, I tried to swallow to remind myself that "I'm still here"... But I realized I couldn't because the batter had hardened around my throat and my Adam's apple was locked into place. That was bizarre.

 As I couldn't see, a lot of bizarre imagery passed through my mind. Lots of Palm trees and beaches, but in a weird acid trip kind of way. I noticed that my heartbeat also became deadeningly loud. Seems like I could hear the rush of blood moving through my veins. Suddenly, while lost in my thoughts, I felt touching on the mold... And then heat. It occurred to me that they were encasing it again in plaster. I thought the layer of rubber was all, and I didn't know they still needed to do that... But it was logical. All of a sudden the mold got much hotter and much much heavier. Again, I just had to focus on staying calm, so that I didn't move or flinch. As odd as it may sound however, after a while (I have no idea how long it actually was), I simply got used to this new bizarre world I was living in, with trippy imagery running through my mind's eye, and the sound of my heartbeat and blood drowning everything else out.

 Finally, almost suddenly, I felt the hands on my head again and everything began to come off. It was a tremendous relief to get my senses back, and I was happy to have gotten through it. I couldn't help but think of the kid from "Johnny got his gun" (who lost all of his sensory organs to a landmine), and I wondered how he managed to deal with it year after year. After the process was completed, the make-up artist said he would give me the mold of my face as a gift.. I asked him about how much it actually costs to do this whole process, and it said its about $500. As uncomfortable as it was, I was getting paid well to do the job... and also getting a $500 gift out of it. I guess I couldn't complain. All that being said though, once was enough ;) Lets hope it's not something I ever have to do again.

Pictured- The various prosthetics I wore for the shoot.
Pic 1- Stage 1- Beard shaved and in make-up.
Pic 2- Forehead and Lip Prosthetics 1 (After character's first injection)
Pic 3- Forehead and Lip Prosthetics 2 (After character's second injection)
Pic 4- How the character perceived himself in his own mind that drove him to the surgery (from the directors perspective)

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