Latex Foam Masks
Latex foam proved to be the ideal material for the making of masks and prosthetics, mainly due to its extremely mouldable nature and soft feel, and can easily and comfortably be applied to the skin.
Latex Foam Masks
The development of liquid latex, a processed version of the naturally occurring suspension, revolutionised the movie special effects business, allowing the easy production of literally any artificial mask or prosthetic appendage. By introducing various additives to the liquid latex, such as ammonia to stabilize the foam latex’s structure, or a higher volume of solids for greater strength, even the most challenging special effects can be achieved.
Latex Foam Prosthetics
The manufacturing process of a foam latex prosthetic is a lengthy one. Before the liquid latex can even be introduced, a plaster cast of the desired part of the body, such as the face or torso, must first be taken. Once this has dried, the hollow cast is removed and a plasticine clay is used to sculpt the new special effect features, known as appliances, onto the original life cast. A plaster cast mould is then made of the new appliance and filled with foam latex. This is then baked in the oven at 175 degrees centigrade for anything up to five hours, to finally produce a foam latex appliance that looks and feels like human skin. The porous nature of the material even allows actors to perspire through these masks or prosthetics.
The use of latex foam is in no way solely confined to Hollywood however, as many companies produce commercial latex foam masks, for example Halloween masks and masquerade masks. These can be glued directly to the skin and the flesh-like appearance and flexibility that allow these masks to move directly with the wearer’s facial expressions make them highly popular and extremely effective.
Latex foam is also a popular choice for those in the puppet business. Latex foam used for puppets is quite different from the industrial foam found in the production of bedding. Best described as ‘theatrical’ latex foam, it is softer and more pliant due to a finer cell structure and higher proportion of solids within the mixture, allowing fine detail to be captured.
The first latex foam puppet was made by Bill Baird in 1964, however, it was not until Jim Henson that latex foam puppets began to be used on a larger scale. His 1982 film, The Dark Crystal, contained hundreds of foam latex puppets and props, created by producing plaster cast moulds, and pushed the limits of technologies within both the latex foam and the animatronic fields.
Latex foam technology is now widely used in filmmaking, for example in stop motion animation as well as in more the field of traditional cosmetic effects.