top of page

Custom masks - UK mask maker Steve Braund discusses your creative options

If you want a realistic custom mask made then you are in the right place! In this article, I’ll explain the exciting range of custom mask types and style choices available when you commission Mind Magic Studios. These choices apply to silicone mask making. We’ll explore:

Custom mask types

Common terminology for the three types of silicone masks are full head, half mask, and face plate masks, which you can see left to right in the examples below.

Full-head silicone mask

A full-head silicone mask encases your head completely and includes a bib at the front and back, like our ogre silicone mask shown above in side profile. These are suitable when you have some of your neck, chest and/or back visible with the costume you plan to use. Custom full-head silicone masks use the most platinum silicone so they are the premium price option.

Half mask

The term ‘half mask’ is typically used for silicone masks that cover all of your head but stop at the neck, like our Cad Bane mask in the picture above. Custom half masks have no bib, so they are suitable when the costume you’ll be wearing hides the neck, such as a high-necked coat, shirt, scarf, or hood.

Face plate mask

A silicone face plate mask will cover just the front of your face. Our face plate masks attach at the back with straps and Velcro for a snug fit. Face plate masks will cling to your face and provide a degree of movement, just like silicone full-head and half masks do. We carefully sculpt our face plate masks to give generous face coverage and can include ears such as the goblin face plate mask shown above. These masks are the most budget-friendly option because they use the least silicone.

Because face plate masks attach with straps, they work great when they are mainly seen front on, or if you wear them with a wig or hood to hide the straps at the back. We supply our face plate masks with Velcro straps so they can be removed within seconds, which means they work like a dream when you need a rapid transformation. This is one of the reasons that we sculpted our silicone custom-made Beast mask for Beauty and the Beast theatre productions.

Hyper-realistic masks – how we create believable skin

We love creating realistic human skin textures, so a hyper-realistic character look is completely achievable if your custom mask project requires it. We achieve this by the creative union of three key mask-making factors, which we passionately believe differentiate the quality and believability of our custom masks from others:

1. Fine art attention to anatomy

Firstly, we sculpt with complete attention to achieving believable anatomy, even when we are pushing facial features to their limit or beyond. Why is this important? It’s what drives realism and believability. As a sculptor, it takes skill, knowledge, and practice to take a 2D reference image and transform it into a believable 3D character mask. To achieve this, you need to study and understand the bone and muscle structures beneath a human face's features because they dictate the large forms that a character’s smaller forms will sit on, such as wrinkles.

If you’ve ever looked at a mask, sculpture, drawing or painting of a human face and it just feels off, and takes you down "uncanny valley", then it’s likely that it's something to do with the positioning of the anatomy that’s wrong. Don’t just take our word for it! Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo both participated in dissections throughout their lives for just that reason – to study and be able to render believable anatomy.

This fine art training and expertise means that we’ve been able to create our Cad and Emperor silicone masks for our fantastic fundraising friends in the 501st Legion. This character make-up was created by an actor wearing a prosthetic on-screen but we created wearable, believable masks.

We took a similar approach to our Dark Lord mask. This character was originally created by VFX-ing out the actor’s nose. With careful consideration of the armature that we sculpt over, and some clever engineering and anatomical placement, we were again able to transform this character into a wearable, believable custom mask.

2. Hyper-realistic skin textures

Secondly, we sculpt hyper-realistic skin textures. This is an art as much as a skill and involves understanding how to work with the clay and using sculpting tools and techniques to create the skin effect. This means layering up effects. It might include creating pores, veins, imperfections, and large and small wrinkles. Look at the skin on your hand for a moment and you’ll see what we mean. A lot is going on there!

3. Expert custom mask painting

The third factor is how we approach painting your custom mask. Even the most fantastic attention to anatomy and skin texturing can be ruined by a bad or lazy paint job. Skin, be it human or animal, is not a flat colour. Look at your hand again and you’ll see all sorts of colours like blues and purples of veins and pinks, yellows and browns, maybe whites where the light bounces off you.

We also invest in industry-leading premium specialist silicone pigment paints. We use these in multiple layers with multiple paint effects using specialist tools to bring out all the fantastic realistic detail we have sculpted into your custom mask. Our approach creates a beautiful translucent depth. We have experience creating everything from a realistic baby face to aged skin. Whatever effect you need, we can achieve it.

How we create hyper-realistic creature masks

If you’re looking for a realistic fantasy, horror, or sci-fi mask we can also create this for you, using the same skill and attention to detail we describe above for realistic human masks. There’s no limit to the effects we can sculpt into the masks we create and this applies not just to the face but to other aspects too.

One example is our Baeldorfyr the Demon mask, where we added resin horns for a super shiny effect to contrast with his lava-like textured skin. Another example is our Cad mask, pictured at the top of this article, which includes a sculpted leather effect hood and a 3D-printed housing attached to the mask itself for the breathing apparatus. We can also push the boundaries with the paint on creature masks, such as incorporating UV paint for a glow-in-the-dark magic effect or creating metallic effects. The right-hand photo below is Baeldorfyr again under a black light, showing off his UV paint.

If you're after a gore fest, we can provide choices such as dried blood, fresh blood, or maybe a mix of both. If you’re on a tight budget and need a few masks, we can apply different paint effects to the same mask which can be surprisingly effective. We’ve got many more tricks like this up our sleeve too!

Custom mask hair choices

For that extra level of realism, we can hair-punch eyebrows, facial hair such as beards, mustaches, sideburns, and a partial or full head of hair. We will work with you to select synthetic or human hair, depending on your budget and the effect needed.

Laying hair is a skill and we apply the same expertise and care to hair punching as we do with all other aspects of our mask-making. Hair does not only go in one direction so we’ll work with the anatomy of the mask to punch in a believable hair effect that sits believably. However, if your budget is tight and it will not detrimentally affect the quality of your project then we can also use pre-made hair pieces. Sometimes a mixture of both is needed, so our Mr Hyde mask below features a pre-made wig but hand-punched eyebrows and sideburns.

Custom mask eye choices

One key reason filmmakers have historically chosen prosthetics over silicone masks for foreground characters is the eyes. With a silicone mask, even when you apply makeup under the mask, you can generally still see where the actor’s face meets the mask. Fortunately, the cost of VFX has come down over the years. Independent filmmakers can now afford to digitally remove or enhance the eye area if a completely seamless transition is needed. You'll see this in effect on the full-head silicone witch mask we made for the feature film Members Club.

The creative options don’t just end there. For zombies, actors love to wear contact lenses to finish off that undead look but sometimes people can’t wear contacts. If this is a situation with your actor, we can hide the eyes behind sculpted effects. You can see this on our Klawdeen Female Fit Zombie mask and our Uncle Bingo the Clown mask which also features our custom resin eyes.

Another alternative is lenses. You can see reflective lenses on our Cad mask at the top of this article. We also used these on the lead character mask for the Manfish feature film and in our Abe cosplay mask for some fish-friendly bubbled-eyed magic.

The use of these sorts of lenses is something that we engineer into the mask. This means they are easy to remove and put back in so they do not risk damaging the mask in transit. It also allows the actor to take an eye break on set if they need to without removing the mask and risking disturbing the rest of their costume, which can lead to continuity errors.

Understanding the creative boundaries of a custom mask

We love silicone masks because of the huge range of creative choices that they bring to the table. What differentiates all three options from latex or resin masks is:

  • Silicone masks will cling to your skin and enable a degree of movement and emoting

  • Silicone is skin-safe, so unlike latex, you have no worries about latex allergies, which are becoming more and more common

  • Silicone will not degrade in the way latex will so it is a sound investment that can be used repeatedly for multiple projects without fear of it eventually falling to bits, or it can be resold within the healthy used mask market to raise funds for a future project.

But silicone masks aren’t suitable for every situation and we are always completely honest with you if we feel that making one is not the right choice for your custom mask project. Sometimes this is down to the limits of the weight of silicone, as it is heavier than foam latex. That said, we have worked with clients on hybrid masks that incorporate clever engineering and alternative cores. This approach meant that we could still sculpt a silicone mask because the project required realistic skin texture and movement.

It's always best to talk to us to explore what's feasible. We also sculpt and make prosthetics, polyurethane, and resin masks, hyper-realistic resin eyes and we have made many hyper-realistic silicone body parts for horror films.

Making reality a dream

We can support your custom project end-to-end from concept to delivery. We’re happy to work with you from scratch or work from your existing concept art. We’ve worked with clients previously to make pre-production pieces in WED clay when 3D concepts are needed to secure film funding. We’re happy to be on set if you need us on hand with your makeup artist.

Geography is no limit. We work with clients from all corners of the globe, and can jump on a video call and demonstrate the masks and the different options to you.

Sculpting is our passion. We love a challenge and we love collaborating with our clients to create custom mask magic so please get in touch to discuss your next project.


bottom of page