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What is best for a scare attraction: prosthetic make-up, latex masks or silicone masks?

You want your scare attraction to be unique and the best in the game, but the pressure is on!

The advent of high definition film and movie quality series on streaming services like Netflix means the public is now used to Hollywood level effects being the norm.

Big-budget immersive experiences such as Secret Cinema are also now wildly popular. At the other end of the scale, we are seeing an increasing number of immersive exhibitions at galleries and museums.

All of these factors push demand by audiences for complete in-the-moment believability and NOTHING that spoils the illusion.

So when it comes to how to dress your actors for maximum scream factor without blowing the bank, how do you choose between whether to employ a make-up artist to apply prosthetics or whether to buy latex or silicone masks?

The good news is that there is a right answer...but it might not be the one you are expecting! In this article we explore:

Latex masks

How are you lighting your haunt attraction?

Lighting is a huge and often underrated factor when it comes to choosing how to dress your fright actors. A single haunt attraction may use various lighting effects in each room to create different scare experiences to reduce your guests to trembling wrecks.

Latex masks can provide a reasonable amount of detail but limited facial movement, if any. A latex mask can work well in rooms lit by strobe or flashing lighting as guests will only see the mask for a few moments. Their eyes won't have a chance to adapt due to the frequent transitions between light and dark

Close-up detail of our 'Percy' Zombie silicone mask:

How close will your actors and audience be?

In addition to the lighting, choosing between make-up/prosthetics, a latex mask or a silicone mask will also depend on how close your actors will be to your guests. The closer they are, the more detail that your guests may see on your actors' faces and bodies.

If it is likely that your guests will only see an impression of the actor, then blowing your budget on prosthetic appliances or a premium silicone mask with lots of detail in these rooms is not really required.

Make-up and prosthetics

Are your actors speaking and at close quarters?

You can create breath-taking effects with prosthetic make-up from gore to other-worldly. Your actors can have an excellent range of facial motion, depending on the scale of the prosthetic appliance.

This means prosthetics make-ups are a great choice for actors who are interacting in well-lit rooms, close to your guests, in speaking roles.

Is your haunt being hosted?

Prosthetic make-ups can be a great choice for fright attractions with a ‘host’ who accompanies the guests around the attraction, or for meeters (meaters?!) and greeters at the beginning and end of the attraction.

A truly terrifying host can be key to those all important add-on sales. You want someone who looks fantastic at the end of the experience to pose for photos, encourage your guests to buy some merchandise, or to stay on and make an evening of it if you are offering food and drink.

Do you have a sizeable budget?

For prosthetics, you will need a reliable make-up artist who can work quickly and consistently. You will also need backup make-up artists who you can call on if your main artist is sick plus duplicate reference photos in case your main make-up artist accidentally takes them away.

If you want several haunters in prosthetics working at the same time then you will need to either pay to have your actors turn up early and wait for your make-up artist to be done with each person or employ multiple make-up artists.

If you plan to use prosthetic appliances then always discuss the options with your chosen make-up artist before buying them. The complexity of the prosthetics will impact the time it takes to get your actors ready. Unlike when wearing latex or silicone masks, your actors will need time after their shift to remove their make-up and get cleaned up. You will also need budget for suitable products to remove the make-up and/or prosthetic appliances.

Silicone masks

An exciting alternative to prosthetics is silicone masks. The mask-making industry has matured in recent years and there are now a good number of silicone mask makers in many countries offering an impressive range of creatures and characters.

Let's look at why silicone masks can be a horrifically awesome winner for your haunt attraction.

Silicone masks reduce shift time

The benefit of silicone masks to haunt attractions is that your actors can put them on and take them off in a moment, so they need minimal time to get ready and de-kit when compared with make-up and prosthetics.

Silicone masks can reduce the number of actors you need

If you are trying to run a minimal (skeleton?!) staff then one actor can switch masks and costumes super fast whereas someone in prosthetic make-up is stuck with that look for the duration.

Silicone masks are hugely believable

Silicone masks are eerily realistic because silicone rubber is very soft. Silicone also does a fantastic job of picking up fine detail from sculpts when it comes to making moulds and casting out the final piece. All this adds up to super-convincing characters.

Recent research from the University of York has shown that some hyper-realistic masks are more believable than human faces. We’re starting to see more and more spoof videos popping up on YouTube too with mask wearers trying to trick people - a sure sign of how believable these masks can be.

Silicone masks generally have small cut-outs for the eyes, which many mask makers make quite small to minimise the amount of skin on show. Everyone’s heads are a different shape and a silicone mask will sit differently on one person to another. A little make-up around the eyes removes any rogue skin that might peep out.

Silicone masks provide good facial movement

You can get a good amount of movement from a silicone mask, particularly around the mouth and cheeks. Check out our 'Klawdeen' female fit silicone mask movement video:

Silicone masks can extend to the body

If your actors are wearing open-neck costumes then you can achieve great skin coverage and even more realism by using a silicone mask that has a decent bib to cover the neck, shoulders, chest and back. Alternatively you might buy a chest piece to allow your actor to have slashed up clothing for an even more gory look.

Silicone masks are not just for men

Silicone masks generally come in male or female fit. At this point the range of female fit masks on the market is more limited but many silicone mask maskers including Mind Magic Studios will accept custom commissions. This will take longer so is something to bear in mind when choosing characters for your haunt.

Silicone masks are hygienic

We are now living in a world where Covid-19 is a factor. Silicone masks are easily cleaned inside by spraying isopropyl alcohol after the wearer is finished. The alcohol will evaporate ("flash off") in a few minutes leaving behind no skin irritant or smell.

And the winner is...

This is where things start to get more complicated and where the needs of your specific haunt attraction come to the fore.

On the face of it, latex masks may seem the best budget answer. They are the cheapest option off the peg and unlike prosthetics they can be re-used. But if your actors are spending any length of time up close and personal with your guests whilst wearing a latex mask then the effects won’t be as realistic as prosthetic make-up or silicone masks.

Silicone masks might seem like budget wreckers because of their price. Our Mind Magic Studios silicone masks are all in the region of £300-£350 plus delivery.

There's no getting around this. Silicone masks are not cheap because it is not possible to mass-produce them and platinum silicone is an expensive material. High-quality silicone paints are also expensive but necessary to create hyper-realistic human or creature skin effects, gore and so on - all which of course takes time.

This is where careful maths is needed. As we've seen above, for prosthetic make-ups you need to factor in:

  • one or more make-up artists

  • extra actor time before and after performances for make-up application and removal

  • budget for single-use prosthetics and removal products

Now multiply the above across the number of actors you have and the number of nights your attraction is open. You may well find that you’ve now spent more than the cost of a few silicone masks.

Let's recap

You will likely have different rooms, with different lighting, and actors that will have different amounts of interaction with your guests. Depending on your needs, choosing carefully between prosthetic make-up, latex masks and silicone masks may well mean you don’t kill your budget and can deliver your guests the most believable freaks and frights:

  • Latex masks are a great budget-conscious choice for background actors, poorly lit actors, or actors with minimal guest interaction - just be mindful of latex allergies.

  • Prosthetic make-ups are awesome for well-lit actors who will have a lot of close-up interaction with your customers and so need to fully emote with a complete range of facial expressions. Professional and believable application of make-up and prosthetics is a real art and can provide great shock factor as its probably not something your guests will have encountered up close before.

  • Silicone masks typically balance out very favourably on price when you take into account all of the hidden costs of make-up and prosthetics. Silicone masks become a very attractive option for the bulk of your performance needs once you factor in the huge number of other benefits they bring:

    • fast turn-around so reduced hours per actor and/or less actors

    • hyper-realistic and fine detail

    • great range of facial movement in lit areas

    • hygiene

    • they are a valuable asset that you can re-use or sell on afterward

    • with a custom sculpt that is unique to your attraction, you can sell licensed copies of the masks for valuable add-on sales, particularly if these are limited edition runs.

We're dying to meat you

Whether you are a scare attraction, an escape room with a freaky theme or a convention looking for some awesome looking creatures to perform and crew your event, silicone masks are a fantastic choice.

I am expanding the Mind Magic Studios range of silicone masks all the time so head over to the store to take a closer look or get in touch to discuss your custom silicone mask needs.

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