Making the Phantom's Mask
"Where did you get your mask, and where can I get one?"
This is by far most often asked question I receive. Indeed, for many fans of The Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom's mask is probably the most iconic and highly desired prop/costume piece. As a result, there is a huge demand for high quality, accurate replicas of existing production masks from the stage and screen. Unfortunately, there are very few artists out there producing masks, and even fewer that offer multiple versions of the Phantom's mask. My mask was made by a Phantom acquaintance of mine from several years ago. If you're interested in buying a replica mask, please visit Longshore Masks. He produces beautiful, professional grade masks from different movies and different productions of the stage show, all at a reasonable cost!
"But how are the real masks made?"
Answer: Vacuform! I have been extremely fortunate to have visited the company in New York City where the actual masks for all the Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera productions in the United States are made (including the Broadway production, Las Vegas production, and past National Tours). The authentic Phantom masks are made from vacuformed thermoplastic. Some fans think that the real masks are another material - I have heard everything from leather, to ceramic, to resin, to plaster! However, none of that is true. Last I knew, the authentic masks for the professional productions were made out of a clear, PVC plastic. The real Phantom masks are made by first sculpting the mask out of clay on a lifecast. Then, a plaster cast is made over that clay sculpt and dried to create a plaster negative. From there, another plaster cast is made to create a plaster positive of the clay sculpt.
Once the plaster positive is set, the mask can then be formed through the process of vacuforming (or vacuum forming). This is the process of heating up a sheet of thermoplastic (plastic that can become malleable when exposed to heat) and then forming it over an object using vacuum suction. Simply put, the plastic is heated up so it is soft, and then it is quickly placed on the form where the air is sucked out with the vacuum, and the plastic takes the shape over the form. See how it's done in this excellent how-to video using a homemade vacuforming machine!
Earlier on in the show, each actor had his own, custom mask that was sculpted for him over the prosthetic design. However, these days, the show (in the US, anyway) maintains five stock designs that are tried on a new Phantom, and the mold that fits him best is used and modified as needed. Once the mask is cut and shaped for the actor, the wire is installed. The authentic masks use piano (spring) wire because it does not lose its shape, and can take a beating on stage and slip right back on the actor's head with no reshaping. It is difficult to install, though, but is worth the trouble. The mask is then painted - and it's not just white! The authentic masks feature a combination of white, brown, dark grey, pink and a matte finish. Finally, a leather lining is shaped and then glued in over the wire. Most Phantoms in the show will have at least two masks.
(Seen above: photos of authentic stage mask used by Peter Karrie)
"Where can I learn more about the stage masks?"
You can learn more about the authentic masks used in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera by viewing the following videos of Associate Costume Designer, Sam Fleming. She talked about the mask design, wear, and maintenance while speaking for the Phantom: Art of the Mask gallery in October 2014:
"Can I make my own masks using the vacuforming process?"
Absolutely! Masks can be recreated by fans using the same process, by sculpting a mask using clay, creating a plaster negative and then a plaster positive, and then constructing a homemade vacuform table (all supplies can be purchased at a home improvement store, probably for $150 or less) and using a thermoplastic such as PVC, or Polyethylene terephthalate (PETG). Styrene is a very easy plastic to use, but not always the most durable, so I would suggest PVC or even PETG if you want something sturdier (but still flexible). Vacuforming is such a useful tool for mask making because it can be used over, and over, and over to recreate perfect replicas. As soon as the plastic is cool, the mask can be taken off the mold and cut as needed. No waiting and no mess, like with resin. The trick is having the smooth, plaster mold to work from and a good vacuform machine. Plastic masks are lighter and generally more durable than using resin or other materials, and are generally faster and less expensive to produce after you have your vacuform table set up. I have been very fortunate in my time as a Phantom fan to have known some very talented and knowledgeable costumers who used this process extensively, with professional results.
"What other methods can I use to create a mask?"
If vacuforming is not in your budget, or does not interest you, then you can explore several other options. I saw that one cosplayer used Worbla (a type of thermoplastic that can be used like clay) to create a great 2004 movie replica mask. If you're on a very tight budget, you can buy a cheap plastic mask from a costume store and cut it to the shape you desire. If money is tight, check out the two videos below.
Below are two outstanding video tutorials for using some of the most basic mask making methods. These options are great for those looking for a more customized shape, or wanting to build a mask on the cheap. The first one uses glue and tissue paper, and the second one uses flour and newspaper. Excellent for those without a lot of money to spend!