As part of the 2017 SUPER FUNKY BE A MONKEY CHALLENGE on the Ape Suit Cinema page on Facebook, I decided to do a demo of how to do a paper mache gorilla mask. I wanted to show that decent results can be had from very simple techniques and it doesn’t get too much simpler than paper mache. And I wanted to try and do a gorilla head with a little bit of the look of Charlie Gemora’s Monster and the Girl suit for fun. The process is to sculpt the basic forms in clay, create the basic mask in paper strip mache, and then do a final layer in a paper pulp.
I pre-tore three different types of paper for the job. A white packing paper, newspaper, and light craft paper (brown). The reason I don’t just use one type of paper is that I want the mask to be very even and it’s easy to loose track of where you are when it all looks the same. So I do one layer in one color, the next in another, and the next in yet another. The brown craft paper has a nice look to it and I can see the forms better with it, so it’s always my final layer. (view right gallery >)
I let this dry overnight in front of a fan. It’s important to make sure these layers dry completely before proceeding so that the mask form is nice and rigid.The next step is the Paper Pulp layer. Paper pulp is sort of a clay like version of paper strip mache. There are dozens of recipes online and they all pretty much work, but it took me a long time of trying most of them before I found an approach I was happy with. As it happened, I had a batch of paper pulp that I had done for another project that needed to get used. It had some black chalk as one of the fillers in it (don’t ask, advanced paper pulp nerdism), so it was already perfectly colored for the gorilla mask.
People often refer to paper pulp as paper clay, but I think that is a bit of a misnomer, as it really doesn’t work the same as clays do. The only reliable way to add sculptural details is by impressing them into the material. So the lines I drew into this one were done with a sculpting rib that I rolled in the material to create the wrinkles. (view right gallery >)
Once that was dry, I marked my jaw cut with marker and used a utility knife to cut the jaw loose…or so I thought. I had missed one spot on the jaw and when I pulled it free from the rest of the face…. I cracked the jaw. One of the things I like about paper mache work is just how easily things can be repaired and amended. Changes are not in the least bit intimidating. So after a healthy application of wood glue, the jaw was as good as new, maybe a little better. The main section of the face came off with relatively little struggle and then it was just a matter of cleaning up all the rough edges and trimming it to where I wanted it. (view right gallery >)
I didn’t get any good shots of several of the steps, but I’ll try and explain. The “spring” in the jaw that keeps it shut is simply two hooks on each side and rubber bands. That’s all. Bend the hooks out of any stiff wire ( I used paper clips) and drill holes to slip them in. Glue them into place! Any rubber bands will do; if what you have is too long, just double them over or triple them over if you need to. I like to use these pony tail bands available almost anywhere hair care products are sold. Rather than one strong band, I have four smaller bands on each side. My thinking is that if one rubber band snaps, it won’t make that much of a difference.
Once the mask was mechanically together, I used polyfoam sheets to build up the back of the head and the crest. I fiddled around a lot with the crest as it’s not where I usually place it. Charlie Gemora had an ingenius way of foreshortening the head when he did his gorillas by moving the crest forward. I tested the height and placement continually by throwing a scrap of fur on for a visual reference.
The rest was simply gluing the fur on in sections. I do this differently every time, but usually I do a collar tube for the neck, a back piece that does not come up to the crest (I want the front piece to go completely over the crest so the hair flows a little more naturally), a forehead piece, two side pieces (essentially giant sideburns), and a chin piece. If necessary, I glue hair in front of the material fur line to make it look a little more natural. (view right gallery >)
And that’s it! While it’s a bit of work, there’s really nothing all that difficult about it. All in, I couldn’t have spent more than $30 on it. So I think it’s a good example that you don’t have to spend a fortune on all the latest materials and techniques for something presentable. You can do a gorilla mask for your suit on a budget!