I have made a considerable number of masks for LRPers and others. We range from small latex prosthetics up to oversized heads for mascots. I’m going to look at some of the features we like for masks specifically for use at LRP events.
Any mask will have some impact on your vision. They inevitably build up away from the face (the alternative is cutting bits off your face), and anything that builds away from your face in the eye area will impact on your vision. As a general rule, the deeper the eye holes the greater the impact on your vision.
Prey animals tend to have eyes on the sides of their head to give them a greater range of vision, like rabbits do, while predators are more likely to have them on the front of the face. Humans have forwards facing eyes so masks of predators tend to need less adjustment to fit to a human face than masks of prey animals. When we get to insects we often don’t use the animals eyes for vision at all, and instead build them into some other part of the face. Aliens vary (aliens with no eyes involve the most compromise of all the masks I make).
It will take a while to adjust to the vision you have in a mask. Some of them have blind spots straight ahead of you making it easy to walk into anything that is in front of you. However, this does lead to people holding their heads differently and can give characters nice mannerisms that make them seem a bit stranger.
Our worst mask was a robot face that had a flashy light mounted immediately over the eye holes. Those monsters could see nothing at all after dark. Coloured lighting gels and reflective lenses often have a different effect on vision when it’s light to when it’s dark. Our worst mistake here at Mandala was a reflective gel that was easy to see through in an area with sodium street lights but that was effectively opaque when in an area lit by wind up led torches. Always check your vision in an area as similar as possible to the area you’re planning on using it in.
There are ways around people wearing glasses, but none of them are ideal. We’ve mounted lenses in a mask before which seemed to work. We’ve left space for glasses by moulding foam masks with a space for glasses in the head. That only works with some of our sculpts and usually results in the mask sitting forwards so having a bigger effect in peripheral vision. Our balaclava masks are often the best for this as as long as the nose is small enough for a pair of glasses to sit on it a couple of holes through the mask or into the ears on the mask allow a pair of glasses to be worn comfortably and fairly securely.
We mostly use the wearers own eyes as opposed to adding fake ones with the wearer looking through a concealed hole. This is because it gives better vision. It can also allow a bit more emotion to be seen when you’re roleplaying.
People like breathing. If you create a seal around their nose and mouth they won’t be able to. If they don’t get upset about it then other people inevitably will. If the mask is likely to be used for fighting then you need more access for air because people will breathe harder and more deeply. Adding larger air holes also helps to prevent people overheating.
If the mask is designed to be worn for a while (more than 2-3 hours at a stretch) then it’s important to enable the wearer to drink and eat comfortably. This is why our standard foam masks typically don’t have lower jaws unless it’s ordered as an added extra. It’s also why our balaclava masks tend to have the mouth and chin open. If we sealed it up it would be harder for people to eat and drink in a way that looks natural and in character.
At Mandala we tend to make our masks on standard heads and to standard sizes. This works for the 95% but is a bit more tricky for those with larger or smaller heads. We now have four different sizes of latex orc mask and can make custom masks to the size required. To make a mask a more exact fit on a person we would be looking at taking a life-cast of their head and sculpting on that. It’s not a cheap process though, but it does mean that people who take this option really want to invest in their character and costume.
All our masks will need the eyes and mouth trimming to fit the intended wearer. If you buy a mask and it isn’t fitting properly at the eyes and mouth then trim the latex carefully with a pair of sharp scissors until it is a better fit. Do this gradually. We can’t do this for you unless you are able to bring your face to a convenient location.
Masks can add a lot to games. They move things to a more alien look and make it harder to communicate with people, as well as hiding people’s identities. They’re not pleasant to wear though and do need a bit of thought to make sure they’ll work for your intended role. You need a totally different mask for a full week of country house living than for 2 hours of battle. You have utterly different considerations for a mask you’ll mostly be wearing in temperate climates to one you’ll be wearing somewhere hotter.
(Mask in featured image by Mandala Studios)