Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Halloween New England Heads West for a Ghost Ride Lifecasting

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Prop Casting
Last year Halloween New England headed out west to connect with Ghost Ride Productions for a long-anticipated experience of being lifecasted (head and body) to make a lifecast which may be used for molding and creating this season's realistic special FX props (coming to a haunted house near you....ha!).

Ghost Ride Productions is a leading FX prop company who specializes in props reflecting realism. You won't find out of proportion heads on bodies, exaggerated mugging features, or slapdash paint detailing here. Ghost Ride is known for the kind of props which can be easily mistaken for a live person in a haunt scene.

Haunt designers love using their props because a Ghost Ride prop's realism lends an authenticity to any scene and can even function as a decoy to draw customers' attention to set up a haunt scare. One haunt designer described Ghost Ride's catalog as filled with "the most realistic props you can buy out there. Their props are very durable and hold up over a season and will stay in good shape for years to come which makes it a valuable investment to any haunt's inventory."
When I received the offer from Ghost Ride to participate in this process first-hand, I jumped at the chance without a moment's hesitation! It was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to go behind the scenes to learn about the intensive process behind the making of a brand new horror prop. It was incredible to see how much detailed preparation and skill goes into the task of lifecasting. As a total introvert, this was a unique chance to contribute and "participate" in a haunted attraction in my own small but unusual way. 

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Prop Casting PreparationLeading up to casting day, the Ghost Ride staff had held meetings where they'd scheduled exactly how the process would go, walked through every step in advance, and created a plan for how to execute the casting. It would be all hands on deck--probably 6 or 7 people on the Ghost Ride staff--cooperating and communicating from start (application of the bald cap) to finish (cracking of the cast--ah freedom!).

This multi-hour process is extremely time-sensitive as the crew must work quickly and with great attention to the application of the thick, goopy mold solution--the consistency of marshmallow fluff-- before the silicone sets in place.

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Prop Casting Alginate PrepIn fact, the entire process is so time-sensitive that one crew member was solely responsible for just tracking the minutes and seconds of time--alerting the crew when a certain amount of time has lapsed as a way of knowing how firm the material was getting. At certain points, the owner of the studio Michael Chaille, would notify a different crew member - this one solely responsible for just mixing new batches of fresh silicone--to whip up a new quart of the mixture as soon as possible. Because the silicone sets very, very quickly, preparation is everything in this process since the mixture cannot be blended in advance or else it would firm up before it was applied. A full table of unmixed solutions was lined up on a dedicated mixing table hours before even the bald cap was placed on my head. 

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Prop Casting Alginate Prep
It takes several layers of silicone applications to complete the molding before the cast material is applied in the final step. The silicone mixture itself is the same solution for each layer but each new layer gets tinted a different color. The purpose of tinting each "round" of silicone is to be able to manage the thickness of the silicone as it is built up layer by layer. Each tinted layer is applied to ensure maximum coverage of every nook, angle, and crevice. For example, a pink layer on top of a green layer will allow the crew to quickly track the thickness of the fresh, liquid pink layer as it is spread over the (dry) green layer underneath. 
Working with large popsicle sticks and brushes in hand, 3 or 4 crew members at one would drag and spread the viscous silicone across the arms or around the neck, pushing the mix into the crevices near the armpits, hands, or knees. That initial layer of silicone is applied on bare skin and it is designed to be able to release any arm or body hair when the mold is cracked open at the end.

The first area that was molded was my head. With my hair covered in a bald cap to create a smooth surface for molding, I sat on a table and rested the side of my cheek on my knees which were tucked up to my body. My entire body was draped in plastic to protect it from the drops and drips of the molding process of the head and my head position needed to match where my body would be for the second molding of the body later on. Once in position, Michael gave me specific instructions about how I could communicate with him using my hands under the clear plastic so he could keep track of how I was doing during the head molding since my mouth would be covered completely and verbal communication wouldn't be possible once we'd begun. 

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Lifecasting
He asked if I was ready, I said yes. I closed my lips and eyes and I felt the first pour of silicone drip over the top of my head in a big, sticky, gooey mess. It felt like being covered with runny peanut butter. I felt the crew working swiftly to drag the thick liquid over my cheeks, eye, around the corners of my nose, into my ears and under my chin. Just like that, I couldn't see, couldn't talk, and my hearing became muffled by the layers seeping into every tiny nook of my ears. One crew member had the single job of vigilantly watching my nostril holes for safety during the molding process. He zeroed in on this area to ensure that I always had my nostrils completely open--free and clear of silicone-- to be able to breathe without any obstruction. This is an important point: the ability to trust the crew to be 100% safety-minded and ultra-responsible is perhaps the most essential factor in ever agreeing to be lifecasted. Once that first layer of silicone is applied, you basically surrender your safety and well-being over to the crew. When your head is being molded, this is significantly the case as you cannot speak or open your eyes throughout the experience--nothing but your hands to gesture through communicating with a thumbs up or thumbs down answer to yes or no questions they might ask.

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Lifecasting
For me, the molding of my head was the part I found most enjoyable. Thankfully I am not prone to claustrophobia, and I was actually looking forward to the sensory withdrawal, curious to experience it first-hand. I found the surrender of this part of the casting fairly relaxing--there is literally nothing to do, nothing to see or say, not much to hear. I just sat there with my head resting on my knees and relaxed. I focused exclusively on staying calm, regulating my breath, and focusing on the steady flow of breathing through my free nostril. I knew that it was critical that I be able to do this with great concentration--staying calm would allow my breath to stay measured. I knew that if I allowed myself to get nervous during the process my breathing would quicken and because there was such a limited space to access air (just the nostrils), it would be a slippery slope to remain calm in the mold for the duration. It was a mental exercise as much as it was a physical endurance one. I never felt panicky or uneasy during this molding which certainly contributed to it being a very positive experience! I also fully and completely trusted the professionalism and experience of the Ghost Ride crew with regards to my safety which ultimately, was at the heart of my ability to stay calm and relax.   

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Lifecasting
The application of the mold layers is an extremely rapid process of everyone working at once, with constant staff communication about what each person was seeing on their side of my body to ensure that every section was properly, evenly covered. As the mix is applied, the weight of the heavy, goopy silicone will weep downward from gravity and the crew feverishly drags the material up the arms and legs as they spread the layers across with care.

After several layers are applied and dried, the final step is to create a cast of the now hardened silicone mold. During this step, a plaster cast is created to encase the mold--dozens of drippy, plastery strips material are draped around every part of the mold. As the heat-activated plaster strips begin to firm, the heat from the outer casts starts to penetrate through the several layers of silicone which, for obvious reasons, made me feel quite warm, almost sauna-like inside the mold.

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Lifecasting
Because staying in a single position is required for the duration of the mold-making process, there is no opportunity to shift an arm or a leg to stretch or get comfy. It was during this step that was the most challenging for me during the entire process. By this time I'd been in a single position for well over an hour without moving (seated, arms crossed around my legs) and the stagnancy of the position had begun to take its toll with stiffness, a numbness from sitting so long on a hard surface, and general achiness.

Thankfully, the crew at Ghost Ride--as well as some other folks I'd met who'd shared their own lifecasting experience--had prepared me for this moment where it becomes a mental challenge as much as a physical one. Michael and his crew set up fans to blow on my head (the only part of me that was exposed to air) and they even had an ice pack to place on my forehead to keep me staying cool as the warmth and discomfort of that final cast stage progressed. By now it was simply a waiting game... waiting for that plaster cast to fully harden to the point they could crack it open.

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Mold release
When the moment came to release me from the cast the entire crew gingerly rolled me onto my side--pretty much like an Easter egg--since I did not have access to my arms or legs to move or catch myself. From this side angle, I couldn't see a thing that was happening but I could feel action all around me--my feet, back, legs--as they cut through the thick, multi-layered shell that encased my whole body.

When the mold finally cracked, a crew member wrapped me in a robe to wear and like a newborn, I slowly and gently began to stretch my limbs and move a bit as I worked out the stiffness in my hips, knees, and back. After luxuriating in the freedom from the cast for a minute or two, my curiosity got the better of me. I was excited to see what the mold looked like--the areas that stood out for me was the details of the area which had molded my feet (in the body mold) and the detail of the crevices within my ears (in the head mold). It was pretty wild to see the "negative" of my own body parts which of course, I know so well from the 3-dimensional version that I inhabit.

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Head Lifecasting
In the months that followed I was sent progress pictures from Ghost Ride. The first foam body "pulled" from the mold, unpainted, untrimmed was the sneak preview. Then I was sent a picture of just the head, decapitated, fully painted and laying on a stainless steel medical tray for the full effect. It is odd to look at your own face but painted with lifeless, dead pallor--none of the expression or color that I'm used to seeing with my reflection in a mirror.
However, nothing prepared me for the experience of receiving photos of the completed prop - full head and body - painted in detail, dressed into character complete with a wig. I think it was seeing my own feet in the prop that was truly freakish. Those feet were just so.... familiar!

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Lifecasting Frozen Makeup
The prop, now nicknamed "Alexa", debuted in the Ghost Ride booth and 2018 catalog this year at TransWorld's annual Halloween and Attraction Show (HAA Show) in St. Louis, MO! For haunt owners and designers, HAA is the largest trade show of its kind which showcases FX props, lighting, animatronic props, masks, haunt designers, Special FX, and other vendors directly to the people who create and produce professional haunted houses, escape rooms, and Halloween attractions.
Ghost Ride created several prop variations created out of the same mold - the asylum version, the burn victim, the frozen version, the realistic "alive" version they'd made for their new catalog.

The HAA Show was the first place the haunt industry was able to see in person and place their orders for Ghost Ride's "Alexa." I don't yet know which New England haunted attractions may have purchased the Alexa prop this year for their haunts but I look forward to "scaring myself" when I stumble across it in some creepy scene--I am sure it will be an experience I'll never forget!

My deepest gratitude goes out to Michael Chaille and his incredible crew at Ghost Ride Productions. They gave me a one of a kind experience and true insight into this fascinating field within the Halloween and FX Prop industry and their professionalism at every turn made it an unforgettable day.

Check out some of the Alexa variations below (L to R: "Burn", "Cozy", and "Asylum"). 
Visit the full Ghost Ride Productions catalog at www.GhostRide.com 

Halloween New England Ghost Ride FX Alexa Prop Variations