mask making


Phantom history


Phantom of the Opera

The world premier of the above musical took place at Her Majesties Theatre, London 1986.

I had worked for the designer Maria Bjornson on several productions. Donnerstag aus Licht and Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera House included. When she asked me to make the masks for Michael Crawford in the role of The Phantom it was the single most important mask in the history of the West End musicals.

A meeting was arranged at the Studio of Chris Tucker, the make up designer. This was to be the unveiling of the Phantom’s make-up. Michael Crawford had got there earlier to get ready. Hal Prince, the director had flown in for it and also there were Andrew Lloyd Weber, Cameron Mackintosh and Maria Bjornson. We waited for over an hour before we were all shown into the make-up room.

The big surprise for me was that the disfigurement only appeared on the right hand side of the Phantoms face. Michael Crawford and Hal Prince wanted to avoid covering the entire face, thus allowing for emotions to be expressed.

Chris Tucker had produced a soft prosthetic 'half mask'. He was very concerned that the mask being ripped of the face by ‘Christine’ would damage the prosthetics. There was also the problem of putting the mask back in the action by the Phantom.

I was given the face cast of the make up and the soft mask. I made a new cast (the one displayed) of this and decided to try 1mm clear PVC. Maria told me the mask should look like porcelain, like a china doll. I used a heat gun to hand mould the masks. Car spray was applied, first primer then ivory. I then used shoe sprays to get a bloom on the cheek and shading. The next problem was how to keep the mask in place and yet make it easily removable. I knew it had to be very simple. It could not go around the head. It had to be secure therefore the mask had to be pressed down on the face. Then came the idea of a continuous piano wire ‘clip’. It was a quarter of a sphere in shape. The next day I went to the rehearsal and showed Michael and Maria what I had come up with. Michael wanted to try other variations but I knew the simplicity of the solution was right.

'The Red Death Mask' Act 11

The Opening of Act 11 was the famous Bal de Masque that takes place on the grand staircase of the Palais Gardiner, or Paris Opera House. I used the film still I had in my own collection of Lon Chaney as the Phantom in the 1925 silent film.

The mask is larger than life size as originally the Phantom was going to come down the staircase on stilts. Although the stilts were cut the mask was not altered.

The liner of the mask was originally cast on each new artist playing the Phantom. A space had to be made to accommodate the microphone. The first part of the dialogue was on a click track (recorded) but the last bit was spoken. It was not taken of during the action but the jaw was articulated and made the mask very animated.