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Face to No-Face with Costumer Jessica Smith

Theatre major Jessica Smith completed a functional Renee Montoya costume as part of her college capstone project, and was kind enough to share pictures and details of how her costume was created for our week of Renee Montoya-themed content. Jessica was also kind enough to meet me at 2008’s HeroesCon so I could see the costume in person. Her mask was as functional as she describes it to be here, and she wowed numerous attendees with her facelessness.

Question 1.0

Jessica Smith\'s Montoya Costume 1.0

For Halloween 2007, I had decided on doing Renee Montoya’s The Question for my costume, for two reasons: one, it was relatively easy to do, and two, I needed to look at least close to normal at work (the party I was planning to attend started almost immediately after I got off, plus a 45-minute drive offered me little time to change and properly do make-up, hair, etc.). So I decided to emulate the first splash page in the comic 52 where Montoya appears as The Question. The supplies I needed for this prototype were easy to come by. Honestly it was just a “pull stuff out of the closet and see what works”. I already had a fedora, black pants, blue shirt, red tie, shoes and belt. The trench coat I bought, along with a short leather jacket that would eventually be part of my Question 2.0 version, at an outlet store. It was coming up with the mask that was the hard part.

After searching various sites and message boards and noting people’s techniques, I was still very limited by what I could choose to do, since I knew my coming into work with cloth spirit gummed to my face would almost certainly get me fired or at least sent home. So I bought a blank full face mask at a craft store, painted it to near enough match my skin tone and then proceeded to glue two layers of panty hose over it. I could see well enough through it and it went over well during the party and at work (I scared the secretary when I in that morning). The only problem was that the little kids kept saying they could see my mouth, nose and eyes. Looking back at pictures, you could see the mask’s face shape clearly, which annoyed me as The Question was not supposed to have a face. Then and there, I decided to make a better mask.

Question 2.0

Jessica Smith\'s Montoya Costume 2.0

The next opportunity to fix my costume was for my final college project (I’m a theatre major, for those who’re interested). I remade the entire thing along (basing it off of the Crime Bible mini) with sewing two other comic book costumes. Again, for the most part, the supplies were things I already had; boots, jeans, black long sleeve shirt, fedora, black gloves, belt, and the leather jacket I had bought the past Halloween. As for the mask, I decided early on to choose cheesecloth as the fabric base. It didn’t squish my face down, I felt comfortable with it on, and the important part was the visibility through it. I decided to use six layers of cheesecloth I had bought in the fabric section of Wal-Mart (six yards comes in a little bag for less than $10 if I remember correctly). Coming up with the face adhering part was a bit more difficult. Spirit gum was, again, out of the question. It’s a two person job, and everyone I contacted to help apply it wasn’t available, so I was once again stuck with a mask that I had to put on and take off myself. I would mentally plan out ideas and maybe sketch out the few that seemed most likely, not wanting to go through the trouble of making something if I didn’t know for sure it would work.

Close-up of Jessica Smith\'s mask

I can’t remember how, but I finally settled on using a wire frame in the shape of my head, following my hairline and jaw line. It would attach to my face with wire hooks going over my ears, like a pair of glasses. Again, going to my local craft store, I picked up flesh toned craft paint, 18 & 32 gauge floral wire, and tacky glue. The paint was the closest I could get to my pigment. I’m naturally very pale, so make-up and paint are hard to find in my color, plus I tan easily, so no matter what I tried to do, the mask still hasn’t quite matched my skin since I made it in March and it’s now summer and I’ve unwillingly got a little sun. Despite this, I am happy with the way it turned out.

Close-up of Jessica Smith\'s mask

Taking two pieces of 18 gauge wire, I molded one along the underside of my jaw line, hoping to hide the majority of the seam, and the other along my hairline. I brought the pieces together at the top part of my ear, where it attaches to your head, and curved the extra length around it. In order to secure the two pieces, I wrapped the thinner gauge wire around where they intersected. I gave the frame a test run, talking and walking around for a good length of time. There was very little discomfort and for a brief period of time, I forgot I had it on. Plus, I could talk normally with it on.

The next step was to dye the cheesecloth. Taking about a yard of the material, I folded it up into a container filled with the craft paint and water, to make it a bit more fluid than normal. Making sure the cloth had thoroughly soaked in the flesh toned mixture, I let it hang dry, taking about 30 or so minutes.

Jessica Smith\'s Montoya Costume 2.0

While the cloth was drying, I returned to the frame and painted it with the remaining bit of flesh toned paint, in order to remove any possible hint of metallic shine. Once that was dry, I took a scrap piece of muslin (any fabric that behaves similar to the one you intend to use in the long run is fine), placed it on my face, attached the wire frame over it, and, after making a few adjustments to smooth out wrinkles in the fabric, I traced the wire outline of the frame (while wearing it, yes I’m crazy and I did end up with marker on my face). I removed the muslin and added a ¼ inch allowance for folding purposes. Once that was done, I had a pattern for the cheesecloth.

Taking the now dried and dyed cloth, I folded it over six times and tested it make sure I could still see out of it, which I could. Cutting the patterned shape out, I lined it up to my wire frame and glued it down, starting at the four points of the head; where the wires connected to each other, the center of the chin, and the center of the forehead. The extra ¼ inch gave me room to fold the fabric around the wire and also provides a slight cushion between my face and the wire, though not enough to distort the image of your face. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need that much extra, but I wasn’t sure. I worked my way around the frame, taking my time, since the tacky glue was not fast drying and easy to work with.

Jessica Smith and unidentified party-goer

Once the glue was dry, I tried it on. It fit like a glove and I could easily run around my two story house with it on. My long hair and my fedora manage to hide the seam along my forehead and the hooks behind my ears. I’ve tested it out in public, and scared many a college student and professor (at one point, I was nearly kicked out of my college’s end of the year theatre party because no one knew who I was). Overall, I am definitely pleased with the outcome of the mask. In the future, I may try to tweak it a bit more (most likely with the cloth dying).

Jessica Smith and Eric Newsom

2 Responses to “Face to No-Face with Costumer Jessica Smith”

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