Hair blocking: techniques & innovations
Sometimes production requirements force new and innovative ways of dealing with an old problem. In the advent of high definition television, some of the old tried and true techniques - like bald pates - don't always work out so well.
Several years ago, I was brought in on a project (a tv series for USA network called "the war next door") to try to help the hair and makeup department figure out how to transform a stunt man's full head of hair so as to match the horseshoe fringed lead actor. The stunt man wasn't willing to shave his head, so the effect had to be temporary, water resistant, and fireproof...and something that could be done effectively in a reasonable amount of time (approx 1.5 hours)
Obviously, flammable adhesives like 355 (or medical adhesives) were out of the question, and a bald pate would not be appropriate, since all we needed was a partial hair blocking technique. I quickly realized that I didn't have the materials on hand, but experimented with a few ideas which lead to my creating a water based hair blocking material that would also act as a separator (essential for easy removal of the effect). I figured if I had a proper barrier on the hair, it would allow me to apply any latex based material such as pros-aid or pax, right over it. As it turned out, the effect that was created worked out well for that production and was an ideal way for me to figure out how to refine that initial idea.
About a year ago, I was approached about recreating this effect - this time for the series finale of ReGenesis: shot in HD, all close ups, all court scenes (i.e. no big movements to forgive the flaws). Lead actor, Peter Outerbridge's character was to be aged to 75 years - so, wig maker Dawn Rivard had made a beautiful ventilated grey wig which matched Peter's length and hairline, but was considerbly more sparse than Peter's own hair. And that was the problem: Peter's darker hair was reading through the base of the wig. The fact that Peter didn't want to wear a bald pate didn't much matter, since it wasn't a viable option for high def. It seems the producers had approached several effects companies to try to deal with this, and few were willing to attempt a solution. A full prosthetic had been tested, and ultimately rejected - and time was closing in.
I was aware that creating the proper effect was becoming somewhat of a sensitive issue for the production, and though I was quite willing to go in and try to help them out, I wanted to be sure that all parties involved were clear on some of the limitations. Since I hadn't worked with Peter before, I had no guage as to how sweaty he might become. Also, once the effect was done, we were going to have to glue down a wig all around the perimiter which meant getting in for any repairs after the fact was going to be nearly impossible. They might have a good 4 hours to get the close ups...but after that, all bets would be off, since I couldn't guarantee what would happen after that.
As effective as it can be, this application does have its limitations. Hair length and density can become factors. It won't work very well on anyone who might perspire a lot (similar in the way that latex starts to discolor and will lift away with sweat), and once the effect starts to break down, it's pretty tough to salvage and repairs are never going to bring it back to it's original look. Taking the time to prepare a good base, patience, and good color matching are key to making this work.
In the end, I couldn't have asked for a better candidate than Peter. He was in that look for 3 or 4 days - our last day was over 18 hours long. I've never worked with an actor who perspired less! There were very few touch ups required on the blocked pate - our biggest issue was keeping the lace edges on the wig glued down flat, as the lace had to be cut back to within an 1/8th of an inch from the edge. I would never use this example to suggest that this technique could work effectively for that length of time, with High definition, extreme closeups, and static shots - I suspect I just lucked out with Peter on that one! However, putting it through this test makes me think it could be a pretty useful tool in other high def applications.
The photo illustrates a quick makeup test that was done for feasibility - it wasn't the final product by any means...but I've posted it so that the elements (lace, blocking, etc) are visible. I've also used the hair block for many character elements like changing hairlines, blocking out brows...check out the photo samples for other applications of this technique