tokusatsu helmets: a long and winding road to nowhere (for now.)

We made it through all of 2017 without missing a single Tokusatsu Tuesday at PhilaMOCA. And while the kids had continued to talk about filming their episodic tokusatsu-style drama, it was continually waylayed. They wrote origin stories, but then changed their minds about them. There was lots of costume designing on paper, and friends who had been cast in roles asking when the project was going to be moving along… but I was worried that it was going to die on the vine here.

Then we found the “Tokusatsu Film School” series on YouTube, and all the excuses went right out the window. Trash those old origin stories: let’s start with helmets. The origin stories will come from those. (Claude has been in a phase where every alter ego — her Dungeons and Dragons character, her in-progress Tokusatsu identity — is named Odyssea Vantablack. I love it.)

They were both gung-ho about making helmets. I was only ready to invest in the Amazon purchases as we completed each step, because in watching the three or four episodes of “Tokusatsu Film School” focused on helmet-making, I was pretty overwhelmed. The process of positive/negative/positive… what was a “cast” and what was a “mold”… this has always been something I’ve struggled to understand. Not that I haven’t had opportunity to learn — I have a couple of friends who do quite a lot of this kind of work, from jewelry-making to dolls to TV and film props.

But, as soon as we started doing it, of course, it made sense. The whole process — IF we wanted to believe it was going to result in wearable headgear, that is, and not just a “learning experience” or trail run — was fraught with doubt. Using styrofoam wig heads upon which to base the original clay sculpt positives left us feeling very unsure that what had been sculpted could fit over a human head — even a kid head — if it’s size was the internal measurement of the piece.


We didn’t have to worry, because two out of three of them cracked into pieces by the next morning. Mostly because they were too thin. That was okay — air dry clay is pretty cheap. We decided to re-sculpt (Tucker’s had not broken, but he wanted to beef it up some for size, and to add some more design to it), and to make the plaster casts on the same day as the re-sculpting. We had concluded (and some folks had agreed) that the air-dry clay didn’t necessarily need to be dry when we made the molds.

Tucker’s birthday was spent making the new clay sculpts and the plaster molds.

Rolling the balls of sisal that are soaked in plaster and placed on the outside of the molds was the kids’ job and BĂ©la was surprisingly grossed out.


One and a half out of three molds seemed viable.

The fact that it took six weeks for us to get around to using the polyurethane to make the actual mask/helmet was probably a good indicator of how much hope/interest we had lost. Tuck grimly put on his respirator and sprayed Claudia’s mold down with release spray. He brushed on the polyurethane, added fiberglass, and brushed on more polyurethane as per instructions.


You know what? We know when to call it quits. There is NO way any of us want to live with the smell of this stuff again, and when it comes down to it, we don’t really want to create enclosed “helmets” as much as we want to make masks. And we LIKE the way we make masks. SO — toku-style masks, still on the way, but we will have to save sculpting and casting for another time. (And a smaller project. And a different material, like acrylic.)

Still. Tomorrow night is Tokusatsu Tuesday at PhilaMOCA — the seventh one! — and we haven’t missed one yet. I still say these kids are capable of producing ONE origin story episode in toku-style, with toku-production values, by the end of this learning year.

But thank heavens we can close out THIS chapter.