What it takes to be a Madame Tussauds wax figure (pictures)
Studies in wax
Earlier this year, the wax versions of Scarlett Johansson and Nicki Minaj debuted at Madame Tussauds New York. But the process of cloning an Avenger or hitmaking Barbie in wax isn't easy. In fact, it's pretty friggin' complicated...and technical.
The whole ball of wax
From initial sitting to press launch, a typical Madame Tussauds figure takes about four months to make, requires a team of around 20 skilled artists, and costs £150,000, or roughly $212,500. (That's just over AU$324,000 for those of you Down Under.)
Getting the blessing
The first step in completing a celebrity wax figure is getting permission. Believe it or not, some celebrities have expressed no desire to be immortalized and touched by tourists years after they're dead.
Then comes the consultation, where the waxwork team meets with the subject and they discuss the position they'll need to pose in during the modeling process.
Set in wax
Once that pose is chosen, it's set: Recent Tussauds visitors have been caught groping the new figure of Minaj, who is in a crawling position similar to one seen in her video for "Anaconda." After the museum learned of the visitor behavior, it changed the layout of the Minaj display, but not the statue itself.
The fundamental process of making Madame Tussaud's wax creations hasn't changed since its inception. The subject sits for up to 200 measurements with hand-held instruments. Then photographs are shot from every angle to ensure their portrayal is 100 percent accurate.
The eyes, hair and skin are all color matched from samples, so the team has a thorough reference to work from.
A metal armature is constructed to support the clay mold for the head, which is then built up using meticulous detail. The head alone can take from four to six weeks to sculpt.
Sculpting: Two-person job
A second person is required just for sculpting the body, which can take up to five weeks.
A plaster cast is created from the clay sculpture, then melted wax is slowly poured into the mold to avoid air bubbles. After 50 minutes, excess liquid wax is removed to leave a hollow head.
The process is roughly the same as it was 200 years ago.
Not all wax
The heads are constructed from a beeswax mixture made in Japan. The bodies are made from fiberglass.
After the head is finished, the artist inserts the figure's hand-painted eyeballs. The eyes are acrylic, to give them a natural shine.
They even have veins
Red silk threads are added to the eyes for more realism.
(The Madame Tussauds team's choice of figures reflects those celebrities their visitors want to see, based on regular polls and feedback. By popular demand, the boys of Smosh were recently immortalized after the museum was bombarded with requests to turn them into wax figures.)
The teeth are also acrylic and are made as a separate piece before being inserted into the wax head.
Little (or a whole lot of) makeup
Skin coloration can also take up to five days because it requires layering to create the translucent effect of real skin.
The amount of paint (up to 10 layers) depends on skin color and depth. The artist builds up the highlights and lowlights using a two-brush technique and a tapping motion to give an airbrushed-looking finish to the skin.
All too real
All details, including tattoos, freckles, moles and makeup, are then painted on.
The layering of skin pigment is part of what makes a statue (like this one of acting superstar Benedict Cumberbatch) look so realistic. And irresistible.
A little like hair plugs
Real human hair is individually inserted into the wax, including the eyebrows and eyelashes.
Glam squad for statues
The hair is cut and styled to match the desired look...
Unless, of course, there is no hair.
Not so fast!
Before the statues (including this wax Han and Leia) can debut every day, at least two maintenance teams inspect and primp them.
The original Madame Tussaud
Even the origins of the wax museum are fascinating...and a little disturbing. The woman behind the museum was born Marie Grosholtz, who later married Francois Tussaud. Marie was imprisoned in Paris during the French Revolution, and to prove her allegiance to the winning side, she was forced to make "death masks" of executed nobles, including the king and queen.
In 1794, she inherited Dr Philippe Curtius’ wax exhibition, and the rest is history.