Restoring My Tusken Raider Mask

About 20 years ago, when my first born was about 2, I decided to make some Star Wars costumes for us for Halloween. I had been thinking about building a Tusken Raider mask for years,  and this was a perfect excuse (like I need an excuse). Actually the construction of the mask started months earlier, when a friend of mine who happens to be in possession of one of the three originals (yeah, from A New Hope) offered to shoot some video reference for me. I started by sacrificing a leather jacket and picking up some craft leather. I also drew some blueprints of the metal parts and sent them to my old friend David Penakis to machine for me. He was still in the creature fx biz and working at Amalgamated Dynamics, where he remains to this day. He kindly turned all the aluminum parts (minus the "teeth", those were sculpted by me, poorly, in Super Sculpy).

Me in my unfinished and kludged Tusken Raider costume. My son Austin in his custom made Luke Skywalker costume (minus the shoes, leg wraps, belt, macro binoculars and custom scaled lightsaber I built and he refused to wear, little bastard)

The construction of the mask was clumsy and not fully thought through, sort of my M.O. But through trial and error and a lot of stupid dumb luck I got something looking pretty good. The last few weeks of the build were late nights of weathering fabric, burning myself with hot glue and getting leather dye all over the place. As usual I was super busy at work on a film (probably Armageddon about that time) and only had time to build late at night. And of course, I ran out of time. My son Austin's costume was completed, but mine had to be kludged together just for that night of trick or treating. Now I say Austin's costume was complete, that doesn't mean he actually wore it, he basically wore the shirt and pants and refused to wear any of the rest of it, yeah, all the painstakingly built and half scale stuff that makes it Luke Skywalker, parenthood. Halloween came and went, and I cobbled together a stand to attach to the wall above my home office door (later Austin's room) where it hung collecting dust and slowly falling apart for 20 years. Every once in a while Austin would bring me a part and say "this fell off your mask", and I would drop it into a ziplock with the others. I can't help but wonder how many parts were helped off the mask once he was tall enough to reach it, hmmm...

the very spot the mask hung for 20 years

Fast forward 20 year to a few months ago. I was sitting in that room, which is a spare bedroom now that Austin is off to college, and I looked up at the mask. It was in a sad state, both tusks had fallen off, the teeth were gone and he was missing a horn. Not to mention the 1/4" of dust that had accumulated on it. I decided it was time to restore it, and for that matter, finish it. It had never really gotten the final touches it needed. The leather was unfinished, it needed more weathering, and all sorts or small touches. I pulled it off the wall and moved it to the studio, it was time.

The first task was to generate an alarmingly large cloud of dust with some canned air, it was REALLY dusty. Once I could actually see the surfaces again (oh hey, it's THAT color) I could get good evaluation of it. For the most part it was still in pretty good shape, the parts that hadn't fallen off were all still pretty darn stuck and nothing else seemed to be wrong. I decided to use some gum tragacanth and a burnisher on the edges of the leather, something I picked up while binging knowledge to build my BoB bracer. With the edges looking much cleaner I set about weathering the leather a bit more and staining the "mouth" a little darker. I also cleaned out the old glue and prepped the surfaces to reattach the missing parts. This time around I used E6000 to glue the parts, hopefully they'll stay stuck.

Some gaffers tape comes in handy from time to time. What am I saying, I use that crap every day. Here it's being used to hold the "tusks" in place while the glue cures.

For the "teeth" I wanted to make an upgrade from the original. Way back when I actually sculpted the teeth out of Super Sculpy. I was never super happy with how they turned out. They served their purpose back then, but it was time to use some better technology to make the new ones. I modeled them in Fusion360, using the originals as reference. Once I was happy with the model I exported and printed it in PLA on my Prusa MK3. After several cycles of filler primer and sanding, it was painted gloss black then finished with a Molotow Liquid Chrome pen.

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If you haven't used a Liquid Chrome pen before, let me tell you it's shockingly good, I mean stupid shiny. Here you can see the camera reflected in the surface while I was applying it. I was totally impressed. If you start with a pristine gloss black surface and apply carefully (you can use a refill and an airbrush too!) you will get a pretty fabulous near-mirror finish.

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Before mounting the new chompers it was time for some much needed weathering. The fabric wraps always struck me as a little “fluffy” and didn’t look quite right so I made a very thin burnt sienna wash and gave the whole head a once over. I also took some time to add some stains with a burnt umber wash while everything was wet. Once that dried I went over the head with a nylon brush to get it just fluffy enough and add a little loft to the layers. To add more interest and color variety I picked up some earth tone powdered makeup at the dollar store (the dollar store is your friend) and using some brushes added some subtle color splotches. While I was at the dollar store I picked up a black sheer scarf. I cut out some circles and glued them in behind the eyes and mouth, now you can’t see in, but it’s easy to see out.

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The metal parts were looking way too clean and nice so I attacked them with some files and other steel tools to add some dings and scratches, and followed with my favorite oils, burnt sienna, burnt umber and black to grime them up. I did a similar treatment with the teeth, being far more careful in the ding and scratch department. Once they dried I attached them with E6000.

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The restoration took the better part of a week to complete, but was well worth the effort. I transformed the mask from a bit of an embarrassment hanging in shame in our extra bedroom, to a showpiece I’m proud to show off. In fact, when I started out the project the idea was to just make a display mask, but as the project came together I got an idea on how to go full costume with it, with a little spin. I’ve since completed a respirator, neck wrap, arms and a scratch built leather bandolier. Stay tuned for an update in the coming weeks and months to see how the project comes together.

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