• Making To Make Happy

Prop Challenge: Horse Heads

I was recently given this challenge: to create two horse head masks for two actors to wear in a production of Cinderella.

Luckily they didn't need to be donned especially quickly, and they were not going to be doing any excessive (or non-horse-like) movement while wearing them. However, they did need to be light, easy to put on and allow for visibility.

Cue thinking time. Much thinking time. So often, much of the creative process is just mulling stuff over...while driving to work, while singing in the bath, while cooking dinner. Sometimes you just need to sit with things and see what comes to you. This is what happened often throughout this challenge.

Having had fun with Worbla over the summer, I knew that could be a light, moldable medium which I could sculpt into a horses head. But I knew that I would need to have some sort of frame to build it on - and one that it wouldn't stick to.

I bought some clay and, having created a basic horse head shape out of cardboard and wire mesh, I started to sculpt a more detailed head over this frame. I focused on positioning the eyes and nostrils, as my main markers.


Building a Worbla frame over a clay guide-base.

Once the clay head was done the Worbla could begin. I cut thin strips and, after, heating them, rolled them into lengths of plastic cord. These were then draped over the clay head to begin forming a mask frame.

The frame was really unsteady at first, but I just kept building it up. For main structural bands I put foam in between two pieces of Worbla for extra strength. The eyes were pieces of Worbla moulded directly against the clay eye and then built up with small cords of Worbla.

Finally I had a horse head frame that could be pulled away from the clay support and could sit on its own.


Worbla frame with wire mesh inserts.

I decided to insert wire mesh panels into sections of the frame - I figured this would lend texture but also support and strength to hold the frame steady.

However, now came the next Big Think. How to get this to sit on an actor's head securely? I had been mulling this throughout, but my initial idea of having the top bar attach at the back (hard to explain without a diagram!) was, in practice, not feasible. Although light, the weight of the nose would just keep pulling the mask forwards.

Eventually, after much thought and holding the horse on my head in front of a mirror, I decided I needed to make a type of head bracket. After trial and error I found a way of doing it which would allow flexibility - meaning the head could be donned and removed without too much effort. Then I attached a ribbon to the back which allowed the mask to be tied and anchored under the actor's chin.

It worked! Phew.

Lastly came the cosmetics. I painted them up in white and then dappled them with greys. I created manes using white and grey foam, attached onto a foam tube which was secured around a stretch of Worbla from the crown.


The finished horse heads

I am really pleased with how they came out - it was definitely a learning curve to make them. Let's hope they withstand show week! :)