Casting Perfect Ears

Ear Casting

Ears are one of the most delicate body parts due to their intricacy and thinness, thus they need special care their reproduction. This section describes the methods involved in artistic ear casting rather than medical ear casting. Medical ear casting is done by an audiologist or an Orthotists for fitting hearing aids or even replacing an ear. The mold making is usually done with silicone rubber, most often with a premix in a syringe that is squirted into or on the air to create a mold of the inner or exterior ear.

Instead, we will explain the two most common artistic methods used in ear casting. The first method is usually employed by E F/X artists to create a complete ear, often cast in silicone and flesh colored for a realistic looking ear (Figure 1). The second method is the one employed by life casting artists who are creating a ¾ or whole head casting. In that case, creating a perfect ear is a requirement for a professional looking results.Ears are one of the most delicate body parts due to their intricacy and thinness, thus they need special care their reproduction.

This section describes the methods involved in artistic ear casting rather than medical ear casting. Medical ear casting is done by an audiologist or an Orthotists for fitting hearing aids or even replacing an ear. The mold making is usually done with silicone rubber, most often with a premix in a syringe that is squirted into or on the air to create a mold of the inner or exterior ear. Instead, we will explain the two most common artistic methods used in ear casting. The first method is usually employed by E F/X artists to create a complete ear, often cast in silicone and flesh colored for a realistic looking ear (Figure 1). The second method is the one employed by life casting artists who are creating a ¾ or whole head casting. In that case, creating a perfect ear is a requirement for a professional looking results.

The E F/X Method. The quickest and simplest way to cast an ear is by cutting a 16-oz Dixie cup in half and retaining the part with both open ends. The model is then seated and given a pillow upon which to lay their head – one ear is down on the pillow, while the other, to be cast, is facing up (Figure 2.). The cup is placed over the ear with the model holding it in place. FiberGel alginate is mixed at a ratio of 5 ounces (142 grams) of FiberGel alginate to one pound (454 grams) of water.

The materials are listed below:

Molding Materials
  • 1/2 lb. alginate.
  • 1-lb. plaster art stone
  • (2 )2.5 gallon mixing buckets
  • (6) cotton ear swabs
  • (1) 9'x12' plastic drop cloth; use some to cover the floor and some to cover your model
  • Cloth towels, for cleanup and model comfort
  • Paper towels
  • Hairband to pull back the hair 

Figure 2. The model lies on a pillow with the ear to be cast facing up. The bottom of a 16 Oz. Dixie cup is slice off and the model holds the remainer of the cup around her ear.

When the mix is smooth and creamy it is slowly poured into the mold cup (Figure 3) until it has covered the ear to about a depth of one inch at the highest point of the ear. This thickness is important since the mold is being made without the standard shell mold. The thickness of the alginate along is enough to support the mold for casting. 

Figure 3. Alginate is poured into the cup to a depth of about one inch above the highest part of the ear.

 The alginate is poured slowly to one side and allowed to envelop the ear rather than pouring haphazardously. This method pushes our and trapped surface air whic later may result in air bubbles.

Figure 4. Pour the alginate on one side until the mold is filled to about one inch above the hihest point of the ear.

Wait at least two minutes after the alginate has set before you de-mold. When you do so, de-mold slowly and carefully. The mold should slowly pull away from the ear. 

Figure 5. When the alginate has cured the mold is removed and inspected for stray particles.

Inspect the mold (Figure 5.) for any loose particles and then flip it on its back. Mix casting plaster, resin or silicone, according to the manufacturer’s instruction on the label. Carefully paint the csting material into the mold. Allow a few minutes for the 'face coat' to set up and then fill the mold by pouring in the casting material to overflow. After the casting cures you can strip away the alginate to reveal your newly cast ear (Figure 6.).

Figure 6. When the alginate has cured the mold is removed and inspected for stray particles.

Casting ears of partial of full head casts separates the inexperienced from the experienced life caster (Figure 7.). We will explain a method developed by the late Dave Parvin, that you can use that usually always results in high quality ear castings.It is a given that ears will always be the most fragile part of a casting. Because of their intricacy and their delicate nature, ears, are perhaps one of the most difficult body parts to cast without flaws. That is because it is difficult trying to get any alginate casting material to cover the ear evenly without voids or air traps in the inner areas of the ear. Another issue, besides developing the correct molding technique has to do with the material itself, because most alginates are too delicate to deliver tear-free results during the de-molding.process. Finally, alginates are just too thin when mixed, to stay in one place without running off the surface of the ear.

To solve the material issue, a specially formulated alginate called, FiberGelTM is used to create ear molds. It is extremely strong, as it is reinforced with fibers. It can also be mixed to a very thick consistency, like peanut butter, which allows it to cling to the area and stay in place without drips. The mix ratio for FiberGel, for molding an ear is 5 ounces (142 grams) of FiberGel alginate to one pound (454 grams) of water. While some may think that this ratio is too thick and will cause surface bubbles, that certainly is not the case.

When FiberGel is mixed properly it is more viscous, so it stays in place better than other alginates of the same consistency. However, a very important point to remember is that you cannot spread it in too thick layers of alginate on the model, expecting the excess to run or drip off. The expectation that the runoff will leave just exactly the right thickness behind, is incorrect. The alginate tends to "avalanche" meaning when there is too much to resist the force of gravity, almost all of it slides off. Putting on only as much as will stay put requires some experience and a familiarity with the particular alginate one is using.

Molding Materials

It is important to carefully push the alginate into the ears and check it several times as the alginate gets the back and the underneath of the ears that are most problematic. This is especially true if the subject has very short or no hair.

The late David Parvin, renown life caster, teacher and sculptor explained his method in the May 2004, Sculpture Journal:

Alginate may tend to run or drip off from behind and below the ears even if properly mixed. After the alginate has been applied over the entire surface to be cast, I take a small amount of polyfill or synthetic pillow stuffing (Figure 8.) and dip it in what is left of the alginate. I use about enough to cover the palm of my hand so that soaked, it is about 3 inches long and 3/4 of an inch wide. (Figure 9.) I then place this alginate "sausage" behind and below the ear. Care must be taken to keep from pushing the ear outward, making a classic Dumbo look. So that I can concentrate on the alginate application as a whole, I usually have someone else gently hold the alginate impregnated cotton in place with their fingertips (Figure 10.) until the alginate has set-up. While this only takes a couple of minutes, I instruct the alginate holder to stare at what they are doing. If one looks away, there is a good chance that he/she will allow the piece to slide out of place.

The polyfill has be been dipped in a generous amount of alginate and carefully placed behind the ear. It is done so without added pressure that might push out and distort the look of the naturalness of the ear that is being cast.

The polyfill has be been dipped in a generous amount of alginate and carefully placed behind the ear. It is done so without added pressure that might push out and distort the look of the naturalness of the ear that is being cast.

Once opened, you can force the casting material through it with your fingers (Figure 12.). Continue to push material through as it starts to set to make certain the ear is completely filled. This will provide for a completely perfected cast ear. But it is not perfect in that the back of the ear will be filled in. These is a reinforcement that will prevent future ear damage.

Once opened, you can force the casting material through it with your fingers (Figure 12.). Continue to push material through as it starts to set to make certain the ear is completely filled. This will provide for a completely perfected cast ear. But it is not perfect in that the back of the ear will be filled in. These is a reinforcement that will prevent future ear damage.

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