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What is a Prosthetic Face?

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  • Written By: G.W. Poulos
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2016
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A prosthetic face serves a function similar to any other prosthetic device: to replace a missing or damaged body part with an artificial substitute for either functional or cosmetic purposes. Prosthetic faces are custom manufactured from a variety of materials depending on the purpose of the prosthetic and the frequency of its use. In many cases, a prosthetic face is used to conceal a facial deformity resulting from either a birth defect or an injury. Prosthetic faces are also important elements in the special effects industry, finding use in both film and theater.

In medical applications, prosthetic faces can conceal the results of a serious injury or a deformity — such as scarring from severe burns or missing facial sections — that cannot be corrected with cosmetic surgery. This type of prosthetic face can be attached to the wearer with adhesives, though the frequency and duration of wear means they are often designed to be held in place by surgically implanted attachment devices or magnets. Medical prosthetic faces are not generally considered to be solely cosmetic. They replace missing facial attributes, allow their wearers to more favorably interact with society, and contribute significantly to the emotional well-being of the patient. In many cases, a prosthetic face is a patient’s only choice when desiring meaningful and undistracted interaction with other people.

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The entertainment industry frequently uses prosthetic faces to make actors appear older, younger or someone else altogether. They are also used to simulate injuries or other changes in an actor’s appearance that might occur to a character over the time a story spans. These types of prosthetic faces are often made from a cast of the actor’s face and then adjusted, textured and painted to match the actor’s skin tone as much as possible. Once completed, the prosthetic face is applied to the actor’s face with adhesives and the edges are feathered out and blended to hide them. In this way, prosthetic faces allow actors to appear to be nearly anyone or anything from historical figures to creatures from another planet.

Prosthetic faces are not the same thing as masks. In the strictest terms, masks hide a person’s identity or present it in such a way that it is understood that the person serves as a representation or an avatar of someone or something else. In medical applications, a prosthetic face is designed with the intention of restoring a person’s actual identity. In theater and film use, prosthetic faces are intended to change a person’s identity in such a way that he is not seen as a representation but as an actual incarnation of someone or something else.

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Lostnfound
Post 2

@Grivusangel -- I remember seeing the photos of him wearing it. It did look good.

As far as entertainment and changing an actor's appearance go, I think one of the best uses of prosthetics I ever saw was what the makeup people did to Robin Williams for "Mrs. Doubtfire." You never would have known it was the same person! Seems like I remember reading an interview where he actually went shopping or something in public and no one recognized him. Everyone thought he was an elderly English lady.

Prosthetic faces aren't even revolutionary in Hollywood anymore. Now they were when "An American Werewolf in London" was released. That was one amazing transformation -- all done without benefit of CGI, too.

Grivusangel
Post 1

Before film critic Roger Ebert died, someone made him a face prosthetic that went under his chin and supported his neck. He could not close his mouth unless the prosthesis was in place. It actually looked very good and you had to really peer at it to see it.

It didn't make him look exactly as he had before his jaw surgery, but it was certainly a very good prosthesis and made him look much less like he'd had the surgery.

Hollywood's special effects teams are really helping the field of prosthetics in making these kinds of appliances that are more cosmetically realistic than ever.

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