What do you get when you use six moulds, with a drying time of two hours, four times a day for about three months? No fewer than seven hundred foam skulls! Props manager Peter Paul Oort talks about this big job for Puccini’s Turandot.
“We thought we’d be able to buy them, actually,” says Peter Paul as he starts his story. But it was not that easy. “I’d brought a skeleton with me on stage for the trial setup — when a test version of the decor is put up. Looking back, I should have let someone shorter do it because then the skeleton would have looked much larger in comparison. But when I stood next to it, the director Barrie Kosky called out almost immediately, ‘Bigger! It has to be bigger!’ Which meant the skeleton plus all the skulls had to be produced by hand in a bigger size.”
Where do you start with something like that? “First I played around a bit with clay, with the head of the skeleton I’d brought with me. That let me keep to the original shapes and eventually get a skull that is one third larger. Based on that clay model, we made various moulds. They consisted of a wooden support mould with a rubber lining that produces precisely the right shape. You pour liquid polyurethane foam through a small hole. That foam expands immensely and hardens. Then you slide the two halves of the mould apart and hey presto, you have your own handmade skull.”
But one skull was not the target — the process then had to be repeated seven hundred times. “Everyone took turns, so a different colleague was working on the moulds every day. Then we painted them. Finally, we sawed off the back at a slightly different angle for each skull. We did this to make sure they’d all hang slightly differently, as the skulls would be on display together. All that manual labour got a bit boring in the end, but the final result is quite spectacular. Being able to translate a designer’s concept into something tangible — and impressive — like this always makes me feel so proud.”
- Turandot will run from 2 to 30 December 2022 at Dutch National Opera.