The most famous wax museum might be Madame Tussauds in London, England. And that's understandable, considering that French artist Anne-Marie "Marie" Tussaud founded the London landmark after she began sculpting wax figures over 200 years ago.
If you've ever seen a wax figure up close, you know how lifelike they are. In fact, people can mistake a wax figure for the real person from just a few feet away. So how do artists create such lifelike figures out of wax?
Despite all the advances in technology over the last 200 years, the process of making a wax figure hasn't changed much in the last two centuries. The process today closely resembles that used by Marie Tussaud long ago.
If you're going to make a lifelike wax figure, you're going to need lots of two things: time and money. Experts estimate it takes roughly 350 hours to create a modern wax figure. Over the course of that 350 hours, you'll also likely spend between $150,000-$300,000!
Sculptors of wax figures start by getting to know their subject. By looking at photographs and watching videos, they get to know what their subject looks like and how he or she behaves. If at all possible, they will also try to meet with their subject in order to observe them closely and take precise measurements.
They start the construction process by building a full-size clay model with a steel frame for the body. The head, which contains the most detail and is the most difficult part to perfect, is created as a separate, removable piece.
Once they have the clay model finished, sculptors then create a plaster mold of the face and head. After removing the plaster mold from the clay model, they fill the hollow mold with hot wax and then let it cool, so that the thick layer of wax hardens. At that point, the plaster mold can be removed.
Precise tools can then be used to add fine details to the wax face and head. For the eyes, hand-painted acrylic eyeballs are placed into the eye sockets. Multiple layers of oil paint are applied to create the right skin tone and accentuate prominent facial features. Facial and head hair, as well as clothing, is then added to finish the figure.
Why make figures out of wax? Sculptors note that wax is easy to cut and shape at room temperature. It also mixes with colors and takes paint very well. It's also easy to manipulate with other materials to get the precise texture and consistency desired to be as lifelike as possible.