Behind the Design: Weta Workshop’s Ghost in the Shell Geisha Mask

Weta’s detailed work on the Geisha masks involved 3D printing and milling numerous pieces mixed with plain, old-fashioned model work. (Image courtesy of Tested)

If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend watching the original animated movie Ghost in the Shell, which will give you an idea of the amount of technical detail prominently featured in the live action adaptation hitting theaters later this month (March 31).

To get an even better idea of the detail in question, Tested’s Adam Savage took a trip to Weta Workshop for a behind the scenes look at how the prominent New Zealand special effects/prop company designed the incredible Geisha masks featured in the movie.

Before I get into their prop-making process, take a look at the trailer to see the results and the design process and the amount of detail going into a project of this magnitude:

As you can imagine, 3D printing plays a major role in bringing the concept into reality and, rightfully so, considering more than several masks are made for each version. For the Geisha mask build, the Weta team used Japanese actress Rila Fukushima (The Wolverine, Game of Thrones, Arrow) as a base for a digital model to create the masks.

Traditional modeling and techniques were used to create and shape some of the mask’s pieces while others, such as the hair were created using 3D printing and milling to make them look immaculate. What’s more, the inside was fitted with tiny fans to create airflow for the actors wearing them, which pulls air in through the nose and exits out of slats hidden within the tiny hair lines.

Some of the masks feature animatronics that utilizes servomotors to open and close the face portion while the inside features actual rotating gears to give it a sort of steampunk look. Image: Tested
Some of the masks feature animatronics that utilizes servomotors to open and close the face portion while the inside features actual rotating gears to give it a sort of steampunk look. Image: Tested

The star of the various Geisha masks certainly goes to the animatronic version, which has an actuated sectioned face panel that opens and closes with a push of a button. The amount of detail going into the internals is astounding and features visible, working gears that rotate, giving it a sort of futuristic steampunk look. If that wasn’t enough, each separate facial section is held to the expanding latches using magnets which self-marry to the correct position when reattached, making it a breeze to work on the mask when necessary.

It’s incredible to see the amount of work a team of nearly 150 people can accomplish when it comes to creating physical props and costumes that go into making a feature film and Weta is no stranger to the effort. Some of you have certainly seen their work on other blockbuster films, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Avatar and District 9 among a host of others dating back to 1987.

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