Behind Those Wax Wonders

How Zac Efron and others came to life at Madame Tussauds

Zac Efron celebrated his birthday this week with President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. At least, it looked that way.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 20: Madame Tussauds Washington DC unveils a never before seen wax figure of Zac Efron during an event at The Loft at 600 F on October 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. The figure will go on display at Madame Tussauds in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Madame Tussauds)

The actor actually turned 28 on Sunday, but Tuesday marked the “Neighbors” star’s wax figure debut at the Madame Tussauds gallery in Washington, D.C.

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Efron’s effigy now stands alongside other lifelike reproductions including the aforementioned celebrities as well as Babe Ruth and Michael Jackson.

Madame Tussauds Washington DC Unveils Never Before Seen Zac Efron Wax FigureMaking a wax figure is considerably more work than it seems. For the new Efron statue, the second of the former Disney teen sensation following the original London-based creation, the artist team took more than 250 precise measurements of the actor. The artisans dutifully recorded his finger length and nose width, forehead circumference to earlobe shape to come as closely as possible to recreating Efron’s likeness. Then it took 20 Madame Tussauds studio artists to create the hand-sculpted figure, dressed to impress in a fitted gray suit.

Figure making at its English “Merlin Studios” apparently hasn’t changed fundamentally since Madame Tussauds was founded more than 200 years ago in Marylebone, London, according to the company. The property on which the tourist destination sits was sold earlier this year to a Taiwanese life insurance company for $512 million.

It took 20 Madam Tussauds studio artists to create the hand-sculpted figure, dressed to impress in a fitted gray suit.

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Studio sculptors produce 40-50 figures per year and send them to various facilities around the world, including the Washington, D.C., home of the new Efron figure.

As needed, the sculptors might also take hand and even teeth casts, though no word on whether Efron’s gleaming white smile has been captured for posterity using this technique.

Sculptors begin a new figure by building what’s called an armature, or a skeleton, made out of steel and aluminum rods. The armature is then bulked out with newspaper padding held in place with chicken wire. The arms in particular are constructed from aluminum so they can be moved aside while the body is being worked on. Together, the armature establishes the exact stance and pose of the portrait.

It’s real human hair, not a synthetic.

Madame Tussauds Washington DC Unveils Never Before Seen Zac Efron Wax FigureThe body is then built around the armature using clay. Somewhat disturbingly, the head is constructed separately, detached from the body until the final stage of the process. The figure’s measurements must compensate for the slight shrinkage of the beeswax and Japan wax mix on the final layers, a process that undoubtedly is not something Efron would want to see!

Teeth are made out of dental acrylic, the eyes are glass orbs painted with a fine red silk thread watercolor brush used to create the veining lines, and then cast into acrylic. The hair is supplied by hair merchants, and it isn’t artificial. The museum’s figures use real human hair. And the skin? Color is applied to the wax “skin” using oil paints that are stippled on, built up in layers to create realistic skin color and texture.

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Earlier this month, the London museum showcased six wax figures representing all the actors who have played James Bond on the big screen. That exhibit is set to tour Madame Toussauds locations starting in December.

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