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How to Make a Realistic Duplicate of Your Head and Face (for Zoom)

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

Wouldn’t you love a guilt-free break from Zooming? Try to imagine it. The ability to have a single night’s relief from screaming into a computer during an ultimately dispiriting facsimile of a “hang-out” with your friends or loved ones, without the stigma that accompanies turning down the invitation. The ability to act as a sounding board for your in-laws’ thoughts about lifting isolation restrictions, without having to be a sounding board for your in-laws’ thoughts about lifting isolation restrictions. The ability to present an attentive audience for your boss during a “meeting,” while you just close your eyes or lie on the ground or do literally anything else, for the love of God.

Believe me when I tell you: I can bring you this relief.

“Papier-mâché,” which is French for “chewed paper,” has been used in various forms since 200 B.C. The method of using pulpy scraps of paper, combined with paste or flour, was particularly big with British people during the Georgian and Victorian periods, when it was mostly used to create decorative objects. Now, in 2020 A.D, an American has used the method to cover a balloon in order to create a realistic head and face stand-in for video conferences. (Me.)

To make my head, I turned to the WikiHow page for “How to Make Mannequin Heads.” My method varied somewhat, so I’d like to walk you through it. Here are the materials you’ll need to create your own head, which we will discuss in greater detail as we come to them.

•Empty soda can
•Coins or sand

Step 1: Prepare Your Base and Balloon

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

For the base, or “neck,” I cut the top off of a seltzer can. Your base needs to be weighty to support the eventual papier-mâché, so WikiHow suggests you fill it with sand. I don’t keep sand in my apartment, so I used coins that I’d previously kept in a bag. Now the coins are in my head, which is functioning as sort of a piggy bank.

I happened to have a bag of party balloons in my apartment already. If you aren’t quite as prepared, you can check your local convenience store. If you find they don’t carry balloons and roll the options around in your head and realize the next-best thing to balloons is condoms, well, I won’t judge you. And don’t be embarrassed. “I’m not using them for anything weird,” you can tell the person behind the counter. “They’re just for a mannequin.”

Cover the jagged edges of your can with tape, and put your balloon in there, on top of the coins. Then tape it to the can sturdily, using my handsome photo (above) for guidance.

Step 2: Coat the Balloon With Flour Mixture and Paper

The recipe for the flour mixture is two parts water to one part flour. Now, I know flour is hard to come by. If you’d like to make a head but you’d rather not waste the flour, there are some alternative options to be found through searching online. They’re mostly glue-related. Maybe you have glue?

Cut your newspaper (“skin”) into strips, and dip the strips into your mixture. I’ll warn you not to make too big of a batch of the flour mixture at any one point, because you have to wait between newspaper coats, and each coat can take several hours to dry, during which time the mixture becomes gross.

Dip your newspaper, take off the excess paste, and place it on your balloon; continue on like this until the balloon is covered. When she’s all dry, you can do another full coat. Attach four coats of newspaper in total. This took me two days, but maybe the air in your home is drier. Consider placing your head in the window so she might have a view while she becomes herself.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

Step 3: Make Your Nose

You can add other facial features, too, but I found the nose was the only one that seemed particularly necessary in telegraphing a head. Attempting to duplicate my nose as exactly as possible, I folded up some newspaper into a nose shape, and taped it (using painter’s tape) to the skull. Then I covered it with some of the newspaper and paste mixture. The head was finally beginning to become very similar-looking to my own.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

Step 4: Paint Your Face and Outfit

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

When your features are dry, it’s finally time to paint. First, paint on your flesh. Then, it’s time to choose a permanent outfit to paint onto the neck. I recommend not going with anything particularly flashy — you don’t want people noticing that you’re wearing the same blouse with a decorative keyhole neckline in every Zoom, for example. For my outfit I chose a simple black turtleneck, which my colleague Emilia Petrarca once called “the official getup of those with something to hide.” What am I hiding? Of course, the fact that I’m not really there at all…

Then all you have to do is look into a mirror and paint on your exact face. Take your time with it. Really look at the shape of your eyes, the length of your eyebrows, the placement of your lips. It doesn’t need to be photorealistic, exactly, as the Zoom feed tends to be a little blurry anyway, but it should be as close to your real face as possible.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

Step 5: Figure Out Your Hair

Do you have yarn? If you knit, you can use the yarn from your knitting. I don’t have yarn, and didn’t realize that I didn’t have anything that could realistically act as hair until it came time to put the hair on, so I (smartly) used more newspaper strips and painted them the color of my hair, which is brown.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

My hair is curly, so I also curled the “hair” by scrunching it with my hands. I also dabbed on some “blush” (pink paint mimicking Glossier’s “Cloud Paint” in “Puff”) to my face, to look Zoom-ready. The effect, you’ll agree, is quite stunning. (I promise you what you see below is not a picture of a human head. It is, in fact, papier-mâché.)

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

Step 6: Get Zooming

Ah, and now to experience the fruit of our labor! Set up your second head and get “Zooming”!

You can Zoom with your c-oworkers.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

You can join a “happy hour” Zoom with your family.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

You can take part in a “celebration” Zoom (the party hat) with your boyfriend.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

And you can “hear” all about your dog’s day.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

Some Questions and Answers

Now, I know you might have some logistical questions about using your second head. I’ve done my best to anticipate them and have answered them here.

Will people in the Zoom notice I’m not talking? 
Yes, but this can be solved several ways. The easiest is to place yourself on mute, assuming other people will think you’ve done it by accident. If you’re called upon to speak and the result is silence (even though you’re clearly in the call, everyone can see you) someone in the group will eventually notice you’re on mute. “Hey, you’re on mute!” they’ll tell you. “You’re on mute!!!” Eventually they’ll get tired of trying to make you understand that you’re on mute and they’ll move on to someone else.

If you must speak — maybe it’s a work call where you have to, at some point, present an idea — make sure to stay within earshot of the computer. When it’s your turn to talk, crawl beneath your screen and slowly rise up, replacing your second head with your first (real) head as you go. After you’ve finished speaking, do the same move in reverse. To the other Zoomers no change will have taken place, and you can get back to what you were doing.

Will people in the Zoom notice I’m not moving? 
No, I don’t think so. I suspect most people in Zooms either look at themselves or at the person talking. Since you won’t be talking, I don’t imagine many people will look at you. If you run into an issue (maybe you hear some murmuring about how you’ve become oddly still) text someone in the Zoom, “Ugh, do you guys see me waving? I think my Zoom might be frozen.” Ask several times (“Can you see me waving now?”; “I see you guys moving but I don’t know if you can see me”; “Does anyone know how to get it to unfreeze?”) until they stop bringing it up.

Should I feel guilty about using my second head when people usually just want to Zoom with me because they love me and miss my company?
If you’re the type to create an ultra-realistic version of your head to use in a Zoom call just so you don’t have to decline the invitation, I have to assume you’re going to experience some guilt here, yes. I suggest burying it. What your loved ones don’t know (that you’re not really there and that they are, in fact, talking to a papier-mâché head) won’t hurt them. 

What do I do with my head when I’m not using it for Zoom? 
I’d suggest keeping her by an open window where she can feel the breeze and see the sights. Alternatively, you can sit her next to you while you watch TV. She isn’t just a Zoom head, you know. She’s a friend.

How to Make a Realistic Duplicate of Your Head and Face