Make-up artistry is about making the impossible possible. Lauren Wilde is a special effects make-up artist who strives to do just that. Her love of animals has taken her make-up artistry off the beaten path and… well, into the wild. Her diverse skills have helped her to tackle each project her love of animals has steered her towards. One such project is Wilde Animals—a business of faux taxidermy animal head sculptures.
“I started Wilde Animals in 2014, about a year after I moved to L.A., as a way to stay busy and keep my skills sharp,” says Wilde. “At first, I just wanted to see if I could make an animal bust, and I wanted it to be a unique animal that you wouldn’t normally see on a wall, so my first head was a Pacific walrus. Once I successfully made that, I decided to keep making more, but I wanted there to be more of a purpose behind them, so I chose to make them all endangered or vulnerable species to show the beauty of these animals and get people talking about what we can do to help them.”
Wilde Animals was started with Wilde and her partner after a successful Kickstarter campaign, which helped the pair raise funds for the tools needed for the first 10 sculptures. Since then, Wilde has kept the line growing, adding beautiful and fascinating endangered animals to the line regularly.
The heads look realistic, but she doesn’t use any animal products in making them. “For each head, I sculpt the head out of clay, then take a mold of that sculpt, and run the head out of the mold using a flexible foam. Then I paint, fur, scale, etc.—whatever is needed to finish the head. I also make the eyeballs. Then I like mounting the heads to white picture frames so they look more like fine art, but I also have the option to mount them on a wooden plaque in a more taxidermy style.”
Wilde says they are a great conversation starter to talk about endangered animals and how people can make a difference. And “making a difference” doesn’t mean sculpting animal heads to raise awareness, but there are smaller, simpler things one can do. In fact, Wilde posts weekly tips on how to change your everyday life in small ways to make a big difference for the environment and these animals.
Beyond Wilde Animals
In her determination to help endangered animals, Wilde began reaching out to animal organizations, attempting to collaborate. She donated sculptures to some, money to others. And then she came across See Turtles—an organization that helps endangered sea turtles—and this connection led her to a unique project with Paso Pacifico.
“A little over a year ago, I was contacted by Paso Pacifico, a turtle conservation organization, about a new idea and project they had creating fake sea turtle eggs with GPS chips in them to help track and hopefully stop turtle egg poachers. Because of my realistic animal heads and special effects make-up experience, they wanted my help making the outer shell look and feel as realistic as possible.”
Sea turtle eggs are not covered in a hard shell like birds’ eggs, but are “slightly squishy with a thin, rigid, but not brittle, shell,” says biologist and project lead Kim Williams-Guillen.
“I really needed to feel an egg, feel the weight, feel how flexible the shell was,” says Wilde. Since it’s illegal to send sea turtle eggs over the border, Wilde was dependent on freshwater turtle eggs from California. “Even though the turtle was a land turtle, the eggs are very similar to the sea turtle’s eggs. So, it was really eye opening and important for me to feel these eggs and how the shell bends a little.”
Hatching a Turtle Egg Design
“The design of the eggs went through many, many phases,” says Wilde. “Originally, we were sculpting and taking a mold of an egg, using resin, plastics, epoxies—just playing with materials and trying to figure out the best and easiest solution. Then Kim had the idea to use a 3-D printer to print out the eggs. So, then we started the design process all over using a 3-D printer. Kim was experimenting with different types of plastics, and then she would ship me a bunch of different options, and I would play with different solvents or ways to smooth the plastic and also try to come up with options for outer shells, or materials we could apply straight to the eggs.”
There were several challenges along the way. One was that Wilde had to keep simplifying the project, as the long-term goal was to have the design be simple enough that the locals in the areas where the turtle eggs are being poached could be employed to make the faux eggs.
“So, the process of making these eggs can’t require too complex of steps, so I had to re-evaluate a lot of decisions,” says Wilde. “Also, the eggs open in the middle to insert the GPS chip, and that seam can then be sealed up, but there is a separate tab that has to be able to be removed to turn the chip on right before the eggs are sent out into the wild. So, making sure everything was still accessible but also waterproof was very important.”
In the end, Kim ended up finding a better plastic to use in the 3-D printer that could be made almost perfectly smooth, and then Wilde helped come up with the painting materials, a combination of Pros-Aide adhesive and acrylic paint was used to stipple on layers of color, and Pros-Aide bondo was used to seal cracks, then everything was given a final layer of sealant.
“So, all in all,” says Wilde, “the project started off pretty complicated with multi-part molds and a bunch of materials and in the end we kept having to simplify, simplify, simplify and used 3-D printing and painting techniques.
“As far as the results, Kim was the one who went down and launched the first batch of eggs. I haven’t heard yet how that went or if it was successful. I know they just received more funding for the next stage in making this idea better, which is very exciting. It’s been a fun project to be a part of. It was the perfect job mixing special effects make-up and my love for helping animals.”
Wilde recently opened an online store and gallery and is thrilled to now be sharing Wilde Animals with the world!
To see more of Lauren Wilde’s work, visit her website here.