Realistic Masks

They’re causing problems:

A white bank robber in Ohio recently used a “hyper-realistic” mask manufactured by a small Van Nuys company to disguise himself as a black man, prompting police there to mistakenly arrest an African American man for the crimes.

In October, a 20-year-old Chinese man who wanted asylum in Canada used one of the same company’s masks to transform himself into an elderly white man and slip past airport security in Hong Kong.

Authorities are even starting to think that the so-called Geezer Bandit, a Southern California bank robber believed for months to be an old man, might actually be a younger guy wearing one of the disguises made by SPFXMasks.

News coverage of the incidents has pumped up demand for the masks, which run from $600 to $1,200, according to company owner Rusty Slusser. But he says he’s not happy about it.


Slusser opened SPFXMasks in 2003. His six-person crew uses silicone that looks and feels like flesh, down to the pores. Each strand of hair ­ and it’s human hair ­ is sewn on individually. Artists methodically paint the masks to create realistic skin tones.

“I wanted to make something that looks so real that when you go out for Halloween no one can tell,” Slusser said. “It’s like ‘Mission: Impossible’ ­ you pull it over your head one time and that’s it. It’s like a 10-hour makeup job in 10 seconds.”

He experimented until he found the right recipe for silicone that would seem like skin. A key discovery was that if the inside of the mask is smooth ­ even if the outside is bumpy with pores, a nose and other features ­ it will stretch over most faces and move with facial muscles.

Posted on December 14, 2010 at 1:12 PM57 Comments


Snarki, child of Loki December 14, 2010 1:27 PM

Can we get masks that look like specific people?

I can think of some rather interesting uses for a mask of John Pistole: at airports, TV stations, congressional hearings…

Timmyson December 14, 2010 1:30 PM

Yes, but does it blush when put through security theatre? Maybe the TSA is way ahead of us on this one.

BF Skinner December 14, 2010 1:38 PM

SFX masks. . .
This is the Chinese kid from Hong Kong to Old anglo guy on his way to Canada; Part 2.

Reduce the evidentiary utility of CCTV.
Reduce the detective power of facial recognition.
May be useful to increase the false negatives of a single factor facial recognition system.
Will increase false positives for convictions based on eye-witness testimony. (are we seeing the end of eyewitness acceptablity?)

Would need some way to heat the mask to body temp levels though the IR scanner Rapidscan is making may be able to determine it’s a fake visiage.

Andre LePlume December 14, 2010 2:17 PM

….and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!!

EH December 14, 2010 2:17 PM

OHSHI–! I remember these floating around the BoingBoing world what, a year ago? I didn’t even think of it when they busted the asylum guy! Awesome.

Nobody In Particular December 14, 2010 2:20 PM

“Can we get masks that look like specific people?”

Looks like you can…

“The mother of the wrongly accused man even thought a photo of the robbery suspect she saw on television was a photo of her son, the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office and the attorney for the white defendant said.”

How they handle custom requests is another story. I don’t know if one of the “off the shelf” masks just happens to look so much like one guy that it fooled his mother in a photograph, or if Zdzierak had the mask made to match a photo.

Paranoid December 14, 2010 2:20 PM

@Oh lordy…
“Here we go. Soon you will need a DHS permit to buy a mask or haloween costume. ”

Or better yet, the paranoid DHS will outlaw the wearing of masks. Federal crime if caught wearing a mask of any kind, especially “realistic” masks like those made by SPFXMasks.

mcb December 14, 2010 3:19 PM

Better ban these simulacra as implements of mass deception before somebody smuggles a face bomb onto the Christmas Day flight from N’Djamena International. No doubt an alert passenger will save the day, “This guy was lighting his face on fire but I stomped out the flames.” Still, by New Year’s Day the TSA will implement a new rule requiring travelers to prove we can’t peel off our faces as we pass through the security checkpoint.

Captain Obvious December 14, 2010 3:19 PM

@ Nobody In Particular
“so much like one guy that it fooled his mother in a photograph”

Maybe his mom is white, and thinks all blacks look the same…just like all the eye-witnesses.

Ian December 14, 2010 3:55 PM

@Captain Obvious

“The mother of the wrongly accused (black) man even thought a photo of the robbery suspect she saw on television was a photo of her son, the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office and the attorney for the white defendant said.”

You’ve got the wrong mother, brother. 🙂

WinstonM December 14, 2010 4:11 PM

[ “…the paranoid DHS will outlaw the wearing of masks. Federal crime if caught wearing a mask of any kind…” ]


…worse– the manufacturing-use, sale, transport, importation or possession of “Silicone” will become a Federal felony.

Hollywood actresses will suffer dearly, but there’s a saline-bag alternative.

moz December 14, 2010 4:44 PM

Slusser’s masks pose additional challenges, but the larger issue remains human nature, said Riordan of the Springdale police force.

“It’s not SPFX masks or Rusty Slusser that’s making these people commit crimes,” Riordan said.

a sensible person speaking for law enforcement.. give the man a promotion… no give him dictator for life powers over the TSA (I’d never wish merely being put in charg on him).

moz December 14, 2010 4:50 PM

Incidentally, the quoting system on comments on this blog is really strange. It seems like it strips HTML mark up then interprets (at least) control characters and then gives that back to the preview window.. There has to be something wrong with that. Anyway, I’m just happy to manage to post at all 🙂

Seiran December 14, 2010 5:00 PM

@BF Skinner, false positives based on eyewitness testimony might increase in the short term, but once these kind of cases are more prevalent and widely known, there is a corresponding increase in plausible deniability.

It was only a matter of time until humans’ favorite and most ancient biometric, the facial image, would be broken. Fingerprints are already clonable (search for “CCC Wolfgang Schäuble fingerprints”), and passable voice spoofing is available for high-level applications courtesy of Los Alamos National Labs (search for “I am being treated well by my captors”). It’s only a matter of time until the voice generator trickles down within reach of hobbyists, too.

There are already accusations of fraudulent “telemarketing” outfits editing phone calls to falsify verbal confirmation, by copying a customer’s “yes” from other portions of the call.

Photographic still evidence is already being called into doubt, mostly owing to the existence of Adobe® Photoshop® software and its ilk. Once 3D rendering technology advances to the point where an animated “security camera video” can be made forensically-realistic, we may very well see video evidence called into question. Technology could be on the way to enabling SFX forgery artists to frame or vindicate potential suspects. If and when this happens, it would hopefully lead to the inadmissibility of video as a reliable form of evidence.

I note with concern that courts have been known to accept printouts into evidence, but these can usually be backed by some original source, and any lawyer worth his or her carbon should be able to challenge any crucial evidence where there is a break in the chain of custody.

Eventually, on-demand DNA foundries will make genetic copying more accessible than ever. Should DNA evidence be tossed next?

“Your honor, the jury, I did not steal the cookies from the cookie jar. The video showing that I did that, is fake. I can tell by some of the pixels, and from seeing quite a few renders in my time. Secondly, most security camera footage is not widescreen. They do not have soundtracks. I would also like to note that the complaining witness used to work for Weta Digital, and is currently employed by The Walt Disney Company.”

wx December 14, 2010 5:49 PM


I’m already wearing my Bruce Schneier mask.

And next you will be running a Bruce Schneier security blog complete with a picture of you in the Bruce Schneier mask…

Dirk Praet December 14, 2010 6:01 PM

Why is anybody thinking this technology wasn’t already around long before SPFX brought it to the masses ?

@ Paranoid: where I live, wearing a mask or making yourself unrecognisable in any other way already is a federal crime, except on Carnival. And yes, we are on our way to having a ban on full islamic veils as well.

Ben Senise December 14, 2010 6:52 PM

“Or better yet, the paranoid DHS will outlaw the wearing of masks.”
Actually, in many countries it is illegal to wear a mask that conceals your identity. If I am not mistaken this is the case in Switzerland.

Vinnie December 14, 2010 9:46 PM

UV and other wavelengths easily betray masks.
When wearing yours, stay away from mineral displays, grow operations, and cheezy bars. And never let TSA shine their flashlight at your kisser.

spaceman spiff December 14, 2010 10:52 PM


Actually, Osama is Glen Beck wearing a bin Laden mask! He does that just to rile the natives here in the good ol’ US of A.

Thomas December 14, 2010 11:44 PM

“Technology could be on the way to enabling SFX forgery artists to frame or vindicate potential suspects.”

The video evidence clearly shows that it was the mask-wearing velociraptor, not my client, that eviscerated the victim!

RL December 15, 2010 2:06 AM

Oh oh dear me, time to check my Facebook photos and remove those uniquely identifying marks. You do have to hand it to the guy, a touch moviesque but nonetheless entertaining news item. I’d have thought that I wouldn’t use a iPhone tho’.

Johnny Rocketfingers December 15, 2010 5:39 AM

I’m just thinking about how the TSA will cite this for their next ‘pre-emptive’ security measure;

Terrorists might be wearing a mask to hide their obvious Arabian features. So from now on, all passengers going through a check point will need to have their face pulled.

kingsnake December 15, 2010 6:55 AM

You all miss the point: The TSA won’t ban masks until after some yahoo tries to smuggle a bomb in one. (The Jummy Durante model can pack 10 pounds of PETN.) Then they will ban all masks. Make up too.

Clive Robinson December 15, 2010 7:14 AM

@ Paranoid,

“Or better yet, the paranoid DHS will outlaw the wearing of masks.”

As others have noted it is already an offence in some jurisdiction as is wearing the full face veil not just in public but privatly.

In other places there have been attempts to ban the wearing of hats and hoods and even motor bike abd push bike helmets and masks.

It makes me wonder how long befor those of us with eye defects will be forced to wear contact lenses or stumble around blindly. Or all of us be forced into “no facial hair” and all haircuts off of the ears and neck to give face recognition systems a chance to work…

jay December 15, 2010 7:52 AM

There have been warnings by police not to wear Halloween masks in the street in some cities bacause ‘people can commit crimes and not be identifiable’.

But as with so many of these rules, not much use however, because a criminal can just put the mask on for the hold up, and then promptly remove it and walk around completely unobscured.

Johnny December 15, 2010 1:58 PM

“Were the Mosad agents who hit Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai wearing these masks?”

Absolutely not.

On this tech being around: Yes, it has, but these guys did improve it substantially, though they openly describe how they did so. And you can make a mask of anyone…

Johnny December 15, 2010 2:22 PM

Didn’t he post this same article a week or two ago?

Interesting and important, but still.

Airport facial scanners should be able to “see through” masks.

Nick Lancaster December 15, 2010 4:47 PM

It’s not just the masks. Sooner or later, the geniuses will get around to banning the chemicals/compounds for lifecasting and the making of facial prosthetics.

Time to stock up, I guess.

JoeR December 15, 2010 4:52 PM

@Oh lordy:

Yes Mr. DHS representative, I hereby certify my Buzz Lightyear mask is not a that of a real person. Can I go get candy now?

B4ls4 December 16, 2010 2:03 AM

“Each strand of hair ­ and it’s human hair ­ is sewn on individually.”

Where do they get these strands of hair from? They buy them from hair donors?

It’s clever: if one wears the mask while committing a crime, they can leave someone else’s DNA on the crime scene if the sewing job wasn’t done well.

Think about this next time you are at the hairdresser’s. How’s that for a movie-plot?

karrde December 16, 2010 9:01 AM


They might have connections at the local barber shop.

As per ‘someone else’s DNA’, the hair will have been handled by at least one other person before ending in the mask…

Kevin December 16, 2010 9:05 AM

Just thinking about this for about 10 seconds raises another possibility. Imagine you want to commit serious crimes and have (or have access to) the basic skills required to make these kinds of masks. So, you check the streets at night for passed-out drunks, make life-casts of their faces and then make masks to implicate them as the perpetrators of your crimes. Who’s going to believe or defend those people in court? I’m sure there’s a script for a one-off “Monk” episode just asking to be written there.

Interesting question would be if it could fool basic biometrics? Although the features may appear similar, the mask would still generally have to conform to the eye/nose/mouth metrics of the wearer, so systems which measure these parameters should flag that something’s not right.

@foto: That was nearly funny but then just became disturbing when you asked for one for your wife – Unless you meant for her to have a mask of Salma Hayek rather than Salma’s husband… 😉

Kevin December 16, 2010 9:08 AM


My understanding is that a lot of human hair comes from China and it doesn’t necessarily get used for what you might think it would be used for (think food additives…)

Zach December 16, 2010 1:42 PM

@Captain Obvious

Actually, that is a psychologically tested (and proven) stereotype, only most people think it’s only white people vs. blacks. They turned it into a one-sided issue. Really, any race finds it harder to distinguish facial differences in any other race. In the study, it was pretty much equal in all combinations of races. People of a different race (any race) did more poorly in picking out which person matched the picture they had seen.

Richard Steven Hack December 16, 2010 6:47 PM

Not to worry – California will ban them by next Tuesday before lunch, just as it bans everything which have the remotest security implication.

Fortunately the company will be able to move to Nevada where nothing is banned.

Oh, wait, Nevada is right across the border from California. See how effective banning things in California is?

As an aside, can I get one of these to look like Brad Pitt long enough to fool Angelina for a night?

Zorg December 22, 2010 8:36 AM

Get an Elvis Presley (of Elvis as a 70-year old) or Michael Jackson mask and run around in K-Mart.

You might get into Weekly World News (a great American newspaper).

DHS December 22, 2010 8:38 AM

@Richard Steven Hack
As an aside, can I get one of these to look like Brad Pitt long enough to fool Angelina for a night?

It looks like Angelina does not like Brad so much anymore, so she might just slap you…

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