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Better than real thing

By Yan Yiqi (China Daily)

08:50, May 30, 2013

Can you tell which are the humans and which are their silicone effigies? Actors dressed up as the Tang emperor Xuanzong and his concubine Yang Yuhuan stand besides their spitting images. (China Daily)

It was when he was working in cinematic special effects that Zou Renti stumbled upon a unique technique to make lifelike models. The 75-year-old's effigies are so realistic they will have you seeing double. Yan Yiqi reports from Hangzhou.

Madame Tussauds is a name familiar to many Chinese. The lifelike wax effigies are endlessly fascinating to people.

However, few Chinese know that there is another technique to create lifelike sculptures - with results that can look even more real than Madame Tussauds' wax effigies - and that the technique was developed by a Chinese.

Despite Zou Renti developing the technique 21 years ago, and more than 500 museums and galleries around the world exhibiting his 3,000 sculptures, Zou's name and his achievements are not familiar to people outside the museum industry.

Unlike other 75-year-olds who have retired to enjoy a leisurely life, Zou is still working hard.

As director of Xi'an Superman Sculpture Institution, Zou is working to let more people know about this new type of sculptural technique he has invented.

Zou developed his sculpturing technique, which does not have a specific name yet, in 1992. Some people call it hyper-realistic sculpture because he was inspired by Duane Hanson, a hyper-realistic artist in the United States.

Hanson made casts from actual people using fiberglass and vinyl. Zou thought Hanson's techniques limited the range of models he could choose from and fiberglass lacked resemblance to human skin. He used photos rather than actual people as models of his works.

The procedure Zou employed of making an effigy is similar to Madame Tussauds, but instead of using wax, Zou employed silica gel, which is often used in makeup for special effects in movies.

To make a silicone effigy, a sculptor makes a model out of plaster based on photos taken from different angles. Silica gel is pasted on top of the plaster model. The silica gel is then painted to make the skin look realistic, with veins and blemishes.

Compared with wax, silica gel is softer, more durable and feels more like human skin.

Before devoting himself to the world of effigy sculpturing, Zou worked in movie special effects in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, for more than 30 years.

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