Artist at Madame Tussauds keeps his head while others lose theirs — for repair

Nicki Minaj has lost her head. Literally. (To say nothing of the big hole in the middle of her back.)

At the edge of the table where Minaj’s headless body poses provocatively on all fours, there’s a head that looks like it might be hers, but the skin is several shades lighter than the singer’s lattelike complexion.

But at least Minaj has a body — which is more than you can say for poor Bruno Mars, whose head rests nearby. And speaking of heads, who’s the dude missing almost all of his hair? Lenny Kravitz, that’s who.

Tony Bennett’s visage, meanwhile, perches on an adjacent counter. Half of his face looks quite lifelike, thanks to an extremely convincing paint job; the other half seems pale and pasty-faced, a waxy facsimile. Which is, of course, exactly what he (it?) is.

There are other body parts strewn about this Dr. Frankenstein-style laboratory hovering above the Strip, from Elvis Presley’s hand to Shaquille O’Neal’s arm — the latter complete with armpit hair, painstakingly applied strand by strand.

Welcome to the inner sanctum of Madame Tussauds Las Vegas: the studio.

There, four staff artists repair and refurbish more than 100 wax figures showcased in the attraction at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes.

On the top floor, an elevator ride up from the themed celebrity displays, lead studio artist Adam Morey surveys the work tables where the magic happens.

Or, more precisely, re-happens.

Every wax figure on display at the Las Vegas branch of Madame Tussauds — one of seven in the U.S. and 23 around the world — is created at, and shipped from the West London area of Acton. (It takes 20 artists three to four months to create one wax figure, at a cost of $250,000 to $350,000, according to Tussauds officials.)

Once those styled and painted figures arrive in Las Vegas, however, it’s up to Morey and his colleagues to keep them looking their best.

An annual rehab, such as the one for Minaj’s figure — which includes repainting her face and replacing hair, eyebrows and eyelashes — takes about a week, Morey notes.

Notebooks crammed with details from the London creators, right down to the fingernail color, guide the Las Vegas studio artists’ work, he says.

In addition to annual refurbishment, each figure gets a daily touch-up, Morey says.

He arrives at 7 a.m. — three hours before Madame Tussauds opens to the public — to “take care of my friends,” he says. “I touch up paint, I touch up hair, I fix costumes.”

His early-morning patrol “took some getting used to,” the artist admits. But “I don’t mind the upkeep every day.”

Armed with oil paints daubed on a paper palette, Morey uses a paintbrush to retouch the wax figures’ flesh tones. (Acrylic paint is used on the resident Marvel Comics characters, including the Incredible Hulk — who, at 15 feet, is the largest figure at Madame Tussauds.)

A wooden tool enables Morey to smooth out nicks in the wax, he adds. (For its figures, Tussauds uses a mixture of beeswax and Japan wax, a vegetable wax obtained from the berry kernels of an Asian sumac tree.)

The artist also is in charge of removing lipstick smears from such kiss magnets as Justin Bieber and Channing Tatum. (“I’m always taking lipstick off his face,” Morey says as he regards Tatum’s movie-star mug.)

Visitors also are hard on the figures’ ears and fingers, he adds.

That explains the cubbyholes, upstairs in the studio, containing replacement hands organized in alphabetical order, whether Foxx, Jamie, or Jackson, Michael. (Conveniently, former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s spare hand comes with an already-attached martini glass.)

An in-house hairstylist, meanwhile, keeps the figures’ human-hair tresses in shape, because “the hair’s really important to the likenesses,” Morey explains.

Certain figures are periodically restyled to reflect changes in their image. Beyonce, for example, is getting a “Lemonade” makeover to reflect her latest album look.

She’s “one of the heavier ones,” Morey notes, because at one time she (it?) “had a mechanical component.” Most of the figures, he adds, weigh between 30 and 40 pounds.

Although Madame Tussauds features plenty of contemporary pop-culture fixtures, the museum’s history proved a more compelling draw for Morey, 43.

A formally trained artist with a master’s degree from UNLV — who also taught there — Morey previously curated exhibits for the art galleries at the Clark County Government Center and the county-run Winchester Cultural Center.

But he had been “trying to come in here for awhile,” Morey says of Tussauds. “I love the history,” which began in 1777 with French wax sculptor Marie Tussaud, who created the images of writer Voltaire, diplomat Benjamin Franklin, even death masks of aristocrats who were executed during the French Revolution.

“I always just wanted to be a part of that,” Morey says.

His art training definitely comes in handy as he faces such day-to-day challenges as retooling a hand — one that once belonged to George W. Bush’s figure — for Hugh Hefner.

In 2017, Madame Tussauds Las Vegas plans a behind-the-scenes area in the museum, so visitors can glimpse the process studio artists follow to keep the stars looking like themselves.

“To me, this job is so challenging as an artist,” Morey says. “It’s such a weird place to work — but in an interesting, good way.”

Read more stories from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Las Vegas residency
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Vegas residency (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES final night showcases Drake at XS Nightclub
Drake performed for CES attendees and club-goers at XS Nightclub in Encore at Wynn Las Vegas in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (John Katsilometes Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Happy Hour party at Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace
Conventioneers mingled during the Hardware Massive CES 2019 Happy Hour Bash at The Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2019 Has A Cordless Hair Dryer
CES Has A Cordless Hair Dryer (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Panel talks Impossible Burger 2.0
Panel talks Impossible Burger at CES during launch at Border Grill on Monday, Jan. 7. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Dream of AJ Montgomery
AJ Montgomery lost part of his leg in a vehicle accident but found his dream as a performer in “Le Reve.” (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kelly Clinton-Holmes of the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes chats with Kelly Clinton-Holmes, director of the Stirling Club's New Year's Eve entertainment.
Month-by-month entertainment coming in 2019
“True Detective” Season 3, HBO (Jan. 13) Travis Scott, T-Mobile Arena (Feb. 6) Robbie Williams, Encore Theatre at Wynn Las Vegas (March 6, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 16) “Game of Thrones” Season 8, HBO (April) Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas Motor Speedway (May 17-19) “Fiddler on the Roof,” The Smith Center (June 4-9) “The Lion King” (July 19) Psycho Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay (Aug. 16-18) Life is Beautiful, downtown Las Vegas (Sept. 20-22) “Tim Burton @ the Neon Museum” (Oct. 15) “Frozen 2” (Nov. 22) “Star Wars: Episode IX” (Dec. 20)
Lacey Huszcza invites you to find something to love at the Las Vegas Philharmonic
Lacey Huszcza, executive director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic talks about the orchestra's wealth of programming. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gina Marinelli offers La Strega preview
Gina Marinelli used a pop-up New Year’s Eve dinner at Starboard Tack to preview items she’ll feature at her new Summerlin restaurant, La Strega. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Year’s Eve at Sparrow + Wolf
Sparrow + Wolf’s New Year’s Eve party was a sort of official unveiling of its newly renovated space. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Debra Kelleher Of The Stirling Club
Debra Kelleher, DK Hospitality President talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the Stirling Club.
Richard Ditton Of The Stirling Club
Richard Ditton, an investment partner of the Stirling Club talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the club.
NYE at the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes reports from the reopening of the Stirling Club on New Year's Eve 2018.
Michael Stapleton of the Stirling Club
Michael Stapleton, COO of the Stirling Club talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the club.
Recap the Countdown on Fremont Street — VIDEO
Nearly 40,000 people packed Fremont Street to enjoy America's Party Downtown. As the tradition stands, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman counted down the clock on the 3rd Street Stage, alongside her husband and former mayor, Oscar Goodman.
New Year's Eve live from the Las Vegas Strip Bellagio Fountains - Video
Reporter Aaron Drawhorn near the Bellagio Fountains as hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate New Year's Eve in Las Vegas
Ryan Reaves describes the flavors in Training Day beer
Ryan Reaves talks about the flavor of Training Day, the new beer from 7Five Brewing that was launched at the PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves describes his new beer
Golden Knights winger Ryan Reaves talks about his new beer from 7Five Brewing at a launch party at PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas' five biggest NYE concerts
Imagine Dragons at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Lady Gaga at The Park Theater at Park MGM, Maroon 5 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Bruno Mars at T-Mobile Arena, and Tenacious D at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Celebrate New Years Day, Hangover Day and Bloody Mary Day at Cabo Wabo
Celebrate New Years Day, Hangover Day and Bloody Mary Day at Cabo Wabo (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Symon, chef and owner of Mabel's BBQ, talks about his first Las Vegas restaurant
Michael Symon, chef and owner of Mabel's BBQ, talks about his first Las Vegas restaurant. Bizuayehu Tesfaye @bizutesfaye
New American Eagle flagship on the Las Vegas Strip lets you customize your clothing
American Eagle flagship on the Las Vegas Strip lets you customize your clothing
Bellagio Conservatory display is Majestic Holiday Magic
Majestic Holiday Magic at the Bellagio Conservatory
Las Vegas Ready for 2019 NYE Fireworks Show
The city of Las Vegas is ready to celebrate "America's Party" with a new and improved fireworks show that will pay tribute to the Golden Knights.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like