RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Aquaria wears 3D-printed mask
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3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin

Kevin Freitas Conlin creates 3D-printed mask for RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Aquaria

Designer Kevin Freitas Conlin has created a skeletal mask for Brooklyn-based drag queen Aquaria, who is competing in tonight's final of reality TV show RuPaul's Drag Race.

The design was worn by Aquaria, whose real name is Giovanni Palandrani, during an episode that first aired earlier this month as part of the hit VH1 show's 10th season.

3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin

It is the first piece of 3D-printed apparel to feature in the history of the contest, which pits drag queens from across the US against each other in a series of competitions until one is crowned the winner.

Freitas Conlin designed the accessory to fit over Aquaria's ears, and cover her cheeks and jaw to seem as if it extends from her bone structure.

Its skeletal appearance was intended to "augment the illusion provided by makeup with physical enhancements, and to reshape the face in a way that blurs the boundaries between masks, prosthetics and jewellery".

"I was inspired by the illusions of drag in general, by the makeup that emphasises the beauty and strength of the queen," said Freitas Conlin. "But with Aquaria, I've always seen something more than just feminine beauty and presence; I was inspired by the masculine, grotesque and aggressive twists that she often brings."

3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin

The mask was printed in laser-sintered nylon by 3D-printing company Shapeways. The flexible material was chosen because it is lightweight and inexpensive, yet durable enough to be transported from New York to Los Angeles – where the show is filmed.

Although produced all in one piece, the design features interlocking elements that allow hoop-shaped earrings to move independently. It also has fang-like sections that are intended to look "more biological than ornamental".

"I wanted it to be a mask, but to also be part of the makeup and her skull underneath it," Freitas Conlin added.

Time to design and produce the mask was limited to just three weeks, so instead of scanning Aquaria's face, Freitas Conlin altered a model of his own head to fit it around.

Aquaria then wore the piece during a challenge that asked contestants to embody their "evil twin", which she ended up winning.

3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin

RuPaul's Drag Race season 10 finale airs tonight, 28 June 2018, at 8pm Eastern Time on VH1, when Aquaria will compete against fellow queens Eureka, Kameron Michaels and Asia O'Hara for the title of America's Next Drag Superstar.

The Emmy-winning show was created in 2009 by American drag queen RuPaul, who has a longstanding music career and has cameoed in several Hollywood movies.

Since its invention, 3D printing has been used by many designers to created headgear in shapes that would be otherwise difficult to produce in other materials. Examples include a mask created by Neri Oxman for Björk, made up of multiple strands that mimic the underlying structure of the musician's face, and a series that Oxman's Mediated Matter Group at MIT based on traditional death masks.

Photography is by Tanner Abel.

More images and plans

3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin
Front plan
3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin
Side plan
3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin
Full face plan
3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin
Components plan
3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin
Full scale plan
3D printed mask at Rupaul's Drag Race by Kevin Freitas Conlin