National | Regional voices: Chubu

Superrealistic face masks by Japan firm attract attention from facial-recognition system developers

Chunichi Shimbun

Superrealistic plastic face masks produced by a firm in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, have recently attracted attention at home and abroad, from facial-recognition system developers to a Saudi Arabian royal family member.

“Look, it makes your heart pound, doesn’t it?” says Osamu Kitagawa, 60, president of Real-f Co., as he shows off a face mask.

The masks — called Real Face — are made of plastic resin roughly 1 to 2 millimeters thick.

Kitagawa says he came up with the idea of making realistic masks more than a decade ago, when he was developing copy machines at a major printing device manufacturer.

“I wanted to make copies of human beings,” he said. “I wanted to make two-dimensional pictures into three dimensions. That would be more interesting.”

After he left the firm in 2009, it took him two years to develop the unique technology to produce masks before establishing his own company.

A mask prototype is first created by plaster using 3D facial data taken from photographs that is captured by a technology Kitagawa says is a trade secret. Details are then engraved on the plaster mask using a chisel, and plastic resin is stretched over it.

It takes about two weeks to complete a mask, which replicates every facial detail, including skin color, pores and the eyes’ capillaries and irises.

The company of five employees sells more than 100 masks a year. Its customers have included an advertising agency that uses masks of actors at promotional events.

Facial-recognition system developers also order masks of their employees to test out their systems during the development stage.

Additionally, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family made an order so the family could put the mask on display as if it were a portrait.

Kitagawa said he has also received orders from medical workers and people who have facial scarring due to accidents or surgeries so they can cover the markings. But the firm has not been able to respond to the requests because it has not yet developed a technology that makes it possible to produce the masks using soft materials such as silicone.

“I hope to achieve this somehow,” he said.

The mask costs ¥300,000 for the initial model and ¥60,000 each for additional copy. For details, contact the firm at 077-548-8808 or 090-5054-7291.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Oct. 13.