Masques de Carnaval Pour les Geeks

Big Hero 6, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who are three places to look for geeky carnival mask ideas, but they also bear cultural connections. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

From Venice to Rio to New Orleans, Carnival season brings out colorful costumes–and some colorful characters–during the weeks leading up to the Lenten season.

Despite some cultural differences, and the unfortunate bacchanalia, that seems to take over these celebrations, one of the most beautiful, and mostly family friendly, elements is the creation of the Carnival mask.

Mask making has also always been an important part of pop culture from superheroes needing a way to protect their identity from their foes, and science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies often feature something hidden behind masked exterior.

The villain masks, in particular, are some of the most recognizable elements of their costumes, be it Darth Vader from Star Wars or Court of Owls from recent Batman comics.

Families can get into the spirit of Carnival year round, by creating and learning about the origin of three ornate villains masks: Clockwork Droid, as seen in Doctor Who‘s Girl in the Fireplace episode; Death Eater Mask from the world of Harry Potter; and Yokai’s mask from Big Hero 6.

Mask makers’ tip: Lenses from cheap sunglasses will help hide tell-tale eyes. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

Each of these mask ideas starts with a simple white face craft mask, and requires only a paint job (no cutting needed). For all these masks, make sure to lightly draw the desired pattern on the surface in pencil before painting on the final pattern.

Also remember, those planning on wearing these masks will notice a couple of things when the mask is on the face that they didn’t see when the mask was on the work surface–their eyes. If this detracts from the mask, use a glue gun to glue lenses from cheap dollar shop sunglasses on the back of the eye holes. However, this might not be the best idea if attending a party in dark location.

Death Eater Masks. This band of dark wizards and witches loyal to Harry Potter’s main foe, Lord Voldemort, use their masks to intimate their prey and hide their identity. Each Death Eater has created their own unique design, making it easier for fellow Voldemort loyals to identify each other. As terrible as these individuals were, they were pretty creative in the field of mask design.

Although there is no real mention of this connection, these masks resemble the iron masks used in various cultures to torture and humiliate prisoners and criminals. Examples include the legend of the Man in the Iron Mask from the reign of France’s Louis XIV, and the horrifying “scold’s bridle” used to subdue women and slaves in 16th and 17th century Europe.

Special instructions: To give the mask its metal look, give it a smooth coat of silver spray paint. Once the design is painted on with felt tip or a thin brush, give it a tarnished look by lightly antiquing it with a thin wash of black paint and water.

A French museum displays mannequin inspired by the Alexander Dumas story Man in The Iron Mask (left), and its eerie resemblance to a Death Eater’s mask. Images: Public Domain and Lisa Kay Tate.

Clockwork Droid Mask. The popular episode of the Tenth Doctor’s meeting with Madame de Pompadour (Louis XV’s chief mistress), takes him back to 18th Century France. There he encounters a group of repair droids wishing to use her brain to repair broken star ship bearing her name.

The masks from this episode are heavily influenced by the elaborate masks of the Carnival of Venice, which ends the day before Ash Wednesday (the Venetian equivalent of Mardi Gras). The Carnival dates back to at least the 1160s, but Carnival attendees often take on the look of the Victorian era. The mask is so important to this celebration that one of the key events in Carnival is the “most beautiful” mask contest held the final weekend with an international panel of prestigious judges.

Special instructions: Once the colored pattern is painted on, the gilded outlines on the design can be created by carefully drawing the pattern on with a glue gun to achieve a raised texture. Once dry, paint over the glue with gold, silver, or bronze paint.

A gilded Venetian mask popular at Carnival season (left), and the mask inspired by the Doctor Who villains, Clockwork droids. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

Yokai Mask. The villainous alter ego of Professor Callaghan, Hiro Hamada’s primary enemy, uses a red and white Japanese mask for to hide his identity.

Both the name and the mask are a centuries-old part of Japanese folklore. The Yokai (loosely translated as “bewitching” or “mystery,” among other terms) are phantom monsters who come in various human and animal forms. They have been known to bring both ill fortune and good luck, depending on the countless tales or incarnations of this creature.

Special instructions: The Yokai mask featured in the movie is not a full face mask, but when working with young crafters, it is safer to get this effect by coloring in the bottom portion with black marker or paint, rather than trying to cut it.

yokai mask
Japanese Yokai concepts in human and animal form (left) and Big Hero 6‘s Yokai villain mask. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

These masks look good on their own, but some particularly festive mask makers might want to add their own Mardi Gras elements to them, by adding ribbons, feathers, or other embellishments. That is more than fine.

Mask makers in Venice were so loved by party-goers, they were given special status with their own guild and laws. This means there are no rules in making these mask ideas a personal, original statement, for Carnival, cosplay, or just a conversation piece.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site and maintains her own blogsite at She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.